6 Leadership Lessons From Rudolph

by Eleanor Biddulph

‘Tis the season! One annual tradition in my house is gathering to watch Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. This year, I watched it through the lens of leadership.

Imagine Burl Ives, as the voice of Sam the Snowman, applying the lessons of Rudolph to the workplace…

6 Lessons in Leadership

Scenario 1

Rudolph first apppears as the new deer at the playground. The other reindeer notice Rudolph’s shiny nose as it glows, and begin to laugh at him and call him names. Meanwhile, at Elf School, Hermey the Elf is also being ridiculed because he wants to be a dentist. Hermey has lots of ideas about how to make sure the dolls have healthy teeth, which, of course, the other elves think is just silly.

Lesson #1:

As leaders, we need to be in tune with how new employees are being welcomed into the team. Hopefully, we’ve created an environment that welcomes new people bringing new experiences, new ideas, and new skills to help the organization be great. Diversity of all kinds must be embraced, not driven away. Ideas should be respectfully heard, not ridiculed.

Scenario 2

The head elf even tells Hermey, “You’ll never fit in! Now you come to elf practice, learn how to wiggle your ears, chuckle warmly, go hee-hee and ho-ho, and important stuff like that. A dentist! Good grief! ” Soon, both Rudolph and Hermey are singing the same song; “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can’t fire me, I quit. Seems I don’t fit in.”

Lesson#2:

As leaders, it is important that we have the right people in the right positions, matching an individual’s skills and desires with job function and team purpose. We also need to recognize when a team member shows an aptitude for another role. A good leader will help that person reach their career goal, rather than forcing them to be in a role they are clearly not a fit for.

Scenario 3

Rudolph, feeling rejected, runs away and meets up with Hermey, on the road after quitting elf school. The two of them then meet Yukon Cornelius, the prospector who also doesn’t fit in with the general population. All three set out to try a find a place where they can fit in.

Rudolph, Hermey and Cornelius come upon the Island of Misfit Toys. There’s Charlie-in-the-box, Spotted Elephant, and more. Charlie is the sentry who welcomes them to the island. It is clear, as he bounces about, that he can be a great toy. The only thing “wrong” with him is his unexpected name. Spotted Elephant is cute and cuddly. He would make some little girl or boy a wonderful gift, except that his outside isn’t the color people would expect.

Lesson #3:

As leaders, we need an awareness of any pre-judgments we are attaching to people. Someone might not look or act the way we expect them to, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful. A team member might not have the background we expected, but they might still be well-skilled for the job at hand. Are we minimizing people because of our ideas, rather than welcoming them for theirs? Are we treating them as mis-fits, just because they are a little different?

Scenario 4

After a time, Rudolph, Hermey, and Cornelius set out to tell Santa about the Island of Misfit Toys. They promise the toys that they will help Santa see that even though the toys aren’t what people might expect, they can still be loved and enjoyed by a needy child.

Lesson #4:

As leaders, are we in tune when our team members “manage up?” Sometimes, we don’t realize how our own behavior or ideas impact others. We can be even better leaders if we are open to the wisdom and observations of others. The success of the leader and the team is interdependent and we need to welcome feedback that is shared with us.

Scenario 5

As we all know, the story ends well. One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa realizes that Rudolph’s nose, so bright, is just the thing to guide the sleigh that important night. Once the leader embraces Rudolph, so does the rest of the reindeer team. The sleigh stops at the island to pick up the misfit toys, and drops them into the homes of needy children who will love them dearly.

Lesson #5:

As leaders, we set the example. If we view a new project with enthusiasm, so will the team. If we see a challenge as an opportunity, the team will follow our lead. If we seek out ways to use the strengths of our individual followers, they will be embraced by the rest of the team for their uniqueness, rather than ridiculed for it.

Scenario 6

And, then, there’s the Abominable Snowman. Throughout the story, he is feared. He’s big, loud, grouchy, and mean. However, it turns out that he has a major toothache! After Hermey uses his dental knowledge and pulls the Snowman’s bad tooth, the monster becomes a big old softy. His height is perfect for adding the star to the top of the Christmas tree.

Lesson #6:

As leaders, we all have experienced that really difficult employee. Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be anyway to break though a tough exterior. They might be rude, disruptive, attention-seeking, poor performers. Or, they might be someone with a lot of potential who is in some kind of pain – physical or emotional. If we take the time to have an honest conversation with them, coming from a place of caring about their success, we just might find that what is “wrong” can be made “right.” This may not always be the case, but just imagine if your abominable snowman ended up hanging the star on your tree.

Can you see leadership lessons in any other holiday tales? I hope you’ll add a comment and share them. Have a wonderful holiday and successful new year of leadership and growth!

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Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
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Charismatic Leadership: Give Unselfishly

Ways to Make the Season Brighter

Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas 2015

The Holiday Season engenders feelings of empathy, kindness and tenderness, especially for those a little down on their luck.

On Giving and Generosity

Giving and generosity are defined as the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return.

When expecting nothing in return, the benefits of giving are exponentially higher than if giving and expecting payback.

Generous giving ensues, making the season even brighter, certainly for the receiver of the kindness but more strangely and predictably, for the giver as well. What might be perceived as a loss or a deficit by the giver is quickly overshadowed by feelings of well-being.

Benefits of Giving

When considering the benefits of giving, the giver often benefits economically via tax breaks. If the giving is public, the gift builds the status of the giver by signaling to the community wealth, thus giving the giver status.

The famous industrialist John D. Rockefeller, said, “God gave me my money.”

In a book entitled, The Rockefeller Billions, by Jules Abels, Rockefeller’s philosophy is explained: He believed that if he stopped giving his money away in the right way, God would take his money away from him.

The Oprah Challenge

In 2006, Oprah Winfrey, a billionaire and one of the greatest black philanthropists in American history, gave 300 people in her audience $1000.00 and one week to spend the money on a good cause.

  • Many paid for groceries
  • One woman bought mittens and hats for kids
  • Another helped a paralyzed girl
  • Yet another woman purchased movie tickets for the homeless to see the Pursuit of Happiness with Will Smith – the message being that their present situation can be temporary.

Oprah’s challenge gave participants true joy, not just happiness.

On Giving, Joy, and Endorphins

Giving provides an unexplained euphoria that instantaneously spreads through your body. This euphoria, this sense of joy is different from the happiness of receiving a gift, even if the gift is a diamond necklace.

This feeling is an elation and elevation of the soul.

You forget your own problems for a small moment in time and focus on the peace and love found in helping another human being.

To achieve the good feelings, you do not have to spend money. Offering your time to a colleague to help finish a project, lending something as simple as your stapler, or merely spending time with someone who seems alone can make you feel satisfied.

Angels That Give

I was inspired by an anonymous woman who kicked off a giving-spree throughout the United States.

She wanted to honor her husband who recently passed away so she visited a local K-mart store and paid off the lay-away accounts for numerous people. As the AP story states:

Christmas Shopping CartOMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

“She told him, ‘No, I’m paying for it,'” recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”

On Wings and a Prayer

I have also been impressed by a nonprofit, Luke’s Wings.

Luke’s Wings is an organization dedicated to the support of military service members who have been wounded in battle. Luke’s Wings provides families with the airline tickets to visit their loved one in the hospital and to be with their service member during recovery and rehabilitation.

This year they have been making Christmas much brighter for many honorable service men and women. To learn more, visit www.lukeswings.org.

No matter when you choose to give, there are infinite opportunities in your world every day.

Giving and the Organization

So, we know how giving benefits you personally and benefits the people you help, but how does giving relate to charismatic leadership?

In an article entitled, Why Giving Matters, Arthur CBrooks who is president of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, makes the case that if you want to be seen as a leader and if you want to be happier, then give more.

Brooks’ research shows that:

“If people see you as a giver, as someone who cooperates and serves others, they see you as a leader and they will want to follow you.”

Giving also makes individuals more productive. Because giving puts you in a positive mood, you are able to concentrate on your work, make decisions, get ideas to solve problems – you are more productive. This diagram illustrates the process.

3 T’s of Stewardship: Time, Treasure, and Talents

People who give, share of their resources, volunteer their time, show empathy, and help others in the countless opportunities presented each day are happier people.

The process of giving permits them to operate in a positive feedback loop – they give, they are happier, they give more, they are happier, etc.

Don’t take my word that giving makes a difference in your leadership stature. Make a New Year’s resolution to give this process a try. Model for your employees a giving spirit and extend your hand to help when appropriate.

Your employees are always watching you.

They will imitate your good works and our organization will flourish.

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Karla (Kofoed) Brandau
Karla Brandau, CEO of Workplace Power Institute, is a leadership and productivity firm
She crafts keynotes, workshops, and onsite training programs customized for your needs
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On Leadership, Suffering and The Sacrificial Leader

Essential Elements of Right and Effective Leadership

Helping Others

There is not one leader reading this that hasn’t struggled with the mystery of suffering or wrestled with the mastery of personal sacrifice.

These are universal and timeless concepts—regardless of background, education, economic status, etc. But what I’ve found over the past 30 years as a student of leadership is the selfless commitment to take pains with them is firmly embedded in the footings of every real leader’s platform.

Every real leader puts deliberate thought into how their commitment of the will in these areas is going to shape their behavior…their actions and the impact they have on others.”

The Case for Suffering & Leadership

Buried deep in the historicity of Leadership is this idea of suffering. Originally taking on the context of movement by appointment, the term ‘Leader’ began to take on additional association with words like passion and suffering as freedom-loving Gothic leaders stood against high taxes, Roman prejudice, and government corruption in the late 4th Century.

I love how Quint Studer covers this in Hardwiring Excellence:

At the heart of every success story is a person whose passion…has driven them to reach out in some extraordinary way to their fellow-man and make a true difference.”

Quint is really on to something here. This act of reaching out in some extraordinary way to our fellow-man in order to make a true difference requires sacrifice, and almost all sacrifice will cause suffering. There is no gain without pain in many areas of our experience, and real leadership is no exception.

Passion, Drive and Sacrifice

I see a lot of passion in today’s leaders (self-included), but not a lot that is driving us to make essential sacrifices or to suffer for and with others in order to get the right things done extremely well. And there’s good reason for this, according to Ronald White in A Short History of Progress:

In a progress trap, those in positions of authority are unwilling to make changes necessary for future survival. To do so they would need to sacrifice their current status and political power at the top of a hierarchy.”

Have we really become this enamored of status and power as leaders that we can’t make the changes—the sacrifices—necessary for our collective success? If we’re honest, an affirmative answer is not difficult. As I’ve written elsewhere, we can get so mired in past success (accumulated while climbing the corporate ladder) and trapped by a desire to maintain that position in the hierarchy that we don’t see the natural and negative consequences:

  • Empowerment to renew and improve dries up
  • Yesterday’s solutions become today’s problems
  • Low hanging fruit grows back
  • All upward and outward movement grinds to a halt

From Transactions to Transformation

In contrast, we could learn a lesson from A.J. Russell:

All sacrifice and suffering is redemptive. It is used to either teach the individual or to help others. Nothing is by chance.”

And herein lays a benefit that deserves repeating. Sacrifice and suffering are used either to teach (this is personal transformation) or to help others (this is organizational transformation).

There is really nothing in the world like the force multiplier created by sacrifice and suffering when it comes to breaking away from the daily leadership grind of transacting with others to produce short-term results. Approaching others and our work this way is a sure-fire way to stay trapped on the performance plateau.

By learning and helping others—by sacrifice and suffering–we begin transforming.

Are You Ready?

At the risk of stating the obvious, sacrifice is seldom easy. If it were, we’d see it happening far more frequently. As with other things in life, when it’s needed most it gets practiced least. But only those with a sincere wish to sacrifice—to put the needs of others before his/her own—can lead transformation, first for themselves and then for their organizations.

And there is no need to focus on the suffering, just commit to making essential sacrifices out of love for your fellow-man and you’ll find that suffering itself will take on a whole new meaning and have a completely different context that what you may otherwise be accustomed.

So, when was the last time you made sacrifices and suffered as a leader? What sacrifices can you make today that will kick-start transformation? Here’s an even tougher question: What sacrifices is your team, group, company willing to make today because of the authority of your example? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Richard Dillard

Richard S. Dillard is Founder/ Managing Partner at Dillard Partners, LLC
Pursuing Success at the Speed of Leadership!
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