ALP Endeavors

Happy Holidays:  Life Affirming Leadership

“He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or toil.  Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up:  what then?  The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

This praise for a boss comes from the most infamous businessmen in the literature of Christmas.  It comes from a “high potential” that went on to great wealth and acclaim.  Many sought out his favor which he delivered to few. He had little regard for most men whom he judged as frivolous spendthrifts.  Even his own brother was judged no better that the rest of dissolute mankind.  We of the western tradition all know this man: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Scrooge’s reminisce, sparked by reliving a past Christmas celebration, paints a vivid portrait of his old, and perhaps first, boss, Mr. Fezziwig.  At Christmas, the doors to Fezziwig’s warehouse are closed early, the furniture is moved aside, a table is set, and food appears along with music and dance.  Scrooge, for a brief moment, sees his young self, enjoying the fellowship and celebration of life at work.  An atmosphere orchestrated, one senses, not only at Christmas, but every working moment by Fezziwig. 

It could be contended that Fezziwig is an exemplar of leadership too long overlooked, particularly in difficult economic times.  His name doesn’t help.  It is as if Dickens wanted to label this type of leadership, where the humanity of employees is celebrated every day, as quaintly out of date in the “modern”, Scrooge-ruled world.  Indeed, it is clear that until the ghost of Christmas past took Scrooge back to Fezziwig’ s warehouse, Scrooge himself did not realize what a gift he had been given by working for such a man. 

Fezziwig’s time on the pages of “A Christmas Carol” is brief, but profound.  He makes Scrooge realize that no matter the competitive environment, no matter the vissictudes of the moment, employees are still people, with their own hopes, fears, dreams and challenges.  Fezziwig showed his employees respect, kept things in perspective, encouraged a sense of humor and thereby taught that life and work will likely be better.

Several years ago I had the great good fortune to consult to the CEO of a large company in the hospitality industry.  Late one afternoon as we were winding down from a hectic day, I asked him what he thought his legacy would be.  He answered by reminding me that his company employed well over a hundred thousand workers.  “Most of these employees are young adults and for most, we are their entry into the workforce.  We need to treat them well and teach them how to be trustworthy employees.  If we don’t, their entire work life will be tainted by the experience they had working for us.  Our society will suffer because they will have less faith that hard work for a fair wage will be available to them.”  Now, there is a modern day Fezziwig!

This CEO was not seen as being particularly philosophical or even approachable.  In fact, his true strength was in the detailed understanding of his company’s operation.  He had concocted a statistic for everything his company did.  Normally, he seemed dry and a bit taciturn.  Yet he saw the great responsibility and opportunity his company had to not only to generate profit, but to contribute to society as a whole by honoring the role of work in employees’ lives. He was a modern day executive, not a Victorian businessman, but a Fezziwig nonetheless.

As the holidays approach, think about the people for whom you have worked.  Is there a Fezziwig in your past? She or he might not have been like the jolly Fezziwig of “A Christmas Carol”.  Perhaps he or she was quieter or perhaps more bombastic.  But deep down they let you know that they respected you as a person and loved life deeply, both yours and their own.   If you do know such a person, cherish him or her and, if it is still possible, reach out and tell them how much you appreciated their leadership.  Scrooge waited too long and was not able to offer this thanks to Fezziwig when he finally realized what was important.

The world is full of leadership awards which are generally given to deserving people who have produced admirable business results.  Perhaps what we need is an award in honor of the modern day Fezziwigs, leaders who inspire us to come eagerly to work and live our lives fully.  Most probably, the Fezziwigs of this world are not counting on such recognition; a simple “thank you” would be more than enough.  Deliver one if you can this holiday season. 

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