leadership lessons from santa

Ho, Ho Ho…it’s that time of year again when the tinsel comes out, trees get decorated and dietary regimes along with turkeys get stuffed. The old guy with the impressive beard comes out from his reclusive lair to both delight and terrorize little people and of course has parents reaching deep into weary pockets. I love Christmas. Always have and hope, always will. I have got to experience the magic from within as for several years I was a rather curious choice to play Santa given that I now would better fit the billing in every way (and shape) than was the case back then.

Of course the stories from such exploits could fill a book and when recounting some of them the other day to a colleague, was urged to do just that – write a book on my Santa escapades. Maybe one day but I have been thinking about leadership lessons we can learn from the guy in the red suit and this is where I want to briefly focus our thoughts.

Here then would be 10 Santa leadership lessons for leaders everywhere:

  1. Know where your North is. We all know where Santa spends most his time and some even make the pilgrimage to the North Pole to see for themselves where it is Santa resides. It is all a bit mysterious of course but what we do know is that Santa lives to the north of us. Smart leaders know that they need to set a course for true North for those they lead. Getting there is a different matter but when asked, good leaders know what their North is.
  1. The little people matter a great deal. We all know that Santa has a bunch of little people to help him prepare for his big night. Without their endeavor it simply wouldn’t be possible and they, Santa’s helpers, are the true unsung heroes of Christmas. Every organization has an army of ‘little’ people – those without impressive titles, offices or reserved parking. These are the true heroes of any successful enterprise and leaders who forget that, as many do, soon find this out the hard way.
  1. Santa delivers. Savvy leaders realize that the ultimate test of leadership is to deliver on the stated objectives and goals. Leaders are judged by this and whilst it is more complex that this, the importance of delivery cannot be ignored, overlooked or neglected. Can you imagine just what would happen were Santa to fail in his delivery? It would precipitate a global crisis of unprecedented proportions.
  1. There will always be imitations masquerading as the real deal. One of the trickier parental questions to negotiate is the unavoidable inquiry from the fans as to the bewildering existence of a Santa on every corner. And let’s face it, many don’t come close to even looking like Santa! Leadership is a much abused term and title. Smart organizations would do well to use it more sparingly and guard with greater care the use of the word, be that in programmes, titles or responsibilities. Leadership sells…as does Santa and both have been open to abuse and a kind of commercialism that does neither any favours.
  1. Santa gets his timing right. There has been much speculation as to the incredible feat that is Santa’s delivery schedule. The distance covered, the time zones to be negotiated and the level of expectancy all make for Santa’s delivery to be the most impressive of all delivery schedules. Santa has to get it exactly right, and he does. Savvy leaders understand that timing is almost everything. The right message, given to the right people and the right place can go horribly wrong if all this is done but done at the wrong time. There is a right time to encourage, give feedback, correct, challenge, delegate, inspire, keep quiet, pay attention to the small stuff and the big stuff…and savvy leaders understand the importance of timing in doing all this. Learning the sense of timing and getting it right are further challenges of course but leaders can learn from Santa’s impeccable sense of timing.
  1. Appearance matters. We can recognize Santa because he is readily identifiable. Of course one can get some variations on the general theme of red but by and large, when it comes to Santa, you know what to look out for. Savvy leaders understand the importance of consistency. They understand that appearance matters as others are constantly looking at them and examining both their character and their actions. The word ‘integrity’ comes from the Latin, ‘integratis’ which is ‘to integrate’. Savvy leaders understand that they lead from who they are and that leadership integrity stems from an integrated life.
  1. Santa understands the power of surprise and magic – and uses both to good effect. Savvy leaders understand that these two elements – surprise and magic, are essential parts of their leadership armory and as such need to be deployed to good effect. Watch children engage with Santa and you will see the magic at work. The other day I was sitting at a little coffee shop and per chance watched a little person climb onto the lap of a life-size and very real looking Santa mannequin outside the stationary shop opposite to where I was sitting. Having negotiated the sizeable challenge of getting onto to Santa’s lap, the little girl just sat there. Her mother had the good sense to let the moment linger and so the magic was created for all privileged enough to witness the scene. I could swear that I caught the glimpse of a smile on Santa’s face as the child walked away. Savvy leaders understand that they are magic-makers and they don’t shrink from this expectation and responsibility.
  1. Santa sees the individual. Santa’s gifts are personalized. There is never the ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of approach. Gifts are carefully thought out, wrapped and delivered to each little person. Smart leaders have come to recognize that leadership is personalized. They see the individual and any encounter with a person is to leave that person feeling as though they have been seen, recognized and respected. Leaders who succeed in this practice (and it might take practice before it becomes habit) are able to generate passion, loyalty and commitment.
  1. Santa thinks global but acts local. Santa certainly sees the bigger picture yet he understands the importance of local presence. In a world that is inextricably connected and one in which change, influence and impact can arrive at your door from any corner or quarter, smart leaders pay attention to the ‘big picture’. They think global but understand the importance of local action, presence and focus. Santa models this perfectly for leaders everywhere.
  1. There will always be a Grinch. Santa has always had to deal with the skeptics, the non-believers and those simply opposed to the whole thing – the Grinch who would like to ‘steal Christmas’. Their opposition and how they engage with that opposition often define leaders. Smart leaders know to expect the Grinch and the ensuing trouble that will result. Santa sets out to make believers of those who don’t believe and in doing so is helped in no small measure by the army of those who love him and are involved in the cause. Smart leaders expect opposition and understand the role that patience and process play in the making of believers.

So this Christmas the invitation is there, as it always is – to see the magic and enjoy the moment. It is a time that invites reflection, a pause and provides the opportunity to rethink both the past and the future. I wish you wisdom and grace in the exercising of your leadership and everything of the very best for 2017.

TomorrowToday Global