Won’t You Guide My Sleigh Tonight?

Rudolph.  Not a name you think of 11 months out of the year, right?  It makes sense, per the SSA (Social Security Administration) the name was most popular in 1927, which at the time represented 0.145 percent of total male births in 1927.  However, when saying that name in December popularity seems to jump because of a well-known reindeer.


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made his way into our hearts starting in the year 1939 as the creation of an adman for a particularly important department store called Montgomery Ward.  Robert May, a copywriter from the time, underwent the process of creating this character to cheer up the holiday masses which had endured a decade of the great depression.  May’s personal difficulties which included his wife’s diagnosis with cancer, ultimately leading to her untimely death, gave May the motivation he needed to make sure he completed the work.

“As he peered out at the thick fog that had drifted off Lake Michigan, May came up with the idea of a misfit reindeer ostracized because of his luminescent nose who used his physical abnormality to guide Santa’s sleigh and save Christmas. Seeking an alliterative name, May scribbled possibilities on a scrap of paper—Rollo, Reginald, Rodney and Romeo were among the choices—before circling his favorite. Rudolph.”      -Christopher Klein, Rudoplh the Red-Nosed Reindeer Turns 75

Rudolph, like his author May, had a difficult start in life.  Because of physical characteristics beyond one’s own control each had to deal with the possibility of ostracization and ridicule.  However, for both, these perceived weaknesses were turned into strengths over time.  Depending on the situation, weaknesses may turn into strengths and vice versa.

Have you ever turned a difference into a strength?

Excerpt from the original manuscript

As the story goes, one we know so well, Santa packed up his sleigh while Rudolph went to bed eagerly waiting for the next day.  Santa started on his journey to deliver all the gifts but ran into difficulties as fog made it very difficult for him to navigate the sleigh.  He managed to stumble his way into a home that featured a reindeer with a red nose that shown.

Santa knew then he had made a discovery that could help him finish the job and finish it well.  Rudolph wanted nothing more to join the other reindeer to help deliver the final presents.  Once considered an outcast Rudolph was now well received by all.  Everyone was merry, everyone had a really great night!

Is now your time to be the next Rudolph within your sleigh team?

With this story many metaphors begin to develop that one could unpack in a leadership class.  First, there’s the story of Rudolph realizing his situational leadership potential; turning a perceived weakness into an absolute strength.  Given the task, navigating a sleigh through air space with low visibility, Rudolph was willing and able to lend his skills to step into the role of leader.  Reflecting on personal strengths and weaknesses may give an individual the confidence they need to step into a leadership position when the situation dictates it.  Understanding when to be the Rudolph and when to be Comet or Cupid is extremely valuable to the various groups an individual may be a part of.  As an individual’s education progresses false confidence can take hold.  Be wary of the situations that you choose to take on, but don’t be afraid to take risks.  Sometimes you may be perceived as weak, but in reality,you know how strong you truly are; go for it!

How are you empowering the “weak” followers in your group?

Then there’s Santa’s role.  Santa soon realizes, even with his abilities, he couldn’t do it alone.  In this story, Santa stumbles upon his solution when he “randomly” bumps into a slumbering Rudolph.  Santa, though, quickly understands the potential that Rudolph might bring to the table.  His team was missing an essential element: someone to lead them through the fog, someone who could light the way.  This member of the team wasn’t your “average” reindeer.  To take on this exceptional task, Santa needed an exceptional reindeer and he found one in Rudolph.  In leadership, discovering the hidden potential in others is important in the connections you make with your followers.  Diversity on your team can lead to a better pool of exceptional people who are willing to take on the exceptional tasks you wouldn’t be able to handle alone.

“As leaders, we must become more knowledgeable about the different types of people that we lead and serve – in order to make the right decisions and investments in our business.    People intelligence means having a purposeful intention to engage with and become more aware of the differences that are around us more and more each day. It means we must become more effective at connecting the dots of opportunity embedded within these differences – and then translating them into business outcomes.” Glenn Llopis, Business is About People Intelligence

So, as we hunker down for a cold December with family and friends and turn on the 1964 classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the longest-running Christmas Special on television, think about Bill George’s True North, Kotter’s icebergs, and a complete binder of leadership case studies.  Pull the kids around in a nice circle and read them the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while explaining the theories of situational leadership, servant leadership, and the ethical questions that arise like, “should Rudolph earn more than the other reindeer?”  Or, you can save those thoughts for another day.  Happy holidays everyone!



Klein, C. (2014, December 19). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 75. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-turns-75

Llopis, G. (2014, May 19). Business is about people intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2014/05/19/business-is-about-people-intelligence/#63186fd525da
Popularity of name. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/babyname.cgi
Pupovac, J. (2015, December 25). The history Of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/12/25/461005670/the-history-of-rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer


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