“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – a look at an iconic Christmas movie through the human resources lense.
The story begins at the birth of Rudolph in the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Donner. They discover their son’s nose shines so brightly, one could even say it glows! Santa comes to visit the new parents and immediately expresses his concern with the reindeer’s birth defect. Donner assures Santa that Rudolph will grow out of this nose thing and be ready to join the sleigh team by Christmas.
Fast forward a couple months and it’s time for Rudolph to begin training with the other reindeer under Coach Comet. The Donners put a fake nose on Rudolph so he will look like all the other reindeer.
Rudolph is a straight-up rock star during reindeer games, leaping higher and farther than any other student in the class! But when his fake nose falls off and his real nose glows, everyone freaks out and begins making fun of Rudolph! Santa shows up again and basically says Rudolph is useless with that nose. He instructs Comet to focus on the other reindeer and not waste time training Rudolph any further.
Feeling like a reject and outcast, Rudolph leaves Christmastown with a wannabe-dentist elf named Hermie. They posse up with a slightly crazy miner, Yukon Cornelius, and end up on the Island of Misfit Toys after narrowly escaping being eaten by the Bumble Snow Monster. Rudolph and Hermie eventually return to Christmastown with Cornelius and a kinder, gentler and toothless Bumble Snow Monster.
Unfortunately, Rudolph and Hermie’s celebrated return is short-lived because a terrible snow storm means Santa cannot guide the sleigh to deliver toys for Christmas. Santa is about to make the announcement that Christmas will be cancelled when Rudolph’s nose starts beaming and distracts him. He was about to yell at Rudolph again when he realizes he can use Rudolph to guide the sleigh through the storm … And y’all know the rest of the story.
When I decided to write about Rudolph, I was going to say all this inspirational stuff about how important it is to embrace diversity and treat people at work with dignity, and how employees should never lose sight of the value uniqueness brings.
And all that is true.
But as I watched the movie again in preparation for this article, I couldn’t ignore just how much Santa’s leadership sucked!!
I get that Christmas is a big deal. It’s what all of Christmastown works all year for! And Santa was clearly stressed out — when the movie begins he is thin and not really eating. He’s monitoring the weather and toy production and reindeer training and worried about how this is all going to come together. Then he sees Rudolph’s nose and just loses it! Despite Rudolph’s stellar performance in reindeer games, Santa has no time or tolerance for Rudolph’s apparent handicap … until he realized he could use Rudolph. Then he’s all about some Rudolph!
That’s not what leaders do.
This wasn’t Santa’s first Christmas! He was hundred of years old and had completed this busy season hundreds of times. He should have better stress-coping mechanisms and more trust in his team by this point. If not, Santa’s not doing his job as a leader because he failed to develop a team that could perform their duties without his constant supervision.
Leaders also think ahead. Snow on Christmas happens all the time and Santa knew the sleigh didn’t have high beams! He should have looked at Rudolph and known almost instantly that his glowing nose could be an asset — or at the very least accomodated — on the sleigh squad. Instead, Santa rejected Rudolph for his differences — and he didn’t even have the guts to tell Rudolph that he wouldn’t be able to utilize him on the team. He made poor Donner and Comet be the bad guys. And he allowed the other reindeer to make fun of Rudolph, too!
However, as soon as he realized he could use Rudolph’s nose to his advantage, Santa changed his tune. Real leaders know that people cannot thrive in unstable environments. One minute you’re the worst, then you’re the best and then you don’t know where you stand!! Who wants to work in those conditions?!? Nobody.
Based on his handling of the Rudolph situation, Santa really has some things to learn about being a leader. Even if all the boys and girls get their toys on time, it doesn’t negate the stuff that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. And if this is how Santa’s running the show, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an Occupy North Pole movement after the New Year. Just sayin’ …
The good news is Rudolph gets the last laugh in the story. After being rejected and laughed at, Rudolph still stepped up and led the team when most of us would have told Santa n’em to suck it!! But I bet Rudolph gets satisfaction knowing all those reindeer who made fun of him and the so-called leader Santa who rejected him have to spend their whole night looking at his butt!
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