The office Christmas party . . . with a twist

What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.   -Phyllis Diller

Ah, yes.  The office Christmas party.  Good intentions hijacked with excessive drinking and the not-so-hidden agenda of office politics. Too often these events just serve to magnify the negative undercurrents in the office or serve as an excuse to get drunk at the company’s expense.  And there is often damage control to manage for weeks afterwards.

Last week I was invited to an office Christmas party and came away from the experience humbled and proud of what real leadership, solid values and great business management can create.  This was an office Christmas party with a twist.

It was the office Christmas party at the home of a well established dentist in a university town of about 60,000 in northern California.  This is no ordinary dentist and it was definitely not your ordinary office Christmas party.  First of all the dentist, let’s call him Dr. Jim, spent several hours at his breakfast table the morning of the party addressing personalized thank you cards to each of his 20 staff which he placed in a Christmas bag along with a special gift, a hand blown Christmas ornament in a velvet box.  Dr. Jim had been giving his staff a customized Christmas ornament as a gift for over 20 years.  He chuckled that a couple of his staff have enough to decorate a tree ( more on his long term employees later). Along with the hand written note and the ornament, he also enclosed a bonus check!  An appreciation for hard work during the year.

Then came the raffle prizes.  Dinner and theater tickets, iPod stereo docking stations and the final prize, a brand new iPad2.  Are you beginning to get the sense that this guy is serious about his staff?  Then at 3pm two chefs and a crew invaded the house with a mountain of food and cooking paraphernalia.  They were overjoyed to be invited back again to cook at Dr. Jim’s office party.  In the words of one of the chefs as he was busy making homemade salsa and chips, “Dr. Jim throws the best parties”. I was about to find out what he meant.

At 6:30 pm the doorbell rang and about 40 people, staff plus spouses and partners came through the door.  Everyone hugged everyone, even me. The food was attacked and the wine and beer flowed freely as everyone mingled. Usually at these office parties there are definable cliques that huddle together and only socialize among themselves. Not so tonight.  They seemed genuinely interested in getting around to everyone.

Then about halfway through the evening Dr. Jim and his wife started the raffle which flowed into his presentation of the bags with the Christmas ornament and of course the bonus checks! What came next surprised me and I knew I was witnessing an example of what all businesses could be, with the right leadership.

Dr. Jim asked for quiet and called one of his staff out of the crowd to openly thank her for her 20 years of excellent service.  This was not Dr. Jim’s first 20 year employee, but his third!  He then unveiled her gift.  A handmade – by him with about 50 hours of his personal time – cherry wood heirloom blanket chest. (Besides being an outstanding dentist he is also a master carpenter and woodworker) She was in tears for 20 minutes.  Tears of gratitude to her boss!  (This was the third chest he had made, the other two for the previous 20 year employees)

And Dr. Jim’s office is a mini United Nations, with his associate dentist from Lebanon who studied dentistry in Turkey before coming to the US.  Many of the hygienists and staff are Asian or Latino, for some of his 20 staff this is their first job, for others they are long standing professionals. And besides being a values-based leader he is also an astute businessman and is smart enough to have hired a professional office manager, which frees him up to do higher value add work.

As I said earlier I came away from that evening humbled and impressed at what good leadership can create.  Small business is the backbone and lifeblood of our global economy and unfortunately all business has been tainted by the mega-greed and lack of ethical behavior of many large corporations. So for me this office Christmas party was a great affirmation in the positive power of free enterprise, professional ethics and good leadership.  I am also proud to say that Dr. Jim is my younger brother.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to The office Christmas party . . . with a twist

  1. Thanks for sharing a great story of what it can be like other businesses.


  2. Ron Childress says:

    Being DR. Jims older brother; he is a very nice person and very humble. John’s tribute brought a tear to my eye. To all the Childress’s and their familys Have A Merry Chritmas & a Happy New Year. Ron C.


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