Leadership Lessons from A Christmas Carol

If you’re a leader or a small business owner this holiday season, chances are you probably feel like Ebenezer Scrooge, the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

It’s not because you have a cold heart or you’re incapable of generosity—it’s because the economy isn’t recovering as quickly as you wanted and a sense of uncertainty plagues all of your decisions. The reality is that in today’s economic climate, it is very difficult for small business owners and leaders to give generous holiday presents or large end-of-year bonuses.

But your holiday generosity isn’t just measured by the presents and bonuses you give. It’s measured by the kindness you display each and every day.

Unfortunately, being kind isn’t as easy as it sounds. Helping, encouraging, and being considerate to those around you is a challenge when stress levels are up, projects are piling up, and personalities start to clash.

It took the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to turn Scrooge into a kind, giving soul. Hopefully the same ghosts can help you develop patterns of kindness:

1. The Ghost of Productivity Past:

Applaud the previous accomplishments and successes of your employees or team members. Actively remind your team about how impressed you were by their previous feats. People enjoy recalling their previous glories and they will be driven to impress further.

Moreover, the recollection of past successes builds an organizational memory and people will compete for their place within it.

2. The Ghost of Rewarding the Present:

All too often the small things go unnoticed during the day-to-day operation. If you see something you like or a specific part of a project that was done well say something immediately. Don’t save your kind words for an end-of-the-year performance review.

People remember the small, informal compliments more than they do certificates, plaques, and awards. Little, casual compliments and handwritten notes come from a natural, honest place. They are a true reflection of what you feel and people respond to them positively.

3. The Ghost of Developing the Future:

There’s an old rule about first dates. If your date mentions a second or third get-together then you know your date is going well. The same rule-of-thumb can be applied to the workplace. You want to tell your team members or employees about future events and projects that you’d like to work with them on. That way they know you’re committed to their long-term progress, development, and career. Discuss projects you would like to do with them in the future and lay out the skills you want them to learn for coming challenges.  By planning the future with your colleagues it gives them the sense that you desire a long-term partnership and value their opinions just as much as you value their work.

At the end of A Christmas Carol an enlivened and happy Scrooge goes to his office early and awaits Bob Crachit’s arrival. Cratchit shows up late and timidly says he was delayed because he was “making rather merry [on Christmas].”

Scrooge attempts his old scowl, but his new joy overwhelms him and he gives a reprieve and a raise to Bob Crachit.

You may not be able to give everyone in your organization a raise—but you can certainly grant them a small reprieve over the holiday break so each and every one can make merry.

Samuel B. Bacharach

I'm a professor at Cornell University's Institute for Workplace Studies in NYC. I write about the importance of proactive leadership in the office..(read more)

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