I made it!
Once again, I have run the gauntlet that is November and December and lived to tell the tale.
Perhaps that seems overdramatic or anti-holiday to you, but before you pass judgment, let me explain.
The last two months of the year include more than just Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve in the Kratz household. Four of the six members of our little family have birthdays during those two months, and one of them is my wife.
In other words, the gift-giving pressure — both in terms of finding something thoughtful and figuring out how to afford it — is intense. Because of this, I approach the end of each year with a barely disguised sense of dread.
My anxiety is exacerbated by the fact that I am generally lousy at picking good presents, while my wife is something of a gift-giving savant. She always seems to know exactly what everyone in her circle of family and friends wants or needs, and she is a master at picking up hints that people don't even know they're dropping.
I, on the other hand, am oblivious to even the most obvious, hit-you-over-the-head nudges. My wife likes to talk about the time she left ads and newspaper stories about an upcoming opera all around the house to give me the not-so-subtle hint that she'd like tickets to that opera as a birthday present.
I think I got her a book instead.
We laugh about it now, but I don't remember much chortling from her on that particular birthday.
The only reason I've managed to come out on the positive side of the gift-giving ledger in the last decade or so is due to the production of movies for the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" books. There's a wealth of jewelry and other nifty merchandise available surrounding both movie series, and since my wife and I are shameless geeks about such things, I can't go wrong when my gifts to her come from Middle Earth.
(That's why I was thrilled when I found out "The Hobbit" was going to be made into three movies instead of just one or two. Director Peter Jackson has single-handedly kept me awash in gift possibilities for at least another three years, and maybe more.)
Anyway, because of all the celebrating that occurs around our house during November and December each year, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief when January begins. Such was the case again last week.
As I talked to my wife about this — and yes, she was wearing her new Galadriel-inspired necklace at the time — she said she thinks I may not be as bad at giving gifts as I think I am.
While she confirmed that, before the advent of the "Rings" years, my presents to her sometimes left a bit to be desired, she said that the "gifts" I give to my team members at work seem to be right on the money.
She wasn't referring to actual gifts in this case, but rather to the kinds of presents a manager can give on a daily basis. As I thought about her comment, I decided that I do at least try to give good management gifts.
So instead of offering up a list of New Year's resolutions for you to consider today, allow me to instead suggest some presents you can give your teammates, bosses or direct reports to get 2014 — or any year, really — off to a good start.
Precisely timed, specific and sincere praise. I've written before about the power of expressing gratitude to co-workers, and I'm still a huge believer in this. However, a random pat on the back, while nice, is not likely to have much impact. Instead, make note of your teammates' achievements, both large and small, and offer congratulations in a timely manner. Praise that is both specific and sincere is a wonderful gift to give and to receive.
Useful feedback. Even as people like to hear that they are appreciated, most also want to know when they're veering off track. As a manager or team leader, you have a great opportunity to give gentle nudges, in a positive way, and help projects come to fruition. Don't be afraid to offer constructive criticism when you know it will help a team member succeed.
Attention on a professional level. Every worker wants to feel like he or she is more than just another cog in the corporate machine. Show by your words and actions that you understand what your team members do each day and how hard they work to meet personal, team and company goals.
Attention on a personal level. Managers, especially, can bestow this gift. Take the time to get to know your team members. If you understand the pressures they face outside of the office, you may better comprehend how those stresses can affect their work. That means you'll be able to offer flexibility and understanding at the right times, building loyalty and improving your corporate culture.
Team-building activities. Sure, you need to get your work done, and frivolity at the office shouldn't derail productivity. However, the occasional fun activity — a movie outing, visit to a museum or catered lunch in the office, for example — can go a long way toward building personal bonds among team members. Such events also serve as a release valve when pressure is building, and even small activities can build large amounts of goodwill.
Opportunities to grow and progress. Most people don't want a job that never forces them to stretch their abilities or learn new things. Look for ways to keep your team members engaged by challenging them to develop new skills and take on new tasks. This may be the gift that keeps on giving if it allows them to earn merit raises or positions them for future promotions.
All of these presents can be provided at any time of the year, and in my experience, both the giver and receiver appreciate them.
Best of all, succeeding in this kind of gift-giving doesn't depend on hobbits, orcs or wizards on the silver screen.
(Speaking of that, do you think they would consider stretching "The Hobbit" into four movies if I asked nicely?)