Leadership Can Be Messy

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Morning


How many of you took a photograph of the kids all in the pile of torn paper, ribbons, and bows after all of the presents had been unwrapped on Christmas morning?

Oh, wait, you are one of those neat freaks who cleans up the wrapping as you go along? Well, read on anyway. It may have some entertainment value for you. If you are like most folks who have a giant mess in the middle of the floor after unwrapping presents, read on. There is an interesting leadership lesson to be learned.

Christmas morning can be a messy process

I am always entertained by the completed disconnect from reality by the commercials you see at Christmas time. I have never given, nor received, a brand new white Lexus with a big red bow on it. Yet, I am given to believe that is the way it happens in some families. For us, it has always begun with someone trying to corral the kids back in their bedrooms while someone else hurriedly makes coffee and get the camera ready for the mad dash to the family room and the tree. We are never dressed like the way folks are in that Lexus commercial. The kids usually had new Christmas pajamas, but my wife and I usually wore whatever we usually wore.

After gulping at least some coffee and munching an occasional bite of pastry, the unwrapping would commence. It would commence in a somewhat orderly fashion and we would take turns opening presents so that everyone could see (and “Oooh” and “Ahhh”) each gift. Maybe that is why it always lasted until almost noon!

And after it was all over, there would be a giant pile of crumpled up paper and crushed bows in a pile in the middle of the floor. The kids loved to bury themselves in the pile and that was always one of the last pictures taken that morning. And when the children were little, I am fairly certain they enjoyed playing in that pile as much, if not more, than playing with the new toys!

Leadership also can be a messy process

The best leadership models have a balance between being involved in activities and being an “empowering” leader who provides the tools and the autonomy for the organization to function without micromanagement. But, let us admit that getting involved sometimes means getting our hands dirty. It may even be a little messy some times.

That willingness to get our hands dirty translates to our followers that we do not view ourselves as being “above” them or that we are too good to take up a shovel and dig a ditch right there alongside them. It translates into taking up for with vocal and visible support for our team when they face challenges or hardship. It translates into standing side by side of them when tragedy strikes. It is emotional. It is draining. And it is messy.

However, those times become the crucible where lasting relationships are forged. They form the stories that will be told from time to time to the new followers when they begin to align themselves with you. They will hear it from those who have lived it. They will hear that when it got messy, you were there. And you got dirty right there with them.

Does any of this resonate with you? It does with me. And I was inspired by a quote from the late Andy Rooney. He said:

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

Leadership is often a mess. But it is a glorious mess.

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

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