Having just celebrated Christmas, now is a good time to reflect on the leadership style of a global icon: Santa Claus. What lessons can he teach us?
1) Santa Is Always Positive
Santa is one of those people who lights up the room. He is always merry and jolly, summed up by his timeless catchphrase “Ho, ho, ho!”. The elves don’t have to work with a boss who is unpredictable, critical or aggressive. Santa knows that his personal attitude is infectious and sets the tone for the entire organization. Imagine a child going on a once in a lifetime trip to the North Pole, full of wide-eyed wonder. That is, until they find a grouchy Santa grumbling in the corner, complaining about how much better things used to be when kids only wanted wooden toys and the world’s population was still in the millions. His attitude would bring the whole magic of Christmas crashing down, and his elves would quickly seek employment elsewhere. As great leaders, let’s make sure our mantra is more “ho, ho, ho!” than “no, no, no”.
2) Santa Keeps His Promises
Why do so many children make lists to Santa each year? Because they know he delivers results. When Santa says you are getting a present this year, it’s going to happen. His name is a global byword for trust. Santa won’t dangle a reward in front of you with no intention of following through or offer something unrealistic out of guilt or fear. He knows that he must always meet his commitments if he is to maintain his position of trust. He also knows that once lost, trust is very hard to get back. As great leaders, let’s make sure our reputation is likewise for keeping our word.
3) Santa Gives Clear Feedback
Santa has a simple yet effective two-list system for judging the world. If you have been kind, generous and served others this year, then welcome to the nice list. You can expect to receive a reward for good behavior. However, if you’ve been cruel, selfish or egotistical, it’s the naughty list for you. Be ready for a lump of coal in your stocking as an incentive to do better. Santa is fair and impartial, basing his assessment on our attitudes and actions rather than who we know or whether he likes us. We always have total clarity as to how we are performing, and he’s not afraid to confront us if we are in danger of joining the naughty list. He also won’t keep us on the nice list for fear of upsetting us or put us on the naughty list just because he holds a grudge. To be more like Santa, we should ask ourselves two difficult questions: Is anyone on my ‘nice list’ only there because I am avoiding a challenging conversation? And is anyone on my ‘naughty list’ only there because I personally dislike them rather than because they did anything wrong?
4) Santa Needs His Team
Let’s face it – to the public, Santa is the star of the show. But without his elves and reindeer, he would just be a man hitchhiking around the world with no presents to deliver. Away from the cameras, Santa knows he needs other people and that he is just one part of a large operation. He doesn’t pull rank on the elves and treat them as lesser beings. Instead, he encourages them to put forward new ideas and gives them opportunities to take control. It’s only by developing the talents of his team in this way that the North Pole’s toy production has managed to keep up with ever-increasing global demand. If he’s honest, Santa has no idea how to make a mobile phone – but as an empowering leader, he doesn’t need to. In a similar way, we great leaders need to develop the skills and talents of those around us so they can go even further than we have.
Having said that, this is also one area where we need to go beyond Santa’s example. As an immortal being, he never needs to think about succession planning. But we do. As empowering leaders, let’s look for future Santas among our team and help them on their journey into great leadership.
5) Santa Uses Time Wisely
Anyone would have to admit that visiting every home in the world over a 24-hour period takes some serious scheduling. On December 25th, you won’t find Santa idly scrolling through his social media feeds. He knows it’s a big moment, and that every minute counts. However, he also recognizes that Christmas Day is not a normal working day for him. Come January, he’ll be taking some time to reflect on last year, and by the summer he’ll be on a beach in Barbados working on his tan. Santa knows that you can’t work flat out all the time and that we all need time to relax and recover. As great leaders, let’s know when to perform and give our all, and when to switch off and step away.
Santa also knows there is no sense trying to be like his peers – his diary looks very different from the Easter Bunny’s. He works out his own priorities and sticks to them. So just because Santa will be extremely busy over the coming weeks, you might not need to be. Whatever your plans, I hope you have a restful and peaceful Christmas break.
Nick Laffan has personally trained and supported hundreds of individuals to become great leaders and empower others to do the same. His organization, FreeRiver Consulting, works to transform culture and develop leadership potential in those who do not see themselves as ‘typical’ leaders.
He has recently launched the FreeRiver Leadership Academy, which provides online courses aimed at developing leaders – whatever their roles, backgrounds, and experiences. For more information, visit freeriveracademy.com