The Importance of Fezziwig
Every year I read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens as a reminder of every human's potential to be better. It is also a reminder of how easy it is to become nasty, self-involved, miserly, and misanthropic. Dickens does an excellent job painting a detailed picture of the terrible costs of selfishness and greed. One takeaway from this story of personal transformation is that we need each other because our happiness and survival depend on it. From a professional perspective, Dickens's ghost story is a reminder that our day-to-day actions profoundly impact our colleagues whether or not we are aware.
One of my favorite characters is Fezziwig, the man under whom Ebenezer Scrooge apprenticed. As described, Scrooge's master is preparing the warehouse for a Christmas celebration and as the scene progresses Scrooge experiences joy and waxes eloquently on Fezziwig's many virtues. For many years I speculated about the events that might have transformed Scrooge from eager and enthusiastic to bitter and miserly. Perhaps Scrooge is telling us more than he wishes when he exclaims, "Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it's Fezziwig alive again!" (Dickens. A Christmas Carol pg. 35). Many commentaries see Fezziwig as a counter symbol to the darkness and avarice of Scrooge, and there is indeed much truth to that assertion. However, I believe the character is much more than a symbol, I think that Fezziwig is the model on which Scrooge bases his redemption. Without Fezziwig's example of generosity, kindness, joy, and business acumen Scrooge's transformation would be far more difficult, if not impossible. Here is why I believe that Fezziwig is more than just a symbol of goodness:
1. Fezziwig, unlike unredeemed Scrooge, has a three-dimensional concept of success. Profit is valued but so is his family, his community and those that worked with and for him. The Fezziwig Approach is not the modern concept of work/life balance but is rather an integrated approach to living. In everything that is described, there is a fullness and there is joy. It is a life and a business in complete opposition to Scrooge's one-dimensional approach to living.
2. Fezziwig treated his staff and apprentices with a respect that was uncommon for his time-period. His actions made a distinct impression on Scrooge and his fellow Dick Wilkins. As Dickens notes,
"The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said, "Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?" "It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. "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. 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." (Dickens. A Christmas Carol pg. 39).
3. Fezziwig's business and personal life provided Scrooge with a framework to use for rebuilding his own life. Fezziwig's virtues were not foreign to Scrooge just forgotten. The Ghosts pulled these important products out of Scrooge's mental closet and laid them out as reminders of truths he already knew. Scrooge may have lost his way but Fezziwig provided a map for Scrooge to find his way home.
What can we, as modern nonprofit leaders learn from Fezziwig and Scrooge?
1. Our colleagues and board members observe and note our every action and interaction. The way we lead exposes our real values. Leaders must strive to be authentic like Fezziwig. We set the tone, establish the culture and should embody the principles of our organization. If leadership is disrespectful to staff members, staff will see that as authorization to be disrespectful. If we are honest and forthright, those we work with will strive to be so as well.
2. Scrooge's assessment of Fezziwig bears repeating as it is a reminder of the power of a leader, "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 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune." (Dickens. A Christmas Carol pg. 39). The power attributed to Fezziwig in 1834 is a power that leaders in 2019 still possess and it should be used wisely.
3. Leaders seldom know the full depth and breadth of the impact that they have in their sphere influence. It behooves them then to strive to be the type of leader that colleagues would be proud to use as a model for themselves.