4 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Santa Claus

By Jonathan Allen Yabut|24-12-2015 | 1 Min Read

He may be fictional, but still quite a character nonetheless

There is no other iconic symbol for Christmas (apart from the birthday celebrant of course!) but Santa Claus. If you were nice this 2015, you must be expecting the jolly old man to visit your home this Christmas eve for a treat.

But have you ever wondered how a single person can manage a toy workshop full of elves, identify the nice from naughty kids, and deliver millions of presents on time?

Think of Santa as the CEO of North Pole, who has consistently met his KPIs (key performance indicators) because of his effective leadership skills. Truly, our dear Santa never fails to deliver (pun intended).

If you’re a budding entrepreneur set to become the next Steve Jobs or a middle manager gearing up to the next president of your company, I’ve dissected the leadership skills of the white-bearded man who can teach us a couple of lessons for running the world’s largest (and probably oldest) toy factory in the world.

1. Set clear goals for your “elves”

To deliver presents to millions of children around the world, Santa relies on his elves. They sweat it out at the factory in a classic assembly line where each specialises on a role. Someone manufactures the toys, another one wraps them, and finally someone identifies the shipping address.

Santa knows that to keep this giant factory working, he needs to organise his elves based on quantifiable and clear metrics that will guide every employee and set him up for success.

Just like Santa, great leaders know that the foundations of an effective workforce are grounded on a clear understanding of what needs to be delivered.

To be inspired and motivated, employees always ask these questions, “What is the objective of this task?” or “Where is this heading to?” or “Am I doing my job right?”

Great leaders don’t just give commands and expect people to follow them blindly. They make sure they answer these questions immediately on Day 1.

2. Always go back to your “North”

A leader like Santa is surely tempted to do “something else” every year (imagine all the ideas he probably must have thought of while riding his sleigh up in the sky). But after all the hard work of delivering Christmas presents to the kids, he knows that everything must go back to the “North” in the end – to start making a new list, make new toys, and deliver them again for next year.

We live in a time called the “Age of Distraction” in which technology and social media have gotten the best of our attention span.

Today, companies get distracted easily with wanting to do every single idea that come their way. What if we change the packaging of our product? What if we launch another service? What if we overhaul the organisation?

Innovation is always good, but not every change is necessary for the sake of changing. Some changes can pull you away from the very goal that you wanted from the very start.

Great leaders always go back to the organisation’s “True North” which refers to the desired future state of the company. They always question every move:

  • “Is this really want we want in the end?”
  • “Are we steering the company to the right direction?”
  • “Are we future-proofing the company’s assets?”
  • “Are we ready for the competitor’s next move?”

Great leaders know that distractions and disruptions will always come their way, but they always commit to a vision, and successfully nail it down.

3. Know and tap the strengths of your “reindeers”

The ever-popular song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer sums it all up with Santa’s reindeers laughing at Rudolph and calling him names for his glowing red nose. Rudolph was the company outcast.

But Santa spotted that this “weakness” can be turned into a strength one foggy Christmas eve while delivering presents to the kids. Rudolph’s nose finally came into good use.

Santa, who never gave up on Rudolph, finally tapped him to shine:

“Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight”.

While leaders ideally handpick their direct reports, not everyone will be fortunate to choose the people who will work for them. Some employees assigned to you will be good, and some will take a lot of your patience to deliver.

Mediocre leaders easily give up on employees that have yet to shine, but great leaders bring out the best from their people despite their weaknesses and their shortcomings. Great leaders exceptionally spot people’s strengths and focus on improving these to the point that they can overwhelm the weaknesses.

Great leaders take time to develop them because they know that it’s part of their job. Great leaders are those who can polish any rough stone and turn it into a diamond.

4. Find out who’s naughty and nice, and let them know about it

We all know that Santa makes a list of children who have been naughty and nice (and yes, he does check this list twice). The nice ones get presents, and the naughty ones don’t get any at all (in some countries, Santa apparently brings them a sack of coal).

Santa’s system is not only meant to reward, but to clearly signal and give feedback to children if they have been bad or good.

In many surveys and studies worldwide, feedback is considered as the most crucial element that both leaders and employees find lacking in every organisation.

Great leaders provide constant feedback – whether formal or casual – because the last thing that any employee wants is to be clueless of how he’s performing (or worse, have the impression that he’s doing well when he’s falling short of everyone’s expectations).

Great leaders are never insecure to praise and reward people whenever they shine. Great leaders don’t just ignore the rotten apples (trust me, silent treatment doesn’t work for everyone and at times even sends the wrong signal that the bad acts are acceptable).

They tell immediately when the lines have been crossed, make the employee realise the impact of the action, and ask for a commitment to not do it again.

Concluding thoughts

When it comes to success in the corporate world, no one is too old for dear Santa who can prove what it takes to inspire and motivate people to succeed.

May you all have a meaningful holiday season and may you bring leadership to even greater heights for the coming year!

To engage with Jonathan for your organisation, email us at training@leaderonomics.com. For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here.

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Jonathan is the winner of The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as the managing director of The JY Ventures & Consultancy. He is also an author of the book From Grit to Great, and a Leaderonomics faculty partner.
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