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Lessons in Leadership by Mr. Fezziwig

Every December our family has a tradition of seeing a live production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the journey of its protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge. The story of Scrooge’s redemption, growth and renewal is a hopeful one that never fails to get us ‘into the spirit’ of the holiday season.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, Scrooge is a miserly, cold-hearted man, monetarily wealthy and successful in business but with no interest in relationships and engaging only at the barest minimum with those around him. As a leader, Scrooge exploits his employees, lacks compassion, and values profits over their well-being.

In short, Scrooge is a leader in serious need of some self-awareness and leadership coaching. And he gets that and more through what is arguably the most intense 360 feedback assessment ever recorded: Scrooge is haunted by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, who each manifest to guide him through pivotal moments, revealing the consequences of his actions. These haunting visions serve as a catalyst for Scrooge's profound spiritual awakening and redemption.

Scrooge receives perhaps his greatest lesson in leadership when The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to a holiday party he’d attended while apprenticed under a man named Mr. Fezziwig. Fezziwig orchestrated a festive celebration where he personally thanked each employee for their service and where all felt welcome.

In an exchange of dialog in the story, the Ghost of Christmas Past is skeptical:

“A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude. He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money -- three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

Scrooge replied: "It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil…The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

Fezziwig fostered an inclusive work environment that promoted camaraderie. He demonstrated genuine concern for his employees and exemplified a leadership style rooted in compassion and a sense of shared humanity. The memory of Fezziwig’s leadership contrasted sharply with Scrooge's current miserly state, prompting him to reflect on lost values and the potential for positive change. Through that and other reflections, Scrooge realizes the impact of his actions on others and his own future, gains empathy and understanding, ultimately leading to transformative change.

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, yet the description of Fezziwig and the power of people leadership in general still resonate nearly 200 years later:

  • In today’s context, we might describe Mr. Fezziwig as a servant leader, who knows and cares about the individuals on his team and develops authentic connections with each person, creating an environment of mutual respect and belonging.

  • Scrooge’s reply to the Spirit reads like a 19th century version of what is well-documented in the research on employee engagement: people leaders own most of the critical touch points in an employee’s experience and have the greatest impact on employee engagement or, as Scrooge describes it, ‘happiness’.

  • The research on development clearly points to the lessons we learn from bosses (good and bad ones). Scrooge himself transforms from a bad boss to a good one, in large part by remembering the lessons of effective leadership he learned from his first boss, Mr. Fezziwig.

May this holiday season bring you every joy and blessing. And for all who have the privilege and responsibility for leading people, thank you for all you do.

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