Leaders as clowns, sans nose

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Morning Zen guest blog post ~ Dr. George Patrin, Singing Clown, Advocate, Children's Mental Health Network Advisory Council

george and friendsThose in privileged leadership positions, no matter the organization or occupation, should be clowns, every day. I refer to taking on a social clown persona - a person who remains light-hearted, positive, with no reservations or shyness about being of service to all we meet, doing whatever we can to bring joy and diffuse stress, even if for only a moment, out of genuine concern for others, especially those in our sphere of responsibility and care.

Adopting this attitude change would be a huge service to employees, colleagues, and acquaintances as a truly transformational leader. Does this require a red nose, you may ask? Initially, yes, the artificiality of the red nose breaks down needless barriers, ones we imagine are there, and also barriers those we interact with put in place to protect themselves… from us. With the nose on we can be bold in our interactions as it’s an obvious public statement that this person you are dealing with at the moment isn’t really me, but a ‘clown me.’


The nose clearly allows one to “make a fool of oneself” in public, which takes immense courage, actually. Think on it – if the boss is willing to do this, perhaps I can take a few risks to improve the workplace and so our product, too. The ’magic’ of the nose is it transforms our behavior and sends an immediate, unspoken message that this interaction is not to be ‘business as usual,’ but a time of removed barriers, improved communication, personal interaction, and right now. The nose insists on attention and reaction; it demands it… for us, without having to ask for it. And the nose works in every language, not surprisingly. This is only known, unfortunately, by those who have put one on, and gone out in public.  

georgeairportSo go ahead, do it, put one on tomorrow, before you go out the door. Those you meet will certainly know you are “up to something.” Out in public, especially with people you don’t already have a relationship with, the nose will immediately establish a connection, it ‘opens the door,’ gives permission to interact. The nose removes barriers because people want to let their guard down and laugh, smile, and wonder, when a red nose appears. It’s genetic in all of mankind, the emergence of the ever-present inner child. A sincere clown triggers trust between people, even hope, because people want to be loved. Given the power of the nose, the best leaders should clown a good amount of the day, get over themselves, do whatever is necessary to be of service to others bringing joy and hope into the workplace… on arrival. It’s good for morale.

Clowns can do anything; there are no expectations, except maybe, for surprise. Sit unexpectedly still, suddenly laugh, cry, look with amazement into the eyes of another; it’s all good, and right, and true, coming from a clown. Perhaps most importantly, in our culture people aren’t supposed to, are not allowed to, touch. Clowns however, are expected to try to get away with it, give a humble and sincere hug, whenever possible, the longer the better, truth be known.

The beginning and end of every meeting should be a (group) hug, as long as the moment will allow, one of genuine appreciation and humble concern for the hugee(s). Far too often, touch is only for a fleeting moment, through a handshake or placement of the hand on a shoulder or arm. We don’t plan for, allow for, genuine non-sexual touch in our daily encounters, unfortunately. We are too rushed. The nose breaks the routine and allows for lingering, breaking the routine, just for a moment.


We know there is great value in providing momentary comfort, a connection, even if with only the eyes, a release from stress and daily care. If we do this consciously, with genuine concern and unconditional love for another, even though fleeting, moving on to another moment with another person, we leave the former recipient forever changed, to wonder if they'll (hopefully) see that caring clown again, anticipating a longer moment and connection, next time.

Leaders can and should leave behind a trail of wondrous smiles and ‘hopes’ at days end. True, in so doing we leave behind a piece of ourselves… if we do it right. Eventually, in time, we can be brave enough to do all this without the nose, but retain the persona. Leave all we meet with a token of our affection, given without expectation other than to draw out the child within, and an unspoken pledge of continued support for the grown-up caretaker of that child spirit in the future. Yes, leaders should be clowns in public, with or without the nose. The world would be a better place. Don’t bother to send in the clowns…they’re here. Send me. 

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george patrin

COL(Ret) George Patrin, a Children's Mental Health Network Advisor and Morning Zen contributor, has recently returned from a second International Community Clowning Trip with Dr. Patch Adams of the Gesundheit! Foundation. Dr. Patrin's first trip with Patch was to Russia in Nov 2012  to visit orphanages, senior homes, and hospitals. Surrounded by the love, giving, and friendship of new clown soul mates, George had an unexpected improvement in PTSD symptoms and depression resulting from his 23 years of active Army service and two deployments to a combat zone, complicated by the suicide death of his 20 year old son five years ago. While psychotherapy, support groups, and men's grief therapy were helpful, this two week experience so changed him that his wife and family, especially his 1 1/2-year-old grand-daughter, noticed the remarkable difference immediately. 

Gesundheit! Spring Break in Guatemala
The pictures in this Morning Zen post are from the trip March 7-14, 2015, which is the traditional Spring Break trip to Guatemala for Gesundheit!.
 (See The Gesundheit InstituteDr. Patrin went along to clown again and enjoy the experience but also to scope out the location and brainstorm issues that might arise returning with all Veterans as opposed to the usual International mix of attendees on these trips. This group was made up of citizens of the US (TX, CA, WA, VA), Mexico, Bolivia, Panama, and Canada). Guatemala is an ideal clowning location as the country has an established humanitarian clowning program (called Fabricas) and the hotel is a private bed and breakfast where the troupe can decompress each evening and check on how the day's visits are affecting the troupe. Prior clowning is NOT expected nor required to go on any Gesundheit! Humanitarian Community Clowning Trip.

Clowning with veterans
george and patchGeorge spoke with Patch Adams on the trip home resolved to work with Patch's Gesundheit! and George's Serendipity Alliance to conduct a future clown trip with Veterans to determine if this effect was universal. Over the past two years they have written a research protocol with the Chicago VA to arrange for Veterans currently in therapy due to any number of conditions - PTSD, TBI, depression, addictions, anxiety and/or suicidal ideation - to go to Guatemala. The trip is scheduled for October 10-18, 2015. Providers caring for Veterans who might benefit from this groundbreaking Gesundheit! research trip can contact George at patrin.george@gmail.com. This first trip can take only 10 Vets, but they will start a waiting list for future trips, should this prototype trip have the results expected for the first ten selected.


  1. George Patrin, MD/MHA, San Antonio, TX's avatar
    George Patrin, MD/MHA, San Antonio, TX
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    Thanks, Scott, for posting this Morning Zen talk. I wrote it on returning from Russia in 2012 after my first humanitarian clown trip with Patch and Company. I broke down in tears of joy many times during those two weeks among my new soul-mates. I was still in the Army, a COL and Healthcare Administrator, and had many lectures on leadership over the years, none as remarkable and life-changing as this action trip. One day after lunch in a Moscow restaurant, headed back to the bus, walking with Patch and Dr. Bowen White, MD, from Kansas (Dr. Jerko..."that's pronounced 'Yerko,' thank you very much"), I ran to open the door for an elderly Russian shopper exiting with packages. With a flair and a whistle, I waved her onto the street. She laughed and said, "Spotsebo" (Thank You), and I gave her a big warm hug, a Russian woman I'd never met! She went on her way smiling, and I just know she was going to get home and spread the joy - "You'll never guess what happened to me today... (in Russian of course)." I returned to Patch and Bowen and said, "I've never been so silly in my life!" Patch grinned and said, "I think your hooked. What took you so long?" Exactly. I've never left home without a nose since. Try it. You'll like it.
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