something nice to ponder upon
Build A Wonderful Workshop,
Choose Your Reindeer Wisely,
Make a List and Check it Twice,
Listen to the Elves,
Get Beyond The Red Wagon,
Share the Milk and Cookies,
Find Out Who’s Naughty and Nice, and
Be Good For Goodness’ Sake.
FOLLOWING IS AN INTERVIEW
Al Lucia on The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus
By: KAREN ELMHIRST
KE: First, I have to start with the obvious question, why the leadership secrets of Santa Claus? What led you and your co-authors to decide on this particular subject?
AL: As you know, there are many books on the subject of leadership, maybe too many, and yet the issues continue to be important. We thought that a spin, a spin that was familiar, would be a good way to delve into the issue. We don’t pretend that there is anything brand new in the book. The analogy of Santa works because he is such a recognizable character, and someone that everyone can relate to.
KE:So, here we are, just a few shopping days before Christmas Eve – the biggest night of the year for Santa. How is it that Santa manages to get the impossible done on time, and on budget? What secrets is he willing to share?
AL: We put Santa’s success down to eight secrets: Build A Wonderful Workshop, Choose Your Reindeer Wisely, Make a List and Check it Twice, Listen to the Elves, Get Beyond The Red Wagon, Share the Milk and Cookies, Find Out Who’s Naughty and Nice, and Be Good For Goodness’ Sake.
KE: Let’s start by talking about building a wonderful workshop.
AL: It is an extremely critical foundation and we all know how important foundations are to eventual success. In this case, there are three ideas: make the mission the main thing, focus on your people as well as your purpose, and let values be your guide. What an organization stands for is extremely important. As we went through these ideas while writing the book, we took a look at the values that organizations have. They are everywhere; on walls, on desks throughout the world. In Santa’s case, the workshop values are quality, customer service, responsibility, respect, teamwork, and integrity. These values are ones we hear shared by many organizations. The problem is that we don’t always walk the talk. When you do walk the talk, you build trust, and when you build trust you get results.
Unfortunately, stated values can be misinterpreted because of lack of specificity, definition, and clarity. I want to share with everyone an exercise that we have been doing for a while called the ‘t-shirt exercise.’ Santa did this as well. Imagine a t-shirt and the front of the t-shirt says what Santa believes and the back says what the elves believe. It’s possible that there might be a gap between the two. This just shows how out of synch we can be without even knowing. The front of Santa’s t-shirt says, “Here comes Santa Claus! Here comes Santa Claus!” That sounds very positive and upbeat. But on the back the shirt says, “Quick! Hide!”
Organizations often state their values, but those working inside the organization have a very different perception of what values are being lived.
KE: I think it goes beyond interpretation, don’t you? The values may be what a leader aspires to, but when the rubber meets the road, it might not be what the organization is supporting or rewarding.
AL: Excellent point. I really believe that people don’t set intentions for not walking the talk. It was certainly never Santa’s intention, but those who read the book will see that he had some problems as well.
KE: I hear the need to make the mission the daily focus, rather than just the plaque on the wall syndrome. What about the content of the mission, does it need to go beyond making money to be effective in guiding an organization’s way? I find that a lot of employees today need to feel like they are contributing in a grander way.
AL: I find that as well. One of the reasons is that the financial success is not something most of us see on a day-to-day or even month-to-month basis. As a result, there is a need for something else, something employees can relate to that matters to them.
Also, organizations have lots of options regarding what to do with the money they make. It goes beyond making a profit to where the profit is going.
KE:As I recall, Santa has a section in the book on the importance of effective selection. What tips can we learn from his process?
AL: This goes back to the rule of Choose Your Reindeer Wisely. There are certain recommendations when it comes to choosing your reindeer: Hire tough so you can manage easy, promote the right ones for the right reasons and go for the diversity advantage.
Invest some time in the selection process so that you pick a person with a better chance of success and you can manage that person more easily. If you take no time upfront then you are going to wind up, potentially, with someone that is difficult to manage. I am not simply saying, “Hire the best” here. Pay attention to how someone conducts himself or herself when they come into an interview.
We have a tendency to promote people who are not necessarily good leaders. Sound familiar? I have heard that throughout my entire career. We promote the best performers into leadership positions, but almost by definition, they don’t make the best leaders. Why? First of all, they have a lot of skill in doing in what they do. They also might not have the tolerance necessary for leading others because they themselves are so darn good at the job. That makes them less patient with employees. Why do people get promoted? Do you promote people based on productivity? Good. Do you also promote them because of how they deal with people? If you are promoting people into leadership despite bad behavior when working with others, you are sending a terrible message throughout the organization. Unfortunately, I see far too much of that.
The third point is to go for the diversity advantage. I think diversity and inclusion has been evolving, hopefully away from a compliance mode and more towards a commitment mode. Diversity is something that people want to be involved in, instead of having to be involved in. It is important that your employees look like the people they are serving. Take a look at your customers. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What is their diversity? Reflect that in your team. I really think there is joy in diversity and differences.
KE: I was talking with my four-year old twins about something just the other night. The question came up as to how Santa could possibly provide enough toys to cover the world’s children, and then there’s the delivery issue. What secrets can you share with us on how Santa handles the impossible?
AL: That may be the first of many difficult questions you are going to have to answer in the coming years!
I recommend you follow Santa’s practices including: Make a list and check it twice. Not just to find out who’s naughty and nice but also to plan your work, work your plan and make the most of what you have. It is not what you know, but what you show you know. I love that phrase. There may be things we are talking about that you already know, but I think we need to ask ourselves how we are putting that knowledge into practice.
Santa recommends that you make the most of your time and that you prioritize your tasks. That is just a given. We are all too darn busy and therefore we have to determine what is the most important to get the most return. Make the most of money. How are we spending our money? It’s important to minimize waste. It is about making the most of employees’ talents and expertise. It’s also about involving people, making sure they are matched to their jobs properly, and that they share their knowledge with others.
So, how does Santa do it? It is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the universe, but overall these are some of the strategies that can help.
KE: I never realized before that Santa had a structured process for getting feedback from his elves. What does he do with that feedback?
AL: Santa was a pretty self-centered guy originally. Things were going well and he didn’t really pay attention to what he was doing. As time went by, pressures increased, the reindeer and elves changed, and he found himself having to pay attention to how he was perceived. He had to walk a while in their shoes. He had to learn how to accept constructive feedback. I think that is hard for all of us. When an elf had the audacity to tell him that he was not quite as effective as he could be, that was quite a transition for him. He also needed to act on the information.
First there is the acceptance of the feedback and then, the willingness to act on it. You don’t always have to do what the elves are telling you. You can analyze it and research it and determine that it is not in the best interests of the organization, but at least you are giving a response. People don’t just settle for the bottom line ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer anymore, they want to know why and they want to participate in the process.
KE: Santa seems to have some good ideas about leading change as well. Why don’t you share those with us briefly?
AL: We call this “getting beyond the red wagon.” The elves were comfortable with making red wagons andthen all of a sudden they had to deal with changing consumer preferences and changes in technology. That was very traumatic for the elves. Santa realized that he was going to see more productivity and talent retention if he did things like help everyone accept the reality of change, remember that the customer is in charge, and learn the ‘business’ of the business.
Accepting the reality of change is personal. Everyone is different and therefore everyone is going to accept change differently. I am going to look at some things and say, “Who cares” while someone else may be ready to jump out the window over the same change. Just because all of the elves wear the same costumes, doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way to change.
Even though the customers are really in charge, you don’t ever want your employees to take a back seat to anybody. In order for the customer to be number one, the employee has to be right up there as well.
Teaching the business of the business is helping people understand what is really going on. I worked in healthcare for a long time and the vast majority of people didn’t understand why a hospital bed for a night cost so much money. When I went through the numbers, it made total sense. I think we are far too secretive in organizations today. People need to know how much things cost and then they can draw their own conclusions. I put a lot of effort into helping people understand where the dollars come from and how they are being spent within their organization.
KE: There’s a section in which Santa speaks of his “attitude of gratitude.” What is it and why is it so important to a leader’s effectiveness?
AL: There is a chapter in our book called “Share the Milk and Cookies.” The recommendations are to help people see the difference they make, do right by those who do right, and expand their reinforcement possibilities. There are a number of reasons why this is critical. In study after study and generation after generation the topic of recognition continues to come up. The type of recognition may vary but it is one of the key common areas between generations. Attitude of gratitude goes beyond just alliteration to put in the forefront. I talk about this stuff every day and I still have to remind myself to give recognition to those I care about. Reinforcement is key. It is not a matter of style. Whatever your style, genuine recognition gets results, it helps the culture and we are missing it. It is just a matter of business sense.
KE: Performance Management is a hot topic these days, as leaders realize what impact employee productivity has on the bottom line. What are Santa’s recommendations in terms of managing performance?
AL: Find out who’s naughty and nice. Confront performance problems early, coach the majority in the middle, and don’t forget the superstars. The one I want to dwell on a bit is confronting performance problems quickly. We talked about the selection process earlier. Sometimes you select the right people and sometimes you don’t. The naughty person dressed up and brushed their teeth and got in anyway. Sometimes it is not a matter of skill; it may be a lack of teamwork, lack of communication, etc. It is very important to confront people early because rarely does it get any better. You confront people on a behavioral basis, and avoid dealing in generalities, all the stuff that we know. It is just a reminder to take a look at your leadership team and see how good they are at coaching. It is fundamental to success.
KE: Also, what does Santa do to help ensure ethical behavior on the part of elves and reindeer alike?
AL: There is a section of the book entitled, “Be Good For Goodness’ Sake.” Santa has to set a good example. Leaders are role models whether they want to be or not. People are going to look at you and set their behaviors accordingly. It’s important to establish guidelines and accountabilities and remember that all behaviors – large and small, count. Those are just some of the things that leaders need to keep in mind.
KE: It takes me back to that saying, “The way we do one thing is the way we do everything.” I think leaders need to remember that their behavior, even in the smallest area, could have major impact in the message it sends to employees about what’s ok and what’s not ok.
Al, we’re talking today to an audience primarily made up of HR professionals. What is it that you’d recommend they do next?
AL: I think it is going to be important to take one or two things we’ve talked about today and go deep. Make sure you define what it is you want to achieve and then go deep and make it happen. Too often, we take on too much, and don’t end up accomplishing anything. Finally, celebrate that success and then move on. Before you know it, you will be where you need to be.
source - hr.com
can it teach us about teamwork?
I’ve been taking dance lessons. Maybe you have too. We all show
up to learn a new dance and many of us are strangers. All the
dances require certain steps in order to achieve the goal, and
involve two people working together toward this goal. We’re there
to learn how to do the polka, for instance, but it involves more than
just where to put the feet.
There are many times in life when we work in pairs, and the
lessons we learn at dance school can help us with this special kind
1. The Frame. This refers to how the man holds his upper body,
arms and hands in order to hold the woman. He must apply just
enough pressure to the woman’s shoulder blade, and she in return
has to lean into it so he can guide her. She also has to place her
hand on his right shoulder “just right.” In this way they can move
In dancing they say the man (the leader) is the frame and the
woman (the follower) is the painting. It's the man's job to make his
lady look good.
APPLICATION: Every duo working together must be able to feel
the other person enough to know what’s going on without being
mauled. It’s about being assertive, not passive and not aggressive.
In an interchange at work, we state our opinion in an argument. We
don’t withdraw or bellow and intimidate.
2. Leading. Any dyad that hopes to accomplish something has to
have a leader. The man is in charge of what’s called “the
sequence.” You don’t sit down with a flow chart or outline to find
out what’s going to happen. It’s up to the man. The woman has to
be able to pick up the cues.
APPLICATION: To accomplish something, someone must be in
charge. The others must be willing and able to follow the lead,
which doesn’t have to be heavy; it can be subtle. It's the leader's
job to make the followers look good.
3. Following. The woman’s job is to follow, and she has to have
a leader. Two people with two different ideas of what’s going to
happen will work at cross purposes, and nothing will be
accomplished. Even if the man doesn’t know the steps and isn’t
dancing in time to the music, you must follow.
APPLICATION: Following and leading go hand-in-hand. Each
person must know which is their role and do it. Sometimes you
won’t know what the leader is doing, or won’t agree, but it’s still
your job to follow.
4. The Basic Steps. You start by learning the basic steps of the
dance – where your feet go, where the hands and arms go, how you
move, and when. After you’ve mastered the basics, you can
embellish and improvise.
APPLICATION: Every large job we do is composed of small, basic
steps. To write a story, you have to know how to write a chapter.
To know how to write a chapter you have to know how to write a
paragraph; for a paragraph, a sentence. If you get overwhelmed, go
backward to the smaller steps. Count like you do for a dance, “one,
two, one, two, three.”
5. The Rhythm. First you learn the steps and then you have to
put them to the music.
APPLICATION: In a teamwork task, it won’t work if you get out of
step, out of rhythm. If preparing and eating a meal, cooking, settle
the table, and doing the dishes must all be done in rhythm, at the
proper time. At work, the keyboarder can’t enter the data until she
receives it. The CFO can’t do the budget until the department
heads provide the figures. It’s a great source of stress when people
get out of synch, out of rhythm. It messes up the dance.
6. The Music. The music orients the dance. It tells us when we
begin and when we stop and what dance we’ll do.
APPLICATION: Time is a kind of background ‘noise’ at work.
Everything you do is oriented in some way around time. It’s no
good to write a pleading if you don’t get it filed on time. Your grant
won’t be accepted, even if it’s excellent, if you don’t get it
submitted before the deadline. Time dictates how fast you work
and defines what you can accomplish. You can write a 500 word
article in an hour, but you can’t write a 500 page novel in an hour.
7. Etiquette. The polka is a strenuous dance and after a while
you start to sweat. Who wants to dance with someone who’s
sopping wet and smells bad? Likewise who wants to dance with a
woman who fights for the lead, someone who wipes their nose and
then takes your hand, or a 6’4” in man who takes huge strides you
can’t keep up with?
APPLICATION: Common courtesy greases the wheels of any joint
project. This involves being sensitive to what’s going on with the
other person, being able to give and take, practicing good personal
hygiene, maintaining healthy boundaries, and knowing how avoid
and resolve conflict.
8. The Metarules. Meta rules are the rules about rules. We’re
learning learning dance steps, but there are also studio rules. One
is that you change partners. Another is that you smile and look
pleasant as you dane. The first metarule is written down. The other
one you just learn, either by picking it up, or by not doing it and
APPLICATION: All systems have metarules. A metarule in a family
may be that the kids know if they want something from dad, not to
ask him when he first comes homes from work. It may be a
metarule at your office that the rules in the policies manual aren’t
followed. The policies manual says promotions are based on merit,
but everyone knows how they’re really given.
9. You Aren’t Alone. When you dance there are other couples on
the floor and the man has to keep the couple out of harm’s way.
Everyone has to move in the same direction, with faster couples on
APPLICATION: You aren’t alone in the workplace either. You can
picture it like a dance floor. Everyone’s moving together, but also in
their own pattern and you have to make sure the two don’t clash.
You have to be aware of others, keep out of their way, and avoid
10. Learning Styles. The West Coast Swing is a dance that’s
particularly hard for men to learn. I’ve tried different ways to help
the partner I’m with and what works for one man doesn’t work for
another. One man learns by watching, another if you actually move
his legs for him.
APPLICATION: You’ll greatly increase your chances of success in
working with another person if you’re able to change your style to
suit their personality and accommodate to what works with them.
This requires empathy and creativity as you try something, observe
how it works and then adjust.
By: Sarah Fenson
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