This article, is taken from my recently released book Rough Diamonds: A collection of leadership gems from the vault. Learn more about the book and how to get your copy here.
Every Christmas, I played Santa on the Manly ferry, leading passengers in Christmas Carols and helping them drink as much champagne as possible in one 30-minute journey. I hung up the red suit and white beard for the last time in 2011.
Playing Santa for 30 years made me think even more about leadership, albeit from a different perspective to the ones I take the other 364 days of the year, helping leaders throughout Asia Pacific on their personal journey of becoming the best they can be.
Santa Knows the Power of Positive Psychology
While all the others in the team were almost writing Rudolph off and knocking him:
“All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names,
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games”
Santa looked for the strengths in Rudolph; he looked for what was good, what was right, and 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.
“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say:
‘Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won’t you guide (ie lead) my sleigh tonight?’
Then all the Reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!”
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 25th December. Every time, every year, without fail. How much more powerful is an external deadline than an internal one that can simply be changed?
Santa stays on brand
Santa knows the cornerstone of being on brand: consistency. Yes, he wears the same red suit, white beard, and black belt, but it goes deeper than that. His brand values are consistent too. Santa knows the space he dominates; the ‘merry’ space. He doesn’t cross over into religion or politics. He’s clearly, simply and cheerily on purpose and on brand. His mission is to give people mirth, connection, and the joy of giving. How about your brand? Do your clients know what you stand for in one sentence?
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!”
He doesn’t just know what he stands for—he consistently delivers the same message, linked to those values, again and again every year, without fail. Are you consistently delivering on that brand stand?
Santa knows the power of symbols and rituals to build culture
Talk about rituals and symbols. We’ve mentioned the white beard and red outfit, but there’s also the sack, the Christmas tree, the angel on the top of the tree, the Christmas lights, 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, sitting on Santa’s knee, the carols. The list goes on and on and the rituals are performed each and every year.
What about your business? Do your clients know what to expect from your brand? Do they know they can rely on you for the ritual of standout service, attention to detail or joyful customer experiences? 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).
“Reindeer sleigh, come our way
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.”
He knows it’s more than just 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.
“’Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
Oh 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).
The same goes for a brilliant brand. Outstanding organisations exist to create connections, not just commoditised transactions. 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). It’s also about building lasting connections with your clients, suppliers and strategic partners; giving them experiences and opportunities they’ll value, not just what works for you.
Santa knows the power of teams
Behind every great leader is a great team. There is no way Santa could get all those presents delivered 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 function. He gets diversity. Without his little helpers and all the reindeers, he could not accomplish his mission.
Like all great leaders he knows no one makes it on their own.
He knows every brand is built one present at a time
Like all smart brand builders, Santa also knows every great brand is made one present, one meaningful transaction, one meeting, one touch point at a time.
Every smile, every ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ and sound of bells, every gift made by a team of dedicated elves carried by flying reindeer to help Santa squeeze through a chimney and fly away unseen, add up to making his contribution to Christmas a significant brand experience we never forget.
Santa 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.
- 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: the hype, the build-up, the parties, the anticipation. How could you not have him come to your place?
“You’d better watch out! You’d better not cry!
You’d better not pout! I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.
He’s making a list, and checking it twice.
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”
Santa lives his brand: without taking himself too seriously
No one could ever accuse Santa of not taking his work seriously. His work ethic is unbelievable. You think you’ve got a lot of people depending on you. People who want something from you. Well that’s absolutely nothing compared to Santa’s international demands. And yet look at him. He’s always smiling, he’s always happy, always jolly; the man lives his brand. Yes, he takes his mission of mirth very seriously but himself lightly.
“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go, laughing all the way.
Bells on bob tails ring, making spirits bright
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!”
Great leaders and leading brands alike share Santa’s incredible lightness of being.
What about you? Are you “laughing all the way”?
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 sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re 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 excuses. For Santa it’s pretty clear, you’ve either performed or you haven’t.
Thank you, Santa, for being such a consistent beacon of hope, irrespective of what’s going on in our crazy world. You remind us that all great leaders are dealers in hope, and the best organisations are sleighs flying high, brimming with extraordinary gifts to deliver to people waiting to be delighted. We love your work!
Until next time…
Find the passion.
Develop the skills.
Make the numbers.
Make a difference.
“APAC’s most respected transformational leadership performance coach”
Paul Mitchell (@Paul_S_Mitchell) is a speaker, author, transformational leadership coach and founder of the human enterprise. Through leadership coaching, leadership development programmes, keynotes and facilitation, Paul works with organisations to build cultures where everybody leads.
Rough Diamonds is a selection of articles from leadership coach, author and founder of the human enterprise, Paul Mitchell. Building on the advice in his #1 Amazon Australia Bestselling book, Your Leadership Diamond, and following the same 7-facet structure, this compilation is for busy leaders who often don’t have major chunks of time free for reading, and who aren’t too linear in nature. Even reading one chapter a day gives a great boost. Some chapters are short and sweet, some are much longer. Some outline specific actions or small tweaks, and some just leave you to reflect.