Four Leadership Lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge


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Hello, Ebenezer, I’ve been waiting here for you… – The Ghost of Jacob Marley

Listen to most any radio station and you will hear the Christmas Carols. The stores are decorated and the bells are ringing. Yes, Christmas is upon us. Are you ready? Are you in the Christmas spirit?

The festivities and good cheer can bring out the best in people. It’s a time to reflect, give thanks, and give back.

But it’s also a time to look back on another year before it closes out and reflect upon your progression as a leader and to make plans for your growth and development going into the New Year. With the help of one such literary character of Christmas, we will learn some lessons of leadership that can help you all year.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a favorite for many. It’s a timeless story that has entertained for generations. But let’s not overlook the leadership lessons that can be found in the story. Here are four.

Epiphany’s happen for a reason

As Scrooge was preparing for bed he was visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Marley shows Scrooge the fate that had befallen him due to the way he abused the poor and hoarded his wealth. Marley’s fate was now to walk the earthbound in the chains of his own greed. Marley explains to Scrooge that this too would be his fate if he did not change his ways.

There comes a time in the life of every leader that you must take stock of who you are, where you are, and re-connect with your purpose in life. Your epiphany can be a wake-up call to make some major changes in your life or it can be to reaffirm the course you are on. But regardless, pay attention and heed the warnings.

Not everything that glitters is gold

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a stroll down memory lane from his time as a young man. He is seen enjoying a Christmas party given by his boss Mr. Fezziwig. But things take a foretelling turn when the ghost shows him a Christmas in which his fiancée, Belle, leaves him because she realizes he cares more about money than her. He then sees Belle several years later on Christmas Eve happily married to another man.

Scrooge was blinded by his love for money and by his greed. It became his identity. It was more important to him than relationships. In leadership the bottom line is not money; it’s people. Don’t mistake your money for power or your influence for integrity. They are not the same. When you are right on the issue of people and relationships everything else will eventually take care of itself.

Words matter

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the festivities of London as well as a sickly Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s son. Upon expressing his concern for the boy, the ghost informs him that he will die unless something changes. The ghost uses Scrooge’s words about “decreasing the surplus population” against him. Presented with two more sick children to see, again, his own words, “Are there no prisons, no workhouses?” come back to haunt him.

As leaders, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and say things that we wish we could take back. I’ve spoken my fair share. How about you? Perhaps it’s time to learn how to pause a few seconds longer before speaking the first thing that comes to mind. How about a more kind and thoughtful approach? Make no mistake – words matter. And you can do a lot less damage with your mouth closed.

It’s never too late to change

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge Christmas Day one year later where Tiny Tim has died just as the previous spirit predicted he would. Then the ghost shows Scrooge scenes of the death of a “wretched man” and how some people make fun of him and are even relieved that he is dead. The ghost then shows Scrooge the tombstone- and it bears his name. Scrooge weeps over his grave and begs for another chance before awakening to find that it’s Christmas Day. A remorseful Scrooge repents and becomes a generous man. He visits Fred, gives Cratchit a raise, and takes Tiny Tim under his wings.

To be sure, leaders are human and come with many flaws. But the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a reminder about the importance of generosity, the value of relationships, and what matters most in life. It’s a reminder about the importance our lives moving in the direction of redemption.

©2017 Doug Dickerson

*I wrote this article several years ago. I bring it back each year as a reminder to not be a Scrooge!

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Leadership And The Art of Change

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Life is a long process of getting used to things you started out to change. – Frank A. Clark

As the story goes, it was on June 4, 1783, at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, that a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines was a huge taffeta bag 33 feet in diameter. In the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the balloon was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky.

Six thousand feet in the air it went—the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil.

From the earliest days of man, change has been a difficult proposition. We are creatures of comfort and creatures of habit. Shake up the apple cart and you will have a fight on your hands; especially if you are a leader. Take the workplace for example. In a recent survey commissioned by talent management firm Plateau and conducted by Harris Interactive, finds that 74% of workers-satisfied or not- would consider leaving if approached with another offer. In other words, change is always in the air – yes, even at your office.

Steven Covey said, “There are three constants in life; change, choice, and principles.” And as a leader how you integrate those truths is an important part of your leadership style. Here are three insights about change that will challenge the way you think about it and how it can help you as a leader.

The change we want – looks outward. In leadership when we think about the changes we want it usually has something to do with someone else. Our grumblings often center on what someone at the office is doing; or not doing, that frustrates us. People are not performing at the level you want, there is too much in-fighting or office politics, performance goals are not being met, etc.

The change you want is the frustration of your leadership. It is frustrating because it has you focused on things at the margins that steal quality time in terms of productivity. All you know is that you are frustrated and something has to change. And unfortunately, creating change out of frustration tends to lead to unhealthy choices regarding change and does not help you in the long term.

The change we need – looks inward. One of the hardest things for a leader to do is to look inward with a critical eye. The British politician Nancy Astor said, “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything or nothing.” And so long as you want to change everything else but remain unwilling to change yourself it will remain an encumbrance on your leadership.

The change you need is the necessity of your leadership. It is when you honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses; your blind spots and attitudes that inward change begins. Improvement will only happen when you look honestly in the mirror and make the changes you need to make before expecting them from others. But it’s when you are transparent, ask for feedback, and demonstrate humility that you can begin to create a culture of change in your organization. And the day you learn to let go of the things you can’t change in other people is the day you let go of many of your frustrations as a leader.

The change we celebrate – looks upward. Max Depree said, “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to by remaining what we are.” In leadership, the goal is not to sit back and rest in our comfort zones. We should constantly be striving to become what we need by embracing that which we must.  Change is a constant and we must welcome it and be open to it if we are to grow.

The change you celebrate is the blessing of your leadership. It is a blessing when you forget about trying to change other people and change yourself. It is a blessing when you embrace your calling and purpose as a leader and fulfill your destiny not because you resisted change but because you dared to welcome it.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Milestones In Your Leadership

The spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. – Provided by the author.

Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitudes and in actions. – Harold S. Geneen

Not long ago, I was in Washington D.C. for a speaking engagement. Afterward, I stayed a few extra days to take in some of the sights.

In the short time I was there, it would have been impossible to take in all that Washington has to offer. So I prioritized my choices and set out to make the most of it.

First on my list was an early morning stroll through the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Although I had been there before, it was just as inspiring as ever. To walk among the lush hills where our national heroes like President John F. Kennedy are buried was quite moving.

But one of the most interesting experiences for me occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. To be sure, it is an inspiring memorial to visit. On this given day it was quite busy with many people walking to the top of the steps to see the statue of Abraham Lincoln and his quotes that adorn the walls.

But very few noticed another piece of significant history engraved on the steps on the way up. It’s an inscription marking the spot where on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech. Most people missed the tribute to this epic piece of American history right under their feet.

Lincoln set into motion the freeing of the slaves eight-five miles away in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with the Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred and one years later, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King awakened the nation’s consciousness with the reminder that “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which comes back marked ‘insufficient funds’. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt”.

Whether it was seeing President Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington, the Lincoln Memorial, or standing on the steps in the exact spot as Martin Luther King, there were many milestones by famous leaders to take in.

Milestones in your leadership come in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Here are a few leadership themes I was reminded of on my trip.

The highest calling of leadership is in service to others

One cannot walk the grounds of Arlington without acknowledging with humility the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women buried there.

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy challenged the American spirit with these immortal words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country…”. It’s in the spirit of those words we are reminded of the importance of servant leadership.

The greatest opportunity of leadership is to inspire others

When Martin Luther King Jr. took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he prophetically spoke into our collective consciousness. His words elevated the dialogue, lifted spirits, challenged us to be better.

He had the courage to see things as they were and the foresight to see things as they could be. He dreamed of a day he could envision “when my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.

We need more leaders to step up and elevate and inspire all of us to reach our God-given potential.

The greatest responsibility of leadership is in the building of our character

The news headlines of today make it clear that we have work to do. Character-based leadership is needed now more than ever.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity.” said Abraham Lincoln, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. And this is the great leadership challenge of our generation. We must be leaders of character first and foremost.

Milestones in leadership are built in the intentional choices and disciplines on our leadership journey. Heed the words of the leaders who have gone before us, look to the future with hope.

©2017 Doug Dickerson

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Winning With People

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A boss has the title. A leader has the people. – Simon Sinek

Writing in The Book of Business Anecdotes, Peter Hay recounts the following story:

In the 1950s, marketing whiz Stanley Arnold was working at Young & Rubicam, where he was asked to come up with a marketing campaign for Remington Rand. The company was among the most conservative in America. Its chairman at the time was retired, General Douglas MacArthur. Intimidated at first by a company that was so much a part of America, Arnold also found in that phrase the first inspiration for a campaign. After thinking about it, he went to the New York offices of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Beane, and placed the ultimate odd-lot order:

“I want to purchase,” he told the broker, “one share of every single stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange.” After a vice president tried to talk him out of it, the order was finally placed. It came to more than $42,000 for one share in each of the 1098 companies listed on the Big Board at the time. Arnold now took his diversified portfolio into a meeting of Remington Rand’s board of directors, where he argued passionately for a sweepstakes campaign with the top prize called A Share in America. The conservative old gentlemen shifted around in their seats and discussed the idea for a while. “But Mr. Arnold,” said one, “we are not in the securities business.” Said another, “We are in the shaver business.”

“I agree that you are not in the securities business,” said Arnold, “but I think you also ought to realize that you are not in the shaver business either. You are in the people business.” The company bought the idea.

People business. It’s one of the most complex challenges you will face in leadership. And it’s one you’ve got to conquer if you are going to succeed. Unfortunately, you don’t always get to choose those people. In fact, you might at times feel like the person who said, “Sometimes I wish I was an octopus so I can slap eight people at once”.

Since slapping people is out of the equation as a leader, we must reconcile the fact that as leaders we are in the people business. This is our greatest challenge and it’s our greatest reward. Here are a few reminders on how as a leader you can win with people.

You win by winning their hearts

Too often this is where many a leader drops the ball. This is a leadership principle I learned from John Maxwell almost twenty years ago. Maxwell said, “Always touch a person’s heart before you ask him for a hand.”

A good leader will invest relationally with his or her people before asking for their hand. It’s when you’ve made this connection first you open the door to other possibilities and opportunities. But first, win their heart.

You win by investing in your people

When your people know that you are invested in them they will go to great lengths to perform. This investment is not just monetary although it’s included. Winning with your people happens as you empower and equip them to not only meet their expectations but to exceed them.

“Whatever we expect with confidence,” said Brian Tracy, “becomes our self-fulfilling prophecy”. You win with your people when you raise their level of confidence and remind them of their potential and abilities on a regular basis.

You win with people by conceding the spotlight

I’ve said it many times and it’s worth repeating here now. Expressions of servant leadership are found when you concede being in the spotlight by putting someone else in it. And this is how you win with people.

Billy Hornsby said, “It’s okay to let those you lead outshine you, for if they shine brightly enough, they reflect positively on you”. You can only win with people as a leader on this level if you’re secure enough to drop your ego and quit worrying about who gets the credit for what. You win with people when you celebrate your people and their successes.

You win with people when you listen to your people

You win with your people when you learn how to listen. Some of the best ideas in any organization will not flow out of the corner offices, but into them. As a leader you must do as Howard Behar suggests in his book. It’s Not About The Coffee, and “put the time into listening, even to what’s not said…You’ll know what your customers want, you’ll know why the passion is missing from your organization, and you’ll learn solutions to problems that have been sitting there waiting to be picked.”

Winning with people happens when you are more concerned with what they have to say than you are in what you have to say. Your leadership hinges at times on your ability to be quiet and listen.

You win with people when you commit to developing leaders

Your success as a leader doesn’t come when you gain more followers but when you develop more leaders. Simply put, multiplication is the math of leadership. You win with your people by multiplying the number of leaders in your organization.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists,” said Lao Tzu, “when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”. And this is the ultimate goal of your leadership and the definitive mark of winning with your people. It’s as you raise them up as leaders and empower them that you win.

Your leadership rises and falls on your ability to win with people. Make it a priority and you will go far.


©2017 Doug Dickerson

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Know When To Let Go

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When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him go. – Abraham Lincoln

A well-known story in some sectors of coastal communities such as where I live is that of the crab mentality. It is used to describe selfish or shortsighted people whose thinking bends toward the notion of, “If I can’t have it, neither can you”.

The crab basket mentality says that if you have a pot of crabs and one is climbing out in an effort to escape, then the others will pull him back down rather than allow it to go free.  The other crabs had rather share the same doomed fate than allow another among its ranks to climb out.

As a leader, you may find yourself in a crab basket with others who have the same intentions for you. You get the raise or promotion and inevitably someone is jealous and you feel that subtle tug. You landed that coveted new account and strangely now begin to feel the claws of others around you. Every time you make an effort to move up and better yourself you have to resist the tug of those who would like to pull you down and hold you back. But you have to learn to let them go. Here are three things to consider as you climb out of the crab basket.

Let go of your past. Before anyone in your present can restrict you in a negative way you must lighten your load and let go of negative things from your past. So long as you hold on to past defeats, mistakes, or bad attitudes you will never climb to the heights you desire.

Your climb to the top of the basket begins when you make peace with your past and place yourself in a position to climb unencumbered toward your goals and dreams. When you let go of the past you can create your future. Your climb up begins here. You may have to forgive others; you may have to forgive yourself. But you will not move up so long as you allow your past to hold you down.

Let go of bad people. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to learn as a leader. But if you are ever going to climb your way to the top of the basket and live above the level of mediocrity you will have to separate yourself from those who want to hold you down.

It may be hard because up until now you may have seen these crabs as your friends. They have been colleagues; you have enjoyed happy hour together and thought of them as allies. But keep this in mind – good people do not try to sabotage your success they celebrate it. Good people do not try attempt to pull you down and but had rather climb up with you. As a leader, you have to wise up and recognize that not everyone in the pot with you wants to see you succeed. Be strong enough to acknowledge it and have the courage when necessary to climb alone.

Let go of small dreams. In the bottom of the crab basket, there is not much room for growth and the view is always the same. The way out is up. It’s when you fix your eyes on larger dreams and possibilities that you begin to realize that life in the basket is never going to change. The road to your improvement begins with the choice to climb out.

It’s been asked many times and I will share it again here: What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail? What are your dreams? I don’t know what’s in your heart but I do know this to be true – until you let go of your past, and let go of bad people, you will always have small dreams. It’s time to let go of every bad attitude, toxic relationship, and negative influence that would attempt to pull you down.

Your way out begins with by taking the first step. Let go and start climbing!

© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Four Ways to Lead Through Conflict

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Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict. – William E. Channing

French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost.

Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand. “Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced, “I missed.”

While the way we deal with conflicts has improved, there is still no shortage of conflict. Workplace conflict can be a strong source of stress and your leadership during these times takes skill.

It’s widely known that workplace conflict leads to increased staff turnover and absenteeism. One survey I read stated that 81% of HR professionals had seen employees resign as a result of conflict, and 77% have noticed increased absenteeism, resulting in increased business cost.

What do you think are the leading contributors to workplace conflict? According to a study, the top five causes of workplace conflict were; warring egos and personality clashes, poor leadership, lack of honesty, stress, and clashing values. While conflict in the workplace may be inevitable, ignoring it is not an option. So what is a leader to do? Here are four suggestions for consideration.

Acknowledge it. Until management acknowledges that there is a problem there is no correcting it. As a leader, you don’t need to be the last in the room to recognize what everyone else knows and experiences. How many employees must leave, how much revenue must you lose, and how much abuse do you think your employees must endure before you act? When you identify the problem you can begin to work on solutions, but not until then. Poor leadership was cited for a reason. Don’t add to the problem through omission.

Welcome it. Yes, welcome it! Warring egos and personalities among your people, when properly channeled, can be one of the single greatest sources of inspiration you need. General George S. Patton was accurate when he said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” When perceived threats are removed and differences are celebrated rather than attacked it can be the turning point in creating the company culture that you’ve been missing. Don’t squelch diversity; welcome it.

Elevate it. Now that you have acknowledged and welcomed conflict you can elevate it to a higher level. Rather than allowing warring personalities to be labeled as enemies, bring them together as allies to channel their creative energies for something good. Invest in a training program like DISC to discover personality styles and how to create the chemistry your team needs to succeed. It’s when you respectfully have everyone on the same page, when values are clear, and communication is honest, that you can learn to see the value conflict can have. It might sound risky, but consider the consequences of inaction.

Celebrate it. Leading through conflict will not be easy. It will take honesty to face your conflict and courage to change it. But once you do you can position yourself to be the benefactor of conflict and not the victim. When your employees see each other as teammates rather than adversaries it can be celebrated.  A diversity of thoughts, ideas, and personalities is one of your greatest assets and it should never be destroyed by poor leadership or out-of-control egos. Your workplace should be a place for the celebration.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Five Rules Of The Blame Game

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A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit. – Arnold H. Glasow

John Killinger tells a story about the manager of a minor leader baseball team who was so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and assumed the position himself.

The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun and it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms; unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked his eye. Furious, he ran back to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform, and shouted, “You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!”

The coach in the story reminds us of the type of culture we live in. The blame game is easy to play and in the end, it serves no meaningful purpose. But as a leader, if you want to grow, move your organization forward, and create a culture of excellence it’s going to require a different mindset in order to pull it off. Here are my five rules of the blame game that can help you navigate your way forward. 

Begin with yourself

In a “blame others first” culture this is where you are set apart as a leader. The tendency is to find someone to be the “fall guy” when things go south, but the leader steps up and takes responsibility. When you shoulder the responsibility as the leader you demonstrate that you are with and for your team not just in the good times but also when the chips are down. A good leader takes personal responsibility for his organization.

Look for solutions

Once responsibility has been taken it’s the time to move beyond whom to blame and work on solutions. This can be as simple as diagnosing a poor communication problem or perhaps something more complex. The point being; don’t dwell too long on who messed up but rather channel your energies on what to do next.

Attack bad attitudes

In order to coalesce team members around a new culture of excellence and move past a blame game mentality, you must address bad attitudes. “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude,” stated Zig Ziglar. Bad attitudes will ground your organization and will be the single greatest challenge to your leadership. The work of your team will be a reflection of their attitudes. Attack bad attitudes, keep yours positive and change your culture.

Manage mistakes wisely

The way you manage mistakes can pay great dividends but it all depends on how you handle it. Rather than demoralizing the offender with a wrong response why not use it the opportunity to do something constructive? As a leader, how you handle the mistakes of others speaks volumes about what’s most important to you. Those who blame belittle. Be a leader who encourages and turns the mistakes into something positive.

Examine motives

Understanding the blame game begins with identifying the motives for blaming others. Possibilities might include professional jealousy, subtle expressions of bullying, the deflection off of one’s own insecurities, etc. By examining the motives of those caught in playing the blame game card you can learn a lot about the inner workings of your organizational dynamics and patterns. As a leader, you need to have a handle on what is taking place in order to correct it.

Playing the blame game is too easy. Leading up is hard. Your leadership will rise when you rise up and do the right thing. If you want a better way forward then stop with the blame game.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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