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When the consultant met Claus

By Simon Holland - December 21, 2011

The Bush House Telegraph
News and views from the Deloitte Center for Strategic Leadership, Bush House, London
In its final blog for 2011, the Deloitte Center for Strategic Leadership marks the festive season with something a little different: an exclusive interview with the busiest boss in the world.
Happy Holidays

Working for the world’s biggest professional services firm can be tough. The hours. The globe-trotting. The expenses forms…

But it has its privileges.

Last week, a member of the Deloitte Center for Strategic Leadership team was lucky enough to meet one of the best-loved leaders in the world. A consummate strategist who has, for generations, controlled one of the biggest distribution networks in the West, using only the most basic technology and leaving minimal carbon footprint on earth, he shared his leadership secrets in a rare interview. And, as our gift to you this Christmas, we have pleasure in reproducing a transcript below.

Happy holidays!

Consultant: Mr Claus, it’s an honour to meet you … Tell me, sir, what’s the enduring appeal of your brand?
Santa Claus: My what?

Your brand. I was just wondering … You’ve never updated your image—or modernized your workshop. And yet you live on and on. What’s your secret?

That I’ve never updated my image, or modernized my workshop, I suppose. We just carry on doing what we’re supposed to do.

Ah … surprise and delight the customer?

The customer?

… You have the biggest seasonal workforce in the world. In these tough economic times, have you considered downsizing to control costs?

No. Most of my workers are already pretty small.

Ahem … Talking of which … how do you, year in year out, unite a vast number of elves, of diverse ages and diverse skills, and talents and personalities to act as one for a common purpose?

Well, people believe in me—or, should I say, the idea of me. And that’s pretty much all the encouragement they need. When people believe in you, goodwill usually follows—and where there’s goodwill, there’s good teamwork.

So there’s a high level of directional intensity around vision, mission, and strategic goals?


Sorry, let me reframe … How do you make sure that goodwill cascades down through the organization?

The senior elves and I talk a lot; the senior elves and the junior elves talk a lot. And, living above the workshop, so to speak, I’m always around.

Ah yes, a highly visible leader … What motivational techniques do you use on an ongoing basis to keep everyone on task?

I say “please,” “thank you,” and “ho, ho, ho” a lot. Oh, and if someone has a special talent, an infrared nose, say, I make sure they get to use it.

Isn’t being so jolly a bit of a disadvantage sometimes, though? Do you find it hard to draw a line between Santa the benevolent patriarch and Santa the boss? Do you have to make a conscious effort to impersonalize and professionalize the working relationship? Does your leadership style ever mean outcomes are sub-optimal?

I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand you. How can any relationship ever be impersonal?

… OK, to sum up: you’re fine with the idea of paternalism and patriarchal management in today’s business world?

Yep. That’s why some people call me Father Christmas.

Er … This is interesting. At the Deloitte Center for Strategic Leadership we recognize that leadership is much more than a bi-polar story of command and control and its laissez-faire, modern alternative. The Deloitte As One program—an advanced, drill-downable data tool for taking the risks out of strategy execution—identifies eight distinct leader-follower archetypes: three of the command-and-control kind and five variants of the more participative, bottom-up model. Would you agree that the traditional dichotomy of hierarchical and “flat” organizations is too simplistic a description of the world?

Er … Don’t know much about the world. See it once a year—and it’s pretty much a flying visit…

Let me explain a bit more. We plot our eight models of successful collaboration, the As One leadership taxonomy as we like to call it, on a simple dual-axis graph, mapped after forensic, in-depth, and granular analysis of case studies using advanced scientific techniques. Here’s a copy.

Archetype Compass

As you can see, it’s simple and accessible, drawn as a compass of four poles. At the top, is the command-and-control model, Landlord & Tenants, in which power is exercised from the top down. At the bottom, is the…

Bottom-up stuff?

Yes, absolutely. The Community Organizer & Volunteers, democratic, participative model … So there you have it … Where do you see yourself sitting on our compass?

Er … the North Pole?

Oh right. I get it. Perfect. You’re the classic Landlord. You control access to scarce resources—elves, a magic sleigh, Donner, Blitzen, Prancer, Dancer, et al.—and your tenants, the children of the world, have to live by your rules. You know whether they’ve been good or bad, naughty or nice. Incentives and rules. Risks and rewards. Carrots and sticks.

Forgive me, but I think you’ve been working too hard…

But our As One compass is the perfect road map to effective leadership. A move east could unlock the creativity of your biggest assets…

Are you talking about cheap outsourcing? Forget it. Sweat shops ain’t us.

No … well, possibly … I’m talking about growing long-term returns from investment in human capital by maximizing the potential of the workforce to take ownership of solutioneering.

Look, I hate to see you like this. You need a break. Let’s end the interview. Happy holidays.

Happy holidays? But we haven’t discussed your lack of a succession plan yet!

Inspired by Steve Pearlstein, “On Leadership: Santa Claus on ‘doing the Twitter,’” Washington Post, 23 December 2009.

Simon Holland, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s Global Head of Strategic Change and Organizational Transformation, takes over Stephen Langton’s blog in January 2012.

This is the last Bush House Telegraph. Watch this space for a brand new blog and a brand new blogger in the new year.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Humorous and informative at the same time.Love the concept !

Great blog! I laughed a lot. Congratulations!

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