Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)

Economic (241-260)

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Question: (E-241)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 31, 2006

"Pay attention to traits of women leaders"

Recently, on KSBW's "Feedback at Five with Theresa Wright" you discussed the leadership effectiveness of women. Are you suggesting that women are always better leaders than men?

No. But, men do need to pay attention to methods effective women employ. For example, how do women handle stress? My observation about female leaders: "When uncertain or perturbed, they keep their emotions not too disturbed. They think, act and move on." Men, in contrast, at least in too many instances: "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. Men tend to react and later resolve." Obviously stereotypes do not define the operating styles of all men or women. But, they do challenge one-dimensional leadership and suggest that intensity along with sensitivity is a prudent option.

Both women and men can be more effective leaders when they understand the value of different and complementary operating styles. The phrase "my way or the highway" sounds clever; but communicates a destructive rigidity. Being alert to constructive criticism can save many hours of debate and months of chaos. Men and women are capable of significant achievement - especially when they recognize that business knowledge without interpersonal skills can create destructive friction. Equally important is the awareness that comfortable working environments without leadership and management expertise can create nothing or chaos, or both. Combining business knowledge and interpersonal skills is the integrity-centered leadership combination for the future and the present. Those who incorporate different and complementary styles define legitimate 21st Century Leadership DNA.

21st Century Leadership DNA will enable men and women to exercise power and influence, incorporating traditional female attitudes and actions with the driving forces often attributed to their male counterparts. It is not about one or the other, it is about both. However, to make the point, let's focus on ten reasons why women are effective and find ways to incorporate what we can:

  1. Think of others, often first, facilitating communication with listening.
  2. Use "we" instead of "I" - especially when describing success.
  3. Show appreciation for the work of others, easily and often.
  4. Demonstrate respect for colleagues, avoiding "ego" shows and showing off.
  5. Trust others and share credit, assuming they have admirable motives.
  6. Accept differences of opinion and approach, listening for constructive alternatives.
  7. Be willing to work outside and inside the home -producing revenue and a safe-haven.
  8. Reach out and assist others, graciously, keeping the team moving forward.
  9. Seek to find common ground; resolving and not escalating routine conflict.
  10. Keeping their leadership wake smaller, not disrupting the efforts of others.
My mother said: "You don't have to yell to be heard; however, you do need to listen."

Question: (E-242)

"Justice and White-Collar Crimes"

What is the right amount of punishment for Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling who destroyed Enron, lost retirement funds for thousands of their own employees while they were stealing and hiding millions on their way to becoming incredibly wealthy? Some people get life in prison for committing a crime against one person. These two violated thousands and did harm to millions. What is fair?

"Enron-like" misbehavior has occurred in only a small percentage of corporations. While the media have highlighted, appropriately, the scams of WorldCom, Enron, Health South, and even though the list appears endless; it is not. Violations of trust must not be explained away and should not be justified. Fortunately, convicted white-collar criminals are serving time. Cheating in high-stakes business is carried out by those who suggest double-standards and preferential treatment. Their self-proclaimed superior life-style, flawed leadership and cunning intellect enabled them to test and violate economic, legal and yes, integrity standards. False pride fed arrogance that catapulted some of these criminals toward jail.

Will prison transform these big-time con-artists from manipulating marauders to honest individuals capable of leading others responsibly? Probably not! But, it seems that visible reminders are required to showcase and teach appropriate behaviors. One particularly despicable culprit claimed to have had a religious awakening during his trial and his jury bought his conversion story. The timing for his new-found piety appears suspiciously self-serving. Historically, societies seek scapegoats who become symbols of the importance of cleansing and purging of infected communities and organizations. Flagrant violators take the "hit" and their names become punch-lines when people gather to talk. The infamous embody corruption, visible reminders of what needed to be expunged. Is that punishment enough?

Even an imperfect justice system is responsible for "righting wrongs" - and that is happening. Laws provide a framework for crimes to be judged in ways that protect citizens. Confidence in the integrity of the justice system implies that human beings will ultimately hand out appropriate sentences, designed to discourage repeat offenders and intimidate copycats. And, until better laws are enacted, this might be the best that can be done.

Historically, some societies incorporated a little "wiggle room" - sometimes called a second chance or forgiveness - for those who violated socially-constructive principles. If perfection were the only acceptable behaviors, then who would survive? Leniency is more than a "nice" concept for judges to hand down. Graciousness prevents self-righteous and short-sighted power brokers from breaking the spirit of entire generations; some of whom may be flawed, but are still decent and worthy of re-education and another opportunity.

In the meantime, pre-meditated corporate thievery should be a ticket to jail. Judicial integrity determines how long.

Question: (E-243)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 14, 2006

"Balance power and integrity"

Where can one find individuals who effectively balance power with integrity?

Just about anywhere. In politics they are called statesmen, (more correctly, today, states-persons) willing to bridge partisan divides and work on behalf of everyone. In business they are icons of leadership, courage and social responsiveness. They seek to do well without leaving scorched earth and dead bodies behind them. They are clear about the mission of their work and are always aware of inevitable conflicts, that when dealt with properly, will not destroy the diverse fabric that is community, local or global. Power, wealth and fame seem to fall more easily upon gracious human beings. Those who see through the mirrors of narcissism and the parasites who are the "hangers on' - they wear their mantle of authority with ease. These mentors welcome opportunities to assist those who are still striving mightily to make sense of the process itself.

A senior executive, who recently attended our MBA Impact: Essentials workshop, on May 23, said that to his surprise - way too many folks he encounters are COWS. Cringing when he pronounced "COWS' - I asked what he meant? Immediately, he explained that C.O.W.S. stood for Concerned Only With Self. You have met these folks. They finish their 20-minute non-stop lecture on everything about themselves, their families and their hobbies. Then, they ask you what you think about them, their families and their hobbies. Sitting next to these folks on a long flight is painful. For them, it really is All About Me - or AAM as was this same executive's description of those who parade around in the name of teams, while really demanding the spotlight and the adulation. They are neither statesmen nor leaders. They are boors.

Taking COWS in a little different direction: have you been in an airport lately? People have begun to move around in jets so casually that some appear to have decided to travel in their underwear. And, they appear unconcerned if you are offended by their outlandish or provocative appearance - including their private tattoos that are now public. It is really a parade of COWS! Actually, they are more like preening peacocks - but, who can figure out what to say with the seven letters of p.e.a.c.o.c.k? So, the term of COWS works fine.

To be counted among those who exude power with integrity:

  • seek to understand before demanding to be understood
  • keep conversations focused on others; not self
  • congratulate and encourage verbally; including sending handwritten notes
  • communicate confidence in the future, with enthusiasm
  • assist those who will likely never be able to repay you

Power with integrity is predictably gracious. Are you?

Question: (E-244)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 21, 2006

"By listening, parents helped save the day"

Please tell us if what we did reflected integrity? Here is what happened and how we responded.

Our "special" son, now 19 was born with certain learning and behavioral challenges. We were advised early in his life to provide clear and nurturing limits along with medication that had downside risks. Hoping he might finish grade school, we were thrilled when he completed high school, able to play on the varsity tennis team! Wanting to share his success with friends and neighbors, we planned a graduation party for June 11, sending invitations in early May.

On Monday morning, May 22, at 3:00 a.m., I felt a tug, and it was our son, saying, "Mom, we need to talk about the party. Please call it off." I suggested that we talk at breakfast and he shook his head saying we needed to talk, now. So, we did.

He was uncomfortable with many of the people who were coming to the party. They were neighbors, friends and some of his peers. He wanted the party cancelled. Not wanting his accomplishment to go by without a celebration, I asked if he would tell us who he would invite. He agreed, creating his list. In the meantime, my husband and I contacted those we had invited, asked for their understanding, telling them the party was just for our son's close friends.

All of his invited guests came:

  • several of his classmates
  • the woman who cleans our home
  • the gentleman who sold him his car
  • a thoughtful crossing guard from years earlier
  • his former school bus driver
  • his barber
  • an assistant manager of a fast food restaurant
  • the high school librarian
  • our general contractor and two of his assistants who built our home - sometimes sharing part of their lunches with him
  • his neurologist's administrative assistant who was always polite
  • his fifth-grade teacher who helped him improve his reading and classroom behavior
  • and the list goes on

At the party that he orchestrated, he was confident and the perfect host introducing all of the guests. He blossomed, yet again. Most of his invited guests brought their families and smiles were seen everywhere. My husband and I beamed - for and with our son.

However, we did not keep our word to those original invited guests we cancelled. We violated the character definition. What do you think?

Yes, proud parents, you listened, took a few risks and created an environment that truly was directed to the person for whom the celebration was intended, your son. Sounds like you have a special family, in lots of ways - combining charity, graciousness and character to achieve integrity.

Question: (E-245)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 19, 2006

"Planning, integrity linked at hip"

You talk a great deal about how sound planning reflects integrity. Do you believe taking things as they come along and simply reacting lacks integrity?

Yes, way too often! Abdicating responsibility for substantive planning and timely preparation often puts valuable resources at risk, including time, energy, raw materials, individuals and teams. Inadequate planning is almost never constructive. Someone said that 99% of the time surprises are not good news - at least in business.

However, before launching into my too-often overly-zealous defense of planning, including being on time, allow me to poke some fun at me. A religious friend said: "If you want to see God laugh, share your plans." In truth, predicting the future, accurately, is impossible. A healthy amount of flexibility is prudent, but it does not excuse flagrant disregard for risky and dangerous situations. How about flying to Asia without a flight plan, adequate fuel, oxygen or water? Whether unprepared travelers out of money or mountain climbers without supplies; there are negative consequences for irresponsible actions. Even squirrels store acorns for unpredictable and rough times.

Certain personality-types love spontaneity because it allows them to leverage their creative problem-solving prowess to provide last-minute miracles, appearing - time after time - to have saved the day. Even though proper planning would have discounted many of their latest dramatic accomplishment, they appear reluctant to drink the glory. But, they do. Bosses, spouses, parents, children, friends, board members, politicians, social workers, and others on life's path know that "a firefighting society breeds arsonists." Thriving on recognition and rewards, these self-proclaimed superheroes do whatever it takes to secure recognition with their grand entrances, having sanctioned the very "fire" they can't wait to smother.

Children learn early that if they do not properly prepare (homework, managing money, etc.) then one or both parents will bail them out. Co-dependent behaviors thrive from the mutual benefits of poor planning: the need to be needed, allowing others to shrug responsibilities so that someone can maintain manipulative "last-minute" control.

Thankfully, integrity-centered leadership offers a constructive alternative:

  • differentiate work from play; choosing to plan for work, while enjoying play
  • communicate planning limitations and solicit expertise when necessary
  • implement according to mutually-accepted standards, in a timely way
  • resist the "firefighting" mentality by insisting on pro-active collaboration
  • challenge "arsonists" who encourage emergencies, suggesting that their methods are more often self-serving than organizationally-productive
  • recognize spontaneity as a legitimate source for happiness and celebration that brings value through creativity and integrity-centered relationships
  • remember, however, that being open to opportunities is not the same as ignoring leadership-planning responsibilities at home, work and community

Leadership integrity comes with a plan that remains open to change.

Question: (E-246)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 28, 2006

"Government practices don't violate integrity"

The government is tapping phone lines and monitoring internet activities; while roadside cameras spy as we drive. Are such practices violating integrity?

No! Current architects of rigorous intrusions into our lives are often the same individuals charged with increasing safety and security. The trend toward the "snooping" police state can be traced to selfishness: internet-bullies and cyber-clods, along with television hosts who exploit guests and viewers while exercising wholesale disregard for others' rights. Internet pedophiles seduce, rape, and murder children.

Terrorists use cellular phones to detonate bombs; indiscriminately killing combatants and civilians. Egotistical drivers turn scenic highways into killing fields with road rage. Reality-based television programs boil over into filthy language and fighting; ostensibly meeting a market demand for cesspool behavior.

It should be common knowledge that unless we operate with integrity, including self-regulation, society will demand increasing government oversight. When individuals choose to ignore constructive boundaries, then power-wielding authorities will carry-out intrusive monitoring to the cheers of many.

Disregard for others encourages the creeping hand of the intrusive police state; strangling freedoms previously taken for granted. Unfortunately, non-thinking individuals regularly trade freedom for security, at least, short term. Television program hosts Jerry Springer and Maury Povich have replaced conversation with screaming - lavishly rewarding a public behavioral model that now witnesses ten-year-olds using semi-automatic weapons to solve playground arguments.

Violence begins with an idea and ends with death and it must be stopped. Invasion of privacy, in the name of security, is a trend that will be difficult to change until society embraces self-regulating integrity-centered behaviors like character, openness, honesty, graciousness and civility.

Respect for others will displace a culture of "me first" when more individuals:

  1. Stop cheating at work and home:
    1. office computers are for work, not games; the telephone is for connecting with customers and prospects, not "chatting" with friends
    2. home is where "true partners" support one another, through thick and thin; honoring commitments of mutual-support and fidelity
  2. Police personal and business environments; monitoring and controlling guests who visit there. If you lock your doors before you leave home, then why not do the same with the televisions and computers that open your home to potentially hideous intruders?
  3. Refuse to lose the battle against cyber-punks who are perverting the global information highway's dream to provide universal internet access.
  4. Demand that public servants, elected and appointed, provide practical and immediate counsel and support to combat destructive activities - on streets, in neighborhoods, through television and the internet; and, yes, inside their own agencies.
  5. Support constructive values by being both responsible and pro-active; challenging destructive behaviors when and where they occur - promptly, clearly and graciously. 

Question: (E-247)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 5, 2006

"Generosity deserves thanks, not criticism"

A letter to the editor in the New York Times, 6-29-06, criticizes Warren Buffett for entrusting his billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, suggesting his monies would be better spent in the United States; not in Africa. What is your reaction to the suggestion?

Goofy! Warren Buffett has demonstrated in his selfless actions that charity and graciousness fit together in the life and legacy of a successful business leader. It was and is his money and he can do with that money what he chooses. Were he financing filthy movies, drug distribution networks, decadent lifestyles for subsequent generations of the idle rich - then criticism would be warranted. But, to turn over a life-time of wealth accumulation for the intention of raising the quality of life globally - beginning on the African continent is nothing short of world-class citizenry. Wags who criticize the generosity of others need to make their own dollars and distribute them as they choose, but responsibly, in culturally-constructive ways.

A few years ago, my wife and I made a number of modifications to our home. We liked the results and invited friends to stop by and see the changes. The very first guests mentioned that they thought we "should have" . . . and that was when we interrupted, saying: "Please do not say anything about any part of our remodel, except - - oooh! and ahhhh!" We reminded visitors that we were not interested in additional making additional improvement, certainly not just now. Had we wanted to do things differently, we would have set aside additional dollars to hire to finance more costly work-order changes."

Integrity recommendation: with your money, do as you choose, responsibly. If you do not like our remodel decisions, and how we choose to spend our money, then spend your money differently. We will not slam your dream house and expect the same gracious response in return. Our "house tours" are short and generally quiet - except for the mandatory "ooohs" and "ahhhhs."

The Buffett billions; being combined with the Gates billions; clearly and dramatically place impact above ego; modeling serious commitments to public service. These giants are teaching many people an effective way to leverage, in positive ways, wealth, power, status and influence. Doing good, after having done well, is an important part of the Buffett-Gates legacy that now becomes a constructive benchmark for what can be done with talent that creates riches.

Appreciatively and respectfully, it is time to offer a genuine thank you to those who give, not because they need their names in lights, but rather because they choose to provide light and hope for others, longer after they have lived.

Question: (E-248)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 12, 2006

"Options dating opens the door to abuse"

U.S. investigators are examining more than 50 companies' option granting practices, including back-dating and spring-loading options. Even though this is not illegal, yet, it seems to lack integrity.

Cheating investors confirms, again, a breakdown in the social contract that needs to exist between and among all stakeholders: customers, owners, investors, employees and government agencies. Manipulating options seems to be widespread. If it is not yet at the Enron and WorldCom level - soon we will learn how pervasive this option-cancer has spread? Backdating involves changing the grant date of a stock option from the day it was actually granted to an earlier date when the stock was trading at a lower price. Not fraudulent on its own, backdating may be considered fraud if the company granting the options does not properly disclose that it backdated the options.

Spring-loading is different from back-dating in that it is not retroactive. Rather, a company will set an option grant date and exercise price on a day shortly before the company intends to release news expected to boost the stock price. The stock options are immediately worth more because the exercise price is lower than the current share price. Spring-loading can involve insider trading violations, or trading on non-public material information to realize an unfair gain. Backdating can also lead to accounting fraud if a company does not properly record the difference as a compensation expense. Experts describe backdating as essentially giving the option holder free money because the options are immediately worth more.

Investors' faith in corporate accounting again is under siege. Over the last few months, 50 companies, and counting - most of them technology firms - have disclosed that they were under investigation by federal authorities for possibly manipulating executives' stock option grants to boost the potential payoffs. Even so, stocks of many tech firms have taken steep hits in recent months as the probes have been reported. With memories of 2002 still fresh, some investors appear to be selling first and asking questions later.

When businesses fail in their values, they decay from the inside. In the late 1990's, values came to be viewed as expensive and conservative relics of the old economy. Many of today's option-probes involve those granted before the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law. Prior to that, companies had 40 days after the grant date to file a Form 4 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reporting a stock option grant, giving a company a 40-day window to pick a grant date. Sarbanes-Oxley cut that reporting deadline to 48 hours.

Fattening the "pay packages" of a special few erodes public trust and investor confidence. Corporate leaders, "wake up" and exercise appropriate compensation integrity.

Question: (E-249)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 2, 2006

"Housekeeper needs to do right thing"

Our housekeeper, whom we employ through an agency, phoned earlier today, requesting for her workday to be postponed. She said that tomorrow she will call in "sick" to the agency and then come and work for us. She can help us to sidestep the agency's overhead fees, pocketing more for herself and even reducing what we need to pay for her time. What do you think? I have already said it was O.K.

How sad and how short-sighted! Dishonesty comes in many forms. Stealing and being an accessory to thievery are not integrity-centered activities. Many relationships have been tainted by this event - as you have described it, and more will be. Obviously, you did not consider the ramifications of saying yes.

  1. This worker is willing to cheat her current employer. What are the chances she will cheat you?
  2. Your decision to "go along" with this fraud communicates that you are willing to violate a contract between you and a supplier. What does this tell the employee about your loyalty and integrity?
  3. Your friends and neighbors, as well as members of your family, will learn, sooner or later, that you took advantage of a supplier. In this instance it is an agency that earns its fees by providing background information on employees and insurance as well as replacements when a worker cannot or does not show up at the appointed time.
  4. You have made a mistake. When this situation arose, there was an integrity-centered response, and you might have said: "We work with your agency. If you leave the agency, then we can discuss how we might work together, directly. However, we honor relationships, personal and professional, and you have now communicated that you do not. You must address this with the agency or you risk our continuing to work with you."
  5. What choice do you have now? Should you report the employee to the agency? Certainly you have now complicated your life with your decision to participate in the dishonest manipulation, having her work for you while cutting out the agency. Who can possibly come out of this without smelling badly?
  6. When you chose to "go along to get along" - you started a snowball down a steep hill. Ignoring courtesy, professionalism, integrity and simple rules of good business, you, the agency and an employee have now begun a slide down a value-violated ravine.

Cut your losses and stay with the agency; if they will still work with you. Nothing much good emerges from relationships built on lying, cheating and stealing - whether for a little or a lot. Integrity matters.

Question: (E-250)

"Zonking youth at Summer Camp"

Summer camps for youth, today, dispense values, skills and legal drugs prescribed by summer camp physicians who may not have conducted rigorous evaluations. This was reported by Jane Gross in Sunday's New York Times, 7-16-06, on the front page. Is this a good thing?

The ramifications of drugs in the human body can be scary, this according to a physician friend. He is frustrated by those who want instant solutions to complex physical and emotional problems - especially with young people. According to the New York Times article you referenced, Jane Gross states: "Some [summer camp] doctors, nurses and directors are uneasy about giving children so-called off-label drugs like lexapro and luvox. Such medications are used for depression and anxiety and have been tested only on adults, but can be legally prescribed to children." Parents know that adolescents are changing dramatically - physically, chemically and emotionally. Adding chemicals, not researched on youth, can be dangerous.

Here is what I have observed. Several years ago, my mother requested that we help her to relocate from the Midwest. She was in her early eighties. She had dealt with cancer and heart disease and knew that some of her frailties were complicated by decades of cigarette smoking. However, she remained alert, but had lost much of her energy; still wanting to maximize whatever time she had left. In 1995, at the time she moved west, her various physicians were directing her to take 38 pills per day - each addressing her multiple medical issues or countering chemical complications created by previously prescribed medications.

Shortly after arriving at her new home, she was assessed by a competent senior-citizen specialist, a gerontologist. Mom's new doctor reduced her pill usage from 38 to 4. Her mobility was still limited, but her former energy-levels re-surfaced. Her agile mind returned to solving cross-word puzzles. Enjoying irony and sharing her sense of humor enabled our family to engage again with the person and personality of our octogenarian mother. My conclusion: too much prescription-drug usage is harmful.

Regarding summer camps, young people and what parents might consider:

  1. Re-think the current trendy dependence upon prescription drugs.
  2. Research alternative methods for building confidence in youth, including parent and counselor tutoring, coaching, quiet walks and sports activities, including tennis or simply pitch-and-catch.
  3. Invest in summer camps that focus on relationships that nurture, teach and bring constructive discipline to bear, when and where appropriate. Love with limits, along with learning, can be guided with relationships instead of chemicals.
  4. Know about the risks and side effects of every pill being dispensed.
  5. Protect those who cannot protect themselves, especially children.

Parental integrity matters.

Question: (E-251)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 23, 2006

"If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em"

Lawsuits abound throughout the United States. What does this say about our society?

Relationships, or the lack of, are at the core of a lawsuit-crazed society. And lawyers did not create a litigious climate alone. Individuals hire attorneys to do their dirty work. And, why is this happening? Family, community, civility and social awareness are taking a beating. There was a time when society accepted responsibility for taking care of those who were unable to care for themselves. No more! When individuals, families, communities and nations become increasingly isolated from one another, culturally and economically, then rudeness and intolerance can prevail. Insensitivity leads to chaos in forms of road-rage, domestic violence and even global conflict. Without relationships then mutual respect disappears.

"Git 'er done" is a mantra of the blue-collar comedy tour. Out of time, pressured and frantic adults demand instant-everything, risking important relationships!

  • How frequently do today's families eat meals together; discussing common concerns that can strengthen the fragile family structure?
  • Soccer "moms" and coaching "dads" drive to endless events, often hurried. What are children learning from adults who preach follow the rules while violating speed laws with fuzz-busters and laser "neutralizers"?
  • Commercials now say that overweight people are not responsible for their condition! What or who are the external factors forcing individuals to eat fattening foods late at night?
  • The "on-demand" television culture enables the viewing of programs at individual convenience. No time-management planning required! Today's world revolves around "individuals"!
  • Technology and medical science have teamed up to provide instant-gratification. Products that only a few years ago would never have been discussed in polite company are now broadcast 24 hours a day. Chemical solutions for sexual dysfunctions are advertised by former candidates for President of the United States. Intimacy is now on the "clock" - having become for many a physical-biological transaction instead of a life-affirming relationship.
  • Phrases like "get to the bottom line" and "let's net this out, now" were common primarily in business transactions, but now have entered the realm of the personal. "Go girl" is short-hand for congratulations, best wishes and we are rooting for you. "High-fives" replace phrases like thank you for doing well for our team or we are really proud of you. It is efficient way to communicate, and you must accept it or you are not current.
  • Until crude and vicious language and actions are replaced by thoughtful communications and gracious behaviors, then isolation and frustration will generate even more litigation, tension and conflict.

Integrity-centered relationships involving graciousness will increase insights and understanding, while reducing the tremendous costs that are created by needless conflict between individuals, families and societies.

Question: (E-252)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 9, 2006

"Salad product recall was a proactive move"

Did you read about the voluntary recall of 30,000 packages of baby spinach and spring mix products that will cost a local company more than $500,000? Was that an integrity decision by the folks of Classic Salads?

Yes, the decision by leaders of a local agricultural business to "bite the bullet" and lose a half-million dollars was an expensive integrity decision. It is similar to actions taken by Johnson and Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, removing their product from store shelves because it might be tainted. Integrity is not the easy road. A few weeks ago, PepsiCo refused to participate in an offer to purchase, trade-secrets from their competitor, Coca-Cola. Decent people are making integrity-centered decisions of this kind, to do the right thing, millions of times, every day, all over the world. Some minority of operators will continue cutting corners, cheating customers and lying to suppliers. But, individuals with integrity and the longer-view of leadership will prevail, from the boardroom to loading dock.

In 1984, Phil Crosby wrote a book about quality explaining that positive and purposeful attitudes, from leaders to front-liners, along with systems that applied to everyone, can resolve quality problems. Perfection is not easy to achieve, but it must be the objective. And, when the decision-makers at Classic Salads learned that tests revealed some of their products might be contaminated by salmonella - they dumped their products. As Jim Bogart, President and General Counsel, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, said: "Processes are in place to protect the buying public. These procedures are used 24 hours per day and seven days a week. Holding our industry to an ever-improving set of standards, perfection, zero-defects, is the only goal." Jim underscored that the system worked, in this instance, underscoring that just one outbreak is one too many.

Lex Camany of Classic Salads was quoted: "Money wasn't the matter here. Food safety was the paramount issue." He went on to say that the decision to act might have waited a few more days until the tests were confirmed, but he and his colleagues decided not to take any chances.

From the Bracher Center website: "Integrity is one of several paths; it distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost." -- M.H. McKee. Integrity is congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did. Integrity is the strength, unity, clarity and purpose that upholds and sustains all of the activities of the enterprise. Integrity provides this stabilizing dimension by never, ever, compromising.

Agribusiness and integrity - in partnership - strengthen lives and communities!

Question: (E-253)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 16, 2006

"Postal employee fails customer service test"

Spent three frustrating hours at the local Post Office, dealing with a non-responsive employee! She has seen me - a regular customer - for many years and I have always been respectful. What happened to customer service? Do you know the right way to address such behavior?

Regarding quality service, it is too often an exception today and accounts for the public's eagerness to identify legendary service, almost anywhere, and reward it. Olympic gold medal winner, Bob Richards, said many years ago that it is easy to be great. He clarified that it takes so little to stand out in a world of pretenders and wannabes. His minimum standards were: walk a mile in less that 20 minutes, read three books a year and regularly support charities with time and money. Simple as this sounds, according to Richards, only a very small percentage of people ever accomplish all three. So, there you have it, laggards are everywhere in our society, and they have been with us for quite a while - including some who work at the post office.

Your recent frustrations with service from an employee at a United States Post Office confirm Richards' observations. From what you described, post office and service appear; in what one can only hope is an isolated situation, to be contradictory terms, an oxymoron, more like a deafening silence. When employees give the appearance of not caring about customers, behaving as if they have 100% job protection from those they serve - then customer relations suffer. When customer needs come across as unimportant and employees leave the service counter to "take their scheduled breaks" - even when the lines are long, public relations will take a beating. Private enterprises that treat customers this way will be driven out of business by customer-savvy competitors.

Suggestions for addressing unacceptable customer service:

  • Start with the local post office manager, seeking a constructive solution; and, if not satisfied, then. . .
  • Forward your complaint to your Congressional Representative, asking for assistance.
  • Expect responsible leaders to have pride in their work, wanting the very best for all customers; including government agencies.
  • Acknowledge your lack of understanding of the performance pressures and budget constraints of the post office.
  • Remind postal employees that they never need to "demonstrate their power over any customer" because they already have it. They control who gets mail - and that is power. The post office system delivers tremendous amounts of information, accurately, throughout the year. We need professional and energized postal employees and they need satisfied customers.

Remember, integrity, with respect and professionalism, is how business needs to be conducted - all the time.

Question: (E-254)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 18, 2006

"No excuses: Return phone calls"

How can responsible adults not return phone calls in a timely way? Arrogant and rude, such insensitive people irk me. Any suggestions?

No, because they upset me too! "Closing the loop" via phone, where possible, is courteous and professional, whether with family, friends, customers, suppliers, competitors or investors. It makes good sense, personally and professionally, to handle issues - positive or negative - thoughtfully, efficiently and graciously. Dial the number!

Excuses of those who procrastinate:

  • Too busy
  • Unable to reach consensus with colleagues and refuse to complicate follow-up communication with partial or incomplete responses
  • Afraid of hurting feelings by delivering bad news
  • Intimidated by potential for confrontation
  • Problem just might go away if ignored a little longer
  • Want to demonstrate to others that personal timetable will not be altered by the intrusive impatience of another
  • Not very concerned by what upsets others unless it causes personal problems
  • Believe no news is good news and others ought to feel the same

These explanations are seldom adequate for those who have not heard back. Silence or feelings of being ignored can generate powerful and negative emotional reactions, few of which are constructive or productive. When the "loop" is not closed appropriately, in a timely way, and deafening silence fills the empty space; Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt will Guarantee Exasperation. We call this the FUDGE factor. There can be legitimate reasons for delays in follow-up. But periodic updates, reassurances, even apologies for taking so long to resolve an issue can reduce stress. Connecting via phone often reduces the risks for demoralizing and destructive misunderstandings; helping to avoid costly conflict.

Dr. Donald C. Kleckner, a retired Navy officer, reminded me of wisdom he learned from his superiors. To prevent him from getting sideways with his colleagues, he was told to communicate, constantly or risk falling victim to: "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout." Having never captained a large Navy ship, but only a sailboat that was less than forty feet in length, the ocean (and life) can create intimidating circumstances making it is easy to feel anxious; wanting to share fears, loudly. But, smart-money says that clarity in communication, along with calm, are most effective.

Emails and voice messages resolve many communications issues. But, except for face-to-face meetings, there is no better technique for demonstrating responsiveness and genuine concern for others than with the telephone. Connecting can be cumbersome, playing time-consuming phone tag. However, such persistence at "closing the loop" builds confidence, confirms relationship-integrity, re-establishes trust and increases productivity (and probably profits as well). Returning phone calls promptly is integrity in action.

Question: (E-255)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 6, 2006

"Impatience, greed come at a price"

Cutting into lines has become routine at the grocery, post office and at the movie theater. What should be private cell-phone conversations are broadcast in hotel lobbies, airports and on public transportation. What has happened to social sensitivity and interpersonal integrity?

Some people, young and old, choose to behave like spoiled brats. They come across as impatient and greedy, way too often. They use lame excuses, or none at all, to barge ahead, being loud and obtrusive, irritating lots of others - on freeways, at eating establishments and in crowded places, including elevators. In this column, we have addressed selfishness, rudeness and that fact that one's ego is not really one's amigo. Whatever it is that drives counter-productive behaviors, the results are seldom positive. Tension and conflict are lurking; and not always just below the surface of frenetic individuals with frayed emotions.

Twenty years ago, a client asked me and our consulting company to summarize the mental and operational tendencies of managers most likely to succeed, longer-term. Executives - from both small and large companies - began to contract with our Monterey-based executive counseling firm, Dimension Five Consultants, to maximize their odds for hiring individuals most likely to thrive in an expanding management role. Our conclusions spawned the title for a book, which remains in our files, highlighting the derailing factors for those who would like to be effective leaders, but probably won't. The title we chose was: A lot! Now! & Cash! The key to understanding the title rests with knowing the right three questions to ask:

What do you want? A lot!
When do you want it? Now!
In what form would you like it? Cash!

Upwardly mobile managers possess a sense of proportion. They choose to earn rewards versus demanding them. Effective managers understand priorities; incorporating team achievement above individual accomplishment. And, they do not focus rigidly on pay; but meld economic needs with career fulfillment. Winners will not run roughshod over others; destroying morale and risking longer-terms organizational viability.

A forty-year shiner-of-shoes at the San Jose-Mineta Airport recently summarized the causes for the business scandals of the last several years. He had already provided keen observations about corporate leadership misbehaviors, both legal and moral, and the destructive economic trends they were fueling in earlier conversations with me. You may read about his insights in our 2004 book, Integrity Matters on pages 102 and 103. "Root causes of the corporate collapses and losses of pensions for hundreds and thousands of victims," Tom suggested, "were and are impatience and greed."

Integrity and leadership-effectiveness, including constructive citizenship, are not simply about immediate gratification and recognition; but also must include personal and professional fulfillment, longer-term.

Question: (E-256)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 30, 2006

"We need to make call to the Web police"

My personal and business emails are regularly clogged with unsolicited filth, spam and intrusive advertising. Viruses are a constant threat to slowing down; sometimes shutting down my internet access. Sick-minds are poisoning this wonderful technology. Who can help restore business and moral integrity to the worldwide web?

At this time, there is no global authority with the power and influence to control either the uses or abuses of the internet; therefore, only you can. It is an individual responsibility. The worldwide web stretches out before humanity as the next great frontier. Unfortunately, along side everyone already plugged-in to and committed to the internet's fantastic promise; there reside criminals, con-artists and ego-driven hackers who find pleasure and profit in messing-up this marvelous mechanism. Parasites and perverts have become difficult to differentiate from legitimate businesses. Pop ups, instead of encouraging purchases, have become computer-virus red flags.

Unless or until the internet users decide to self-police, unsavory characters (and businesses) will ride rough-shod over the unsuspecting. It should be common knowledge that free markets - and the internet and its users - must operate with integrity, a culture of compliance, or face increasing government oversight.

The good news is that anyone can access global information instantaneously; and that is also the bad news. Anyone with something to sell -whether legitimate, valuable, irrelevant, stolen, uplifting, filthy or frivolous - can reach out world-wide, with one keystroke. To combat the ambiguity of internet-driven communications, hundreds of "firewall" computer-security firms were created. As devious individuals refine their art-forms for gaining the mind-share of those who are "linked-in" on the web, so too do the security design-engineers battling perverse and time-wasting viruses and spam with ever-stronger firewalls.

Firewalls have helped protect computers in large companies for years. Now, they're a critical component of home networks, as well. In computing, a firewall is a piece of hardware and/or software which functions in a networked environment to prevent some communications forbidden by the security policy, analogous to the function of firewalls in building construction. A firewall has the basic task of controlling traffic between different zones of trust. Typical zones of trust include the Internet (a zone with no trust) and an internal network (a zone with high trust). The ultimate goal is to provide controlled connectivity between zones of differing trust levels through the enforcement of a security policy and connectivity model based on the least privilege principle.

In the meantime, protect your computer - along with your personal and professional life - with approptriate filters. Integrity, really the lack of, will cripple the worldwide web, perverting positive promise into nightmarish confusion.

Question: (E-257)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 13, 2006

"Marketers must take responsibility for their ads"

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) airs a commercial portraying a monster in a youngster's bedroom. The actor-father tells the child not to be afraid because PG&E lights will stay on. Hummer-vehicle advertises on television that drivers of their automobile can bully their way, anyplace and any time. Aren't such values despicable, even harmful for children and our culture?

Yes, using visual scare tactics, creating anxiety for children, is not as cute as it is cruel. PG&E has chosen to sell its brand inappropriately. During one of our public management workshops, titled MBA Impact: Essentials, I asked a participant - an educator - at what age a child grasps sarcasm and innuendo. Her response: "When they are juniors or seniors in high school." So, why would a marketing-savvy organization, like PG & E, risk upsetting thoughtful and caring parents, during prime time viewing, when there are other clever ways to communicate their message? Making children the "butt" of jokes is not appropriate and needs to be pulled from the airwaves, immediately.

The Hummer commercial is also troublesome. Selling an oversized highway-approved motorized steel vehicle as a weapon for retaliation is simply inappropriate. Those who are politically-correct already challenge the socially-unresponsive aspects of gas-guzzling vehicles. Why would successful marketers complicate social insensitivity by promoting rude behavior? Today, with violence and insensitivity on the rise among adults and children, encouraging any behavior other than kindness is not wise. Hummer advertisers need a more "civil" way to capture the attention of potential buyers.

Businesses and organizations with quality products and services (and legitimate brands) do not need to appeal to cruel and insensitive motives to be successful. PG&E and Hummer are not breaking laws, neither federal nor state; but, they are failing to leverage their best assets. They are not building on the constructive values created by the Bracher Center's Eight Attributes of an Integrity-Centered Company: Character, Honesty, Openness, Authority, Partnership, Performance, Charity and Graciousness.

  1. Organizations with integrity do not intentionally "poke fun" at children, of any age, who are our future hope.
  2. Using the PG&E monster commercial, should child care professionals (teachers or baby sitters) employ horror-language to intimidate youngsters in their care to do what they are told or fear encountering the gremlin from the closet?
  3. Social order is precious and fragile. What are the positive consequences for our daily lives when Hummer drivers are encouraged to use their vehicles as equalizers in battles for road supremacy and personal domination?
  4. Hummer advertising needs to find a different "hook" to attract buyers.

The integrity-response includes doing business with organizations whose espoused-values and observed-actions confirm respect for the world and its people - all the time.

Question: (E-258)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 20, 2006

"There is no excuse for rudeness"

While attending a silent auction, I was the top bidder on a piece of art, writing my name as the final count down was closing. A charity official was present, approving and certifying my offer. The person who lost was very upset and began to make a scene accusing me of cheating him. The rest of the night he followed my wife and me telling seemingly everyone how I had robbed and cheated him. We chose to ignore his antics and move on. Three day's later he called my wife at her business looking for me. I phone him and was called thief, rat, etc. He is a lawyer and his wife a member of the charity's board of directors. I assume he used his influence to obtain our personal information to continue harassing us. Two integrity questions: Do charities have any obligation to protect a donor's personal information? Have we become a nation of arrogant poor sports?

Yes, protecting donor privacy rights ought to be standard operating procedure. My advisor, a non-profit CEO, was very clear about organizational accountability, possibility liability, when she heard of your unpleasant encounter. She stated: "Other than reporting laws requiring record-keeping, information about donors is kept private unless specific consent has been given."

Discretion and professionalism are hallmarks of organizations that value donors. To underscore your desire to avoid any future unpleasant situations, let the charities of your choice know your expectations, up front, in writing.

Arrogant poor sports are not unique to charitable events. Bullies can be male or female, young or old. Unfortunately, our frequently overly-tolerant society rewards those who intimidate with disproportionately-high amounts of pleasure, wealth, fame and power. Your circumstances were complicated, so it appears, by the immature response of an angry male who brought testosterone to the scene, making a simple disappointment into a challenge to his macho identity. His abusive tactics demonstrated no integrity.

Ugly behaviors, like what you described, occur way too often. Good-hearted individuals want to give and enjoy seeing and feeling the impact of their generosity. Making sure all participants know how to behave supportively and graciously in public events is a positive step. Erosion of civil behavior, even when folks are decked-out in their finery, will soil the most elegant of events; besmirching the image of the charity being supported. Children are (or at least used to be) disciplined when they did not play well with others. Sounds like your "fellow- bidder" left his manners at home and needs a "good talking to" - soon.

Leaders of integrity-centered organizations, including charities, establish and enforce clear donation and bidding rules; motivating and retaining valuable supporters.

Question: (E-259)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 27, 2006

"Terminated workers deserve better than e-mail notice"

RadioShack laid off 400 employees by email in Ft. Worth, Texas, in August, 2006. Is that leadership with integrity?

Treating human beings like inventory, to be hired used and, when no longer needed, insensitively dismissed, is unprofessional and demonstrates a lack of leadership integrity.

How can electronic employee job terminations be justified? If there were an award for being totally insensitive, RadioShack's recent human resources actions would put them near the top. Making decisions about profit objectives and personnel needs is the responsibility of those in charge. How those actions are carried out communicates the quality and integrity of leadership. Such callousness about people is an image that will stick with RadioShack for a long time; probably discouraging all but the most desperate from ever applying to work there.

What is even more fascinating than the hideous decision to terminate 400 jobs electronically was the pathetic implementation process provided by those in Human Resources. After calling the employees to an all-hands meeting; alerting attendees that lay-offs would be announced online, those in Human Resources suggested that any questions be communicated on RadioShack's intranet site. Just a few days later, those in HR sent this email message: "The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

For those who behave like time is more important than people, such methods appear appropriate. RadioShack senior management has disconnected trust with communication. Three minutes per person might not be sufficient for an exit announcement, but basic decency should suggest that the human touch is essential. The report about the tenure of some who were laid off suggests many were longtime employees.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. downturns in income often reflect poor leadership, including failed strategies and inadequate contingency planning - yes, emergencies and catastrophes do occur, but, even then, proper prior planning prevents pathetically poor performance.
  2. wise leaders find ways of spreading the pain throughout the organization, top to bottom, retaining valued employees, even if that means reducing working hours, salaries and benefits.
  3. valued employees will appreciate these constructive, supportive and alternative efforts by management to protect everyone. They will have been informed about all of the issues that caused the crisis. Such candidness and fairness can increase loyalty and commitment to the organization and its mission.
  4. challenges are opportunities to galvanize individuals and teams - when integrity-centered organizational attributes are perceived in how leaders operate with character, honesty, openness, authority, partnership, performance, charity and graciousness.
  5. Leadership with integrity relies on continuous, open, forthright, personalized communication. Hiding behind HR-created tactics, including impersonal emails, does not qualify.

Doing what is right (integrity) can lead to doing well.

Question: (E-260)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 5, 2006

"Traffic citations part of police work"

Salinas police officers make thousands of traffic stops, ticketing many decent people. Shouldn't cops spend more time on serious problems like robbery, domestic violence and murder?

Police officers issue citations to many "decent folks" who violate traffic laws.

Tickets save lives. When mostly well-behaving citizens break traffic laws, thousands of times per year, they prevent peace officers from other criminal pursuits. The Police Department exists to serve the community by protecting life and property, preventing crime, enforcing the law and maintaining order for all citizens.

Here are some facts about the impacts of poor driving you may not know:

  • Auto accident deaths decline in direct proportion to the number of tickets written for moving violations.
  • Causing injury or death while driving under the influence is the most commonly committed violent crime in our society.
  • Nationwide, 13,000 deaths are caused each year directly related to alcohol and automobile crashes. Thirty-six people die each day, and tens of thousands of lives are scarred for life.
  • Locally, $1 million dollars of the Salinas Police Department's $33 million budget is devoted to dealing with traffic violators.

    The department could save three-quarters of this money if drivers exhibited more common courtesy and self-discipline. That $750,000 saved could deploy seven additional officers into critical-need areas, immediately.

Here are some ways you can help peace officers better utilize their time:

  • Abide by speed limits - all the time.
  • Park in appropriate and legal areas - not handicapped zones.
  • Stop at stop signs; not simply pausing and rolling on.
  • Slow down instead of speeding through yellow lights.
  • Allow others to move ahead when merging, giving way graciously.
  • Keep alcohol separated from driving.
  • Use a designated driver or call a taxi when driving skills might be impaired.
  • Cease with lame excuses when pulled over, such as "I only intended to be in there for a minute," "There was no one coming, so it seemed a silly waste of time to sit there," "I didn't hurt anyone," "I was running late," and ... Blah, blah, blah.
    Make driving a focused activity.
How can a driver concentrate on traffic when talking on the phone - socially or closing a deal, listening to the radio, responding to an e-mail or instant messaging, drinking a soda, trimming fingernails, arguing with a passenger, applying mascara and smoking? And, people do all of this when they should be observing oncoming and merging traffic, pedestrians and animals!

Obeying traffic laws is an individual act of police-partnership integrity.

Drivers who exercise self-discipline and graciousness free up the time of peace officers to fulfill their mission: "Working in partnership with the people of Salinas to enhance the quality of life through the delivery of professional, superior and compassionate police services to the community."

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