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A Christmas Carol : Executive Coaching Tips from Charles Dickens

“I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” Such are the prophetic words of the ghost of Marley in Dickens’ classic tale ‘A Christmas Carol’. Through these words Scrooge’s ex-business partner starts a nocturnal executive coaching session which subjects Scrooge to the full force of the ‘S’ of the FACTS coaching model – systems thinking. Marley’s ghost starts on a theme of freedom and responsibility challenging Scrooge to recognise the fact that ultimately we all reap what we have sown. Let us examine how this grisly executive coaching session unfolds as three further FACTS coaches appear on the scene, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come.

The ghost of Christmas past adopts a counselling approach by taking Scrooge back to his childhood to examine where the roots of his egotism were formed. We see Scrooge lonely in his classroom, deserted by his schoolmates, and later we watch with heavy hearts as he is tempted to spurn the love of his life, Belle, because of his growing obsession with money. In FACTS executive coaching terms, Scrooge has started to sub-optimise his life – maximising the one outcome of money and sacrificing other forms of fulfillment and reward.

A christmas carol

The ghost of Christmas present continues to broaden Scrooge’s awareness of the wider system by taking him on a tour to observe how other people are celebrating Christmas. In particular, the spirit dwells on the house of Bob Cratchit warning Scrooge that, unless the course of events changes, then the gleeful and innocent Tiny Tim will shortly die. Through this spirit we are reminded of the systems thinking concept of emergence. The idea that small things lead to big things. We never know what the knock-on effects of our behaviour might be, for better or for worse.

Finally, the ghost of Christmas yet to come visits Scrooge and brutally confronts him with the ultimate consequences of his behaviour and reputation. His mercenary life has bred mercenary attitudes in all those around him so that at his funeral local businessmen demand a good lunch in order to attend, his cleaner steals his bedclothes and his neglected grave is left not visited and unkempt. In systems thinking terms, Scrooge has become a microcosm, or fractal, of the society around him. In this way, Dickens uses one man’s life to point a finger at all of us asking; ‘Is this the society you really want?’, ‘Is this who you collectively want to be?’

As we know, Scrooge emerges from his triple-headed FACTS coaching session as a transformed man. As we reflect on the executive coaching he received, we see that the spirit coaches had the courage to confront him unflinchingly with truth of his existence highlighting the systemic patterns that were ruling his life. However, they also had the deep compassion to believe that he was not a lost cause, that he had the potential to change no matter his age, his background and everybody else’s fixed opinions and judgement. He was worthy of their time and effort and through him they did their best work. It would be hard to find a better example of the FACTS executive coaching principle – trust in the future potential of all.

Let us leave the final words to our transformed coachee, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge – ‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” May this wonderful parable stay with us and fuel our own executive coaching and leadership as we enter into 2014. God bless us all….every one!

P.S.My thanks to Mac Farquhar whose comment on our LinkedIn group, in response to Ian’s question ‘Can you coach an egotist?’, inspired this blog.

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