Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Be Proactive

Okay, I admit it. I like words. The word "proactive" has always fascinated me. I ran across the word when I was sent an e-mail that shared some insights form the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen R. Covey. He makes the observation that effective people are proactive people.

I like proactive. It combines "pro," which often means "in favor of" and "active," which means, well, "action." So to be proactive means I'm a guy in favor of taking action. Yep, that's me. I'm in favor of taking action and I believe all guys are in favor of action, especially in their movie choices.

Covey suggests effective people do more than just take action; they take initiative. Now that may be splitting hairs, but a man who takes the initiative is a man who knows he is responsible for his actions and gets involved without being prompted. He acts out of principle and value rather than out of habits or circumstances.

Men, do you take the initiative? How early is it to start teaching your children, to be involved in their lives, to set boundaries and limits, to know their friends, to read the Bible with them, to pray for them, to listen to their prayers, to forgive, to model, to give them dreams, to give them skills, to be the man in their life? My Dad was involved from early on. He was there with me from diapers to tux, from milk to whisky and from trikes to cars -- and all the stages in-between.

My Dad modeled for me the effectiveness of being proactive. Because of his example I, too, was involved early on in the lives of my children. Because of him, it was natural for me. He helped me be a better dad.

But, guys, it isn't just about being active in the lives of kids. It's being a man of integrity who takes action and initiative based on the solid principles and values from the Bible. Men, you can step up and be a man of action -- no matter what your past has been. This can be anything from changing a widow's spark plugs to ladling soup in the kitchen, from painting the house to sharing your skills at sports or music, from speaking out against injustice to being a prayer warrior.

Being proactive gets things done.

I like being proactive.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Be There

At the end of the 1963 movie, Cleopatra, Marc Antony (Richard Burton) falls on his sword and is taken to die in Cleopatra's (Elizabeth Taylor) arms. Soon after he dies, Octavian (Roddy McDowall) confronts Cleopatra and demands she return to Rome with him. Cleopatra replies, but never looks up from the floor. Octavian is furious and demands of her that she "look me in the eye!" Over and over he yells, "Look me in the eye!" Each time she glances at him and then turns away.

As I watched this old film I was reminded of the times in my life I was told to look someone in the eye. The earliest memory I have is my Dad setting my down in a chair across from him to discuss the transgression I had committed. I didn't see it as such a big deal. After all, he used those words in anger, why couldn't I? But I sat there, head hanging down, feeling ashamed and hurt for my error.

Dad calmly spoke and wanted me to look him in the eye. As I did I could see he wasn't going to do me great bodily harm. Instead, he was going to share words of forgiveness.

I thought about that day for a long time. Why did Dad want me to look him in the eye? Finally, it dawned on me -- he wanted my full and undivided attention. He wanted me to concentrate and remember his words. He did not want me distracted and inattentive. To this day I am honored when people give me their full and undivided attention, which is usually signaled by looking me in the eye.

Yes, I have been at meetings and have watched people feign attention as they gazed out the window, answered e-mails or texted their friends. I have talked to the back of kids' heads as they watched TV. I have yelled into the other room in an effort to exert my knowledge -- all done to no avail. The window gazers, e-mail texters and TV watchers are not paying attention to me. Sometimes I feel like Octavian and want to scream, "Look me in the eye!"

I want people to be there in the communication process. By "be there" I mean I want to know they are focusing on me and my words, just as I focus on them and theirs. We lament the lack of communication in our modern world, but if we would just be there in our discussions, we would find our communication much improved.

Men, consider what I'm saying. Always be there for those you communicate with. Pay attention. Resist the urge to let your mind wander as you think of your reply. Listen to what they're telling you. The message you may be disregarding for some daydream or another tick off of your mental to-do list, might be something very close to the person's heart you're talking to.

After all, we can all use somebody to talk to every now and then.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Make My Day - Make Their Day

Movie Trivia quiz: What character, played by what actor, in what movie used the phrase, "Go ahead, make my day"?

If you said, "Dirty Harry," played by Clint Eastwood in the movie Sudden Impact you would likely be in the majority. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. It was a Hollywood vice cop played by Gary Swanson, who first spoke the line in the movie Vice Squad. It was Clint Eastwood playing Dirty Harry, however, in the film Sudden Impact that made the line a household phrase. It became so famous that President Ronald Reagan declared, "I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase that Congress might even think of sending up. And I have only one thing to say to the tax increases. Go ahead: make my day."

Taking the concept of creating a feeling of happiness or satisfaction, many businesses have now incorporated the idea of making one's day into their business plan. They build in strategies to interact with their employees to make their day a little bit better. Businesses have found if employees are happy and satisfied, they are engaged and productive. Employees who have their day made will be eager to come to work and will stay loyal to the company. Companies that strive to focus on their employees find the time and effort expended is reimbursed to them by better attitudes and increased productivity.

Some businesses have expanded the concept of making one's day to include the consumer experience. The Home Depot and Macy's are two stores I am familiar with that strive to make their customers' shopping experiences better. I will often visit The Home Depot just to walk around and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the store. There is something about walking through the lumber aisle that refreshes me. Lately, I've noticed I haven't been able to browse more than a single aisle without a store employee asking me how they can help, what I am looking for or if I am having a good day.

Macy's is a store I walk through in order to get to the food court. Recently, I have been greeted by numerous store employees who smile, ask me how I'm doing and if they can help me find anything. I asked the lady behind the perfume bottle if she could help me find a hamburger, and she pointed to the food court. Now, that made my day.

Guys, Valentine's Day is coming -- fast. I know it's another gift-giving day -- and right after Christmas to boot, but maybe this year we can take a cue from The Home Depot and make the day for our Valentine. Now, we don't need to go overboard, but we do need to put a little thought into the gift. The traditional gifts of candy, flowers and jewelry are nice to be sure, but maybe you need to look for that one-of-a-kind, special gift that only you can give.

That's right. There are some wives (rare as they might be) who really appreciate hockey tickets, gift cards for a hardware store or lumber mill or even front-row seats at the local tractor pull.

Hey, if it makes their day -- why not?

May your Valentine's Day find your unorthodox gift rewarded by a woman who thinks outside the box.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

Ever since the founding of America, citizens of this country have been seeking happiness. The Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Yes, it seems we all seek happiness in our lives. On one of my recent treks, I thumbed through an in-flight magazine that had this on its cover: "Happiness. It's less elusive than you think. But you might be surprised where we found it." The entire magazine was filled with articles on the importance of happiness and how to achieve it. It even had a quiz for determining how happy you really are. Now there's an obvious relativity to this topic, of course. The guy sipping cognac in first-class must be happier than, say, me, who's finding a small triumph in having just outmaneuvered the person next to me for a piece of armrest.

Naturally curious, I read most of the articles and took the quiz to discover if I was happy. Answering the questions, I wondered just what constitutes being happy? And is it really possible to be happy all the time?

I came to the conclusion happiness is a moving target and that, really, each day is dependent on past events. If I sleep well and just got paid, I typically wake up happier than if I tossed and turned all night trying to figure out how to pay down the MasterCard with my Visa. Recalling a compliment at work makes moving five miles an hour on the highway easier (my mood's better; I'm happier) than seeing red lights everywhere and recounting a mistake somebody pointed out to me in a report.

And what about love? Doesn't being in love equal some sort of happiness? Aren't the two supposed to go together? One would think a long-term marriage would be the partnership of two basically happy people. I would think so too, but I know even that's not always the case. It seems then that asking ourselves if we're happy or not might not be as superficial and silly as it might sound.

Are you happy? I hope so.

I decided that on the whole I am happy with my life and the many blessings I enjoy. If it comes down to material things, I have enough. In fact, I have more than I even know what to do with. If it comes to love, I have my wife -- a beautiful woman who accepts me as I am -- warts and all. Happpiness: maybe it's not as elusive as we think it is. The longer I consider how much I have been blessed, I encounter a state of being happy that runs deeper than I thought. And with it, comes a thankfulness to God, which sweetens the happiness all the more.

I challenge you today: find something to be happy about. Anything. And then take three minutes out of your busy schedule to thank God for that thing.

You'll be glad (happy) you did.