The Leaderhip Lessons of Santa Claus
But one day of the year, for the last twenty five years, all that changes. People dress in coloured shirts, wear party hats, pop champagne and sing as loudly as they can.
This year will be the 26th year I’ve been Santa on the Manly Ferry, leading the passengers in Christmas Carols and helping them drink as much champagne as possible in one 30 minute journey.
For the other 364 days of the year and for over 26 years, I’ve also been helping leaders throughout Australasia on their personal journey of becoming the best leaders they can be.
So it got me thinking. How could I combine these two lots of experiences into one? What are the Leadership lessons of Santa Claus? Well here are just a few:
1. He Knows The Power Of Positive Psychology
While all the others in the team were almost writing Rudolph off and knocking him:
They never let poor Rudolph play in any Reindeer games”
Santa looked for the strengths in Rudolph; he looked for what was good, what was right. What Rudolph could do; how he could contribute, how he could gain the acceptance of his fellow team members.
In fact like all great leaders, Santa focused on developing the leaders around him and giving them their own platforms of greatness, as the circumstances of the business environment changed.
Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight (be the leader)”
“Then all the Reindeer loved him and they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!
2. He Knows The Power Of An External Deadline
No excuses. No rationalisation, no competitor forces, interest rate rises, bad weather, or whatever.
The presents must be made and ready to be loaded on the sleigh and delivered by 25 December. Every time, every year, without fail.
Let me tell you as a real Santa myself, very little will happen without the power of an external deadline. Or another way of saying this is a lot may not be happening in your business because your deadlines are internal which means they can be changed. Not Santa’s.
3. He Knows The Power Of Symbols And Rituals To Build Cultures
Talk about rituals and symbols. The red outfit, the sack, the Christmas Tree, the Angel on the top of the tree, the Christmas lights, the leaving something for Santa to eat and drink, the carrots for the reindeer, the writing of a list, the stockings, pillow slips at the end of the bed, the sitting on Santa’s knee, the carols. The list goes on and on and once again it goes on and on every year.
What about your business? Do your leaders have consistent rituals (meetings, events, celebrations) and symbols to which people attribute meaning (the type of sleigh you drive, whether you dress up in a red outfit or a suit, whether you give the Rudolphs of this world a chance to shine or not).
HO HO HO, cherry nose
Cap on head, suit that's red
Special night, beard that's white
Must be Santa
Must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus
4. He Knows It’s More Than Just The Presents
Imagine if all that happened on Christmas morning, was that you woke up and there were presents at the foot of your bed.
No Santa, no fanfare, no build up, no drama, no delicious anticipation.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
On no! You see Santa really gets it. He understands that great leadership is about moving hearts and minds (transformational) not just about moving presents around the world (transactional).
It’s about making an emotional connection with the little and big kids of the world (your team) not just giving them presents (pay, benefits, the job itself).
5. He Knows The Power Of Team
Behind every great leader is a great team. There is no way Santa could get it all done by himself. He knows he’s just the front man for something so much bigger.
Without those elves beavering away all year making the presents, Santa just couldn’t exist. He gets diversity. Without his little helpers and all the reindeers, he could not accomplish his mission. Yet Santa gets it. Once again like all great leaders, he knows, no one makes it on their own.
6. He Knows That Every Great Leader Has To Be A Great Marketer
The guy's unbelievable! Just look at how he applied some vital marketing techniques to build his brand, including:
- Customers for life, that’s right he knows that from your first Christmas onwards, he will have you for life.
- He’s number one in his category. Yeah, the Easter Bunny is great, and cartoon characters will come and go, but nothing beats Santa.
- He consistently uses the same red and white colours to drive home the brand; the purity of white and the redness of emotion.
- It’s a scalable, repeatable, consistent franchise business model. God only knows how many Santas there are all over the world.
- His pre-sales strategy is to die for. I mean the hype, the build up, the parties, the anticipation. How could you not have him come to your place?
I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is comin' to town.
He's making a list, and checking it twice.
He's going to find out who's been naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is comin' to town”.
7. He Knows Not To Take Himself Too Seriously
No one could ever accuse Santa of not taking his work seriously. I mean his work ethic is unbelievable. You think you’ve got a lot of people depending on you, wanting something from you. You think you’ve got demands. Well there’s absolutely nothing compared to Santa’s international demands.
And yet look at him. He’s always smiling, he’s always happy, always jolly.
Yes, he takes his work seriously but himself very lightly.
O'er the fields we go, laughing all the way
Bells on bob tails ring, making spirits bright
Oh what fun it is to laugh and sing, a sleighing song tonight
Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride, in a one horse open sleigh!”
I consistently find the really great leaders also share Santa’s incredible lightness of being. What about you? Are you “laughing all the way”?
8. He Knows The Power Of Consistent Short Messages To Drive Business Success
It’s the same every year:
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas
Not Heh! Heh! Heh! Merry Christmas
Not Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Merry Christmas
But Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas
Santa’s figured out his values. He knows what he stands for - Laughter and Frivolity. He then delivers the same message, linked to those values, again and again every year, without fail.
9. He Understands The Importance of Meritocracy
Not only does he realise the importance of rewarding on performance. He personally monitors your behaviour throughout the whole year. Right up to the last minute. He’s always watching you!
He knows if your awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake”
He knows the importance of taking personal accountability for quality, especially when it comes to people and performance.
The buck really stops with Santa! No way would he expect anyone else but him to get the presents right. He takes personal accountability that you will get the presents you asked for.
How does he do this? He has a system of course. A very simple system. And he reviews this system not once but twice, always linking back to performance.
No bureaucratic politics or excuses. For Santa it’s pretty black and white, you’ve either performed or you haven’t.
He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town”
Thank you Santa, for being such a consistent beacon of hope, irrespective of what’s going on in our crazy world. You remind us Santa, that all great leaders are dealers in hope.
I love my work. I love that every year I can look back and know that I’ve helped leaders truly transform the way they live their lives, lead their businesses and leave a legacy.
And even though it’s only one day of the year, I love being Santa too!
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What Others are Saying
I think this article is great. Not only some key points that I can take as immediate actions but also timely.
Katri Bloomfield, Solution Architect, SAP
I loved your article. It really struck a few chords with me right now. And while, quite honestly, I "know" everything you wrote about, hearing it all expressed in such a friendly and casual way, and all together, I paid so much more attention to the messages.
Stacey Bar, Performance Measure Specialist, Stacey Barr Pty Ltd