Bad Management Lessons from Santa in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

As a child, I never missed “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” when it came on television. However, re-watching the stop motion special with my own kids made me acutely aware of how our current values clash with the Santa’s 1960s management style. He’s a bottom-line boss. In an amusing review of the show, I considered how this version of Santa could use a little professional coaching.

To be fair, Santa does have a big job. He’s got one chance to deliver all the toys in the world on one night. He can’t screw it up and he can’t allow inefficiencies to get in the way. He doesn’t have time for “special snowflakes” who can’t make or deliver the toys quickly. We’re sure that Santa would never make it as an Oregon boss, he’d be on the Labor and Industries Bureau’s Most Wanted List.

1. Santa is self-centered. Santa clearly doesn’t have time for his staff. Cheerful elves practice their song, “We are Santa’s Elves” for Santa and all he can say is, “Let’s get this over with,” and “Hmm, well it needs work, I have to go.” No “good job;” not a thank you or a smile. Elves are sad. Morale is low. When Rudolph returns, and finds his parents missing, instead of sympathy for the distraught reindeer, Santa is only concerned about work. “Without your father, I will never be able to get my sleigh off the ground,” he complains. Soooo insensitive.

2. Santa creates an unhealthy workplace culture and doesn’t see unique potential in individuals. Rudolph with his nose so bright wasn’t exactly welcomed onto the team. Everyone made fun of him when they practiced reindeer games. Santa and the coach joined in. Even worse, if he found misfit toys, he hustled them off to the island. A sad, toy orphanage.

3. Santa is a poor problem solver. The moment the weather gets bad, instead of being a leader, Santa gives up and decides to cancel Christmas. “Everything’s grounded,” he said, “Aw, the poor kids, they’ve been so good this year, too. But I couldn’t chance it. I’ll have to tell everybody that it’s all off this year.” I might add, he’s a little bit of a coward. It took him a very long time to see the options (Rudolph!) right in front of him.

We’re fortunate to be in a time where positive and two-way communication between management and staff is valued. We’ve learned a lot in the last 50 years. Imagine our 1960s Santa with Millennial elves.

Mary Louise VanNatta, CAE is CEO of VanNatta Public Relations and Association Management. PRSalem.com, @PRSalem.