Five Leadership Lessons from Santa

santaclausThe jolly man in the red suit is doing something right.  For hundreds of years Santa has delivered toys to boys and girls around the world, on schedule each and every year.  And unless I missed a news report, it’s all been done without disgruntled, under-appreciated elves refusing to show up for work.

Santa and his team are under a lot of pressure.  Can you imagine the disappointment if he missed a house, a city block, an entire city or heaven forbid, decided he’d been doing this whole toy thing long enough and decided to hang up his hat? Santa and his entire team of elves and reindeer understand just how important their job is and thanks to Santa’s leadership, the job gets done each year.

Five leadership lessons we can learn from Santa are:

  1.  Santa has a clearly defined focus and target market.  Santa and his elves work 364 days a year preparing for one thing and one thing only; delivering toys to children, the demographic that believes in him.  He understands that when he makes his believers happy, the adults who don’t believe in him will be happy too.
  2. Santa makes sure his elves have the tools they need in order to do their job.  Have you seen his workshop? Every tool you can imagine is in there.  As children’s requests have changed from wind-up cars to video racing games, Santa has kept on top of the trends to make sure he’s ordering the right supplies for his elves. He realizes asking his elves to make do with outdated equipment reduces efficiency and productivity and increases frustration and stress.
  3. Santa trains his elves.  Elves used to need to know how to make simple rag dolls. Then the dolls needed to be able to say “mama”, had to come with multiple outfits and even walk.  Today, those dolls need to be interactive.  They need to smile or cry on cue, wet their diaper on cue and talk on cue. And when the dolls talk, they need to have a vocabulary that includes complete sentences. Santa doesn’t replace the experienced, but less tech-savvy elves with younger elves.  Sure he’ll hire the younger elves, but he’ll also retrain the experienced elves so that they can continue to do what they love.
  4. Santa recognizes individual strengths.  Dasher, Dancer and the rest of the reindeer team are strong and fast. Without them, there is no way Santa could get around the world in such a short time.  It took Santa to realize how valuable Rudolph could be to the team.  Sure, Rudolph is a little guy and doesn’t make a big difference in how fast they get around, but without him, there is a good chance a house may be missed in the dark and a missed house would damage Santa’s reputation.
  5. Santa doesn’t leave things to chance.  Santa is a list maker and before heading out to deliver his toys, he double checks the list to make sure it’s right. He also doesn’t wait until the last minute to start making toys.  Santa and his team have developed a schedule and they stick to it!

Bonus Leadership Lesson: Santa walks the talk.  Santa understands that if he wants his elves and children to be good for goodness sake, he has to lead by example.


This was originally posted two years ago.  I received a request to repost … so here it is! Enjoy and best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season, filled with laughter and joy.

What’s your Leadership C.A.R.E. quotient?

The ability of service teams to consistently meet and exceed customer expectations is, in large part, dependent on the person leading the team. While each and every individual on the team is ultimately responsible for their personal commitment to ensuring they show up to work each and every day with a positive, customer focused “I am here for you” attitude, it’s the leader’s responsibility to create the climate that makes that attitude much easier to achieve.

When leaders have an “I am here for you” attitude for the people in their service teams, the likelihood of the people on their team owning their role in increases.  Productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction rates all improve.  Leaders that C.A.RE. understand that leadership is not a right; it is a gift given freely when people believe they are valued for who they are, not just what they can accomplish.

Leaders that C.A.R.E.:

Create Connections: Most of us want to part of something bigger than just us. We want to believe we are a contributor.  As the leader of a service team, find ways to create connections, internally and externally. When every person on your team understands how the gifts, talents and experience they contribute helps their team and the company they work for achieve success, a community is formed.  When accounting, sales and marketing recognize and respect individual and team responsibilities, accountabilities and contribution, communication and perhaps even camaraderie result.

In addition to creating connections internally, identify ways to create connections with the community.  Are there local causes you can support?  How can the people on your team become involved with these causes and the people that benefit from them?  Creating connections outside of work, within the community, provides your team members the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the community they live and work in and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Are Authentic: People may obey a title, but they won’t become loyal to a title.  People don’t offer to stay a little later or take on another project because of a title.  People become loyal to and are willing to take on extra responsibilities (within reason, of course) for a person they like and trust.  Trust is based on authenticity. Leaders who refuse to admit weakness or uncertainty are not authentic.  Leaders who refuse to ask for help or for the opinion and input of others do not gain the same trust and loyalty as those who acknowledge they are not infallible.  Employees want to work for a human being, not a robot.

Recognize Relevance: Meaningful work and the recognition that what we do matters is important to most people.  The phrase “Because I told you so” does nothing to help understand why a role, task or responsibility matters.  When people understand why they are important and why what they do is important, a sense of purpose is created.  Every single person on your team is there for a reason.  Be sure they all know exactly what that reason is.

Exhibit Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is contagious. So is lack of enthusiasm.  If you want your team members to show up excited about the day, you need to show up excited about the day. Enjoy what you do and share that with others.

How do you show you C.A.R.E.?


What Actors, Speakers and Leaders Have in Common

Last Friday, I had the privilege of learning from Steve Lowell at our CAPS Annual Speaker School.   In his session, Steve presented his adaptation of Patsy Rodenburg’s Three Circles of Energy.  Patsy developed these three circles while studying the difference between actors that had ‘it’ and actors that didn’t.  As Steve outlined how these three circles of energy also applied to speakers, I started thinking … this also applies to leaders.

Actors, speakers and leaders are all in the communication business.  It is our role, our responsibility to communicate a message, to create a vision, to inspire and effect change.  Our ability to do that successfully is dependent on the circle of energy we are working from.

First Circle

A lot of managers start here.  This circle is defined as uncertainty and lack of confidence.  Managers in this circle find it difficult to address conflict or make timely decisions.  They focus on themselves; what do others think of me? Am I respected? Do they like me?  Am I doing a good job? Will I get fired?  Managers in this circle provide hints as to expectations instead of clear direction because they fear being perceived as bossy or controlling.


Third Circle

The reason I am putting third circle next is because many people swing from first to third, before attaining second circle. The third circle is defined by directives and command.  Managers in this circle don’t ask for advice, input or suggestions.  They know exactly how and why tasks and responsibilities are to be completed.   Many times their intention is to help by imparting their wisdom upon their subordinates.


Second Circle

Second circle leaders are confident and self-assured. They speak directly and ask lots of questions. They value and respect the contribution of everyone on their team. They look for and recognize people who have strengths in areas they are weak in.  Second circle leadership is about shared experiences and opportunities.  The team succeeds and fails together. They learn and grow together.  Second circle leaders are willing coaches and mentors.


As a leader, it may be appropriate to step into circle one or three in some situations.  There are times when tough calls and decisions must be made; when time or safety constraints means putting on the mantle of control.  There may be times when taking a big step back is appropriate, even if it seems like too much is being given or taken away.  Strong leaders assess each individual situation as one piece of a much bigger picture and know when to step out of the second circle for a short time.

The key is that when moving out of second circle, it is done with purpose and with intention and only for a short time. Ultimately, we connect and communicate most effectively when we look at goals, purposes and challenges from a shared perspective.

What do you think about this?  What are some signs or clues that indicate which circle of energy a manager (or speaker and actor!) is in?

The Difference Between Lording and Leading

In spite of the countless leadership books, blogs and articles available, there are still an amazingly high number of bad leaders out there, wreaking havoc in the lives of the people they come into contact with.

Some leaders believe their title and the power they wield bestows on them the privileges of lordship or ladyship in their kingdom.  These leaders equate fearful compliance with a united front.  Dissenting opinions are regarded as insurrection and betrayal.

People who lord instead of lead:

  1. Talk badly, and loudly, about people behind their back.
  2. Rely on threats and intimidation to keep people in line.
  3. Surround themselves with people who think the same way they do.
  4. If they can’t find those people, they find people who are more concerned about staying in their good favour than doing what is right.
  5. Blame their serfs for failures and accept accolades for successes.

Leaders on the other hand:

  1. Deal with issues head on.
  2. Rely on kindness and respect to build relationships.
  3. Encourage dissenting opinions.
  4. Look for people who are strong in areas they are weak.
  5. Accept responsibility for failure and share accolades for success.
Some people lord, instead of lead, due to arrogance.  Some lord, instead of lead, to hide insecurity. Whatever the reason, lording is not an effective leadership strategy. Employee engagement suffers, customer service suffers, reputation suffers …. lead, don’t lord.
What do you think? Are there other examples you can share?  I’d love to hear them.

Shut up and Listen

When my husband and I first started dating, we didn’t see each other that often, but every time we did, he would ask me a question related to a discussion from our previous date.  The fact that he remembered details I’d shared, from in some cases over a week in the past, made me feel valued, appreciated, interesting and respected.

One role of an effective leader is to make team members feel valued, appreciated, interesting and respected.  That is why effective leaders spend more time listening than talking.   They understand that listening helps team and business success.

Listening, really listening, is not an easy thing to do.  Hearing is easy, but listening takes time, it takes commitment and it takes an open mind.  For those of us who are listening-challenged, the good news is that listening is a skill that can be learned.

Here is a list of five things great listeners do:

  1. Focus physically on the speaker. They face the person squarely, lean in slightly, keep an open body posture and maintain eye contact. Their body says “What you are saying is important and I am focusing on you and what you have to say.”
  2. Do not allow external distractions to interfere.  They are not looking at their watch, the clock on the wall or their cell phone.  They are not checking for emails.  They ask for calls to be held or they put the phone on do not disturb.  They ask to move a conversation to a quieter place if necessary.
  3. Stay in the moment. They don’t think about what they are going to say next.  Instead, they listen to the speaker’s point and then formulate a response or question.
  4. Keep an open mind.  They don’t allow assumptions, perceptions or internal distractions to interfere with the listening process.  They don’t make up their mind to agree or disagree before the conversation is finished.
  5. Ask questions to ensure understanding.  Active listeners make sure they really understand by asking clarifying questions. 

Bonus:  Effective leaders and great listeners don’t jump in with solutions or ideas. They ask questions to ensure understanding and encourage the speaker to formulate their own ideas and solutions.

Becoming a great listener takes time and practice, but it’s worth it.  When people feel their knowledge, ideas and suggestions are welcomed, valued and respected, teams and businesses are more successful.