Santa Claus Social Science Study Reveals 7 Leadership Lessons

by Andrew Leigh, Featured Contributor

Dear Mr Santa Claus.

santaWe’re most grateful for your permission to conduct this path-breaking social science enquiry into your current operations and the Santa Franchise. You wanted our results before Christmas, we’re delighted to summarise our main conclusions here.

Our two-volume, spiral-bound report will be left by the chimney in the Christmas-wrapped parcel marked “To Santa, from


We conducted a detailed engagement survey amongst those working in your North Pole enterprise. Many were too busy to speak to us as they were struggling under a mountain of written requests from children, all with the usual post codes of H0H 0H0.


We measured an extremely high level of employee commitment—around 90%. Almost certainly this explains the present exceptional levels of productivity. This of course contrasts with the low employee engagement levels found in both the UK and the US.

While all those we spoke to had high elf esteem, some were not entirely happy with the leadership. A common response for example was:

“We seldom see Santa, he’s always so busy”

Also, quite a few claimed they’d never even seen you; as several of them put it to us:

“Does Santa Claus actually exist?”

Ethical Leadership

Our main focus though, was on ethical leadership. From our research it’s apparent you’ve succeeded in setting the right tone in the organisation. Asked to sum this up, most elves pointed to the numerous colourful Ho! Ho! Ho! wall posters.

While you’re clearly running a highly responsible business, we were surprised to find a complete absence of compliance or legal staff.

We requested a copy of the organisation’s codes of behaviour, expecting to find the usual Santa Clauses spelling out how people should behave.

Instead we received a large red file full of Christmas cracker jokes. The one we liked best was:

“Why don’t you ever see Santa in hospital? Because he has private elf care.”


We noted the detailed attention to making sure stakeholders fully understood the high tech nature of your organisation.

In particular we admired your master plan of seeding information to various new media and distribution points dealing with such difficult issues such as:

  • How does he deliver so many presents in a single night?
  • How does Santa do it all without being seen?
  • How does he know if I’ve been good or bad?
  • Is Santa really immortal?
  • How does he read so many wish lists?

See for example: How to Scientifically Explain Santa Claus to Your Children, at Gizmodo


The present use of advanced technology in the Santa operation is commendable.New equipment is speeding up the processing of information–millions of letters being automatically scanned and read most efficiently.

We also noted your technological partnership with North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad). There are more than a thousand military men and women wearing Santa hats of reindeer antlers answering calls on your behalf from children around the world keen to find you in the night sky. [1]

Animal Welfare

We reviewed the Elf and Safety of the 12 reindeer currently employed. Given the amount of work done on Christmas eve–all that flying and stuff–we were Santa Sleighconcerned you may be asking too much of these creatures.

To our probing question: “How long do the reindeers legs have to be?” We were told:

“Long enough so they can touch the ground.”

Asked “where do you find the reindeer” the dwarf helper replied:

“It depends on where you leave them!”

However, some confusion exists over which equipment is being made ready for Christmas Eve– all those preparing the reindeer were also singing:

Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh

This may need your attention to clarify people’s exact intentions in that particular department.
7 Lessons

Our detailed analysis of your personal leadership style and its ethical impact on the entire organisation has produced useful guidelines for all ethical leaders: the “7 Lessons of Santa Claus Leadership.”

These have been written up for the Harvard Business Review but we summarise them here:

1. Culture– The leadership understands the importance of creating the right culture. For example, we note your masterly and consistent use of rituals and symbols such as the red outfit, the bulging sack, the decorated Christmas Tree, the shining Angel on the top of the tree, the fairly Christmas lights, the filled stockings, pillow slips at the end of the bed, the sitting on Santa’s knee, the carols and so on.

Asked to comment on these, several elves we spoke simply laughed and said:

“That’s the way we do things round here.”

2 Setting the tone— There is a clear ethical theme of regularly and openly wishing good will to all men and women—this permeates your enterprise with Set the toneramifications far beyond the immediate premises.

3 Purpose— There are clear objectives for the organisation and no one inside or outside seems to have any doubts about what is expected of them.

Everyone we spoke to could readily repeat back to us your core company intention to: “Bring toys and happiness to all good little girls and boys”.

4 Inspiring— You personally inspire everyone around you to do good work and convey the message the work is worthwhile.

When assessed against our engagement criteria of VIDI, all elves felt Valued, Involved, Developed and Inspired.

This results in zero staff attrition. Indeed many have been with you since you started the business.

5 Communication— You have a clear corpporate message which everyone understands and it never alters. Every year it’s the same: Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas

Not Heh! Heh! Heh! Merry Christmas; Not Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Merry Christmas
Always Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas

6  Values— You clearly live your values, and know what you stand for–laughter and frivolity.

Every year with great consistency you deliver this same message, linking those values repeatedly.

Equally important, you walk the talk, making sure all those millions of other Santas in your world-wide franchise understand the message too.

7 Authenticity— You are known to speak from the heart and show you’re genuinely committed to an ethical culture. Consequently the level of commitment to integrity in the workplace is extremely high.

For example, we found no pressure to compromise on standards; elves that made mistakes just laughed and started over again; there was no retaliation when one of them screwed up.


We believe the 7 Lessons of Santa Claus Leadership will prove popular with leaders of virtually all responsible organisations.

We also wish you a very Merry Christmas, but then you know all about that don’t you!

1. T. Smedly, US fighter jets keep watch over Santa,, Financial Times 11th December 2014


Andrew Leigh
Andrew Leigh
ANDREW is author of Ethical Leadership, (Kogan Page 2013) and writes regularly at He believes business needs to re-discover the importance of ethics and integrity. As an expert on leadership Andrew writes regularly on ways to help managers be more effective as ethical leaders. His blog stays close to the zeitgeist with a unique perspective on many aspects of leading organisations ethically, including compliance, and engagement. Andrew is a joint founder in 1989 of Maynard Leigh Associates ( pioneers of using ideas from theatre in business. He was a hands-on practising manager for many years in the public sector, ending his time on the front line running a division with over 1000 staff. Andrew also spent several years as a business and financial journalist, including time at The Observer newspaper. He has written over 20 books on management, leadership teams and so on. Originally trained as an economist, he is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He is available for speaking engagements, interviews, feature articles and consultancy.

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