office santa

The office holiday party is more often mocked than appreciated, feared more than longed-for. 

It's the scene of many an inappropriate body-part-on-copy-machine antic, awkward and inebriated testimonials, and inappropriate interoffice moments of romance. 

And those are just what writers in Hollywood dream up about office holiday parties. Who knows what happens in real life, right? Actually, it is mostly a whole lot of nothing. 

'Tis the season, however, to further the cause of effective leadership, if one knows how. 

Working the Party

Some would argue that the holiday party is perfect to manage down — to show thanks to your subordinates, the team who perform the marketing drudgery that make you look brilliant as a corporate leader. 

Others would argue that holiday parties are the perfect time for leaders to leverage face time, score political points and push forward their agenda. To manage up.

For Ellie Eckhoff, vice president at ClearRock, a Boston-based leadership development and outplacement firm, pushing forward a work agenda at a holiday party "is not the gift most guests are looking to receive."

Be a Team Player

Instead of trying to score more points at the end of the year, Eckhoff said, leaders should be asking how they could help their team in the new year — for example, by offering to become a sponsor or mentor — and how they should be giving thanks to their team for helping to implement their agendas during the year. 

They can do this one on one, as well as on the big stage of the party. Why not showcase the "latest and greatest" work that the  team has done at a year-end event, or even invite a client to come in and praise the effectiveness of products and services? 

Make the Most of Opportunities

On the other end of the discussion is leadership consultant Liz Bywater, who specializes in working with Fortune 500 executives. She advises against spending too much time with the folks you interact with on a daily basis.

"You see your closest colleagues on a regular basis. Don’t waste the opportunity to connect with key business leaders," Bywater said.

She has no problem with company leaders using the holiday meeting for their political purposes. In fact, she claims that top-level execs are fine avoiding "fluffy, small talk” and instead keeping to "strategy and business priorities." She advises to keep such discussion short and on-point, and certainly to follow up afterward.

Be Thankful

From Achim Nowak, president of Influens, is an international executive coach to Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurs, and author of The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World, we have the argument that whatever you do at the holiday party, “check in” to the present at a time of year when most people are checking out.

As he claims, it's all too tempting to fake your way through your December work-related holiday obligations. Or as he explained, to "show up without checking in."

His suggestions for office holiday environments definitely err toward more giving and less taking. Nowak calls for business leaders to show "heartfelt appreciation" and affirm the value of each member of the team.

"Offer praise. State your appreciation. Make sure what you say is specific, heartfelt, and not 'canned,'" Nowak said.

Next up his Nowak's suggestion is to "shut up and listen" — to both subordinates and bosses.

"When we know that you heard us, the relationship is instantly strengthened. That’s a win in innumerable ways," Nowak said.

And lastly, to "check in," Nowak recommends that business leaders become a little riskier in their personal dealings around the office. Reveal more of the true self, what interests you and stresses you out in real life. Keep it informal. Opening up with a boss. a peer or a subordinate can create a moment where they check in too, leading to a meaningful connection that could reap benefits in the New Year. And if you must talk business …

“Yes, in a non-pushy way, find a way of working your business concerns into the conversation. You will get answers, and you will get them with grace,” he suggested.

So all you company leaders: Will you be givers or takers during office holiday party? Or will you end up with the proverbial lampshade on your head — and frustrated employees on your team?

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Title image by dumbledad