Santa's Secrets to Successful Employee Leadership

What we can learn from a yuletide project manager?

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Lindsay Olson
If you're looking for a role model who excels as a leader, look no further than Old Saint Nick. After all, he's been managing his staff of elves for eons. Here are a few pointers he's got for being a better manager.

1. Plan projects out far in advance. Save the few days he takes off to unwind after Christmas, Mr. Claus is back up and running by the new year, and he's already planning. By giving your staff ample time to work on a major project, you eliminate the stress that comes with time crunches.

Santa breaks down his one major project into smaller ones to make them more manageable for his staff:

  • Quarter 1: Assess which toys will be kept on the giving list for this year
  • Quarter 2: Update the Naughty vs. Nice list
  • Quarter 3: Have all toys assembled and wrapped
  • Quarter 4: Read and respond to customer letters; PR campaign at local malls
  • Breaking down overwhelming projects can help your staff get a better handle on accomplishing them through smaller iterations.

    2. Keep your staff happy. Santa knows the importance of having a happy workplace. That's why he encourages the elves to sing and dance while they work. This pleases them, and so they work harder for him. Slave driving never got long-term positive results, so consider how to make your work environment one that your staff wants to come to each day. This can be as simple as creating a Casual Friday, or putting a comfy couch in the break room.

    3. Give positive feedback. Elves are suckers for compliments. Santa obliges by sending notes to any elf who goes above and beyond each week (which tends to be all of them). Whether it's a pat on the back or public kudos, find ways to show your staff that you notice a job well done.

    4. Reward them for hard work. After Christmas rolls around, Santa gives each elf an all expenses paid vacation to the destination of their choice. He also holds a dinner where he thanks them all for their 12 months of hard work and dedication. Even if vacations for your employees are out of the question, always reward your staff after a major project ends or a milestone is reached. You could hire a masseuse to take care of those tense muscles or buy everyone lunch. Your effort will show your appreciation and understanding of what it took to make the project succeed.

    5. Adhere to your company strategy. Santa constantly reviews and updates his company strategy. It covers how he wants to run his business (a tight ship, with a bit of frivolity) as well as obstacles he wants to overcome in the upcoming year (bring back paper books). Keeping an eye on where you are with your own company's strategy can keep you aligned with your leadership style. And keep your staff in the loop on the company strategy: it's as much up to them to help meet it as it is your responsibility.

    6. Create a formula and stick with it. Santa hasn't drastically changed his game plan in ... forever. He's got rigorous processes in place for Dec. 25, and every elf knows his role. Rather than constantly trying to innovate (the Hoverboard sled did not go over well back in the 1980s), Santa knows what's tried and true, and he uses it to his advantage. This helps his elves know what to expect, and it helps them sharpen their skills so that they're constantly improving.

    As you can see, Santa's got plenty of tactics you can borrow to run your own team. And remember: he's paying attention to you, so make sure you make the Nice list this year!

    Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.