Messed Up Santa Claus Leadership



This is schizo season, when all we want is to enjoy the holidays, but for so many of us the holidays feel like just one more thing we have to do. We have a lot to do: We’re grading papers, or making last minute sales calls, or budgeting, and, and, and. So, my plan is to make “Reading for Leading” light and lively these next few weeks. But still focused.

So, we grew up in a 3 bedroom ranch, about 1100 square feet in Inkster, Michigan (I just checked on the internet and it’s still there, valued at $47,000.) I was one of 7 kids. Christmas rocked at our house. But once in a while Santa messed up. Like bringing Pat, who had asked for Hot Wheels, the Memory Game instead; and bringing Jimmy the Hot Wheels. Of course, we didn’t notice the knowing “ooops” glances my mom and dad exchanged at such moments.

Now as parents and bosses we repeat the same messed up mistake that Santa made 50 years ago. We give folks the wrong gifts.

The best gift any manager or parent can give their “direct reports” is the specific gifts they need to be successful. Some want the Hot Wheels of excitement, a race, a challenge. And others like the cerebral peace of a good game of flipping thick cardboard squares to find the pairs. To put it in more adult and direct terms: some like warm and sincere hugs, and some like cold cash; some like lots of specifics, while others like to be left alone to figure out the how; some need nearly daily deadlines, while others resent being handed deadlines, and some others need AND resent deadlines. Some love social lunches, and some would love the flextime to get home to their kids. Some need the big picture. Some just need to be given the specific assignment.  So, how do you know who wants what . . . without stealing their letters to Santa?*

Observe. Test. And ASK. So often, as parents and bosses we think it’s our job to know what people need, or we just treat them all the same. But forgive the obvious: no two people are alike. And the best way to know what they want and need is to ask them. Ask ’em: if they have enough detail, if they’d like preliminary deadlines, if they want to work alone, and how they like to be recognized when they have done great work.

Maybe sometime in the next few weeks you can ask each of your folks what they need from you in order to be successful and satisfied.

If Santa Claus can ask people what they want, so can you, as you

Lead with your best self!


* There’s actually a lot you can figure out about your team, just as you can with your kids — by paying close attention and using good tools of observation.  The varieties of personalities and gifts that I describe in this paragraph is based transparently on Myers-Briggs preferences.  If you know the tool, you’ll see I’ve described: F’s then T’s, S’s and N’s, P’s and J’s and T’s and F’s (with some combo cases thrown in).