Need a role model for effective leadership? Try Santa Claus!
One of the most powerful and entertaining business books available today, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus is a clever and compelling resource for leaders at all levels.
What better example of leadership than Santa himself. Imagine the endless challenges that running his operation poses. There's juggling employees, equipment, facilities, resources, production, letter reading, scheduling, the BIG delivery, keeping everyone jolly and the list goes on. It's mind boggling! How does he do it all? What are his secrets to success? You'll find the answers within the pages of his powerful and entertaining book, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus. You'll enjoy every minute of reading as you learn how to:
- Get your team fully motivated and inspired
- Produce significant and sustained results
- Help everyone deal with the realities of change
- Build a high performance "Workshop"
- Become a more effective and respected leader
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus
By Eric Harvey
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Eric Harvey
All rights reserved.
BUILD A WONDERFUL WORKSHOP
Make the Mission the Main Thing
When it comes to getting "big things" done well, there are few (if any) businesses that can hold a Yule candle to our North Pole operation. I'm extremely proud of the workshop that the elves, reindeer, and I have created — and we're more than happy to show it off. But, at ninety degrees north latitude and minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, we get very few takers on our standing offer to tour the facility. Most southerners (everyone's a southerner to us) only see our plant through their imaginations ... through the stereotypical images they've had of Santa's Workshop since childhood.
What's your vision of our workplace? Do you see candy canes and chestnuts? Wood chips flying in the air and falling into neat little piles? Whistling and singing? Busy little elves and reindeer, with smiles on their faces, scurrying around to make and package toys? If so, your image is right on — except for the candy canes and chestnuts ... and the wood chips (we rarely use wood any more).
Yes, we do run a productive and happy place here. And that's in spite of the intense pressures and challenges we face — ones that undoubtedly were not included in your vision of us. So how do we do it? Just how do I keep everyone, including myself, on track and motivated throughout each year — all for one long night's big splash? The answer is basic and simple: through an unwavering and uncompromising focus on OUR MISSION. And as the leader, I've taken several steps to establish and maintain that focus.
First, I've made sure that all the elves and reindeer know what our mission is ("Making spirits bright by building and delivering high-quality toys to good little girls and boys") and why it's important. Ask any member of our North Pole staff and they can quote our mission verbatim ... and explain its significance.
Second, I've spent time with individual employees — discussing how their respective jobs specifically link with, and contribute to, the accomplishment of our mission.
Third, I've kept the mission "in front of folks" by posting it on walls, discussing it at staff meetings and training sessions, including it in internal correspondence, and through a host of other activities that help ensure it stays our central focal point.
Finally, I've made it a core component of our decision-making and work-planning processes. If an action we're considering doesn't support our mission, either directly or indirectly, we don't do it!
With all the team members we have, orders we get, toys we make, and issues we face, it could be way too easy to dilute ourselves, head off on tangents, or just plain lose sight of why we're here. We avoid those by keeping our mission at the heart of everything we do ... by making our mission our main thing. I recommend that you do the same in your workshop.
Focus on Your People As Well As Your Purpose
Here's a nugget of leadership wisdom that I've picked up over the decades — something you can take to one of the toy banks we occasionally deliver: you can't possibly focus on your mission without also focusing on the folks that make your mission happen. The two go hand in hand ... hoof in hoof (sorry, but the reindeer insisted). And besides, since you manage things and lead people, common sense suggests that it's people who are at the core of all leadership activities.
But alas, common sense apparently isn't all that common. There is a handful of managers out there who don't get it — they don't get the message, and they don't get the positive results that the message can help produce. That point was clearly brought home by a short letter I received several years ago:
This year I only want one thing — a manager who cares as much about me as the work I'm doing. It's hard to be committed when there's no reciprocation. Please help!
Now that's a sad commentary ... and a tall order to fill. There was no need to check our production schedule. I already knew that "caring leaders" weren't on our list of deliverables. But I needed to respond in some way, so I decided to do two things: 1) Write this book, and 2) Vow to do my very best never to be the kind of leader described in that letter.
I'm happy (even jolly) to say I've done both. Writing this book was by far the easier of the two responses; living up to my vow — turning my good intentions into predictable behaviors — was more challenging. It took abandoning a few old behaviors and adopting a few new ones; it required commitment, self-discipline, concentration, and prioritization. And I needed to monitor my progress (and still do), through both self-evaluation and periodic feedback from the workshop team, by providing answers to the following:
In the last several months, what have I done to ...
Be accessible (physically and mentally) to employees who would like my attention?
Be considerate of staff-member needs?
Provide employees with the training, tools, resources, and feedback required for success?
Keep employees in the "what's happening" information loop?
Help team members maintain an appropriate balance between their professional and personal lives?
Demonstrate respect for employees' time and talents ... as well as respect for them as individuals?
Solicit, and listen to, staff-member ideas and concerns?
Help everyone develop and grow?
Fairly distribute the work and workload?
These, and many others like them, are the questions I ask — and the things I do — to make sure I focus on the wonderful workers who comprise our wonderful workshop. What questions do you ask? What action items would I find on your list?
Let Values Be Your Guide
Every once in a while, a truly special moment occurs in education — the student turns out to be the teacher. I experienced one of those moments not too long ago, and I'd like to share it with you. This next leadership lesson comes courtesy of a savvy little elf named Virginia.
It was a Tuesday morning and I was conducting a leadership development training session in the workshop classroom. I gave each participant a set of plastic building blocks along with an assignment: "Build a model of a wonderful workshop." The purpose of the task was twofold:
1. Test student creativity and thinking, and
2. Provide me with ideas for improving our North Pole facility.
After starting the exercise, I left the room.
I returned an hour later and found that everyone was busy building his or her structure — everyone, that is, except Virginia. She was just sitting there, staring into space. "Is there a problem, Virginia?" I inquired. "No, Santa," she replied, "I'm just thinking." So I left her to her thoughts and exited the classroom.
After another hour had passed, I returned to the room to conclude the exercise. As I moved from table to table, I was truly impressed by the array of detailed models with structural components like smokestacks, loading ramps, conveyor belts, sleigh landing pads, cafeterias, gyms, offices, and even high-tech classrooms.
When I came to Virginia's model, however, I was taken aback. There, in front of her, were six vertical columns — and nothing more. "Need more time?" I asked. "No thanks," she answered, "I'm done." Hearing that, I probed further: "Virginia, I'm not sure I understand. All the other models are very detailed structures, but all you have are six columns. No walls, no roof, no nothing. How come?" The explanation she offered is where you'll find the lesson for leaders everywhere:
"Well, Santa, it seems to me that what makes a workshop wonderful is not walls and ceilings, but what happens inside those walls and under those ceilings ... it's not how a workshop stands, but what it stands for that makes it special. These six columns you see are pillars, and they represent values — the values of respect, integrity, quality, customer service, responsibility, and teamwork. I found them listed on our website. Maybe for some folks they're just words, but for me, they're blueprints to follow. And that's where leadership comes in. Making sure that everyone knows what values are important, and then helping everyone turn those good beliefs into everyday behaviors is how leaders create a great place to work. At least that's how I see it. And that's why my model looks the way it does. Did I do okay?"
With a huge grin on my face and a twinkle in my eye, I responded: "Yes, Virginia, that is a wonderful workshop. And I think that you are going to be a wonderful leader. Thank you for giving me such a valuable gift."CHAPTER 2
CHOOSE YOUR REINDEER WISELY
Hire Tough So You Can Manage Easy
You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen; Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the least famous reindeer of all: Misfit? Probably not. He's not here anymore. Unfortunately, I had to let him go decades ago. But I certainly learned a lot from the whole Misfit experience.
It all started when I was faced with hiring a new reindeer to fill a vacant position. Now, I know that pulling the sleigh is a very important job. Ask the reindeer — they'll tell you. But I was busy — very busy. Recruiting and hiring a new puller was just one of the scores of things on Santa's platter. And besides, bringing on new staff can be tedious, bureaucratic, and tiring work. It's not what makes me jolly. Personally, I'd much rather walk around the workshop, chat with the elves, and test the new toys. So, I took the easy route. I did a cursory résumé review, conducted a quick, pro forma interview, and grabbed the first warm, antlered-body that appeared halfway decent.
Did I probe to determine if Misfit was committed to responsibilities like teamwork, dependability, and customer service? No. Did I test his flying skills? No. Did I do a thorough background check? No. Did I involve any of the other reindeer in the selection process? No. Did I take one of our new, high-pressure water gun toys and shoot myself in the proverbial foot? YES!
Misfit was appropriately named all right. After a short period of putting his best hoof forward, the problems began. He'd show up late, and then display a less than desirable attitude when I called him on it. More and more, he'd carry less and less of his share of the load. That made the sleigh pull to the right — forcing the left side crew to work harder in order for us to stay straight. The harder they worked, the more irritated they became ... and the harder it was for me to keep the reins in check.
I ended up spending way too much time watching Misfit, re-re-re-training him, counseling him, and handling complaints about him from the other reindeer — and the elves as well. Pretty soon, he was bringing the whole team down. And productivity was going down with them. All of that because of one Misfit reindeer ... all of that because I cut corners and allowed joining the team to be way too easy.
That was then. Now I do things much differently. Through the Misfit experience, I've come to realize that:
1. Because it's employees who ultimately make our mission happen, staffing is my single most important responsibility.
2. The time I spend hiring the right way is nothing compared to the time I'll have to spend dealing with the wrong reindeer.
Take a hiring lesson from Santa. Invest in doing it right up front and everyone — especially you — will be happier down the road.
Promote the Right Ones ... for the Right Reasons
Just listen to his cute little song (go ahead ... sing it to yourself) and you'll quickly realize that Rudolph wasn't always the lead reindeer. In fact, he didn't get that promotion until one foggy night about a century ago. Before that, Donner had the top spot; Donner was "the deer." And as it turned out, promoting Donner was "the problem."
Now don't get me wrong, Donner was not a bad reindeer. He was a great reindeer! One of the best pullers I've ever had. He was strong, fast, and dependable; he pulled more than his weight (and he weighed a ton). He followed instructions to the letter. Donner was a pro — as a puller. So when it came time to promote a new lead, he was my obvious choice. He had earned it. And I assumed that the best puller would make the best leader. Well, to quote another old song title, "it ain't necessarily so." And he proved it.
To say that Donner had a difficult time is an understatement. The lead job was different than the puller job — with skill and ability requirements that I hadn't tested for and that he couldn't meet.
He was in over his head, and he was miserable. So were the other reindeer ... and so was I. It's no secret that I was a little short on the "Ho, Ho, Ho's" during that period. Donner needed to go back to the job he was good at, and a new lead — the right lead — needed to be found.
Lead reindeer ("RD1"on our classification sheet) is an important position. The lead has more contact with the pullers than anyone else here at the Pole ... and a lot more influence over them as well. It was critical that I pick a leader that the other deer would follow. And there stood Rudolph.
Rudolph was a decent puller, but by no means was he the strongest or fastest of the crew. When he first joined the team, some of the other reindeer laughed, called him names, and excluded him from their games. They're not an easy bunch to "bond" with. But that changed as they (and I) began to notice that there was something special about Rudolph; he seemed to have a knack for getting things done with others ... a nose for leadership. So I decided to consider him for the lead.
This time, I started to take some notes. I created two columns: 1) The tasks, duties, and responsibilities of the lead position, and 2) The characteristics, talents, values, abilities, and attitudes that I felt were necessary to perform those tasks successfully — and to support our overall mission. Then I tested Rudolph and the other candidates against those criteria. He was a standout. He had "the right stuff."
So, on that foggy night long ago, Rudolph got his shot. And the rest, as they say, is history. It's a wonderful history ... and an unforgettable lesson.
Go for the Diversity Advantage
Not all of what I've learned about hiring came from reindeer experiences. And since our other group of workers tend to get a little miffed if they don't get equal time, here's Santa's third and final lesson on employee selection — involving the elves:
It used to be that our elves were pretty much all alike — same size, same pointed ears, same little green suits, same way of talking ... same everything. Whenever we needed new elves, I automatically looked for, and brought on, workers that fit the standard mold. Why not? That's the way it was for years and years — and it seemed to be working just fine. We rarely messed up an order and we had never missed our December 24 delivery. I was one happy sleigh driver — that is, until two things happened.
First, I found out that we had competitors. Department stores, online retailers, discount chains, and a whole host of other manufacturers and toy distributors were moving in on the market we had cornered for decades. They had all kinds of workers (not just elves), and they were gaining ground on our operation. To add insult to injury, some of them were actually using phony Santas — imposters dressed up like me ... pretending to be me.
I wasn't sure how to address the challenge of competition, but I knew that something needed to be done. Staying with "business as usual" probably wouldn't serve us well that much longer.
Soon after discovering that we had competition, the second thing happened: a group of North Pole politicians (yes, we have them too) passed a law that said we had to expand our hiring practices; we had to start bringing on "different" kinds of toy makers — not just the little pointy-eared fellas we'd been employing forever.
So we complied with the regulations and came face-to-face with a new set of challenges. We had not-the-same-oldelves recruiting procedures to develop and coworker acceptance issues to deal with. Since not everyone spoke Northpolese, there were some language barriers. New interpersonal skills had to be developed. And things called "nondiscrimination regulations" had to be communicated, taught, and followed.
It wasn't easy, but we did it. We did it all. And in the process, we got more than a Santa's sackful of unexpected benefits. It didn't take long to discover that our "different" toy makers came bearing gifts. They brought new skills, perspectives, and ideas to the workshop. They gave us more than one way of thinking, planning, producing, and problem solving. They made us better, stronger, and much more in touch with the "different" shapes, sizes, and colors of customers that we serve. And all that has helped us more than hold our own with all those competing Santa wannabes out there.
What started out as a challenging situation — to merely comply with a requirement — has become our most significant competitive advantage. And it can be yours as well. Believe Santa Claus ... believe in diversity.
Excerpted from The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus by Eric Harvey. Copyright © 2015 Eric Harvey. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Build a Wonderful Workshop,
2. Choose Your Reindeer Wisely,
3. Make a List and Check It Twice,
4. Listen to the Elves,
5. Say Ho Ho Ho, but Don't Forget the Snow,
6. Give Them Gifts That Last a Lifetime,
7. Get beyond the Red Wagons,
8. Share the Milk and Cookies,
9. Find Out Who's Naughty and Nice,
10. Be Good for Goodness Sake,
Reindeer Food for Thought,