THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP: A HOLIDAY LESSON

This week my travels find me in Northern California, in meetings, on conference calls and in general, preparing for the upcoming holidays and new year. Beyond the joy, cheer and merriment, there’s one underrated theme of the holiday season and that’s leadership. And when it comes to holiday leadership, I can’t think of a more solid leader than St. Nick.

In fact, the iconic visual of St. Nick, donning his velvet red-and-white suit, pulling the reigns of his reindeer sleigh, is really a picture of effective leadership. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Motivation. St. Nick, like any great leader, motivates his team—his elves and reindeer—to perform at the highest possible level of productivity, and he does so by instilling joy in others.
  2. Positive mindset. He must maintain a positive mindset. Could you imagine a grumpy St. Nick? (Negativity is best reserved for The Grinch.) St. Nick is always happy, always optimistic and always able to laugh at any situation.
  3. Time management. Time management is of utmost importance to St. Nick. If his time isn’t managed properly, he can’t succeed at his job, shimmying down chimneys and delivering presents across the world in the span of a single night. In Santa’s schedule you can see every house he hits, every gift he delivers and every recipient of every present.
  4. Four Disciplines of Execution. Nick follows the four disciplines of execution. First, he focuses on his Wildly Important Goals: delivering gifts and spreading cheer. Second, he acts on his lead measures: loading his sleigh, mapping out his gift-giving route and sliding down chimneys to drop off gifts (and maybe snack on a few cookies). Third, he keeps a compelling scoreboard, checking his list twice and keeping score of who’s naughty and who’s nice. Finally, he creates a cadence of accountability by meeting with his elves once per week all year long. During these meetings, his elves announce how many toys they’ve assembled that week and how many they’ll assemble in the week ahead. (“This week I made six nutcrackers and three dolls and next week I’ll make eight nutcrackers and five dolls …”)
  5. Punctuality. If St. Nick isn’t on time, children don’t get gifts. Being punctual is a crucial part of leadership. Dependability is key and we can always count on St. Nick.
  6. Culture. St. Nick’s workshop is a bastion of holiday cheer and a place where positive culture reigns (pun intended). Is there any place happier than the North Pole in late December?
  7. Accountability. St. Nick, I’d imagine, has to report all of his actions to the real boss of the North Pole, Mrs. Claus. She holds him accountable for completing the commitments he says he’ll get done.
  8. Listening. Good leaders speak, great leaders listen. St. Nick must be a fantastic listener to hear—and deliver on—the holiday wishes of children around the world.
  9. Teamwork. Have you ever tried to steer a flying sleigh pulled by reindeers? It only works with teamwork and a mutual understanding of exactly where the sleigh must go. This reminds me of the term “swing,” famously and eloquently defined in The Boys in the Boat, just swap oars for reindeer: “It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action – each subtle turning of wrists – must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”
  10. Skills. It’s commendable of St. Nick and his team of elves and reindeer to provide quality service but at the end of the day, when the clock strikes midnight and it’s go time, what really comes into play are skills. St. Nick must know how to navigate a sleigh, travel the world and deliver presents with alacrity and precision. Reindeers must be expert flyers. And because elves possess such fine crafting skills, presents are able to be enjoyed and treasured every holiday season.
  11. Fun. At the heart of all St. Nick does is a desire to have fun. This decreases stress and turnover rates in his workshop, increases productivity and ensures that everyone on his team is genuinely happy.

So, what’s the message? The lessons of St. Nick are as vast as the route he travels. Yes, some might call this the most wonderful time of the year, but if we vow to keep St. Nick’s leadership lessons with us always, then we can make every day—even those days well past the holiday season—just as merry, joyous and bright.

Happy holidays,

Gino

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