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Holiday Leadership: Feed Their Bodies AND Their Souls

Holiday Leadership: Feed Their Bodies AND Their Souls

Holidays present special challenges for leaders and their organizations. At this time of year, the physical, emotional or financial pain that people suffer all year seems much more pronounced. Memories of lost or absent family members, expectations about what holidays “should” be, seeing others in various states of excitement or despair, and coming to the end of a year with thoughts of what could have been contribute to issues surrounding holiday activities.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics seems to confirm that the commonly held beliefs that depression increases and more suicides occur during the holidays are myths. However, we can agree that stress and frustration make this time of year especially challenging for leaders and their organizations.

Every situation is different, but as we move deeper into the holiday season, leaders in all settings must consider their roles as friends, colleagues, employees and family members observe or celebrate their holidays. At this time of year, leaders focus more than ever on the tone they want to set in both personal and professional settings. Effective leaders accept responsibility for setting the appropriate tone all year, but their approach seems more noticeable during this season.

I offer below some ideas to consider as you think about the challenges holidays bring:

  • All aspects of leadership begin with self. Who do you want to be during this season? What is your attitude? What do you want your attitude to be?
  • Consider your personal mission and the mission of your group or organization. Can you align your holiday activities and behavior with that mission?
  • What are your assumptions regarding the holidays? What are your assessments about your ability to bring happiness to others? Keep in mind that you cannot eliminate other peoples' suffering or substantially contribute to their happiness. These emotions are often choices people make. However, leaders can create a nurturing and supportive environment that allows people to feel good about themselves and each other.

How can you create an environment that feeds the body as well as the soul?

  • Begin by taking care of yourself so that you can be mindful of relationships with others. Focus on gratitude—gratitude for things, but more important, gratitude for people.
  • Be aware of the stress holidays can produce for everyone. Take steps to minimize that stress. Share responsibilities and allow others that opportunity.
  • Keep your expectations and the expectations of others realistic. Consider the promises you make. Be careful not to over promise and encourage others to do the same. Learn to say “no” and allow others that freedom.
  • Promote personal interactions and social support systems among members of your group. Include families. Consider individuals who do not celebrate holidays as you do. How can you meaningfully include them and help them to feel part of a larger group’s holiday celebrations?
  • Encourage people to be their most noble—to feel good about themselves. Help them to find meaning. Suggest that group members support a family in need rather than exchanging gifts with one another. Create worthwhile traditions such as working in a homeless shelter, collecting coats for poverty-stricken children, or establishing a “pay it forward day (or week).”
  • Model the behavior you would like to see from family, friends, colleagues and employees. Consider how things could be if this behavior and attitude were adopted every day of the year. 

As we approach important winter holidays and the end of the year, my wish for you and your families, groups and organizations is that come January 2, you can say in all sincerity that you genuinely enjoyed the holidays.

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This article was originally posted on December 17, 2011 and edited November 30, 2015. It remains relevant to holiday celebrations today.


Gooseberry Christmas Pudding --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

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