This holiday, Justin Wasserman considers the leadership genius of the man in the red suit. Working for him, we invest hours of time, devote immeasurable energy, and invest a good percentage of our income in secret to bring happiness to others.
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Depending on your country of origin, you may refer to the most productive man in the world as Father Christmas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas or perhaps by merely one name like some of our most famous celebrities — Santa. Regardless of how we affectionately refer to him, his productivity is undeniable.
I’ve been studying Santa’s leadership style for several decades now, as the beneficiary of his magical ways. I happen to be an expert on this conductor of endless capacity and can share with you here, the secrets to his success.
Astonishingly, this jolly bearded fellow finds a way to deliver gifts to all of the good children around the world on a single night (or two if we take into account December 6, Saint Nicholas’ Day).
Without getting into the delicate logistics of planning the timing and sequencing of his annual flight, let’s ponder the difficulty of flying from Candy Cane Lane in the North Pole all the way around the world in one day. This heroic-marathon would require innumerable stops, the consumption of millions of gallons of milk and mountains of cookies, the scaling of treacherous chimneys, etc. — all very impressive feats for a portly old man.
Just to encircle the globe without stop would require flying around the earth, roughly 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 kilometers), not to mention countless stops along the way. I suspect even Amazon’s strategy to use unmanned drones for making deliveries would be challenged to replicate this magnitude of global distribution.
So if you buy into the myth, which even the government is in on (check out NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve), this is how it all works. If you buy into part of the myth, then at a minimum, Santa relies on a state of the art 10,000,000 square-foot toy manufacturing facility, a legion of hyper-productive toy making elves, an army of fake Santas and an unmatched fleet of sleighs to bolster his Herculean productivity.
However, for the majority of Christmas revelers over a certain age, we know that what makes the commercial-side of Christmas work isn’t Santa’s tremendous energy and efficiency, but a few tried and true leadership principles that can help any organization drive change more effectively.
- Inspire a Volunteer Army: Santa can’t do it alone. He has millions of volunteers in the parents and relatives of children around the world doing the heavy lifting on his behalf. Leaders that are effective at large-scale change develop a vision that appeals to both the logic and emotions of their people. When they share this vision for change it ignites the diverse motivations of their constituencies and develops sufficient critical mass willing enough to donate their discretionary time to accomplish the incredible.
- Make it Fun: One of the leadership principles that Santa understands so well is that increased involvement leads to increased commitment. Success from a child’s perspective in this case is clearly defined (i.e., get the right presents under the tree on the right night — ideally wrapped), but he leaves the HOW up to every parent and relative around the world to get the job done. Most corporate managers are well versed in producing predictability and order, but they often do this at the expense of having a little fun. While their job might be to reduce risk through planning, budgeting, organizing, and problem solving, they often over script the HOW, therefore reducing the amount of creativity and imagination their staff can apply to their work.
- Embrace Your “Rudolph”: As in Rudolph with a glowing red-nose, Santa’s 9th reindeer. The same reindeer that was unkindly hassled and excluded from the other reindeer games. But what makes Rudolph’s unusual gift so special is his ability to illuminate a clear path for his team. His radiant honker slashes through inclement weather and serves as an aligning beacon to follow just as a clearly articulated vision must do when faced with growing uncertainty and a rate of change that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. Visions are not meant to be drafted by a few leaders, “cascaded down” in a few big meetings and then left to sit on a shelf like an elf, gathering dust. Our research suggests that corporate visions are under-communicated by a factor of a 10.
So while Mr. Clause may save a little time in the mornings because he doesn’t have to shave, it’s his uncanny ability to rely on his team in ways that get the most out of them that makes him the most productive man in the world.
Justin Wasserman is an engagement leader at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Follow Kotter International on Twitter @KotterIntl, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, or sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.