The Dane and The Elf on the Shelf


Posted on December 12, 2008 by Blake Leath

Earlier this week, I had dinner with a Dane and learned a great deal more about Copenhagen and Christmas.

Bottom-line: Christmas is SUPER-BIG in Denmark.  Much bigger than it is in the United States, and that's saying something.

My wife and I spent one of our loveliest Christmases in London many years ago, and I'm assured that London and Paris "pale by comparison" to how Copenhagen celebrates the holiday.  That's also saying something.

Alas, one of the main traditions I learned about that struck my fancy was the importance of elves.  Who doesn't love elves?  What's not to love?  Are you an elf-hater?  Surely not... presumably most if not all of us are elf-o-philes!

Anyway, one of the roles of elves in Denmark is to provide periodic, tiny treats and surprises prior to Christmas Day.  Little 'breadcrumbs,' if you will -- to help children endure the countdown, which begins... get ready for it... in July!

So anyway, I'm listening to stories about the machinations involved in the 'countdown to Christmas,' and it occurs to me, "I gotta get me an elf!"

And so, I return from my trip, walk in the door, and what do you think my wife has purchased?  Entirely without my having said A WORD about this... get ready for it... AN ELF!

I am not kidding you.  Not one iota.

In a gleaming white box, she possesses an "Elf on the Shelf."

She explains to me how we are to move him around at night, place him here and there in the remaining days to Christmas.  Wow; that's perfect.  Adorable.  He's about 8" tall and all garb'd out in red and white.  Pointy hat, the whole deal.

(bear with me; yes -- this has to do with work.)

So, that night, my wife and I tag-team bedtime and explain to our six-year-old daughter how this ELF has arrived at our home to observe and see if Lauren is being naughty or nice.  The elf, whom we name Peter, is to return to the North Pole each night, along with all elves, to report back to Santa.

It's adorable, though my daughter is initially creeped-out by it all.  "Really?  He's going to be WATCHING me?"  (Yeah, sort of like Anthony Hopkins' ventriloquist's doll in Magic


Well, eventually she recovers from the potential-paranoia, and really gets into it.  Now, each morning, she awakes to find him all over the house... by the window, on a shelf, behind the advent calendar, in a drawer.... you name it, Peter's there.


And it occurs to me, as things do when I'm still and quiet and pondering, "What we BELIEVE so profoundly affects how we behave."

I've expressed this for years, that our BELIEFS precede most everything that follows: values, behaviors, organizational design, management philosophy and bias, treatment of others, etc. 

For example, some people treat "those whom they believe can benefit them" well.   Conversely, they treat "everyone else" poorly.  That's why shows like Secret Millionaire are so fun to watch: we're in on the secret, and thrill to see how people embrace or miss opportunities because of their suppositions and predispositions and biases about others.

This notion of WHAT WE BELIEVE AFFECTS WHAT FOLLOWS touches on self-fulfilling prophecy (which I've written about before), on our marketplace, and of course -- on relationships. 

Once Lauren got past the initial skepticism and doubt and fear, and came to see Peter doing silly and encouraging things (like eating M&M's while pointing at dirty clothes on the floor that needed to be picked up), she really got into it, and now she awakes each morning, eager to find where Peter is and what he's up to.  It's an adorable kick.

As leaders, as managers, as employees, as citizens, as parents, as people... what we believe has such a powerful determinacy to it.  Like the Danes, we see months of energy put toward a celebration that generates pride and joy by millions.  Like the elf, we see how something so tiny -- like the trimtab on a sailboat -- can create such dramatic effects on the behavior and attitude of a family.

I encourage you to always remember the importance of beliefs, whatever they are.  "We can solve this."  "This cannot be solved."  "This will get better."  "This will never heal."  "I am worthy."  "I am inadequate."  "I am okay."  "I am a miserable failure."  "I am loved."  "I am unlovable."  "Peter is creepy."  "Peter is cute."

I believe in you, I believe that people can change (and have seen it countless times over the years), I believe that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things (and moreover, that no one is ordinary), I believe that most people can lead, and I believe in Christmas.

I also believe in the potential of humankind to make this a better world; fallible, fallen, and flawed, yes.  But worth fighting for.

May you, too, possess beliefs that enable you to bound from bed each morning and tackle the day with joy.

Rock on; have a stellar weekend.