Scrooge or Fezziwig: What Kind of Leader Are You?

On Christmas day I picked up an old copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol sitting on the coffee table at my parent’s house. Throughout the day I stole thirty minutes here or there to read, and ended up consuming the whole thing. I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading Dickens.

There was a passage that stood out to me and caused me to reflect on my own leadership. The Ghost of Christmas Past, as you well know, takes Scrooge down the corridors of his life to teach him some lessons. Scrooge is absorbed in a scene of his younger self enjoying the Christmas festivities provided by his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig.

Mr. Fezziwig provides a stark leadership contrast. Fezziwig’s employees love him and feel fully supported and appreciated. The comparison comes later when Scrooge, led by the Ghost of Christmas Present, overhears Emily Cratchet, wife of Scrooge’s overworked employee Bob, protesting the idea of toasting Scrooge. She reluctantly gives in to her husband’s request to give thanks for Scrooge. Dickens describes the very mention of Scrooge’s name as changing the entire mood of the feast for a full five minutes.

Earlier the Ghost of Christmas Past prodded Scrooge to see if he was learning the lesson by asking why the employees seemed so delighted with Mr. Fezziwig. The ghost goaded Scrooge by saying, “A small matter, 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?”

“‘Small!’ echoed Scrooge. ‘It isn’t that,’  heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter self. ‘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. Say that his power lies in words and looks: in 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.'”

Scrooge’s description for the power of a boss to make someone’s work happy or unhappy, light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil, should weigh heavy upon the conscience of every leader. Scrooge describes the small things a leader can do to make such a great impact, ” . . . this power lies in words and looks: in so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up.”

Wow. The power of a leader’s words and looks . . . these small things make our followers’ labor light or burdensome, a joy or a mere job. I know I was convicted reflecting on teams I’ve led in the past. I’m sure there were times, perhaps seasons, when I was more of a Scrooge than a Fezziwig. May we who lead resolve to make the work for those who follow us a pleasure and a delight, as much as it is in our power. This is the glory and stewardship of leadership.