Leading with Trust

Santa Reveals His 7 Secrets for Building a High Performing Team

santa thumbs upToiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.

Every year Santa is gracious enough to take time out of his crazy schedule to share some of his leadership wisdom with me. In previous years he’s shared five keys to effective delegation, three lessons about motivation, and the fundamentals of leadership success. In our most recent meeting, held at a local Starbucks over a hot cup of Christmas Blend coffee, Santa shared his seven secrets for building a high performing team.

Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!

Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?

Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.

Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?

Santa: The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.

Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?

Santa: The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.

Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!

Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.

Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?

Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.

Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.

Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.

Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.

Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!

Santa Reveals His 5 Secrets To Effective Delegation

santaSanta 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!

How Does Santa Motivate the Elves? Three Lessons for Leaders Everywhere

Santa at WorkEven though Christmas is just two days away, I was able to convince Santa to take a break from his final preparations to grant me an exclusive interview. In last year’s interview Santa riffed on many of the practices that make him one of the most revered leaders of all time, and with employee motivation and engagement being a hot topic this year, I decided to ask Santa his thoughts on the matter. Enjoy the leadership nuggets I mined from the chubby and jolly guy in the bright red suit:

Me: Hello Santa. I know you’re busy getting ready for Christmas and I appreciate you taking a few minutes to speak with me.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! No problem! I’m always eager to help other leaders. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for people who have a passion for serving others.

Me: Finding ways to motivate employees so that they’re fully engaged in their work is a chief concern for leaders today. Based on the way you run things at the North Pole, it appears you’ve got this figured out. What’s your secret?

Santa: My secret? Ho, ho, ho…that’s a good one, Randy! The secret is that there is no secret! I work hard at creating an environment that allows my team of elves to do their best work. The credit for being motivated and engaged really goes to them.

Me: So tell me more about the environment you’ve created. What specifically have you done that has allowed the elves to be so successful.

Santa: Well, if I had to boil it down, I would say that I’ve learned three primary lessons when it comes to helping my elves be motivated and engaged. The first is that I’ve learned my crew works best when they have a great deal of autonomy. In my early days I used to be a bit of a micro-manager and I found that sapped the spirit right out of my team. The elves are clear on the goals we have to achieve and the boundaries we’re operating within and they have the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. They design the work systems, create the metrics we use to manage our work, and evaluate the quality of everything we produce. I’ve found that when they are in control of achieving the goal they take a lot more ownership and use their discretionary energy to make sure we succeed.

Me: I would imagine that in order for the elves to be autonomous, it places a large burden on you to make sure they’re setup to succeed. Is that right?

Santa: Absolutely! I have to provide them with the training, tools, information, and any other resources they need that allows them to succeed. Many leaders think having autonomous employees is letting the “inmates run the asylum”, or in my case, the elves running the workshop! Ho, ho, ho! But the truth is, having autonomous employees means each one of them is thinking like an owner of the business and putting forth their best effort.

Me: You mentioned three lessons. What is the second?

Santa: The second lesson I’ve learned is that developing a sense of relatedness with and between the elves is critical in helping them to be motivated and engaged. I take time throughout the year to meet one-on-one or with groups of the elves to make sure I’m maintaining a personal connection with them. I try to foster a team spirit by doing things like celebrating birthdays and having a gift exchange at Christmas (White Elephant gift exchanges are my favorite!). Within the elves we’ve created a buddy system where new elves are partnered with senior elves who help them learn the ropes of the job. Being connected relationally with your boss and co-workers helps people be engaged at work.

Me: That makes a lot of sense, Santa. When I think back on jobs where I’ve been the most motivated, they’ve been ones where I’ve had really positive relationships with others. Tell me about the third lesson you’ve learned from your experience leading the elves.

Santa: The third lesson I’ve learned is that the most motivated elves are those who are continually developing competence in their careers. Whether it is learning to operate new machinery in the toy factory, attending a training class to expand their skills, or expanding their knowledge of their current job, I’ve found that everyone enjoys expanding their competence on the job. I try to structure both formal and informal learning opportunities for my team, so that if they choose, they have the chance to keep growing on the job.

Me: So to recap, the three lessons you’ve learned deal with creating an environment for the elves where their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are being met. Is there anything else you’d add for leaders reading this article?

Santa: I would add one thing. Motivation isn’t something that a person either has or doesn’t have. Everyone is motivated in one way or another. They key question is “What is the quality of their motivation?” I have a belief that you can’t motivate anyone. It’s up to each person to choose their level of motivation. But what I can do is help create an environment that encourages and allows people to be optimally motivated. That’s what I try to do with the elves.

Me: Well, Santa, it certainly seems as if you’ve been successful in helping the elves be optimally motivated! As you know, I have a particular interest in trust. What role does trust play in motivating the elves?

Santa: Trust surrounds and permeates the whole process of helping the elves be optimally motivated. It is both the foundation and the outcome. Without a foundation of trust, the elves wouldn’t be willing to take the risk to partner with me and participate in these strategies. And by taking the risk and seeing the success of our efforts, it nurtures and strengthens those bonds of trust.

Me: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. Once again, your insights into leadership have been tremendously valuable.

Santa: It’s been my pleasure. Oh, and don’t forget the most important thing! Be sure to leave out a plate of warm, chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk for me on Christmas Eve! Mrs. Claus is trying to get me to eat more fruits and vegetables…something about this new health and wellness program our Elf Resources department is doing. But I figure I can splurge a little for just one night a year!

Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are three critical factors of motivation taught in Blanchard’s newest training program, Optimal Motivation, created by Dr. David Facer, Susan Fowler, and Dr. Drea Zigarmi.

Seven Gifts for Every Leader This Christmas

Gift BoxSanta is making his list and checking it twice. He’s going to find out which leaders have been naughty or nice. Actually, I think any person willing to step into a position of leading and managing others deserves whatever he/she wants for Christmas! (Try selling that to your spouse or significant other and see how far it gets you!)

If I were to play Santa at the office Christmas party, I’d give the following gifts to leaders:

1. A Sense of Humor – I’ve noticed that a lot of leaders have forgotten how to have a good time at work. Managing people can be quite stressful and it’s easy to get focused on all the problems that have to be solved and the fires that need putting out. This Christmas I would give every leader a healthy dose of fun and laughter as a reminder that you should take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Play a practical joke on your staff, send a funny joke via email, or even better, laugh at yourself the next time you goof up in front of your team. You’d be amazed how a little bit of levity can go a long way toward improving the morale and productivity at work.

2. The Chance to Catch Someone Doing Something Right – Too often we’re on the lookout for people making mistakes and overlook all the times that people are doing things right. Of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, not once have I had one say “If my boss praises me one more time I’m going to quit! I’m sick and tired of all the positive feedback I’m getting!” Unfortunately the opposite is true. Most workers can recall many more instances where their mistakes have been pointed out rather than being praised for doing good work. Be on the lookout this holiday season for someone doing something right and spread a little cheer by praising them.

3. An Opportunity to Apologize – Despite our best leadership efforts, there are bound to be times where we make mistakes and let people down. One of the surefire ways to lose trust with people is failing to admit your mistakes or not apologize for a wrong you’ve committed. Take some time this holiday season to examine your relationships to see if there is someone to whom you need to apologize. If so, don’t let the opportunity pass to repair your relationship.

4. A Challenge to Overcome – A challenge to overcome? Why would that be considered a gift? Well, my experience has shown that the times I’ve grown the most as a leader is when I’ve had to deal with a significant challenge that stretched my leadership capabilities and forced me to grow out of my comfort zone. I would bet dollars to donuts (and would be happy losing because I LOVE donuts) that your experience is similar. Challenges are learning opportunities in disguise and it’s these occasions that shape us as leaders.

5. Solitude – Everything in our society works against leaders being able to experience regular solitude in their lives. Technology allows us to always be connected to work which is just one click or touch away. If we aren’t careful it can begin to feel like we’re “on” 24/7. Regular times of solitude helps you recalibrate your purpose, relieve stress, and keep focused on the things that are most important in your life and work.

6. A Promise to Fulfill – Keeping a promise is an opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness. The best leaders are trust builders, people who are conscious that every interaction with their employees is an opportunity to nurture trust. This gift comes with a caveat – don’t make a promise that you can’t or don’t intend to keep. Breaking promises is a huge trust buster, and if done repeatedly, can completely destroy trust in a relationship.

7. Appreciation – Leadership is a noble and rewarding profession, yet leaders can go through long stretches of time without hearing a word of thanks or appreciation for their efforts. I would give every leader the gift of having at least one encounter with an employee who shares how much he/she has been positively impacted by the leader and how much the leader is appreciated by his/her team.

There are many more gifts that I’d love to give, but like most of us, I’m on a budget this year. However, I’m curious to know what other gifts you’d give to leaders if you were playing Santa. Feel free to leave a comment with your gift ideas!

Leadership Wisdom From The North Pole – An Interview With Santa Claus

After finishing his whirlwind trip around the globe delivering presents, I had the opportunity to sit down with Santa for a one-on-one interview. I was interested in gleaning some wisdom from one of the most legendary leaders of all time and what appears below is an excerpt from our time together.

Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be exhausted after your long night of work.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not exhausted, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.

Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?

Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.

Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?

Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.

Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.

Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?

Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.

Me: Santa, I know you’re tired and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question. If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?

Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.

%d bloggers like this: