The Green Sheet Online Edition
November 23, 2009 • Issue 09:11:02
Scrooge, a lesson in leadership
If you were asked to provide a fictional example of a charismatic leader, Ebenezer Scrooge would not be the first character that comes to mind. The very name Scrooge is associated with miserly behavior, qualities personified in the penny pinching manager of an accounting firm who doles out a lump of coal a day to a shivering but faithful assistant.
Charles Dickens' timeless A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. When the story begins, Scrooge is a classic example of a micromanager.
"The door of Scrooge's counting house was open that he might keep his eye on his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters," Dickens wrote. "Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal."
As the story unfolds, Scrooge meets with a series of spirits, each providing a different perspective on his life. In turn, they show him where he's been, where he is and where he's going.
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back in time to a young Ebenezer who is warned by his fiance that his love of numbers is eclipsing his personal life. He ignores her and misses out on marrying her.
The Ghost of Christmas Present confronts Scrooge with a ragged boy and girl, symbolizing ignorance and want, as dangerous to us today as they were in Victorian times.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge in the meager aftermath of a reclusive life. The chilling spectacle of charwomen fighting over his bed sheets after he dies is a major wake-up call.
Change is never easy, but sometimes considering the consequences of not changing can be enough to scare us into action. Scrooge had to reconcile with decisions made in the past to understand the present, and create the right action plan for a positive, profitable future.
The frightening process Scrooge experienced resulted in a paradigm shift in his management style, all the more inspiring because it came at such a late stage in his life. It's a model that merchant level salespeople and ISOs can use, beginning with an evaluation called the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Inventory:
- S: Start with the positive, strong qualities that contribute to our success. Perhaps you're great at prospecting. What else are you good at, and how can you build on these qualities?
- W: Which areas of management can be improved? Maybe you could be better at follow-up and checking in with merchants who have been with you for awhile to make sure they're still enjoying the ride. Maybe you procrastinate with paperwork or need to develop your time management and presentation skills.
- O: Of all your potential clients, which merchants represent true partner material by offering the most rewarding relationships and best return on investment?
- T: There's no substitute for planning your work and working your plan. Our industry is competitive and complex. Technology is changing so fast that it's important to stay in touch with your customers and understand their issues so that you can continue to provide unprecedented service. Staying current with industry trends is also important in keeping the twin threats of competition and attrition at bay.
Scrooge's strengths are his innate business acumen and natural gift for numbers. His weaknesses are selfishness and lack of work-life balance; by giving his all to the job, he has nothing left over for people.
Balancing the demands of work with a personal life is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s. Extremely demanding jobs are hard on the physical and mental health of workers. They go for extended periods without enough rest, nutrition or mental breaks necessary to bring a renewed and fresh perspective to their work.
People may be able to manage this lifestyle for a while, but ultimately the pace is not sustainable. It's the equivalent of someone entering a marathon with a pace more appropriate for a sprint.
Scrooge's greatest opportunities - connecting with others and sharing his spirit with the world - are possible only if he embraces change. The greatest threats to him are the consequences of not changing and staying stuck in his old ways - vividly depicted by his former partner, Jacob Marley, who is condemned to drift for eternity in "the chains he forged in life."
Change that pays
Scrooge transforms from fear-based transactional management, steeped in punishment and reward, to a charismatic style of leadership. He empowers his assistant, Bob Cratchit, with additional freedom and responsibilities, deepening a business relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
Scrooge's behavior at the end of the book betrays his complete transformation when he says, "Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!"
Effective managers routinely revisit past successes and failures in order to understand the impact that these actions may have on current and future business. They monitor customer and employee motivations, as well as the bottom line, and stay motivated with positive, forward-looking agendas.
Having the courage to admit mistakes and make corrections can lead to the greatest payoff of all: the gift of a
second chance. When Scrooge acknowledges the errors of his ways, he transforms his life and his management style. He adopts a positive, can-do attitude, takes an interest in the health of his worker's special-needs child and becomes a civic-minded pillar of his community.
"He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world," Dickens wrote.
Leadership at its best is motivated by causes greater than oneself. A wake-up call or good cause can be the catalyst for changing a business strategy or management style. As Scrooge has shown us, it's never too late to start anew.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive with a diversified background in sales and marketing. Her company, DSL Direct LLC, helps industry professionals and business owners leverage electronic transaction technology. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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