THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP: HAPPY HOLIDAYS

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I had my weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy Presidents Meeting and five CEO reviews, followed by two CEO reviews the next day. It’s been a busy week of conference calls and Microsoft Teams meetings as we tie a bow on this challenging year while looking forward to the next. The holidays are such a special time, even though this is the year many of us can’t be with our family and loved ones or hold the traditional holiday parties, but the spirit of the season remains. Surprisingly, the holidays are also filled with leadership lessons and they come from the boss of yuletide cheer, St. Nick. Here are twelve tips he can teach us:

  1. Motivation. St. Nick leads and does not follow. With a motivated mindset, he inspires his team – his elves and reindeer – to be more productive, more efficient and even more effective than they were the year before. During a year when motivation could’ve easily waned (even reindeer had to stay at home), St. Nick uses his positive mindset to keep his team focused and ready.
  2. Time management. Could you imagine what would happen if presents arrived a day late? The holidays would cease to exist! With time management front and center in his business, St. Nick is able to map out his route, shimmy down chimneys, (maybe snack on a few cookies) and drop off the gifts all within the span of one evening. Especially this year, when he needs to remain socially distanced as he drops off his presents, time management is critical. Without time management, there’s no way he’d deliver all the presents to all the children across the world.
  3. Optimism. St. Nick’s ever-present optimism is what allows his elves and reindeer to stay positive, too. Optimism emerges from faith in yourself and faith in those who work for you. It’s not about wearing rose-colored glasses while reading wish lists. It’s about recognizing that no matter what happens, your abilities, experience and knowledge will see you through. St. Nick tells his elves that being positive works most of the time but being negative like the Grinch works 100% of the time … that is, 100% of the time being negative works against you.
  4. Four Disciplines of Execution. St. Nick follows the four disciplines of execution. First, he focuses on his Wildly Important Goals to deliver presents and spread holiday cheer. Second, he acts on his lead measures, leveraging all his elves to make toys and help him load the sleigh and map out his gift-giving route while adhering to CDC safety protocols. Third, he keeps a compelling scoreboard, checking his list twice and keeping score of who’s naughty and who’s nice. And as far as the importance of scorekeeping goes, St. Nick always tells his elves: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” Finally, he creates a cadence of accountability by meeting with his elves every Monday morning on a virtual Microsoft Teams call. 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 ten nutcrackers and four dolls and next week I’ll make sixteen nutcrackers and eight dolls …”)
  5. Humility. The success St. Nick enjoys is in part from his own efforts, but his holiday accomplishments do not stem from his achievements alone. It’s the efforts of the elves, the efforts of the reindeer and the support and example set by Mrs. St. Nick that allows him to succeed.
  6. Culture. St. Nick’s workshop at the North Pole is brimming with collaboration and positive culture. Elves want to be at work each day, (though many work from their home office) reindeer want to fly, and everyone cooperates to make the holidays come to merry life. Even in 2020 when he held his virtual meetings with his elves and reindeer, everyone kept their cameras on, looked straight into the camera, smiled and stayed engaged throughout the entire meeting.
  7. Accountability. St. Nick is accountable to all the children worldwide. They’re quite literally counting down the days, (and counting on him) to appear with presents. In 2020, his accountability is even higher. We could all use a little cheering up and a dose of jolly, holiday spirit.
  8. Listening. If St. Nick didn’t listen, he might never hear the holiday wishes he must grant. Good leaders speak, great leaders know when to speak and when to listen, just like St. Nick.
  9. Teamwork. For the reindeer to make the sleigh fly, tremendous teamwork is required. It’s similar to the term “swing,” defined in “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. In fact, here’s the quote about swing, swapping out oars for reindeer and boat for sleigh: “Each minute action – each subtle turning of wrists – must be mirrored exactly by each [reindeer], from one end of the [sleigh] to the other. Only then will the [sleigh] continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the [reindeer]. Only then will it feel as if the [sleigh] is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. [Sleigh-riding] then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”
  10. Skills. Of course, customer service is at the heart of what St. Nick does but he also needs the skills to complete the job. (Customer service is the holiday frosting but never the whole cake.) St. Nick and his team are well-versed in sleigh-riding, navigation, present-making, gift-wrapping … the list goes on. This year, they’ve even adjusted their skills to accommodate the health and safety of the workshop team members and the children who will receive his gifts. His elves can whittle wooden rocking horses with gloves on. His reindeer learned to fly while wearing PPE.  
  11. Preparation. Successful leaders like St. Nick understand success is when opportunity meets preparation. The opportunity is already there for him and his team – they’ve been given this incredible chance to gift the world with cheer – but the preparation is St. Nick’s responsibility alone. He is the one who makes sure he has the right presents for the right homes, the proper equipment for his sleigh and the necessary tools in his workshop to get the toy-making jobs done. For this holiday season, the workshop had to do some extra prepping, de-sanitizing their workspaces and cleaning everything carefully in preparation for the sleigh ride.
  12. Fun. Once the holiday eve turns to morning, what’s left are the fond memories and fun St. Nick and his team had while completing yet another successful holiday season. A workshop filled with fun decreases stress for team members and turnover rates at the North Pole, while increasing productivity and overall positivity.

So, what’s the message?

We can all relate to certain aspects of St. Nick’s leadership style, just like we can all relate to different aspects of the holiday season. Especially this year, when even St. Nick has to deal with challenges to safeguard the health and wellness of his team and present-recipients, he remains resilient, strong and cheerful. It’s a lesson to us all to keep smiling and laughing this holiday season, letting the joy fill our hearts as the cookies fill our plates!

Happy holidays,

Gino

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