What leaders can learn from Christmas songs

There's a whole lotta learning to be had from some of our favourite Christmas songs. Check out the leadership lessons from our top five Crimbo tunes. Merry Christmas everyone!

Published 18 December 2018
What leaders can learn from Christmas songs

Like finding a silver coin in a Christmas pudding, festive tunes reveal valuable lessons for leaders and managers. Let's pick out the smarts from the schmaltz in our top five Christmas songs.

1. 'Santa Baby'

Even Santa would struggle with this wish list. First Eartha Kitt (1953), later Madonna (1987) then Ariana Grande (2013) asked for a 'sable' '54 convertible‚ and a deed to a platinum mine. The lesson we take from this festive tune is don't ask too much from your team, especially at this time of year. A recent study found that 77% of employees experience burnout from stress, with unrealistic deadlines and working long hours near the top of the list. [1] But the main reason for burnout is lack of recognition. So, now's the perfect time to show how much you value your team and all their hard work. Maybe Secret Santa choccies on their desks? You'll find more, cocoa-free ways to energise your team in your toolkit.

2. ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’

You probably know the Bing Crosby version from the ‘60s. Or maybe Whitney Houston’s 80s power ballad? How about Home Free’s cover from a few years back. Anyone?

‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ has been recorded by hundreds of artists and sold tens of millions of copies around the world. [2] Written by husband and wife team Noël Regney and Gloria Baker, this nativity story was reportedly a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. [3]

Stopping WWIII with a jingle is a big ask. But this tune also teaches us to hear out colleagues and see things from their perspective. That’ll help you make better decisions, and studies show listening to music makes employees more relaxed, self-aware and willing to cooperate. [4] Asking people to show work they’re proud of is a great way to get your team talking.

3. ‘Christmas Wrapping’

Patty Donahue is certainly feeling the festive burnout when she sings, “But all this year’s been a busy blur, don’t think I have the energy, to add to my already mad rush.”

‘Christmas Wrapping’ (1981) by The Waitresses is about ditching Christmas parties and pressies to take some well-deserved me-time. And the end of the year is the ideal time to stop and reflect. As the Open University says, “Reflecting helps you to develop your skills and review their effectiveness, rather than just carry on doing things as you have always done them. It’s about questioning, in a positive way, what you do and why you do it and then deciding whether there is a better, or more efficient, way of doing it in the future.” [5]

It can be as easy as taking time out at the end of the day to reflect. A recent study revealed employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who didn’t. [6]

4. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

After watching TV reports of Ethiopia’s famine in the 1980s, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure formed a supergroup to raise money for charity. And it worked. Recorded in one day, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ charted number one in the UK chart for five weeks sold 3.8 million copies and raised £8 million for charity. [7] With Phil Collins on drums and the likes of Bono, Boy George and Jody Watley belting out lyrics, this Christmas song shows the power of collaboration – and what you can achieve when a diverse group of people come together.

It doesn’t just pay to be diverse in the music industry. A recent McKinsey study shows the link between diversity and financial performance. It reveals that companies with greater gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability. Those with ethnic and cultural diversity are 33% more likely to outperform. [8]

Creating a diverse and inclusive culture at your workplace can start as simple as going for a coffee with a colleague from different age or background to you. The success of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ sparked an American version in 1985. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, ‘We Are the World’ raised over $63 million for humanitarian aid in Africa. [9] But the UK original had Bananarama.

5. ‘Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy’

Talking of diversity, you can’t get more different than a festive mashup from David Bowie and Bing Crosby.

The scripted dialogue between the pair is a little cringeworthy, but the song kind of works. Recorded in 1977 for Bing Crosby’s TV show, Bowie sings new lyrics over Bing’s rendition of ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Released in 1982, the tune became one of Bowie’s best-sellers, with over 400,000 sales in the UK alone. [10]

Bowie was renowned for doing the unexpected. In The Dance of the Possible: A Better Way to Understand How to Work with Ideas, author Scott Berkun argues that all new ideas are made up of old ideas. [11] And that you can patch in parts of other ideas to find new solutions. (Like new lyrics tacked onto a classic Christmas tune.) What’s more, Berkun argues that great ideas look weird at first. (Cue Bowie strolling into Bing’s mansion.)

Stuck on a project? Try looking at how different sectors and industries approach a problem. Then pinch their ideas.

Did we miss any? What’s your favourite Christmas song and what can it teach us?

[1] Jen Fisher, 'Workplace burnout Survey'. Available at  https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html (accessed 11 December 2018)
[2] Margalit Fox, 'Gloria Shayne Baker, Composer and Lyricist, Dies at 84'. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/arts/11baker.html?ref=arts (accessed 11 December 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Guy Itzchakov and Avi Kluger ‚'The Power of Listening in Helping People Change' (2018). Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-power-of-listening-in-helping-people-change (accessed 11 December 2018).

[5] Open University, 'Self Reflection‚' (2018). Available at: http://www.open.ac.uk/choose/unison/develop/my-skills/self-reflection (accessed 11 December 2018).

[6] Jenifer Porter, 'Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)' (2018). Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it (accessed 11 December 2017).

[7] This Day in Music. Available at: http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/pages/do_they_know_its_christmas (accessed 11 December 2018).

[8] Vivian Hunt, 'Delivering Through Diversity'. (2018). Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity (accessed 11 December 2018).

[9] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Are_the_World (accessed 11 December 2018).

[10] Wikipedia, 'Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy' Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_on_Earth/Little_Drummer_Boy (accessed 13 December 2018). [11] Scott Berkun, 'The Dance of the Possible' (2017). Available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WLGYW83 (accessed 11 December 2018).

You may also be interested in…

Content Spotlight: Kirkpatrick's Model

Four levels of training evaluation.

September 2023

Read More

What is Performance Support?

How learning at the moment of need can help drive performance in your organization.

August 2023

Read More

Prioritizing Well-being in Today's Hyper-Connected Workplace

Chris Coladonato, Founder of Connection Catalyst, discusses the key steps you need to take to protect your people’s mental health and well-being in today’s ‘always on’ work environments.

August 2023

Read More