by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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At this time of year, Santa Claus and his myriad elves are hard at work preparing for another busy, hectic Christmas. We all know that Santa is a jolly old man whose sole task is to bring joy and happiness to the world. From the songs we sing to the images in every store we visit to the long lines to sit on his lap we are reminded constantly of this larger-than-life character who brings a smile to our faces. But what we miss in all of this holiday fun and excitement is the notion that Santa truly is the ultimate leader of a highly, highly effective organization that makes a difference in the world. He leads an enormous organization of employees (elves) who have bought into a common vision, work hard every day to achieve the vision, and do it all while enjoying life and having fun. If only our own organizations could be as successful as Santa’s. If only we could achieve our vision every year while having fun and enjoying our work. So what then are his secrets to leadership that make this possible? What can we glean from this jolly old man to help us to be more effective leaders in our organizations? Let’s take a sneak peek into the home of his organization – Santa’s Toy Shop – to learn more about his leadership and the secrets to his success.
Santa Has a Clear Vision Everyone Can Buy Into: The vision is clear in Santa’s Toy Shop: bring cheer, joy, and happiness to the world by building and delivering toys to every child (well unless you are the on the naughty list). Everyone in the organization clearly understands the overall vision and works hard every day of the year to achieve this vision. Nothing takes the organization away from this vision because it is clear and other goals and visions never sneak into the organization and take everyone off track. A single clear vision provides structure and enables everyone in the organization to know exactly where they are going.
Santa Has Developed an Action Plan to Reach the Vision: A vision is worthless if there is not a clear action plan to reach the vision. In Santa’s Toy Shop, the plan is simple: build toys; test out the toys; decorate the toys; wrap the toys; and then deliver the toys on the big day. Every elf knows their role and expectations and works at their piece of the overall plan to achieve the big vision. The action plan draws the road map of how to get from where the organization currently is to where they want to go in the future. The road map allows every member of the organization to know exactly how to achieve the overall vision through a series of small, achievable steps.
Santa Makes Sure Every Member of the Organization Knows They Are Important: As an organization works through a solid action plan, there is a need for the leader to continue to inspire members of the organization and to make them know that they are important. We never hear about Santa yelling at elves for mistakes or being a leader that elves are afraid of. He positively backs every person in his organization and provides inspirational talks when the work becomes difficult. His positive and joyful attitude instills confidence throughout the Toy Shop and allows the elves to excel at what they are good at. Every member of the organization knows that they are an important piece in achieving the overall vision.
Santa is an Authentic Leader: As a leader, Santa doesn’t try to be something he is not. He isn’t trying to run for political office or getting mixed up in Twitter battles, he isn’t trying to create a new energy drink or trying to branch off into new domains such as clean energy, and he definitely isn’t looking to move his Toy Shop to a warmer climate with lower taxes. Santa is content with being who he is, a jolly old man who builds toys and who wants to make people happy. He knows who he is and lives that authentic self every day. His authenticity builds trust in his employees, and provides them the strength to move forward knowing their leader isn’t going anywhere and isn’t going to change the vision for the organization.
Santa is all About Having a Positive Culture in the Toy Shop: There are few organizations that exist with as positive of a culture as Santa’s Toy Shop. It is a place where everyone is having fun while being highly effective. There is time for fun and playing with the toys. There are built in break times to eat cookies baked fresh by Mrs. Claus. There are times to bring the team together to sing Christmas songs. The elves want to be a part of this organization because there is a positive culture that they not only want to be a part of, but want to add to with their own cheer. Elves aren’t hiding in offices or cubicles hoping they don’t have to talk to anyone or be bothered as they work. There is a team atmosphere embedded within the positive and fun culture that brings joy to the work day.
While few of us take the time during the holidays to think deeply about Santa’s leadership, these five key facets of his leadership show each of us how leadership is enacted in one of the most successful and productive organizations in the world. As we look at Santa’s Toy Shop, we can see a perfect example of the impact of effective leadership practices on an organization. While our own visions of success are probably a lot smaller than bringing joy and happiness to every child in the world, they are nonetheless important for our organizations and the world. So as we return to our organizations after a Christmas season filled with chocolates, toys, gifts, fun, singing, and time spent with loved ones, it is important to remember the lessons learned from Santa’s Toy Shop. We can look to emulate Santa’s leadership in our own organizations and instill a positive culture that is constantly and effectively moving towards a vision that we all agree on. Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!