top of page

Leadership Lessons from Rudolph

(A Change Management Article)


One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”[1]

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose.

And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.

They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say:

"Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then all the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee,

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!


Over the course of my career, I have often seen organizations normalize talent to a cultural standard. In this sense, I am not speaking to normalization of behavior, conduct, or performance, nor am I speaking to standardization of services or process. Rather, I am speaking to the normalization of the actual knowledge, skills and abilities each team member brings to our business. This normalization marginalizes and forces out those who don’t align to our thought processes, who don’t match our culture. Much like “the other reindeer”, we actively seek conformity. Special talents are often not welcome in our business if they are outside our business’ cultural norms. And we as leaders sometimes allow our organizations to be dismissive to those that have different skills.

We speak often about diversity, but are often intolerant of diverse skill sets. We advocate creativity but rarely look for creativity in our hiring decisions. We discourage hiring people who are not like us, who don’t think like us, and who don’t view our business challenges and opportunities like us.


Craig Groeschel in his book “Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working”, asks the question how can we differentiate ourselves, how can we make a difference in the world around us if we are normal. We need to think differently, see differently, and act differently to get different results.

Our job as leaders is to deliver, to deliver with passion, and to passionately seek ways to make our business more competitive. If we are looking at our challenges like everyone else, how can we expect to be different or to deliver a unique value to our customers?

Santa recognized the value of Rudolph’s unique talent and had the good sense to put it to use. However, the reindeer around Rudolph saw the same talent and the same environmental conditions that Santa saw, but failed to see the opportunity in a unique talent.


Customers change, environments change, and our resource and skill needs change. Our ability to quickly respond to these changes is the difference between success and failure. A quick look at technology retail companies such as Circuit City and Best Buy provide ample evidence that our failure to see our situation from a different perspective can easily mean business decline or business success.

Our success presumes not only that we recognize that unique talents and abilities are needed but also that we have access to those talents and abilities prior to when the need arises.

Faced with fog, Santa did not add more reindeer when he added Rudolph to the team. In fact, Rudolph’s common strengths were irrelevant to Santa’s success. Instead it was a tiny talent, one of no perceivable value that made the difference. Often it is not our ability to marshal the masses, but rather to leverage the smallest talent from within our organization that provides huge advantages to our competitiveness and success.


Every organization will likely be missing skills they need to take advantage of changes in the market. However, a good leader should mitigate this risk by making sure they have varying team members who actively provide fresh perspectives and a culture where unique talents are respected. The first step in resolving an opportunity is the need to recognize it.


Many of our process efficiency and value stream methodologies advocate the use of cross-functional team members to bring fresh thinking to existing challenges. Lean Six Sigma is just one framework that highlights the need for cross-functional teams to provide imaginative and creative solutions to address root causes of inefficiencies.


We must staff our team with leaders who see the world differently and who continually bring new ideas and insights to our discussion. And we must be aware of our talent inventory, even those talents not in immediate use.

[1] Words by Robert May, Music by Johnny Marks

© 2017 Barry Robbins, Silver Bear Solutions

Contact The Author

Barry Robbins is an IT Executive with a strong record of success in transforming IT organizations by envisioning, developing, and implementing IT business solutions.


bottom of page