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 three succession calls and on Wednesday I had meetings and spent time writing this for you.

Of course, this week we celebrate the holidays and for some, that means spending time with friends and family. Each year around this time, I think about St. Nick, and what a wonderful leader he is and always will be. Wondering about the reasons why? Let’s list a few:

  • Motivation. A great leader is highly motivated and can motivate his team (in this case, elves and reindeer) to push beyond the limits of what they think they can achieve. For the elves, it means making more toys than ever before. For the reindeer, it means flying with expert precision and speed to every home in the world to deliver presents and joy.
  • Time management. What would happen if all those gifts arrived a day late? Time management in the North Pole is essential. It’s the difference between a holiday and well … not. St. Nick is an expert at time management, making his schedule a year in advance. If it’s not on his calendar, it doesn’t exist! St. Nick never makes a commitment of his time without checking his schedule – that’s the most important thing when it comes to time management. 
  • Optimism. Ho Ho Ho isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s the embodiment of St. Nick’s ever-positive mindset. There’s a reason he’s called “Jolly St. Nick.” It’s who he is and who he inspires his team to be. His positivity is infectious. As St. Nick teaches us, 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 or what challenges you face, 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.
  • Four Disciplines of Execution. St. Nick follows the four disciplines of execution. He focuses on his Wildly Important Goals to deliver presents and spread holiday cheer. 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 safety protocols. 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. “Last week my WIG was to make ten nutcrackers and three dolls, and they were completed. This week, my WIG is to make 12 nutcrackers and four dolls.”
  • 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. St. Nick has been known to express to the elves that smugness comes before arrogance and arrogance is the precursor to disaster, once you think you know it all your slide to mediocrity has already begun.
  • Culture. St. Nick’s workshop at the North Pole is known for being a warm, happy place of collaboration and positive culture. Elves want to be at work each day, (though many still work from their home office) reindeer want to fly, and everyone cooperates to make the holidays come to merry life. In fact, every elf has an accountability partner, someone on the team they talk to every day. As accountability partners, they ask each other 18 connecting questions, which brings about a great deal of team chemistry in the workshop.
  • Accountability. It’s not just about St. Nick holding his elves accountable, it’s also about them holding themselves accountable. If one elf builds 10 toys, another elf asks why he didn’t build 15. If one elf stays late to whittle five rocking chairs in the workshop, another elf stays even later to whittle six. When an elf isn’t eating right or sleeping enough and can barely carry the heavy raw materials into the workshop to make the gifts, another elf reminds them of their true potential and why it’s important to always be at your best. There’s extreme accountability among the elves and it’s why the 2021 elf team is the best ever, especially this one elf named Sugarplom Sleighdy who was the 199th draft pick for the 2000 North Pole Festive League and is now arguably the Greatest Of All Toymakers – the G.O.A.T.
  • 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, like St. Nick.
  • Teamwork. For the reindeer to make the sleigh fly, tremendous teamwork is required. It’s like the term “swing,” defined in “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. If you take Brown’s quote and swap out the term “oar” for “reindeer” and “boat” for “sleigh” it still makes a lot of sense: “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.”
  • 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 experts in sleigh-riding, navigation, present-making, gift-wrapping and more.
  • Fun. Once the holiday eve turns to morning, what’s left are the amazing memories made and all the fun that was had making toys for yet another 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? There’s always something we can take away from the holidays because as leaders, we’re constantly improving and growing to become even better tomorrow than we were today. It’s how St. Nick makes the holidays brighter and more festive year after year, and how we can all set ourselves up for an amazing 2022. Keep smiling, keep laughing and let the joy of the holiday fill your hearts as the cookies fill St. Nick’s plate.

Happy holidays,

Gino

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