After passing an extensive background check and being vetted by the CIA (Claus Intelligence Agency), I was granted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Santa Claus, one of the most legendary leaders of all time. I was eager to learn the secrets of his success. How does he maintain passion for his work after all these years? What’s the trick for keeping his team of elves inspired to perform their best? And the most nagging question of all: Does he have a dress code at the North Pole? I mean, I always see him and the elves wearing the same clothes. What’s the deal with that?
I admit I had trouble keeping the interview focused on leadership, seeing as how I had the opportunity to quiz Santa about all those strange gifts I’ve received over the years. (Like, why does my mother-in-law keep giving me those chintzy desktop bowling sets? Does she really think I have time to set up a miniature bowling alley and play while I’m at work? Is that a cruel prank by Santa or is my mother-in-law to blame?)
Below is an excerpt of the conversation I had with Santa.
Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be anxious and stressed about all the work you need to accomplish prior to Christmas.
Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Tom! I’m not stressed, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.
Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?
Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.
Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?
Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.
Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?
Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.
Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?
Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.
Me: Santa, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question: If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?
Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.