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10 Holiday Mistakes of Leaders

Holiday Leadership Mistakes

10 Holiday Mistakes of Leaders

It seems the holiday season is fully upon us, and that means it is time to think about how we spend our time, energy and money. It is also time to think about the climate we create in organizations we lead.

If you have read my article on Holiday Leadership (Feed Their Bodies AND Their Souls), you know that I wholeheartedly endorse the generosity and spirit of giving the holidays can generate.

This year, I was delighted to see that the staff of Boyer and Boyer, PA, where my husband and son are partners, decided to use their November team-building afternoon to assemble and wrap gifts for the local shoebox for seniors project for local nursing home residents. I was very happy to be part of this joyful event.

However, I want to add some words of caution...ideas that thoughtful leaders will consider in the course of holiday celebration and observance.

This cautionary approach came about after I received a flyer requesting donations to purchase farm animals for individuals in impoverished areas around the world. The pictures in the flyer were very heartwarming —a child holding a family’s goat or a woman feeding a chicken. I was fully on board with this charity.

Before I made the donation and asked others to donate, I decided to take a quick look at the organization’s accountability rating on Charity Navigator. I was disappointed to see that this charity received a lower rating for financial health and management than a large number of other charitable organizations. (Two other valuable sites are Charity Watch and

That is not to say that this group does not do good work. In my search, I found a large number of organizations that have significantly lower scores, but I decided to choose a charity with a much higher overall score for accountability, transparency and financial health. In the end, I decided to support Direct Relief and our local food bank.

I found that my emotions in this season got in the way of thinking critically about how I wanted to spend my money and emotional energy.

This experience led me to think about other, sometimes critical, mistakes leaders make during the holiday season. I have listed ten of them below:

  1. Focusing on things (or events) rather than people — At this time of year, with so many alluring opportunities, it is easy to lose track of the reasons for observing holidays, whatever they may be. For some leaders, the focus is limited to the bottom line. For others, the focus is hosting an elaborate office party with over-the-top food and beverages. Whatever that focus, the wants and needs of the people involved must filter all other decisions.
  2. Losing track of personal or organizational missions — While considering wants and needs of people before things and events, effective leaders also filter their decisions through their personal and organizational missions. How can holiday activities and celebrations further those missions? How can leaders avoid activities that ultimately diminish their mission?
  3. Forgetting that all are not jolly and joyful — This year, I have already been in stores in which thoroughly inane music (in my opinion) made it seem as if everyone is happy and excited. That is not the case for far too many people who have experienced grief and loss during the year. Sensitive leaders remember and acknowledge that everyone does not share in the happiness they may enjoy or want to enjoy during the season.
  4. Forgetting that others do not share religious or cultural beliefs — In addition to remembering that others do not share in their elation, sensitive leaders are aware that their beliefs are not universal. They honor the ideas and beliefs of those whose religious or cultural ties do not align with their own.
  5. Trying to do it all — Enticing events and activities hold the potential for leaders to get bogged down in non-productive tasks. Just as any other time of the year, effective leaders avoid trying to do it all. They let others plan and decide. They recognize that delegating with the authority to make relevant decisions allows other people to grow, and it allows a leader to use time, energy and other resources in more productive pursuits.
  6. Not fully engaging — The other side of the trying-to-do-it-all coin is not engaging when others are involved in meaningful events, celebrations and activities. A leader sets the tone. If an activity is important, the leader must participate and be seen as fully embracing it.
  7. Overcompensating — This time of year can bring out the best in people. It can highlight their generosity and desire to do good works. It can also be the time that leaders overcompensate. They try to make amends or go overboard with gifts or extravagances that showcase their wealth and position rather than meeting a real need or desire someone else holds.
  8. Forgetting they are the leader — Parties, celebrations and other social events offer unique and wonderful opportunities to meet and get to know employees, staff and colleagues. These events also offer the potential for leaders to let down their hair too much—to overindulge, share too much information or become friendly in ways that can harm working relationships in the future.
  9. Missing opportunities to lead and inspire — Holiday activities and celebrations bring people together in very meaningful ways. It is the leader’s responsibility to acknowledge the work others have done, to express appreciation and to tell stories or reinforce the ideas, hopes and dreams that people share as part of the group. This is the time to appeal to emotions that bring people together and to communicate why the group does what it does.
  10. Not having fun (and not encouraging others to have fun) Fun is an important component that holds groups and organizations together. Yes, a leader wants to be sensitive to the wants and needs of other people and sensitive to the diversity of his or her group. However, offering everyone the opportunity to laugh and enjoy time together within the context of the daily routine goes a long way toward minimizing any of the other mistakes a leader makes.

Each of these mistakes has the potential to harm relationships and reduce the good will leaders work to cultivate for the rest of the year. As I look at the list, I see they are mistakes to consider throughout the year. However, with heightened emotions, their impact looms larger during this holiday season.

Effective leaders recognize the potential for harm during the holidays and throughout the year.

What mistakes can you add to the list?