A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

One of my holiday traditions is watching various movie versions of Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic, A Christmas Carol. Once our grandkids are old enough, we’ll watch my favorite version, The Muppet Christmas Carol, with them. Depending on their age, we might skip a few of the ghostlier parts.

When Les Standiford’s book, The Man Who Invented Christmas (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading), spawned a movie by that title a few years ago, it was added to Holiday viewing. I was especially fascinated to learn about the difficulties Dickens had in publishing what he called “his Ghostly little book” to “haunt their homes pleasantly.”

Having had frustrating difficulties with mainstream publishers, I could understand – and agree with – why Dickens self-publishing 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. My books haven’t had quite the same impact! But they have provided a solid foundation for our business.

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” to “aha” through a series of transformative insights.

Here are my top five life and leadership lessons from Scrooge:

1. Reflection and Renewal

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. Bad things can lurk in the shadows and lead to dark and scary times.

It’s so easy to get stuck at street view as we rush from one task to another. If we don’t zoom out, we may be heading in the wrong direction to the wrong destination. Sometimes we don’t recognize the symptoms of slow decay, and we get stuck in the muck. We can easily get old rather than grow old.

2. Life and Leadership Are Habit Forming

The ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner, appears shackled to 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.”

Habits are a powerful force that can serve or enslave us. Good and bad habits are tiny choices that accumulate. Each choice is a small wire that is woven together with hundreds of other little choices. Eventually, these wires form a strong cable. By the time we realize we have either a good or a bad habit, the habit has us.

The habits of highly effective leaders skillfully forge chains that pull their teams and organization’s forward. Less effective managers are pulled down by their shackles.

3. Profit is a Means, Not an End

Scrooge is notorious for his ruthless 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” through materialism — along with the mounds of debt it often brings — is a root cause of much unhappiness and mental health challenges.

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. Thriving companies pursue 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 the office, 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 drinks. 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.'”

In his book, 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.”

Which lessons ring true for you as you prepare reflect to on this past year and ring in the new?

May you fill your Holidays with positive and uplifting spirits!