This week begins my favorite television viewing time of the year. Early Fall is nice with the unveiling of new shows, and the sweeps months always offer excitement, but December marks the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas.” My excitement is not a hipster attempt at being ironical. I really like these made-for-television movies. I concede that they are cheesy, yet they are also fun, heartwarming, and a rare occasion when my wife and I can enjoy some quality TV time together.
In watching countless Hallmark holiday movies, I’ve noticed a few trends that will make you a better leader. I encourage you to view a few of these television gems, but before you do, here are three lessons to keep in mind as you enjoy this holiday tradition.
Santa isn’t the only one who is predictable
All of the Hallmark holiday movies tell the same basic story. The main character tends to be self-centered, ambitious, and/or has misaligned priorities. Through the course of two hours, they realize their shortcomings and make the right decision just in time for Christmas Eve or, if it’s a real nail-biter, Christmas Day.
Before you minimize the power of a fairly repetitive formula, let’s examine Google’s hiring criteria. In their tens of thousands of data points related to on-the-job success, Google determined that the most important character trait of a leader is predictability. This may not sound exciting, but Google’s evidence-based approach found that a predictable, consistent leader can more effectively remove roadblocks from their employees’ path. Employees are then able to grasp “that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want.”
If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, [but if] your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.—Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google
Where are your fellow elves?
As our main character goes through their transformation, they are always surrounded by a core support system. There’s the sassy co-worker/best friend, the demanding but lovable boss, the cute kid (typically the child of the love interest or an orphan), and the seemingly irrelevant elderly wise person. Each plays a role in pushing our hero closer to the finish line—the best friend forces the workaholic to go to the “big party,” the boss gives focus, the kid brings heart, and the elder provides poignant advice when the main character loses his/her way (which always happens in the last 30 minutes of the movie).
Maintaining a solid support system is not just a holiday movie storytelling trope. A classic study suggests that for the “leadership dream” to be realized, we must construct and sustain a group of people who believe in, challenge, and encourage our success. These individuals are not “yes-men” or subordinates, but allies and peers who have the freedom to provide truthful but less-than-popular feedback.
Barrel through like a flying sleigh in Manhattan
The main character of every holiday movie always has some type of “last chance” performance on the line. This may be a sales pitch meeting to close a new account, an article deadline for their newspaper/magazine, or the big city council meeting to save the foster home. The stakes are high and one flub will be a calamity. Spoiler alert: they always persevere and come out on top.
If you want the same outcomes as our hero, there are only two things to remember. One, you need inspiration. The first half of the movie is providing the motivation needed to re-prioritize, enthuse, and provide focus. Then it takes work. The movies illustrate this through an angst-ridden montage of crumpled papers, debates in front of a chalkboard, and a late night marathon session of frantic labor all with a classic R&B soundtrack. You don’t need to be so dramatic, but when the pressure is on, you must be able to channel your anxiety into constructive energy.
Becoming a better leader does not need to rely on the miracles of the holiday season. Sure, we could get into the movie genre of “Santa Claus is real and needs you help” or “I woke up as a younger/older version of myself,” but I recommend starting your holiday movie experience with a more grounded setting. Look for one starring Candace Cameron Bure, Lori Loughlin, or any one of your favorite 1980/90s sitcom legends. Then sit back with your hot cocoa, put your feet up, and let the leadership lessons flow.