A Christmas Carol LO11480

Tue, 17 Dec 1996 15:27:20 -0500

Here's a brief piece with some seasonal thoughts on change:

Words and Looks: Leadership Lessons from "A Christmas Carol"
Marley Dead: Scrooge Visited By Consultants!

Management gurus have drawn lessons on leadership from diverse sources,
ranging from the practices of Attila the Hun to the fictional events in
Star Trek. Yet they seem to have missed one of the finest accounts of
transformation and change familiar to us all. It is Charles Dickens'
best-loved story, A Christmas Carol. He said that he himself laughed and
cried over it more than anything else he wrote, and it can still have that
effect on us today. For there is a little bit (perhaps more than a little)
of Ebenezer Scrooge in each of us and Dickens' penetrating observation of
the condition of our "shut-up hearts" is as relevant now as it was 153
years ago. As everyone knows, it is the story of personal renewal, of the
conversion of a grasping, joyless taskmaster into a public benefactor and
caring friend. Dickens also outlines a process of change which many modern
organizations might try to follow. Indeed, as a story of personal and
organizational transformation, it reports results that would delight any
change consultant. Of course Scrooge had three consultants.

Scrooge's transformation begins in crisis, with the disturbing appearance
of his former partner's ghost seven years after his death. It seems that
real change often demands a crisis - a manifest failure of the status quo
- to smash the constraints, imagined or real, that bind people and their
organizations. Shocked out of his comfortable routines and intellectual
self-assurance, Scrooge is prepared for the visions to be shown him of the
Past, Present and Future. For change in behaviour takes experience, not
just exposure to ideas, and Scrooge has to be immersed in each of these
dimensions of time if he is to be changed. He must relive the past, truly
experience the present and anticipate the future.

In his visit to the Past Scrooge sees himself as the lonely young boy he
once was: neglected by his family and bullied at school, but full of
imaginative ideas and youthful enthusiasms. He sees his beloved sister Fan
and old values and aspirations are reawakened. Following the chronology of
events he revisits the firm where he was apprenticed under his first
master, Mr. Fezziwig. Here he experiences once again the excitement and
warmth of that small community at the office Christmas party. When the
Spirit disparages Fezziwig's contribution and the small expenditure
involved, Scrooge defends his former boss with powerful insight into the
role he plays: "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 count 'em up; what then? The happiness he gives us is quite
as great as if it cost a fortune." And the sudden recollection of this old
role model makes Scrooge strangely thoughtful.

The sustaining power and warmth of community wherever it is to be found is
the central theme of Scrooge's experience of the Present. He sees the
family of his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, busily preparing for Christmas
dinner. Bob Cratchit has few material possessions, but he has a rich life
with his family, all of whom care deeply for each other. Dressed in their
threadbare best, each member of the family has their own special role to
play in the great ceremony. Scrooge is right there with them,
participating in every activity. All his senses are alive again: the smell
of goose and applesauce, sage and onion, and the steamy aroma of the
pudding. After dinner, as the family sits in a circle round the hearth
drinking each others' health, he hears Tiny Tim, physically crippled but
spiritually whole, give his brave blessing. The joy of community continues
at his nephew's house, his nephew who is now the only connection left with
his dead sister. Indeed, the story is now about the development and
sustenance of relationships. The small group entertains itself with music,
song and games in which Scrooge takes part. Once again he feels at first
hand what it is like to belong among a community of friends.

The Spirit of Christmas Future comes to Scrooge hooded and silent, part of
the darkness, reflecting its mysterious, unfathomable nature. The future
which Scrooge sees is a jumble of events, a series of scenes (we would
call them scenarios today) in no particular order, and yet he has more
control here than he had in either the Past or the Present. He is able to
move about, to explore and to ask the Spirit to wait a while. It gradually
becomes clear to him that the Future he is seeing is not something that
inevitably Will be: it is something that May be. The Future can be
changed. And with the realization of what he needs to do to change and
through an effort of sheer Will, Scrooge succeeds for the briefest of
moments in grasping the spectral hand of the Future. "I will live in the
Past, the Present and the Future", he cries "The Spirits of all Three
shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that teach."

At the end of A Christmas Carol then, we begin to understand our own
condition. To have a shut-up heart is to be stuck in Time, to be chained
on the treadmill of the Present, without an appreciation of Past and
Future. It is to be locked up with our own concerns, senseless and
separated from the community of others. It is to be obsessed with
superficialities and abstractions, for our spirits, like Marley's, never
to rove beyond the narrow limits of our "money-changing holes". We also
gain insight into the nature of leadership and even of how change
consultants might help the process. Leadership is about the recreation of
community, about reconnecting the narratives of people's lives: giving
meaning to the past, explaining the present and supplying guidance for the
future. The best leaders are continually aware of their place in time:
they are always dealing with endings and beginnings. Too often, as
managers, we just seem to muddle along in the middle.

There are crises a-plenty in our organizations today: but the message of
"A Christmas Carol" is that in crisis there is opportunity. It is a
sobering thought, but in that realization there is redemption. As Dickens
put it, "Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to
make amends in!" And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

David Hurst (dhurst1046@aol.com)
Speaker, Consultant and Writer on Management
Author of "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change"
(Harvard Business School Press 1995) <A HREF="http://www.mcgrawhill.ca//trade
/books/0875845827.html">McGraw-Hill Ryerson - Crisis & Renewal</A>



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