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I’m Dreaming of a Motivating Leader

I’m dreaming of a motivating manager just like the ones I used to know. During the holidays, does that motivating manager have to be a dream? A wistfulness for someone to emerge and provide the encouragement to help others do their best? Is the idea of a motivating manager something relegated to a holiday wish list—you hope for it, but there’s no real certainty of its arrival?

We don’t have to look too far this time of year to find fictional characters, old and new, that mirror the characteristics of leaders who fail to motivate. But is there one on the list that does?

What can traditional holiday characters tell us about what we want, or don’t, in our leaders? Let’s look at them one by one.

  • Scrooge – A greedy and angry manager bent on taking from and belittling others, despite their best attempts to help him. Yes, he’s redeemed in the end. But who wants a manager that yells at you, refuses to share, and then asks for forgiveness? Hardly motivational.
  • The Grinch – An agile leader who adapts his menacing ways to inflict the greatest harm. He’s the guy who ultimately also comes around to embrace Whoville corporate culture but not until leaving trail of destruction in his wake.
  • Frosty the Snowman – A happier, friendlier leader likely to initially garner many followers. But, ultimately, did he really have the substance people needed? After all, he did melt away. A leader, however amiable, who doesn’t produce results doesn’t inspire motivation.
  • Buddy the Elf – A contemporary leader filled with optimism, an ability to connect with others, and strong skills as a team player—an unassuming leader of the people. And while it pains me to say it, he just doesn’t have the maturity required of the job.
  • Mensch on a Bench – A man of integrity and honor who brings a sense of fun to his job while also encouraging generosity to others. Since the Mensch watches over the menorah all night, his workaholic tendencies don’t provide the best role model for this teams.
  • Mrs. Claus – Much like the corporate C-Suite today, female leaders, like Mrs. Claus, are underrepresented. It’s time for Mrs. Claus to lean in to her strengths as an executive role model for up-and-coming female leaders.

So who, then, is my motivating manager? At the risk of sounding cliché, you’ve got to give it to him. The big guy. The main event. The motivating manager is Santa. Why?

  • He’s globally aware – He knows that the world is not made up of his corporate headquarters. He crosses time zones, and cultures, to reach all.
  • He’s got a clear vision – To bring joy to all the kids of the world—can’t get clearer and more motivational than that.
  • He’s got a strategy – He executes on his plan of toy delivery through a clear discipline—he’s got a list; he checks it twice.
  • He’s a good delegator – While he has the adulation of millions, he knows he needs to rely on others to get the job done. Enter the elves, the parents, and the mall Santas everywhere who help him deliver.
  • He’s a great communicator – With a simple “ho, ho, ho” you know where he stands. There is clarity and consistency to his message. He communicates authentically.

Finally, he’s got that elusive certain something that we can’t always put a finger on, but we sense it when it’s there. It’s not holiday magic—Santa has executive presence. He has the ability to be fully present with others—to listen to them completely and give them his undivided attention. He shows gratitude and cares deeply for others, expressing this care with abundant generosity. He’s resilient, even when challenged time and time again by non-believers; he proves his existence and embraces all.

Let’s give it to him as the current motivational leader and look for new and more diverse leaders to emerge in coming years—I’m looking at you Mrs. Claus!

About the Authors

Leah Clark
Director, Strategy and Planning, GP Strategies Corporation. Senior Director for Strategy and Planning, Leah focuses on bringing new products to market and enhancing the participant experience. She works with clients to understand their leadership and engagement challenges and consults with them on the creative solutions. Prior to joining GP Strategies, Leah had her own practice in executive coaching and consulting. She is a certified professional coach through an ICF accredited organization and is a Myers-Briggs practitioner. Leah has over seventeen years of experience in marketing, strategy, and product development in a corporate environment. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the fields of psychology and organizational psychology. She has a Master’s of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Sociology from Boston College where she graduated summa cum laude.

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