There are a lot of times during the year when you as leaders are being watched carefully by your employees. Some might say it is all the time. Employees watch how you communicate during both good and challenging times, how well you live the company values, and even how well you connect with employees at all levels.
But the holiday party? Does anyone really care if the CFO has a few too many drinks and does his very worst karaoke rendition of Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer?
They do, but there are other less obvious things they care about as well that could damage your leadership credibility without you even knowing it.
First, I wondered if companies were even having holiday parties any more. For a while after the Great Recession, holiday party budgets became so small that I felt like I was back in my BYOB college years.
I did some research and found that the holiday party is indeed making a comeback.
Anywhere between 75% and 85% of companies are planning to have holiday parties this year and many with increased budgets from last year. If that doesn't tell you something, all you have to know is that there is an upcoming blockbuster movie release of Office Christmas Party with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman.
If Hollywood is on the bandwagon, you know the holiday party era has returned.
That is good news to most but also represents an interesting set of opportunities and potential pitfalls for leaders.
Beyond the blatant mistakes everyone tells you to avoid like drinking too much and singing Bon Jovi songs, here are six more subtle but equally important do's and don'ts for leaders:
1. DO: Actually go to the party
This might seem like an obvious one, but not all leaders want to go. Even if you are an introverted leader like me who'd rather stay home to contemplate and even over analyze why we need company holiday parties, people do notice when their leaders are present. And when they are not.
Go to the party, even if just for a short while, so your people can see that you made the effort to be visible and spend time with them. You will be appreciated for it.
2. DON'T: Go to the party but only hang out with other leaders
Surprisingly, this happens more than you might think. Leaders feel comfortable with each other, but seeing all of the leaders huddle together at the party can just reinforce perceptions of disconnects between leaders and the rest of the employees.
Temporarily ditch your Executive Leadership Team, and go hang out with some other people. You'll have plenty of time to reconnect with your peers back in the office when you are all in back to back to back meetings together on Monday morning.
3. DO: Spend time with employees in the departments you lead
It is your chance outside of the day to day business to connect just as people and build common ground. It will pay dividends when you resume the day to day grind.
4. DON'T: Just spend time with your direct reports
It is easy to spend time with the people who work directly for you, but use the holiday party to connect with skip level employees. Buy them a drink. Hang out for a few minutes.
They might find out that they have more in common with you than they thought. That will make them more inclined to want to work hard for you as their leader.
5. DO: Let other people be center stage
You are the focal point a lot during the year. Here you can let your people be the focal point. Listen to their stories. Let them tell the great jokes. Be a support person that night.
6. DON'T: Talk business
Even with the best intentions, this is harder than it seems. These are people with whom you spend a huge amount of time talking about and doing work. It can be easy to inadvertently slip into work talk since it is the thing you all have most in common.
Remember that many of the rest of the employees don't want to talk business but will do so if they feel like they are put in a position where they have to. Don't put them in that awkward position.
Instead, maybe offer to be a judge in the "best movie line" debate they are having. They might even find it refreshing that you know some of the same movies.