This is a magical time of year, and this week was chock full of great experiences for me. I want to share my thoughts on one particular morning that had me in a new role, and how the things I learned might be useful for people in business families.

For the past 6 years now, I have been volunteering semi-regularly at a non-profit organisation in one of the poorer parts of Montreal.

So on Thursday, as I was helping prepare the food boxes for the arrival of about 150 people, I was pulled aside and asked if I was free to come in on Saturday morning. Someone had just called and said they couldn’t make it, and now they were scrambling to find just the right person to fill in.

As a caucasian man, I can honestly say that I don’t think that I have been a victim of racial profiling before, and maybe it had more to do with “body type” than race, but I was pretty sure that I had not been selected at random to come in to play the role of the guy in the red suit who lived at the North Pole.

Well I can belt out a deep “Ho Ho Ho” with the best of them, so this would be fun, right, and how hard could it be?

I came in around 8:30 on Saturday, and I was lead upstairs and given a box containing an eclectic mix of red pants, white beards, one boot, some red tops and hats, and a big black belt. It took some mixing and matching, a bit of creativity and scotch tape, but I managed to pull everything together.

But then a few families began arriving and some of the kids were looking at me, walking around in these red pants, gathering up my things, and I quickly realized that I needed to get “backstage”, lest I ruin the surprise.

So I retreated to a back room, got all dressed up, found a mirror so I could check myself out, and waited. And waited some more. There were some logistical details to work out and volunteers to get organised so that the giving of the gifts to the children would flow properly.

Normally, this kind of stuff is right up my alley, and I would have jumped right in and been one of the people figuring out how to process the hundreds of people who were scheduled to show up over the course of the next 6 hours. But I was dressed up as Mr. Claus, waiting backstage.

The visual of Santa getting it all organised and instructing people on what their roles should be just didn’t work, so I would just have to wait, watch, and hope for the best. When everything was finally ready, I made my entrance and sat on a nice little couch.

The families went up, one-by-one, and received age-appropriate and gender appropriate gifts, and then had the option of a photo op with Santa. The mix of reactions from the little ones was quite interesting, from the crying and screaming of some, to the warm tender hugs from others.

I asked the kids if they always listened to their parents, were nice to their siblings, and if they always did their homework, while avoiding asking them what they wanted for Christmas, since that was completely beyond my control, and I did not want any part of setting up unrealistic expectations.

Here is the family business take-away: Try out a new role, one that might be outside your comfort zone. Watch how others react to your new role, it is amazing what you can learn just by observing, not only about others, but about yourself.

If you are the one who is normally “in control”, try muting that for a change and see what happens, who steps up, how things go. I am not suggesting scrapping family traditions, but letting them evolve.

Family communication and leadership takes many forms, and we can all do a little bit better. Channel your inner Santa, and enjoy your family time over the holidays.