Ho, ho, ho – Christmas is near and this special year will end soon. Maybe, it brought you as a manager and leader to your limits. How did you do after all? What is the one leadership skill you evolved with last year, what was your biggest success this year and what is your greatest deficiency as a leader?

Let’s refer to one of the most reliable benchmarks we can think of: Santa Claus. After all, he does not run out of style, he is a charismatic leader, respected authority, he manages a stable team of top performers (and if one of the elves or reindeers left, he managed well because we did not notice anything), the client experience is excellent and he gets the job done year after year by respecting a strict deadline and remaining calm, reassuring and positive. Everything to thrive for.

How do you compare to Santa and what makes him so successful?

Here come the 5 key success factors that make Ol’ Santa a better manager than you (or me):

  1. He has a clear personal branding: Everybody knows what Santa stands for. There are no surprises with him, people can rely on him and feel reassured. And foremost, he is consistent which is a major characteristic followers look for in a manager. Consistency will i most cases be interpreted as “good” and inconsistency as bad, as a sign of insincerity, weakness and unreliability. Like every good manager, Santa is predictable and has a clear communication (“Be good for 12 months and you will get the bonus by the end of the year. Be nasty and you won’t”). People know exactly what Santa expects from them and what they can expect from Santa. Period.
  2. He is an early mover: Don’t draw to fast conclusions: yes, Santa looks pretty much like a 50+ (and just to make sure as this is public: we headhunters here at Apollo do not care). However, he always comes up with the newest inventions, gifts and gadgets and thus adopts new technologies fast. There is no “it worked fine the old way so why should we change?” Santa has a natural curiosity, tries new things out and embraces change with open arms. Successful people adapt fast, especially in today’s challenging business world. What got you here won’t get you there. Ask yourself regularly if a decision or direction you took 12 months ago is still valid today. Just think about the world in December 2019 and today! Reassess and correct your decisions if appropriate; upgrade yourself (e.g. through executive education) if you risk running out-of-style.
  3. He respects his promises and deadlines: Santa Claus is working quietly for 10 months, the communication flow increases by the end of the project launch and whatever happens, we can be sure that he and his team will deliver on Christmas Eve. Not one day later, not one day earlier. One of the biggest evils of management is to start too many new incentives, projects or action plans and fail on the follow-through and follow-up. Make sure you can deliver and have the energy and resources to go to the end. Followers are very sensitive to this and will see it almost always as a weakness if you stop an initiative half-way through without any explanation. There can be exceptions when a project is abandoned, but if this happens, inform your team of the reasons if you want to remain credible and be respected.
  4. Santa does what needs to be done: Santa Claus and his team have a clear mission to achieve: ‘Get the presents ready on Christmas Eve’. How can this story help you if your job is to run a manufacturing site? Peter Drucker answers: “Successful leaders don’t ask ‘What do I want to do?’ They ask, ‘What needs to be done?’” Follow Peter Drucker’s advice, don’t complain or complicate things. Do not lose energy on things you cannot change or waste time with things that are off your core business. Most jobs consist of a limited set of skills. Focus on these and become better every day. Change things you can change, accept those you cannot and move forward to the goal you have set.
  5. Santa Claus is good: Mr. Christmas does not cheat, bully or lie. We have never heard of any sex or financial scandals that we read about in the corporate world or in politics every single day of the year. Nobody can blame Santa for unfair behavior towards his teams, his customers or – as far as we know – his shareholders. Not only is he 100% ethical, at the same time, he is positive, caring, smiling and protective. He breathes respect and gives people security when he is around. All this gives him natural authority, not one implemented through title or hierarchy. Make this philosophy yours, help the world to become a better place and at the same time, ensure that your teams will work hard for you and make everyone involved happy. Got the message?


Season’s greetings to all of you. If you believe in Santa Claus or not, there are lessons to be learned for all of us. May 2021 be a good and healthy year for you and yours!