A Charlie Brown Christmas is far and away my all-time favorite Christmas classic.
The show opens with Charlie Brown not feeling any holiday cheer. He thinks Christmas has become too commercialized and focused on all the wrong things. He speaks with his friend/psychiatrist, Lucy, about it and she suggests he take over directing the local Christmas pageant to lift his spirits and give meaning back to the holiday.
Charlie arrives the rehearsal space to find the cast not doing anything that looked like rehearsing. They were dancing and didn’t have their costumes or scripts. Charlie stopped their shenanigans to bring order and process to the session. He began sharing with them his vision for the production. He let them know what his off-stage hand signals would mean. He let them know how honored he was to lead them. It was a lovely introductory speech!
No one listened. They just whispered among themselves — then Schroeder started playing the piano and they all went back to dancing, just as they’d been doing before Charlie arrived.
Charlie got frustrated and yelled at them to stop. He asks Lucy to pass out the scripts and costumes for each of the roles. Once everyone has their items, Charlie is ready to start rehearsing — but the cast declares it’s time to break for lunch.
Charlie goes AWFFFF on the cast and crew for their lack of dedication. They argue back with him, saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing and it’s all his fault the production is a mess and so much time was wasted. Somehow, they convince him to go buy a Christmas tree to make amends with them.
So Charlie heads off with Linus to the Christmas tree lot, where they pick out the tiniest, most pathetic looking tree in the whole lot. The cast and crew berate him again when he returns with the tree. They call him stupid and hopeless and say he can’t ever do anything right.
Completely dejected, Charlie takes his pathetic little tree and leaves. He makes his way home, where he decides to try to decorate the tree using ornaments and lights from his dog, Snoopy’s, house.
He puts one ornament on the tree … and it tips over.
Charlie’s demoralized. He’s done with people and Christmas. He leaves the tipped over tree in the yard and goes to his house to sulk alone.
Strangely, the cast and crew shows up in Charlie’s back yard a few moments later. They had followed him home. They see the tree tipped over and decide it isn’t such a terrible tree after all. Together, the cast decorates the tree — and it turns out beautiful! They burst into a chorus of Hark the Herald Angels Sing around the tree.
Charlie comes back outside and sees the tree and the cast singing around it. He smiles and joins the chorus. All is merry and bright. The end.
Charlie is a great example of the struggles new leaders face when taking on an existing team.
- Existing teams want to do what they’ve always done. That’s why Charlie’s friends were dancing when he arrived at rehearsal and kept dancing despite his instructions.
- Existing teams don’t like change. That’s why Charlie’s friends argued with him about his casting and costume choices during rehearsal. That’s why they initially rejected the tree Charlie bought for them. They wanted everything to be and look like they were used to.
- Existing teams will try to change — then blame the new leader when it doesn’t work immediately. That’s why Charlie’s friends doubted him and called him terrible names.
So what’s a new leader to do when their existing team treats them this way?
Do what Charlie did!
- Charlie anticipated resistance. He came armed to rehearsal with a clipboard full of notes and observations to share with the cast and crew. He was ready to overcome their objections to his ideas and changes with facts and flattery.
- Charlie kept pushing his positive agenda. He started by reminding them of the mission of the group and the importance of the work they were doing. He focused on the positive and didn’t get caught up in everyone else’s egos and ulterior motives. When necessary, he took a break to regroup and remind himself of what really mattered. He stayed on message for the duration.
- Charlie forgave and joined the chorus. He got angry and let the group have it! He briefly walked away. But when the group finally embraced his message and mission, he came back to them with the same positive spirit. He didn’t hold a grudge. He forgave them and joined the chorus. He celebrated their progress together, like none of the bad stuff happened.
It isn’t easy taking over as a new leader of an existing group. Not everyone is going to be happy for your arrival or want to see you succeed or immediately buy into your vision of the way forward.
Don’t give up. Eventually, the group will follow you and together you’ll build something beautiful.
One additional notable from A Charlie Brown Christmas: Charlie’s mental health.
As the show starts, he’s admittedly depressed and seems to be crying out for help to his family and friends. They generally miss those signs.
The holiday season and winter months are really tough on people for a variety of reasons. Please remember to look for signs of distress and regularly check on your loved ones. Your words and presence could be the thing that help them make it one more day and/or get the help they need to overcome.
Click HERE to learn more about seasonal depression and resources for help.