Is Santa a good leader?

By Damien Hughes

One of the most important things I encourage in leadership development is the value of perspective-taking. Learning about diverse cultures and life experiences can provide new ideas and insight into how we lead. While I am not one to follow the hype of Christmas, I do want to have some fun with this post. Have I caught your attention?

Is the thought of linking Santa to Leadership enough to stop you reading? Hey, we all like to spread a little festive joy, right? So, read on and together we can open our minds and hearts to receive the gifts of leadership.

[Hint: there is a gift at the bottom of this post.]

With less than a week to Christmas (how many sleeps?), drawing on some fresh inspiration, I would like to ask the question, “Is Santa a good leader?”

For many, this time of year is a season of festivity. It is hard to not notice the excitement that retailers share for the season of giving; if anything, it is great for business. And Santa is one character that often takes the limelight. For the benefit of some, Santa leads a global distribution company, and if you believe what Hollywood or Disney suggests, he successfully makes his project deadline on time each year, despite the overwhelming odds. Does this suggest that Santa is a good leader?

To understand this question, we need to appreciate the difference between leader and leadership. A leader is often related to a position of authority, so to that effect yes Santa is a leader. We could describe leadership as the ways we act and behave; a good leader will inspire us to act in positive ways. For example, giving a heartfelt gift to someone is leadership in action.

One measure of a good leader is when others aspire to be like them. In my most recent visit to the mall I spotted not one, but two men dressed up in the Santa gear! It would appear to me that people are aspiring to his style of leadership. There have been one or two occasions that I have tried the Santa look, I do not think my body shape does the Santa brand much good.

It is OK to admit that you may have at some point had a fetish to wear a Santa hat and act a little “Santery”. Perhaps that workplace end-of-year celebration? Who are the leaders you aspire to be like? Chances are your own behaviour will reflect some aspect of their values. So, if aspiring to be a leader like Santa means being generous then I say bring it on; call it the Santa leadership style.

All leaders, good or bad, have followers. This is not the social-media type of followers, although they are good to have. These are people that share the vision of the leader and are intrinsically motivated to achieve the goals defined by the leader. External factors such as pay also motivate, but these often come second when you work for a good leader.

So, who are Santa’s followers? Elves are at the heart of Santa’s leadership. What motivates Elves to give up their holiday season to work in extreme conditions? Santa’s goal is simple, to spread good cheer, encourage generosity and consider others first. Leaders inspire us to greatness, to see beyond our own situation and look to a future that is better than we can hope or imagine.

It is important to have some balance and I could suggest that Santa is a bad leader. The fact that his plan stays the same each year would show a reluctance to change. Leaders are all about change. It would also appear that his oppressive conditions – which I can neither confirm nor deny – are not a mark of a leader you would want to follow.

A good leader is clear about their expectations for performance and not afraid to call you out on it. Are you aware that Santa has a list? The naughty or nice list. As a good leader Santa is noticeably clear about the method of reward and performance expectations. I feel parents may be abusing his intent here. It is difficult to trust a leader when performance standards are not measured and rewarded consistently. Not Santa.

We cannot ignore the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership. Having empathy for others, being self-aware and regulating your own emotions are just some aspects that will make you a good leader. Santa’s emotional state is clear for most to see (Ho! Ho! Ho!) and the fact that he is comfortable in his own skin speaks to a healthy self-awareness. But what about empathy? Well first let us consider just one of the situations Santa may find himself in. Picture a room with a chimney, it is the dark of night, a small, anxious and tired child has just walked down the stairs to discover this stranger in the living room (too much Hollywood, right?) Now just imagine for a moment what is the emotional state of that child? Fear! Excitement? Yet at that moment we have a leader that can empathise with the child, places any fears to doubt and inspires them to believe. Is that not a leader that you might follow?

A great leader is someone who drives social change. When we look at it this way you just need to see how shops adjust their marketing strategies and sales to fit with Santa’s vision. Despite having no legitimate power over the vast number of businesses they help spread his vision for good cheer, he influences a positive outcome. Power is an interesting aspect of leadership that I might save for another day. For now, just note that a leader’s power can come from many sources. Santa’s power could be described as referent power. If this was not true we may just stop spreading good cheer at this time of year. Tis’ the season to be jolly... or are we doing it for other reasons.

In keeping with Santa’s leadership, I have created a gift for you.

My purpose is to spread good cheer, I also want to encourage you in your own leadership. I have created a list; I have checked it twice and it will help you to find out if your leadership is naughty or nice. To get your list simply subscribe here:

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If you like the list and it encourages you to enhance one aspect of your leadership then please share it freely – over a Christmas pudding when your dearest friends and family encourage you with a few words of inspiration.

Ultimately, the mark of a good leader is the legacy they leave behind. It is not true leadership if the vision is dependent on one person. We must ask ourselves what legacy we are creating that will inspire positive change in 2020. May you stay safe over the festive season and I look forward to learning about your leadership passion for 2020.

Is Santa a good leader? Well, judging by the excitement of my children over the years I would say yes.

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