Even though “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens over 170 years ago, it remains a holiday classic today. Countless film and stage performances have been made over the years and the book continues to sell. And every December, many of us make it a tradition to enjoy this lasting story.
Yet after December 25th, we tend to forget about this book until the next holiday season. For business leaders, this is a mistake because “A Christmas Carol” is one of the best business books ever written.
The lessons the story of Ebenezer Scrooge offers the business world are numerous – how we manage our careers, work with others, balance our work lives, and interact with our communities.
Following are some key takeaways from reading this classic novel (or watching one of the many excellent film versions).
1. Equating financial success with personal success is an illusion.
By all accounts, Ebenezer Scrooge was an excellent businessman. He created and managed a successful business. He built a tremendous amount of personal wealth. He controlled markets through his actions and words. He was known by every mover and shaker in the city, if not also feared by them. He had spent his entire life focused on growing and developing his business career. If the real Ebenezer Scrooge were alive today, we would be in awe of his excellent business acumen. It is conceivable we would be reading his latest how-to book, waiting feverishly for his next social media post, watching him make deals on “Shark Tank,” or even suggesting he go into politics.
But I am also certain that those closest to a modern-day Scrooge would have the same perspective of him as those in Dickens’ story; an insufferable human to be tolerated till he is gone. Scrooge’s entire life was all about business and making money. He elevated his warped perception of success, defined purely as financial success, above all else. Personal relationships were secondary in importance, and it was this that ultimately led him to a life of loneliness and misery.
2. Business leaders have a significant impact upon the well-being and success of their employees and co-workers.
We also gain insight into Scrooge’s aptitude as a manager. Bob Cratchit was Scrooge’s employee, speculated in the story to be his only employee. Cratchit is both loyal and hardworking. When his wife speaks angrily of Scrooge, Cratchit not only chastises her but offers a toast of thankfulness to Scrooge for the “bounty” he provides their family. Scrooge, however, treats Cratchit with contempt and disdain. Horribly underpaid, his wages are further docked if he shows up late to work. Time off is given begrudgingly. To avoid the cost of heating coal, Scrooge won’t even allow Cratchit to warm the office on a cold winter day. Scrooge’s skill as a manager is limited to one ability; getting the most he can out of an employee for the least amount of money.
For me, the greatest failure of Scrooge as a manager is that he knows nothing about Bob Cratchit as a person, nor does he care. He is not aware that Cratchit has a large family, that he is barely scraping by on the miserly sum he is paid; and most importantly, has a sick child that needs help and assistance the family can little afford. When Scrooge eventually does learn of Cratchit’s personal situation, he realizes he has the ability and the power to make a difference. This serves as a reminder that any employee – regardless of their title or pay scale – has a personal story, and that business leaders can and do have an impact on employees’ lives.
3. No business is a singular act, but reverberates throughout a community.
Clearly, Scrooge was not a pillar of the community, yet he was known as a successful man. Others were aware of his resources and the impact he could have. Community leaders sought his assistance often, but Scrooge continually rebuffed their efforts. His fortune was his alone, not to be shared with those who had squandered their lives away. He felt no responsibility to help others, especially after he had worked so long and so hard to accumulate the wealth he had achieved.
But just as no person is an island, neither is any business. The insulation Scrooge provided himself was to protect his assets and to assert his incorrect opinion that every person or entity can exist without the support and assistance of others. What Scrooge ultimately learned is that each of us has a responsibility to support and benefit our communities, and that both business and personal growth happens when this occurs.
It Comes Down to Choices
Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is not a real person, he is simply a character in an excellent story written by one of the greatest authors in history. Scrooge turning his life around made for a happy ending to this holiday story, but life is not a book and ghosts are not real (as far as I know). Unfortunately, reality is drastically different than what is found on the pages of “A Christmas Carol.” The good news is that the lessons are very real and quite clear.
I love the world of business. The deals, the negotiations, the strategy, starting and growing companies – and yes, even making money – all excite me about the work I do every day. But I must also remember daily the words of Jacob Marley, the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge and the first ghost to visit him on Christmas Eve. Scrooge, upon seeing the chains of torture and despair that Marley carried with him in death, reminded Marley that he was a good businessman. Marley sternly replied, “Business! Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
“A Christmas Carol” is the story of a businessman. It’s also a story about how business can both be used for good or evil. If we seek true success, it is important to constantly be aware of the comprehensive ocean of business.
Brian T. King is the founder of multiple businesses encompassing design, construction, real estate and manufacturing. A well-respected construction industry CEO, Brian enjoys offering guidance to young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs on a variety of topics – from personal and professional growth, to work/life balance – through his blog, CEO Perspectives series, national podcasts, and speaking engagements around the country.