Santa is a leader with world-class delegation skills. How else can you explain one jolly man being able to run a global enterprise from the remote reaches of the North Pole, produce billions of toys with just a small workforce of elves, and distribute them around the world in just a single night? Delegation, that’s how.
With just a few days until Christmas, I sat down with Santa for our yearly leadership interview. In years past Santa has talked about his secrets about motivating the elves and his leadership philosophy. This year, over a cup of Santa’s favorite hot cocoa, he talked about his techniques for effective delegation. Here’s a portion of our conversation:
Me: Hi, Santa! It’s great to see you again. How’s life at the North Pole?
Santa: Ho, ho, ho Randy! Life is great at the North Pole! We’re making final preparations for December 24th, our biggest night of the year. Everyone is working hard in their areas of focus and collaborating well with each other. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Me: This year I reached out to my Twitter friends to ask for input on what we should discuss, and Rich Villodas wants to know how you’re able to deliver all those gifts in one night. What’s your secret to delegation?
Santa: Years ago I learned that if I was going to accomplish everything that needed to be done, I’d have to learn how to delegate effectively. Not simply to reduce my own workload, which is purely a self-centered goal, but to develop the skills of my team and elevate our overall performance and productivity.
Me: You make a great point, Santa. Many leaders have a narrow focus when it comes to delegation. They view it as a way to get rid of work they don’t want to do, or as a way to reduce the amount of work on their plate. What tips would you give to leaders seeking to improve their skills at delegation?
Santa: The first key to effective delegation is to diagnose the competence and commitment of the person receiving the work. Not everyone has the skills or motivation to succeed at every project a leader needs to delegate, so it’s important to make sure you have a good match. If you delegate work to someone who isn’t able to handle it, you’re only setting that person up for frustration and failure.
Me: Makes sense Santa. What else would you suggest?
Santa: The second key to delegation is to make sure the outcome is well-defined. One of my leadership mentors, Ken Blanchard, likes to say that all good performance starts with clear goals, and he’s right. I make sure my elves know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how their performance will be measured. After the goals are established, the third key to delegation is to clarify the boundaries of responsibility—who has the authority to do what. Everyone knows their budget limits, decision-making authority, and the approval process for any exceptions. With so many toys to produce we have to run a pretty tight ship around here!
Me: Establishing boundaries of responsibility seems like something leaders can often overlook. I’m glad you specifically addressed that point. Once you do these first three things, does that mean you can fade out of the picture?
Santa: Ho, ho, ho, NO! That leads me to the fourth secret of effective delegation—Be available! Even though a leader delegates work, he or she still needs to be available to provide any direction or support the individual needs. I have regular one-on-one meetings with my Manager Elves to stay in touch with how their teams are performing. Each manager has regular one-on-one’s with the elves on the front lines, so we have a constant stream of communication up and down the line. Delegation without participation equals abdication, something every leader should avoid.
Me: Your wisdom never ceases to amaze me Santa. Are there any other secrets to effective delegation you’d like to share?
Santa: The fifth and final secret is to review performance on a regular basis. If the elves are on track and doing well, I make it a point to praise them. Catching my elves doing something right is one of my biggest joys! If performance is off-track, then I take the time to offer coaching and direction to get it back on track. Reviewing performance isn’t something we only do once a year. We make it a point to have regular meetings focused on our performance as it relates to our yearly goals. If I can keep a list of all the children who are being naughty or nice, it would be a travesty for me to not keep track of my own team’s performance!
Me: Well, Santa, you always have such great leadership insights to share each year. You have certainly mastered the art of delegation.
Santa: Thank you, Randy, but you give me too much credit. Delegation only works when you have a high level of trust with your team members and if you approach it with the right attitude. Delegation is a leadership technique to develop and empower your people, not to dump your unwanted work on them. When trust is present, delegation is a fantastic way to raise the performance of yourself and your team. Merry Christmas to all!