Gut Check: Do You Lead Like Ebenezer Scrooge?

December 15, 2015 Vince Molinaro


Gut Check: Do You Lead Like Ebenezer Scrooge?

This past week, while channel surfing, I stumbled across a true seasonal classic – the 1951 cinematic treatment of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

It’s a story that most of us know off by heart but still love watching. That having been said, ever since I was a kid and saw it for the first time, I hated the way Ebenezer Scrooge treated his employees. As I reflect now, maybe my reaction to Scrooge foreshadowed the leadership advisory work I’d be doing so many years later.

As most of us know, Scrooge had nothing but contempt for his clerk, Bob Cratchit. And despite the chronic abuse and mistreatment, Cratchit remained deeply loyal to his curmudgeonly employer.

I’ve often wondered where Cratchit found all that loyalty. Maybe he had no choice. Certainly, he came from a poor family and had a very sick child. Maybe in those circumstances, he didn’t have any other choice but to put up with a bad boss like old Ebenezer.

But that was then. In the period that Dickens set his story, I suspect bosses like Scrooge were more the rule than the exception. And if you were poor, you would put up with a lot of abuse and still consider yourself lucky to have work of any kind.

Of course, things must be better today, right?

It might come as some surprise but based on recent research, it appears we haven’t made as much progress as we think.

There is some pretty strong evidence to suggest that there are a lot of Scrooge-like leaders and co-workers in the modern workplace. That is to say, people who are rude, discourteous, unmannerly and impolite – behaviors that can undermine the culture of an organization.

That was certainly the conclusion of a recent study conducted at Lund University Sweden. Researchers define rudeness in the workplace as behavior that is part of the undercurrent of a workplace and that ignores the importance of mutual respect.

The researchers argue that this kind of behavior can include a host of behaviors such as:

  • Purposively excluding someone from information or cooperation.
  • Forgetting to invite someone to a communal event.
  • Taking credit for the work of others and not giving praise to others
  • Spreading unfounded rumours.

In their survey, the researchers found that 75% of respondents state that they were subjected to rudeness over the past 12 months. That’s an alarmingly high rate of prevalence.

Here’s the rub: unchecked, rudeness can quickly turn to bullying, which in turn can provoke a host of consequences including employee disengagement, absenteeism, reduced loyalty and even mental illness.

How do you stop rudeness in the workplace? The researchers believe it’s about training employees and managers to increase their awareness of negative behaviour. If everyone can spot rude behavior, they are one step closer to shutting it down.

To me, this is only a good first step. Ultimately, it rests on leaders to set the tone and to not tolerate rude behaviour within their teams and departments. It’s also important to do some self-analysis and determine whether you are guilty of rudeness or bullying.

Ask yourself whether you are a leader who is prone to behaving in a rude manner towards employees for apparently no reason? When you see rudeness in others, are you prone to turning a blind eye? Or, are you afraid to confront the bullies?

As we all know, Scrooge ultimately changed after encountering a series of ghosts that showed him the ugly consequences of his behaviour. In reality, we leaders do not have the advantage of being visited by apparitions who can help us see the error of our ways. We have to be able to take a long look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable for our leadership behaviour.

This week’s gut check asks: do you lead like Ebenezer Scrooge?

The second edition of The Leadership Contract is coming soon. Kindle edition available now. Hardcovers will be available in January.




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