This "Outside Consultant" column by Christopher Michaelson, the Opus Distinguished Professor of Principled Leadership and the academic director of the Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership in the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Dec. 20, 2021.
The pandemic has provoked some very timely concerns about work, from job security to pay to protection of employees’ rights. These happen also to be central themes of a timeless and seasonal work of literature, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I recommend reading literature alongside more conventional business bestsellers to cultivate the empathy, emotional intelligence, and sense of elevation that you are looking for as you rethink your work and life.
Maybe there is a little bit of Scrooge in each of us. We can be stingy, we feel overworked and underpaid, and we sometimes forget to appreciate the most important people and priorities. If you have the good fortune and responsibility to employ others in your work, A Christmas Carol will remind you that treating your employees well is not only the right thing to do but can potentially make your workplace more productive and profitable.
A Christmas Carol was originally a short novel but was performed in public readings from the start and has become a beloved play. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge refuses his nephew’s invitation to celebrate, declines to give to charity, and grumbles about giving his employee time off. He dozes off and is visited by four ghosts. Each character teaches him something, and Scrooge awakens a changed man.
Change is not simple. As I was told in my podcast interview with Lavina Jadhwani – the playwright who produced the script for the Guthrie Theater’s new production of A Christmas Carol – the story is not about a sudden conversion but rather a gradual “journey to redemption,” encapsulated in Scrooge’s travels through time. Much as Scrooge required these visions to see that he was living wrong, we may know our own imperfections and misplaced priorities, but revisiting Scrooge’s classic journey can motivate us to change anew. As Joe Haj, the Guthrie’s artistic director, suggested to me in the same podcast interview, the lessons of A Christmas Carol are universal, whether you celebrate Christmas or observe other traditions. In my podcast, I challenge listeners not only to read or see A Christmas Carol but to start book clubs in their workplaces.
Christopher Michaelson is the Opus Distinguished Professor of Principled Leadership and the academic director of the Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership in the Opus College of Business.