From Bah! to Aha! Five Leadership Lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol by Charles DickensOne of my cherished holiday traditions is watching various movie versions of Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic, A Christmas Carol. Once our grandkids become old enough (a major highlight of this year was all three of our kids each had a baby), I’ll be able to watch my favorite version, The Muppet Christmas Carol, with them.

So, I was especially delighted to discover and read Les Standiford’s book, The Man Who Invented Christmas, when a new movie by that title was just released this month. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the difficulties Dickens had in publishing what he called “his Ghostly little book” to “haunt their homes pleasantly.”

Having had similar difficulties with established publishers, I could understand why Dickens decided to self-publish A Christmas Carol in December of 1843. The book got his career and finances back on track, while reinvigorating and popularizing Christmas traditions first in Victorian England and then North America.

There are many life and leadership lessons we can draw from Scrooge the “…squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” as he goes from “Bah, Humbug” through a series of “aha” experiences. Here are my top five:

1. Reflection and Renewal
If we don’t step back periodically to review the path we’re on we could be rudely awakened. While it’s highly unlikely ghosts will haunt us in the night, many problems that keep us awake could have been avoided. The greatest danger today is we’re so swamped by daily trivialities — e-mails, phone calls, meetings, firefighting — that we lose sight of longer term personal issues like our health, relationships, finances, or well-being.

When crazy busy managers don’t invest in skill development, team building, or culture change, scary bad times lurk in the shadows and things will eventually go bump in the night.

2. Leadership is Habit Forming
The ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner, shows up wearing a long chain. He explains, “I wear the chain I forged in life… I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” The habits of highly effective leaders skillfully forge chains that pull their teams and organization’s forward. Less effective managers shackle themselves and others.

3. Profit is a Means Not an End
Scrooge is notorious for his relentless pursuit of profit. The main lesson of the tale is when Scrooge awakens to his naked greed and learns to use his wealth to help others. While some might quibble with Dickens’ moralizing, positive psychology research shows that pursuing “the good life” and its materialism — along with the mounds of debt it often brings — is a root cause of our soaring depression and suicide levels.

That same research shows those who are most fulfilled and flourishing often transcend materialism toward a deeper sense of purpose and connectedness. But a business that doesn’t generate profit won’t be around long to do much good. We need both profitable purpose and purposeful profit.

4. Boost Engagement with Caring and Results
After Scrooge has his life-changing Christmas Eve experience, he enthusiastically sets out on a new pathway to personal growth on Christmas Day. When he gets back to work what would you suggest he do to increase his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s, workplace engagement?

In his entertaining and insightful Forbes column, Lead Like Scrooge: The Surprising Research Results, Joe Folkman draws from his leadership assessment research to show that just increasing concern and consideration for Bob won’t work. “Nice” leaders who create warm and fuzzy workplaces and feel-good teams that don’t deliver results create mediocre engagement levels. The best and most engaging leaders also bring out extra effort with high standards and stretch us to higher achievement levels.

5. Leverage the Power of Appreciation and Celebration
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his first job working for Old Fezziwig. They see everyone enjoying a raucous workplace Christmas party with music, dancing, food, and beer. As the ghostly visitors watch the merriment the Ghost points out how just a little bit of money was spent on this celebration, “A small matter, to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“‘It isn’t that,’ said Scrooge, ‘he has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.’”

Which lessons ring true for you as you prepare to ring in the New Year?

Standiford observes, “Millions of ordinary people continue to experience Scrooge’s impossible transformation in one form or another. Some of them will learn of the story of the industrialist who heard Dickens deliver one of his public readings and ran out of the hall on the spot to purchase turkeys for all his employees for Christmas. Odd, a few might think, I got a turkey from my boss just today.”

Happy Holidays!

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations. Check out www.clemmergroup.com for upcoming webinars and workshops.

Website: http://www.clemmergroup.com

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