The Fezziwig Principle
A model of joyful, compassionate leadership.
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 add and count them up, what then? The happiness he gives is worth as much as if it cost a fortune. – Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843
If you watch the show, Undercover Boss, where a top executive in a large company disguises himself or herself as a new entry-level worker to understand what the rank and file employees experience, you might have been touched by one of many lump-in-the-throat moments that is the hallmark of the reality show.
Undercover Boss is a show that works best when a corporate leader is sufficiently humbled and subsequently redeemed by the experience in a way that makes a positive difference for the people he or she leads.
That same storyline has been the formula for many a story or drama over centuries. We like to see power debased and we like to see people softened and changed for the better. Perhaps it gives us hope for ourselves.
Of all the writers who used the walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes template, few employed it as successfully as Charles Dickens. Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in all of English literature: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge.
When we think of a boss who is changed by a different perspective, we think of Old Scrooge who awakens on Christmas morning a new man. But how did Scrooge know what to do after he changed? Was he just nicer? Such a lesson may be good for the success of the soul but it may fall short as a prescription for the success of a business.
I’ve known many nice guys who may be great company, but wouldn’t last long running one. Scrooge is a person of business, but he is selfish, ungenerous and succeeds anyway because of the long-suffering of his sole employee, Bob Cratchit.
Unquestionably, Bob is a good man, but we have no clue whether he has any business acumen.
Scrooge, however, does have a role-model for how to be a good man as well as a good man of business: Scrooge’s old boss, Mr Fezziwig.
When the ghost of Christmas Past takes old Scrooge back to Fezziwig’s firm to see his former self with his former boss, Scrooge exclaims with uncharacteristic joy, "Why it's dear old Fezziwig alive again!"
Throughout the brief scene, Fezziwig demonstrates critical qualities of leadership including compassion, recognition, joy, and an inclusive sense of humor.
Because of his leadership that is focused on the value of his people, Fezziwig becomes legendary in Scrooge’s mind and heart and perhaps sews the seeds of Scrooge’s eventual redemption. Fezziwig demonstrates a commitment to the quality of the lives of his people and so even Scrooge’s heart is softened when he sees him again.
The ghost wonders aloud at Scrooge’s praises for the man who spent just a few pounds to make “these silly people so full of gratitude.” But Scrooge replies: “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.”
In these days of metrics and benchmarks, it is still true that some of the most important ingredients for success and quality leadership are the intangibles that cost little or nothing in terms of money, but create the kind of climate where loyalty and profit are just the by-products of doing the right things consistently.
Although Fezziwig’s brief appearance in the story makes him easy to dismiss as merely a secondary character or a device to provide an object lesson for Scrooge, a more careful reading of this short scene reveals the profound leadership lessons that Fezziwig provides that are as applicable today as they were in the harsh work environment of 1843 London.
In today’s turbulent organizational climate created in part by flawed leadership and broken trust, it is more important than ever to ask ourselves what it means to lead.
To be entrusted with power over others demands a fuller appreciation of not only the responsibilities that come with leadership, but also a deeper understanding of the effect that power has on those who wield it.
Research shows that power has an almost instant effect on those on whom it is conferred regardless of personality or the circumstances of their promotion.
Providing effective leadership that doesn’t undermine the organizational mission through abuse and arrogance is more difficult to accomplish than simply hiring or promoting the right people. It requires an individual commitment to virtues that must be intentionally pursued in every decision and act of communication.
The Fezziwig Principle is simply compassionate people-centered leadership. It is evidenced in qualities that speak to basic emotional needs and have been proven to inspire loyalty and commitment among work teams: recognition, joy, compassion, transparency, humility and a sense of humor.