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 He realizes asking his elves to make do with outdated equipment reduces efficiency and productivity and increases frustration and stress.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.

Agreeing to Disagree

tug of war“Why can’t they all just get along?”  I heard this question from a colleague. She is working for a company where the leadership team does not play nice.  They fight among themselves and there are a few “leaders” (I use the word loosely) who have no compunction about publicly bad-mouthing others on their team and in different departments.

As a parent, I very quickly learned that my children needed a team working together on their behalf. That meant, that in some cases, meetings were held behind closed doors, differences of opinion discussed and decisions made. Sometimes, one team leader had to make concessions, sometimes it meant agreeing to disagree but once the doors opened, a consistent, unified message was needed.

This holds true in the workplace as well.  Opinions, insight and suggestions from a broad range of stakeholders are important, but just as important is a consistent, unified message once a decision has been made and everyone, regardless of their original viewpoint, needs to own their role in the organization’s success.

Conflicting ideas and opinions are natural and to be expected when a diverse group of people, with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together. Those differences have the potential to create strength and diversity, but in many cases, are instead used as weapons and end up building walls.  When people do not know how, or choose not, to disagree respectfully, ideas stagnate, factions form and opposing camps battle against each other instead of working together to achieve success.

That negative energy is a very real weight felt by everyone in the organization.  Some of the people relying on these managers for guidance, support and direction pick a camp and the battle gets bigger. Other duck and run for cover; they hold on to ideas that could potentially benefit the organization. And others just leave, choosing to work for an organization with less mess and dysfunction.

The variety of ideas and opinions brought to the table when people with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together, is a gift.  Treasure it. Respect it.  Nourish it.

(This is a modified repost of a blog originally shared way back in July 2012.  As I held my first team meeting yesterday, I got a better sense as to the range of experience and knowledge around the table. Better yet, I got a sense of how well they work together … that is a gift and one to be nurtured.)

I need an introduction to ‘Someone’

The other day I caught myself saying “Someone should take care of that.”  There are two words in that sentence that drive me nuts … someone and should.

Just who is someone?  If whatever ‘that’ is, is really important, is it me that needs to act or is there another person on the team more suitable to taking on the challenge or completing the task?  As for should … what is should?  It’s a hope, a wish, a “if I cross my fingers maybe it will get done” kind of word.

Vague indecisive words like ‘someone’ and ‘should’ are not call to action kind of words.  Someone and should is like throwing an idea out into the cosmos on the off-chance it might get picked up and acted on.

I changed my sentence to “I will pull the information together. Will you please call to schedule the appointment?” Guess what?  The information is in a folder by the door, all ready for the appointment scheduled for Friday.

What other vague, indecisive words do you find yourself using?  Which words do you replace them with?

Stop the Power Tripping

The same way leadership isn’t a privilege bestowed to people with a business card, title or corner office, neither is power tripping.

Power trippers walk amongst us in many shapes, sizes and guises and wield their “I’m smarter/more important/more worthy than you” stick in many different ways.  Do you recognize any of these?

  1. The supervisor or manager who insists on reviewing each and every piece of documentation before it goes out.  Their lack of trust in the knowledge, expertise and experience in the people they hired to get a job done kills motivation and creativity.
  2. The co-worker who believes length of service bestows super powers and treats newer team members with condescension.
  3. The micro-managers who check, double-check, triple-check and alter someone else’s work until it turns into their work, their project, all under the guise of managing a project.
  4. The co-worker who consistently forgets to forward messages or hoards information, instead of sharing it with others on the team.
  5. The nitpickers who are blind to the 90% of work done well and focus only on helping someone get better at the 10% that could still use some work.
  6. Co-workers, supervisors and managers who play favourites.  They build up and surround themselves with their posse, shutting others out of offers for lunch or opportunities to take on new challenges.
  7. The co-worker who embarrasses others with their jokes and pranks.

A friend of mine used the term “dysfunction junction” to describe this type of workplace.  Dysfunctional workplaces simply do not produce or provide an environment where customers, internal and external, want to be in for long.

Some people are strong enough, confident enough to withstand the jabs, digs and deliberate attempts to belittle and demean.  Some simply refuse to deal with the drama and take their knowledge, expertise and experience elsewhere.  Others stay but turn into warm bodies, doing exactly what they need to in order to stay out of the range of fire. Their productivity, creativity and passion die.

Power is not the same as authority.  Power may be seized and is built on fear.  Authority is a gift given by those who trust their leader.

That’s my two cents … what do you think?

The Importance of Habits

In The CEO Code, the author, David Rohlander dedicates an entire chapter to the topic of habits.  The importance of positive, productive habits is not a sexy or glamorous topic.  Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Habits make or break careers.  Negative habits get in the way of success.  Positive habits help you achieve personal and professional goals.

Regardless of the title a person holds or if their desk is in a cubicle or a corner office, it is important to look at the habits held and practiced and then work on replacing the bad habits with good habits.

For example, CEO’s, sales managers, receptionists, accountants all benefit when poor time management habits are eliminated.  Many of us get stuck in the rut of completing a task a certain way and with a small tweak, could reduce the amount of time spent or perhaps even provide someone else the opportunity to take on the challenge.

Make it a habit, a ritual, a must to acknowledge the people you work with, instead of rushing to your desk to start on a busy day.  This creates opportunities for dialogue and improved relationships.

Instead of jumping headfirst into your day, make it a habit to start each day with reflection.  Spend some time focusing on your personal and professional goals, your successes and your challenges.  This mental mind shift from “must get done” to a long-term, big picture perspective helps prioritize during the rest of the day.

Do you want to become a better communicator?  Identify your poor habits and replacing them with better habits.  Instead of automatically jumping in with suggestions or solutions to problems, make it a habit to ask questions and provide opportunities for others to develop solutions.

The CEO Code is filled with practical advice and tips on how to be a better leader.  One sure way to achieve personal or professional success, is to develop strong, positive habits.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review David Rohlander’s book, The CEO Code.)