Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer may be the most famous reindeer of all, but not too many people know the reasons behind his enormous success. Rudolph’s experience offers a number of lessons for leaders at all levels.
If you aren’t familiar with Rudolph’s story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Rudolph was a reindeer with a red nose. None of the other reindeer had red noses so Rudolph was frequently ridiculed and ostracized for being different. One foggy Christmas eve, Santa asked Rudolph if he could join the sleigh team and use his red nose to light the way through the fog. Rudolph took the challenge, was a big success, and became loved and admired by all the other reindeer.
Despite how it might sound when Bing Crosby croons about Rudolph’s achievement, that little red-nosed reindeer wasn’t an overnight success. He worked for years preparing himself for his opportunity, and when it came, he took advantage of it. Here’s four lessons we can learn from Rudolph:
1. Don’t let assumed constraints hold you back – Assumed constraints are the self-limiting beliefs we hold that prevent us from being our best. We tell ourselves things like, “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not creative,” “That job will be too hard,” or, “I’m not like all the other reindeer.” Well, maybe you don’t say that, but you get what I mean. Rudolph could have chosen to limit himself by believing his red nose would prevent him from being on Santa’s team, but instead, he chose to embrace his unique talents. Which leads to the second secret of Rudolph’s success…
2. Leverage your strengths – As illustrated in Marcus Buckingham’s ground-breaking work, we tend to spend most of our time and energy at work, and in life, trying to shore up our weaknesses. If we focus on building upon our strengths and minimizing the instances our weaknesses come into play, we tap into more joy, engagement, and success in our work. Rudolph had a strength no other reindeer possessed, a red nose, and found success because he discovered and leveraged that strength.
3. Prepare for your opportunity – The Roman philosopher Seneca famously said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Rudolph didn’t know if he would ever get the opportunity to be part of Santa’s sleigh team, but he prepared each day so he would be ready when his chance arose. When his opportunity came, he was ready. So much of success comes down to being in the right place at the right time, but that only helps if you’ve put in the right preparation to help you succeed.
4. Take a risk – Nothing ventured, nothing gained…at some point you have to take a risk if you want to succeed. You have to raise your hand, volunteer for the special project, offer an opinion, sign up for that class, ask the girl on a date, or any number of risky actions to move forward in your life and career. Rudolph could have offered Santa a number of excuses…”It’s too foggy,” “My nose isn’t that bright,” “It’s more comfortable here in the stable”…but he saw his chance and he took it! Preparation breeds confidence, and if you’ve put in the hard work to prepare yourself (see point #3), then you can step confidently into your future knowing you’ve done your best to set yourself up for success.
Rudolph transformed himself from a reindeer who lacked self-confidence to the leader of Santa’s sleigh team because he refused to let his assumed constraints hold him back, leveraged the unique strengths he possessed, prepared diligently, and took a risk when the opportunity presented itself. Outstanding lessons for all of us this holiday season.