The Boring Banquet

Have you ever had to suffer through a boring banquet?  The kind of event where you listen to someone blow their horn and share statistics and personal accomplishments-

Sales increased 150%!

My new product line was a huge success!

My products have entered the European market!

Revenue increased 83%!

Numbers, dollars, percentages.  All great things when measuring your business.  Measurements and statistics are an important way of judging your effectiveness and efficiency.  And let’s face it- we need success and money in business and making money in itself is not a bad thing.

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But it makes for a boring banquet!  Numbers, charts, graphs, yawn…  And it’s not really measuring life- is it?

Contrast this with this true story banquet-

My son recently attended an 80th birthday party for a business partner and friend named John.  Now this was a pretty lavish affair held at the Ritz Carlton and included friends and family that flew in from all over the country.  The ballroom was fancy, and the food and music was great- but that was not the amazing part of the evening.

The highlight of the banquet was the stories that were shared by family and friends about the way that John touched their lives and made them better.  Stories of how he went out of his way and helped them get started in business.  Stories of how he risked his own money to help them.  Stories of a man who mentored and served others without obligation.  Stories of a man with an amazing heart and the capacity and courage to lift others up.

One by one, the stage was occupied by family and friends who shared true stories of how John changed their lives.

No statistics.

No list of personal accomplishments.

No inventory of things earned or gathered.

Just stories of changed lives.   Many of which were not family members.  Just folks that John met along the way, providing confidence and resources to get them started on the path to success.

These kind of stories are never boring.  This is the story of a person who truly serves.  Who understands that living a life of success really provides a responsibility to serve others.   It’s not about accumulating stuff, money and personal accomplishment. Or maybe this might be your banquet?

I broke the 8 handicap on the golf course or I caught a 200 pound tuna or a 12 point buck.

I made a million dollars in the stock market and bought a vacation home in the mountains.

I travelled around the world twice.

In my industry, I was the greatest….

All fine and admirable accomplishments- but they make for a boring and self-centered story.    Could you see others taking the stage and sharing how you touched their lives or would your story be about your personal statistics?  To avoid the boring banquet concentrate on giving and leading with your heart and learn to forget the numbers.  Focus on what is really important and eternal.  Focus on leaving a legacy of love.  And this way, your banquet will be AMAZING!

So what do you think about this- did it get you thinking?  Or am I way off on this one?  Don’t be a stealth reader- Let me know what you think!  Click on leave a comment and share your thoughts! 

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.
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Take Back Christmas!

I think everyone would agree- Christmas is special.  Regardless of your level of faith, the holiday brings a wonder of warmth, family, and giving to others.  The feeling of Christmas is hard to describe.  For children it may be focused on the gifts, and with age, the focus shifts to family, friends and the gathering together of loved ones.  There is a special love that surrounds this most special holiday.

Christmas in the post-War United States

What is this love?

Where does it come from?

Why does it feel so good?

I believe that the wonder and that feeling of warmth and love is a glimpse of our Father’s love.  Unconditional.  Complete.  Without any strings or requirements.  Like the love of a grandfather.  An enveloping warm blanket.  No matter where you are in your life frustrations, this love seems to power through on Christmas.

There is someone who wants to distract you from all of this.  By making you crazy in trying to keep up with everyone else.  By trying to make you think that it’s all about the gifts.  By keeping you super busy so you will not have time to concentrate on what the holiday is really about.

He is the prince of the air.  The enemy.  He wants to steal your Christmas.  He is the expert in distraction.  He wants you to concentrate on the gifts and the decorations.  The chaos.  The commercialized and prepackaged Christmas.  He wants you to fret about your gift not being good enough.  He wants you to doubt and worry.

See this is all in his plan.  If he can get you to concentrate on the present- you will miss the eternal.  And he does it with glitter, gold, garland, lace, cashmere, and trinkets.  Christmas is sensory overload.  And I believe that it is not by coincidence.

So what can you do to win?

Take back Christmas!  Realize that your struggle is not yours.  Focus on the beauty of this holiday.  Slow down and don’t get sucked in.  Make it about Christmas day.  The birth of our Savior.  His warmth.  His love!

I pray that your Christmas will be a wonderous time of peace and warmth with your family and friends.  May he cover you in His AMAZING blanket of love and grace!  Merry Christmas!

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving: Sending The Thief Away

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  It seems like it’s the complete package for me.  My busy family taking the time to gather together.  Deep family traditions.  Great food and drink.  Watch the Lions lose (former Detroiter- can’t help it).  No gifts to mess things up.  Afternoon nap.  Fall weather.  It’s just a great package- isn’t it?

Rainbow turkey for Thanksgiving decoration

Seems like we can easily reflect on how we are blessed at Thanksgiving.  Surrounded by family and friends, the love just seems to flow on this holiday. As you reflect on the previous year, you forget the struggles and the pain of the past.  The disappointments of life.  The things that really matter seem to stand out.  They just seem to get larger on Thanksgiving.  Why don’t we feel like Thanksgiving every day?  What stops us from having the grateful heart and joyful spirit that covers us in waves at Thanksgiving?

I believe that one of the major culprits is comparison.  We just can’t seem to separate ourselves from it.

Remember when you were a kid and you had to break the candy bar in half?  There was always a big effort to make it the same.  Exactly the same.  Seem like we are born with a sense that things have to be fair and equal.

We are seeing a great rebirth of the fairness principle in our world today.  There is a greater awareness of inequity, I believe, due to the fixation of this concept in the media.  The reality is that things have never been fair.  And they will never be fair.  There have and will always be people with much and people in want.  There will always be people with more than you have, and less than you have.  And much of our efforts to “level the playing field” has resulted in bad consequences- much of which are the direct opposite of what we are trying to repair.

Comparison destroys.  When you see someone else with more, and you desire what they have, it will drive you crazy.  Like a thief in the night- it will steal your joy.  What you don’t see, as you compare, is the added responsibility that comes with the package of abundance.  You miss that the folks with a lot of stuff are generally not any happier than people who have little.  You covet and the anger from the inequity burns inside of you.

What to you get from it?  You get misery.  You get discontent.  You get bitterness.

At Thanksgiving it seems like, regardless of where we are on the scale, we seem to get a pure view of what we have.  The gifts and abundance that God has blessed us with.  Family.  A spouse.  A home.  A job.  Friends.  You really can see it and we smile.  We cry.  We give thanks to the Lord for his blessing and provision.

So, how do you keep the joy flowing once Thanksgiving is over?  I say dump comparison!  It’s a thief that wants to turn your heart to stone.  Be thankful every day for what you have.  Even in the midst of the struggle.  Even when things are tough.  Remember the way you feel on Thanksgiving.  And send the thief away!

What do you think?  What are some ways that you stay focused on the blessings?  Don’t be a stealth reader!  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

There is no safety in safety

I have been confronted recently with the reality that safety is really an illusion.  We gather, save, protect, reinforce, double up, and anticipate in an effort to be safe and secure.  Yet, with all our planning and protecting- life will still throw the curve ball at us.

Africa 2009- Sunset on the Zambezi River

Africa 2009- Sunset on the Zambezi River

I have a friend who just found out her mom has cancer…again.  She fought breast cancer years ago and she just found out that its back.  I’m sure her mom has “insurance”.  So what?  Does health insurance, life insurance, annuities, trusts, or savings really help her situation much? She still has cancer.  And it hurts.  Really bad.

So what if you just said- the heck with it!  Live for the day and worry about the problems later.  Irresponsible would be the typical response- right?

I remember hustling downtown to an inner city friend’s house to make a meeting after work.  I was late.  Crazy busy day.  Continual chaos, giant problems and burning wreckage- the day of the construction manager!   Driving into the neighborhood, I immediately see life.  Men relaxing playing checkers on the porch laughing and enjoying the day.  I see a woman talking with her neighbor smiling and enjoying the company.  Kids playing outside with their siblings.  These are people we would say are “in need”.  So who is really the smart one here?  The folks in the neighborhood have little “safety”, however, many live with less stress, less clutter with stuff, and have the opportunity to enjoy a simpler life.

So where are you?  Are you on the porch enjoying the beautiful day or are your running 100 miles per hour trying to save, store and protect?  Are you filling up barns or living life to the full?

Here are a few ways to regain some REAL safety in your life:

Quit your job!  I read recently that the worst thing that you can do for your health is to sit at a desk all day long.  Maybe its time to abandon the big career dream that may be slowly killing you?  Go back to something that makes less money that you enjoy and keeps you more active.

Sell your house!  How much does a four bedroom house weigh?  I think most breadwinners would be able to tell you.  Trying to provide the “dream” is a tremendous thing to carry.  Maybe its time to downsize to something more manageable?

Dump the assets!  Put your money into building the next generation.  Start a trust, pour into young people, give until it hurts.  With wealth comes responsibility and headaches.

Don’t store up stuff!  We are brainwashed consumers who are obsessed with buying things on sale.  We eat way too much.  Food gets old and spoils.  Buy fresh food as you need it and eat healthy.  Buy organic when you can and use the higher food cost as portion control.  Live simply and stay away from the mall.

The pursuit of wealth and safety can cost you your life.  REAL life.  It’s not worth it.  Take care of your body.  Don’t dwell on the accumulation of stuff and live a life free of clutter.  Gather things that matter- friends and family.  Dump the junk that holds you back.  We start with nothing and leave with nothing.  Store up YOUR treasure in heaven!

Do you have strategies to simplify and streamline your life to give you real safety?  Do you think I’m crazy?  Click below on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Do as I say- Not as I do!

I think we’ve all heard this expression.  Generally used to back peddle from a sticky situation with your children.  My question is:  Does it really work?

 CR- bromiliads

You can’t avoid learning from what you see.  Extreme example- The most amazing accomplishments that occur in life happens in the first two years .  In this very short period of time you learn the structure of life, “the lay of the land”, purely through observation.  You learn to laugh, cry, sleep, walk, touch, talk, right, wrong, hot, cold, more, less, fun, good, bad, etc.  This is primarily learned through minimal use of language.  Much of the learning is subtle and accomplished without realizing that you are learning.

As I have watched my children grow I can see some of my characteristics in them.  These include work ethic, education, and excellence.  These are things learned through observation.  They watched me work on the house in the yard and at work.  I made them participate in my work.  They learned what it meant to work hard.  They watched me go to night school to complete my degree.  They watched the way I would reject poor quality work.  These were taught not by lecture or instruction- they observed how it was important to me and it became important to them.

How do we teach the next generation of leaders?  Model the behavior that you seek.  Walk the walk and forget the talk.

Yes- this is a tall order.  We all slip sometimes.  We have things we struggle with.   Things that you really don’t want them to learn.  Just remember- they are watching you.  You don’t get a break on this one.  Go ahead and do the lectures and the instruction, but don’t forget the most powerful teaching tool.

Simply model the person that you want them to be.

What are some practical ways to model to lead?  What happens when you mess up?  Press comments and tell me what you think!

 

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Do The Work!

Years back, Kathy and I visited my Grandfather when he was sick in the hospital and his health was failing.  During this visit, my Grandfather was of good energy and he shared a quick snapshot of his life and some of his best life lessons.  One thing that he shared was that he believed that you really only have until a child is eight years old to mold them and teach them to behave and be a good and successful citizen.  After they reach eight years old, he believed, you now have a small person who has essentially figured out the world and changing them is very difficult.  Kathy and I were young when this conversation took place and we were in the process of raising our kids.  I am thankful for the advice.  While we were young, we took child raising very seriously.  We disciplined when it was necessary and taught our children to behave, get along with others and excel in their work.  We were not perfect but worked hard at it.  It’s not easy and you can get lazy sometimes.  But with children, you have to do the work!

Morning 004

I have often said that it would be great if they gave you an Owner’s Manual when you leave the hospital.  But instead you are handed this amazing miracle of life all wrapped up in a blanket and off you go!  You may have some babysitting experience and you will certainly get lots of advice from your family on what you’re “supposed to do”.  And… you are likely equipped with the life baggage of knowing what not to do.  And you are way young and just trying to process everything and figure it all out.

You absolutely want the best for your kids.  That is a given.  So what does that look like in the inexperienced parent’s mind?

  1. Provide For Your Family:  I work really hard to give my children the things that they need.  I spend much of my time on my career and work really hard to give them financial security.  Is that what they need or do they need you to spend more time with them?  Is money the best thing you can give your child?
  2. Be Their Friend:  I want to spend every minute that I can with my child and I keep them connected at my side at all times.  Is this providing an environment where you are teaching, leading and parenting or are they really just filling a need that you have?  Have you noticed serious separation anxiety when you leave your child with someone else?
  3. Wrestling Buddy:  I want my boy to be a man and be good at sports so I love to wrestle with him.  Is this really something he needs or is it something you need?  Are you raising up a little bully by getting him “toughened up”?
  4. No Daycare For Me:  I don’t want my child to be watched by anyone else but me.  I don’t trust others- I have had bad experiences in the past.  Is this really a good thing?  Are there social skills that your child may be missing by isolating them from other kids?  Do they know how to interact with other kids?  Can they share toys and play with other kids?
  5. He’s A Good Kid:  My child is a good kid so it’s OK to give him what he want.  If he wants chicken nuggets every night of the week that’s OK as long as he is being quiet and not misbehaving.  So who is eventually going to tell them no?  Who is going to erect boundaries?  Who is the boss?  Too tired is not an excuse here.
  6. We Are Always On The Move:  My kids love visiting others and being up late.  They are used to eating on the run.  They love the adventure!  Really, kids like structure.  They need a schedule.  They want to know the rules and what is expected.  They need sleep.  They need to be able to process what’s going on.  They need calm and normal.
  7. I Never Spank My Child:  My kids don’t need punishment.  They are different than the other kids.  Are they learning that there are consequences for their actions?  Although you may be against spanking, are you teaching your children that bad behavior can lead to big trouble in later years?

Raising children is hard.  It is a full time job.  You must fight the urge to get lazy.  Children are like clay when they are young.  Yes, I believe they are born with unique characteristics, but kids need leadership, structure, direction and boundaries.  They do not do well in chaos.  They need to figure out what the world is all about and chaos does not provide the framework for growth and understanding.

Have you ever considered what a child learns in the first two years?  They are like little sponges.  So what are they learning?  Are they learning that there is order to the world?   Are they learning about authority?  Are they learning about consequences?  Are they learning how to interact with other kids?

I know this.  Good parenting does not come easy.  When done correctly, it will be the most fulfilling project you will ever undertake.  It’s a long and tiring process.  But just remember- you have to do the work!

So what do you think?  Do you have any good parenting advice?  Please press comments and tell us your story!  

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

The Jewish Wedding: Families and Tradition

Kathy and I had the pleasure of attending a wedding a couple of weeks ago.  The wedding was stunningly beautiful and dripping with the sweetness of tradition and family.  See this was a Jewish wedding and there is no wedding ceremony and celebration that I have experienced that is like a Jewish wedding.  Every part of the ceremony and celebration is rich in tradition and symbolism.  The Jewish wedding celebration is truly a family event that brings in relatives from all over the country providing:

An opportunity to reconnect with family.

An opportunity to strengthen the bonds to each other.

An opportunity to be in community together.

An opportunity to have fun as a family.

Frankfort Lighthouse- Wikipedia

Frankfort Lighthouse- Wikipedia

There is an incredible amount of power in the Jewish traditions that is harnessed in the strong bonds of family.  Although there is certainly exclusivity, the Jews have managed to stay bonded together even in the face of the mixing bowl of the United States.  This bond of ethnicity is a powerful propellant.  To be Jewish means to take care of your own.  Provide opportunities for the youngsters and offer deep respect for your elders.  This power, I believe, we loose in our hunger to assimilate here in the U.S.

How can we reconnect with this power?

Take every opportunity to celebrate your ethnic roots.  As a family, we sing a Polish birthday song called Sto Lat.  I learned it from my father and we have continued to sing Sto Lat at all of our family birthday celebrations after the traditional American happy birthday song.  We continue singing after everyone else has stopped- in Polish- as a tribute to our family heritage.  I feel like its our way of saying- this is our family and this is our tradition. There is also some exclusivity here.  Our family, our heritage, and our tradition.  We have sung Sto Lat loud and proud in restaurants and housefuls of friends outside of our family.  I suspect my children will continue this with their children, and so on it goes.

As I write this, I am sitting in a bed and breakfast enjoying some R&R in Frankfort, Michigan.  Every year at the 4th of July we would travel as a family and vacation here for the 4th holiday.  So many great memories here.  They flood back as we have visited the places we went years ago.  Another sweet tradition for our family.  Traditions and family are powerful.  If you don’t leverage these two forces you are missing a great opportunity to bind your family together and harness the power of the family unit.  As a group you can do much more good than on your own.  A family can be unstoppable. Tap into this power.

Happy Father’s Day and….Mazel tov!

What are some of your family traditions?  Do you celebrate your culture or do you hide it?  Click on comments and tell us your story!

What Your Wife Really Wants For Valentines Day!

Oh, yes! It’s that time again! Time for the red cards, chocolates, and roses. Valentines Day is a special time to tell your loved one that you really care. A time to celebrate love and romance. For some men, this can be a bit frightening. Getting just the right gift is really hard. You may need to have a sixth sense when it comes to women. I think most ladies don’t think much of the traditional gifts. She wants more than a box of chocolates or pretty flowers.

An array of Valentine's Day-connotated candy d...

She wants her boyfriend back!

Somewhere in the midst of building the family and the career, being a Dad and a Husband, and providing a safe and secure environment, the knight in shining armor gets a bit tarnished. Men will slip into the leader role at work and bring it home and miss the tenderness needed to continue to grow in their relationship with their wives. Wives want more than a family leader. They want friendship.  They want closeness.  They want to go deeper. They want your heart.

Remember when you were dating? What were the things that you liked to do together? This is what she wants. This is what she needs. Can’t remember very well? Let me help you a bit.

We Would Talk For Hours…. Remember those conversations? You would share your dreams, your goals, your passions. The time would fly by. You talked about your feelings, your fears, your frustrations, what you loved, what you hated. Fast forward. Now it’s often three word sentences. “Can you pick up some milk?” A quick OK, a nod, a grunt. Is this communicating? Not even close. Guys, she needs this. It’s knit in her being. She has to hear from you. She needs to talk things out. this is how she deals with stress. This is how she will stay glued to you. Stop communicating with her and she will loose the bond. Share your deep stuff with her. She needs it. I promise.

We Did Everything Together… It didn’t matter what you were doing, you loved to do it together. Even doing dishes was fun! Remember? Guys, you need look for opportunities to spend time with your wives. It’s really about getting creative and maybe about doing something you don’t really care to do. Go to the grocery store or head to the mall and go shopping with her! If you are not intentional, it won’t happen!

We Held Hands Everywhere We Went… How long has it been since you held your wife’s hand? Are you struggling getting physical with your wife? This can really vary by the particular woman, but many are starving for physical contact. This may or may not involve “going all the way”. I know some woman would love to get the back rub at night and have it stop at that! You know what she wants. She needs to feel your touch.

We Were Out On Dates Every Weekend… Are you planning date nights with you wife? This is a super important way for you to help her get away from the house and the kids and plug back into your relationship. These date nights don’t have to be spectacular events. The only requirement is that you are alone with her. No double dates. Just the two of you spending time together. Get the babysitter. I can tell you first hand that it will be the best money that you can spend for your relationship. Plan these dates nights! They will not magically happen by themselves.

We Would Laugh For Hours… Do you have fun with your wife or is your marriage based on the family “job”? Raising a family and keeping up with all the expectations is exhausting. Having fun can leave the house along with your energy. Don’t take everything so seriously. I can tell you the exhaustion of life can leave you analyzing every word that comes from your wife. Don’t take everything to heart. Learn to lighten up the situation. Remember how you used to make her laugh? You need to reconnect with this! It may save your marriage. Saying something insensitive is not the end of the world . Truth is, it’s most likely your pride that is the problem!

We Would Take Long Walks On The Beach… We’ll if you don’t live on the ocean, a trip around the block in the evening is a great second option. Steal a few minutes away. Talk about your day. Let her talk and you listen. If she’s been with the kids all day, she’s probably just about ready to explode. She needs some adult talk! Help her out.

We Would Surprise Each Other With Little Gifts… If she likes clothes, bring some home sometimes when it’s not her birthday or other event. She will be shocked and will ask you if you got hit really hard on the head! Plan a weekend and take her away. Send the kids to the in-laws and and do a weekend at home. Do something to surprise her. She needs the change and the romance.

I’m sure there are many more that you can think of. Things that made your relationship special. The stuff that brought you together. The bottom line is this: she still needs you to pursue her. She needs to feel desired. You know the wedding cake joke? Well this is the male version! Yes, she’s yours, but she needs more than safety and security. If not, she could have stayed at home with her Dad! She needs to reconnect with you and it takes time and intentionality. If you spent time on this like you work on your golf swing, your front lawn, or your fantasy football league I’m sure there would be no issues.

Reconnect with you sweetheart! She needs you!

What do you think? Are you being intentional about you relationship with you wife? Wake up call or full of you know what? Let me know by clicking on comments and giving me your view!

Light the Path

I believe that there is a desire to make a difference in the world that is woven into us at birth.  To make your mark- to put a “dent in the universe”.  Your choice is to either follow these desires and dreams or suppress them and give up.  The choice to give up is easy when you think it’s impossible.  Our job as leaders is to illuminate the path.  Model doing the impossible or the uncomfortable.  This is a story about lighting the path.

Light for my path

I was sitting beside a small fire on NewYears eve enjoying the company of some good friends and some outrageously large oysters.  Sitting at the fire was a girl named Rebecca who is the daughter of some good friends from church.  Rebecca was home for the holidays and was sharing some ministry stories that occurred while she was away at college in North Carolina.  Rebecca was able to seek out and find an inner-city ministry near her campus where she served on weekends.  She also shared that she had located a street church where service takes place outside in the yard of an abandoned church.  She shared some amazing stories of how she was able to serve and develop relationships with the poor in the community near her campus and also serve a church that tragically lost it’s pastor and continues because of a great effort by the surviving family.  She was beaming as she shared several truly amazing stories of restoration and God’s infinite grace.  This was my highlight of the evening.
 
While she was sharing, I began to connect the dots.  Rebecca had served throughout her high school years nearly every Saturday at an inner-city street ministry that we have at our church.  Rebecca was a regular.  She made a strong connection with the folks in the neighborhood.  When she left for college I was regularly asked where she was.  See- Rebecca made an impact!  Not by giving out surplus food, but through her amazing smile and her way of being genuinely interested in their lives.  Rebecca went deeper.  Yes- Rebecca is special- but there is more.
 
As I considered her impact, it occurred to me that the beginning of the trail actually started with her parents willingness to serve.  If her parents hadn’t modeled this behavior, it is very unlikely that Rebecca would be serving the poor in North Carolina.  It can be a tough decision to take your child downtown to serve in a dangerous neighborhood.  You can easily talk yourself out of it.  Also, to model the behavior, you actually have to get out of bed early each Saturday and drive to the ministry.  I have experienced this one first hand.  Your pillow is a hard thing to give up on the only day each week that you have to sleep in!  Yet, over both of these, they were faithful.  And their faithfulness was rewarded with a daughter that truly “gets it”.
 
Many folks work hard their entire lives trying to make that “dent in the universe”.  They store up money and build empires.  They seek to get their name on a building somewhere.  They work really hard to make their children wealthy, comfortable and self-sufficient.
 
All of these are fleeting.  Wealth will eventually be lost or squandered away.  Buildings will eventually crumble and fall.  And the pursuit of comfort and independence ends unfullfilled.

The secret is often right next to you.  You have to choose to light the path for others.  You can show them how to truly influence lives.  And when you do, it’s contagious.  They will continue on modeling for others and then the multiplication factor kicks in.
 
This is how you can truly change the world!  So, what is your plan?  Will you continue to build an empire based on things that will eventually crumble or will you invest in things that will march on for generations.  Maybe a quick look at your planner might reveal where your heart truly is?  It starts with taking a risk and putting yourself out there.  Are you ready?  Can you break the power of your pillow and the pursuit of comfort to light the path for others? 

What are some easy things that you have done that you have seen repeated by others?  Is success and comfort what your children really need?  Click on comments and let me know what you think!

Men: 10 Shopping Tips for Christmas!

Ah, the Christmas season has begun!  A time for family, great food and gift giving!  One problem:  The thought of Christmas shopping makes most men cringe.  I would guess that most men would do diaper duty instead of hitting the mall!  Yet, we know we have to do it AND it’s coming up pretty quickly here.  When you think of shopping for your wife or special loved one, you can’t help but think of the scars from past failures.  The dress that was three sizes too big (How big do you think I am?).  The new vacuum cleaner (Oh, I guess the place is a mess, huh?).  The earrings that exactly match the set she already has (You idiot, don’t you notice anything?).   You try every year- yet it always ends in failure.  You want to give up- just go all gift certificates.  You know that this isn’t personal.  Doesn’t show you really care.  No, won’t work.  What can you do? Christmas in the post-War United StatesI am writing this based on wisdom gained from pure failure.  I have made just about every stupid mistake possible.  Yet, I am getting better.  Last year, I probably did about 80% not returned.  Not saying that this year will be as good, but I am gaining confidence.  I know I will get a couple gifts right.  And this is the way it should be.  Because it’s important to her.  You want to see genuine joy on her face on Christmas.  Not- “Oh, thanks Honey…” and then it gets returned.  You want it to be really special for her.

OK- so what do we do?  Here is a list of hints that have been helpful for me through the years.  Understand ALL women are different, so I may not have this exactly right for your loved one so adjust as you see fit.

  1. Planning:  Start thinking about gift giving NOW.  Very often she will give you hints about what she wants.  Some will be subtle and others are not.  Be careful with the non-subtle hints.  This is when she is all but TELLING YOU what she wants.  Write it down!  You will forget- trust me.  Make a list of these hints and ideas.  Start now!
  2. Do the Recon:  Before you hit the mall, a reconnaissance mission is required.  When she is out of the house, go through her closet and dresser and write down the sizes for her clothes.  Be careful here.  Her closet can be full of traps.  There are often things in there that she wishes would fit.  Find the clothes that she always wears.  Look at the tags for the brands.  You may be able to get hints on the stores where she shops.  Write down the sizes and the brands.
  3. Right Style:  Really LOOK at what she wears.  You do not want to be a pioneer here.  Even if you don’t really care for the style she likes, buy what she wears.  She’ll tell you that she loves what you bought her- yet she will never wear it.  My daughter tells my wife that she dresses like a hippy while my daughter dresses conservatively.  Don’t generalize.  Buy what she will wear!
  4. Get the List:  Ask her for a list.  Don’t think that you are so good that you don’t need a list.  Get a few slam dunks in along with some more risky items.  Nothing worse than seeing it all go on the return pile.  Quiz her on her list.  She will likely give you more ideas as she describes what she wants.  Get all of the details- stores, sizes, colors, everything.  These are givens- so go get em!
  5. Shop with Her:  Go Christmas shopping with her.  While she is shopping for others she will spot clothes or items that she wants.  She may tell you to get something specifically or she may just be drawn to something.  Typically she will see something that she wants but thinks it’s too expensive.  Jackpot.  This is good target.  Snap your mental picture and return later and make the buy.  Shopping with her is gold.  You will get great hints here.  So do it!
  6. Danger Zone:  There are certain gifts that are very risky.  Stay away from risk- this isn’t Vegas!  Here are a few:
    1. Practical Gifts:  Household items, TV, blender, toaster, washer, new roof.  May be really needed, but not at Christmas.  Unless it’s a list item- stay away!  This is REAL quick sand here.  Stay with personal gifts.  Practical some other time- not Christmas!
    2. Fitness:  Exercise equipment, gym membership, workout clothes, yoga classes, etc.  Risky, very risky.  Realize the message that you are giving.
    3. Cooking  Items:  Careful here.  Unless she is an avid cook, you may be delivering that same bad message.
    4. Victoria Secret:  Stay away- this is also a trap!  The sizes are about impossible to get right.  There is a fine line to trashy.  And, what is the message- not sexy enough?  Too sexy?  Don’t do it!
    5. Jewelry:  This is a typical “go to” for many guys.  Spend a bunch of money in one spot- and be done.  Easy choice.  However- if she is not a jewelry girl- she’ll take it back.  Trust me on this one.  And then because you chose the “nuclear option”- she’ll have no other gifts that were good.  Now you really stepped in it!  Be careful here.
  7. Go it Alone:  Don’t bring your buddy or your daughter with you.  If you bring your buddy you know where you will end up- Ruby Tuesday’s with a cold beer.  Don’t do it!  You will just have to go out again.  If you bring your daughter and you mess up she will be collateral damage.  Ask her what she thinks, but don’t bring her.  Keep her out of it.  Come on…she’s family!
  8. Use the Mannequins:  The mannequins can be your friend!  See how it looks on them.  They generally put some of the best selling styles on the mannequins.  Look at colors and styles.  Stripes, black, paisley, whatever.  You will know what’s in by looking at the mannequins.  You can also see what it looks like on.  Things look way different on a person than on the clothes rack.
  9. Ask for Help:  Ask the sale people for help.  They will help you find sizes and match things up.  I am not suggesting that you take ALL of their advice.  This is also a trap.  I have wrapped suggested outfits that were a total bomb.  Stay with the look that you are sure she will like.  Don’t experiment with someone else’s taste.
  10. Start Early:  Don’t wait for the last minute.  Start now!  Get a few things bought and stored away.  I will admit that I like getting some last minute items.  Getting out a couple days before Christmas with all the other guys is kind of a tradition.  I do love the last minute excitement- but if you wait too long you will be stuck with what’s left.  All of the common sizes to the cool clothes will be gone.  Many of the good gift ideas will be sold out.  There are great last minute sales but try to be nearly wrapped up.  The internet is a great starting point.  Get a few internet purchases done early and start to look for ideas.  Do your research on-line so your time can be concentrated on hunter/gathering (pick-up and pay!).

These are a few tips that I have learned through the years that I think are most valuable.  Most men would say it’s only Christmas and what does this have to do with leadership?  I can assure you that Christmas gifts are very likely much more important to her, than they are to you!  I also know that being a bonehead and doing a crummy job sends a really poor message to your kids and others about how much you care about her and the importance of completing a task with excellence.  So suck it up and get it done!  It’s not that difficult and when you get it right- it is truly magic!

Merry Christmas!

Can you share some stories of mistakes or victories in Christmas gift selection?

Ladies:  Any ideas to share with the guys?

 Click on comments and tell us your story!