The Little Known Leadership Tactic You Can Learn From Charles Dickens

The Dickens Technique is a way of looking at your own behaviour and assessing it against what you would like to achieve in your life. It’s also known as ‘future pacing’ – but we like the Dickens Technique better.

The Back Story 

It’s based on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, in which the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

In the story, the Ghost of Christmas Future visits Scrooge on Christmas Eve, to take him forward in time to view his own funeral. As he sees his body being buried, he notices that there is nobody at the service to commemorate his death. Scrooge is then shown that the entire village where he lived is having a massive celebration, not in honour of his passing, but because of it.

The Ghost of Christmas Past then visits Scrooge, taking him back in time to show him the appalling manner in which he treated the people of the village, his workers, and everyone around him. He sees the people that have worked for him, and remained loyal to him for many years – and the way that he mistreated them.

The Ghost of Christmas Present then shows him the reality of their lives. The workers and villagers have nothing to help them celebrate Christmas at all. Their family homes are cheerless, the villagers are sad and Christmas is a horrible time of year for all involved.

This becomes a reality check for Scrooge, making him realise that his miserly ways have negatively affected not only the people who work for him, but their entire families as well.

By showing him the hurt he has caused these families, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future attached tremendous pain to Scrooge’s current and past behaviour and the way that he treats his people. 

He then goes through the process of seeing himself change his behaviour, treating his loyal team members well, paying them generously and being a kinder, more honourable person. He sees an instant change in the fortunes of the villagers – their Christmas has become a more joyous time, with plenty to eat and gifts for everyone.

He is then shown his own funeral again, and this time the service is packed, the villagers all coming together to mourn and honour the memory of Scrooge. 

What this does is create pleasure attached to the new behaviour of looking after the people who are loyal to him.

The Takeaways for Leaders

Fundamentally, this is exactly the technique that you should use to change the behaviours that you know are not working for you today, into new behaviours which will not only empower you, but will allow you to achieve your potential.

By looking forward, at your life on its current path and doing the same things that you’re doing today, you can often start to feel dissatisfied, unhappy or even demotivated by the thought of where you’re heading.

If you then go through the same process and thought about new behaviours, the way you want to live and the things you should be doing, you will discover within yourself the path to change. By thinking of new behaviours, you will be creating the challenge culture inside of yourself that you need, and the path to change will become apparent.

By looking forward into your future and self-assessing your behaviours, you can visualise how new behaviours will positively affect your outcomes. This has two benefits – it will create a sense of pain associated with your current behaviours, and a sense of pleasure with the new, projected behaviours. 

Nature drives us from pain to pleasure – your subconscious will do what it is programmed to do, and you will move towards the new, pleasure-driven behaviours and gain access to the change and success that you are working towards.

This is a process that you can use for yourself, and for others, on an ongoing basis to ensure that you achieve the correct behavioural change. This leads us to our ability to get out of our comfort zone, this is where our subconscious would like us to stay, in a safe and secure routine that keeps us from pain.

We challenge you today to reflect on this three questions: 

  • Past: How has my current behaviour been working for me in the past?
  • Present: How is my current thinking and behaviours working for me? What results am I currently getting?
  • Future: What will happen if I don’t change my behaviour? What do I need to do right now?

Asking yourself these questions and deciding to make a change now might be difficult, but you know what will be more difficult? 

Looking back in 10 years from now and knowing you can’t change the way you have acted.


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