Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)

Economic (261-280)

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Question: (E-261)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 11, 2006

"High school senior demonstrates problem solving skills"

Our son, a high-school senior, arrived home early last Friday evening from a classmate's party. It was 8:00 p.m. and I asked if he was O.K. He said he became uncomfortable when the parents hosting the party began passing out liquor. Are they crazy?

Contributing to the delinquency of minors may not have been on their minds, but a police officer and judge might sharpen their understanding. These party-hosting parents abdicated their responsibilities. Thoughtless and insecure adults, wanting to be "pals" of their children rationalize providing under-age youth with illegal substances. They should be stopped before innocent lives are lost.

How wonderful that you have equipped your son with problem-solving skills, integrity and common-sense, enabling him to exit a potentially-explosive situation appropriately. Growing up is tough enough for adolescents without having destructive temptations provided by neighbors, friends or parents. Society has a criminal element that dispenses illegal drugs, uses the internet to seduce and misguide youth - but parents from your own community?

Another "unfaired-against" group needs its own Bill of Rights. Your description of two misguided parents suggests some adolescents deserve protection from immature adults, regardless of their biological connections.

Jim Bracher's Adolescent Bill of Rights

  1. Parents are not pals and peers. They are the source of life and values. Resistance to parental authority is not as much personal as hormonal. Adolescent conflicts can be resolved by legitimate parental moral authority, when parents serve as role models. Responsible parents distinguish right from wrong, operating as mature adults in order to provide authoritative perspective.
  2. Trust in healthy relationships is a by-product of constructive behaviors, consistently demonstrated. Mistakes are occasions for learning. Glossing over negligence, rudeness and irresponsibility will not accelerate growth. Without guidance and discipline, adolescents are doomed to immaturity, mediocrity and disappointment.
  3. Respect is earned by parent and child and is sustained through listening and mutual support. When feelings are hurt, apologies and forgiveness must remain the relationship's centerpiece, encouraging give-and-take.
  4. Independence comes after dependence and inter-dependence have been mastered. Demanding independence too soon is naïve, especially when precipitated by anger and frustration. Neither parental-abdication nor smothering-control creates confident adolescents. Autonomy emerges one successful step at a time, requiring knowledge and practice, coaching and refinement.
  5. Reassurance is not always agreeing with or bragging about the actions of a young-adult. But, building confidence and character does involve listening, and when necessary, challenging thoughts and actions. Responsible parental love includes limits. Limits are the grounding principles that clarify direction, encouraging risk and maturation.

Adults and parents, in addition to nurturing and protecting adolescents, please:

  • Hold them accountable.
  • Help them grow and mature.
  • Encourage them to become their own person.

Question: (E-262)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 15, 2006

"Forgotten words: 'Please, 'thank you,' 'I'm sorry'"

A former Florida Congressman, disgraced by his own documented pedophile behaviors, is now blaming alcohol and even his former priest. Who still accepts responsibility for what they have done?

Fortunately, lots of people do. They are the keepers of values and the stewards of social constraints who hold-up "accountability-mirrors" for themselves, other individuals, families, communities and society. They are not judges of others so much as imperfect role models, still in development. They know that responsible individuals and organizations operate with integrity, a culture of constructive compliance, or risk destroying society. They regularly use words like: "Please" "Thank you" and, "I am sorry, I made a mistake." They follow-through with friends, family members and clients using language, including: "How might we fix the problem?" and "You can be sure that neither I nor our organization will let that happen again." They know the truth of these two-letter words: "If it is to be, it is up to me." And before they rush to condemn others, they strive to transform themselves.

However, a no-fault culture breeds irresponsibility. Without accountability, why be concerned with self-regulation or integrity? How else can one account for escalating alcohol abuse, reckless driving, road rage, domestic violence, filthy language or any host of culture-destroying activities? Marriages, parenting, jobs, careers and friendships are too frequently treated like disposable paper napkins; temporary conveniences. The expression "serial marriage" was created to describe those willing to replace serious relationships with superficial transactions, over and over. The phrase "it is not my job" is a painful reminder of the legalistic extremes to which some members of society are willing to go to sidestep accountability when a task in front of them lies outside their specific job description. The image of the smoked-filled backroom of wheeling and dealing spawned a power-broker political mantra that lives on: "to get along, go along." The counter-culture slogan of the 1960's of "turn on, tune in and drop out" has been displaced today with "stay aloof, let it go and cop out."

Without accountability and integrity, chaos reigns and civilization deteriorates. Rudeness leads to violence, destroying community which depends upon mutual respect and trust. A long time ago, a Member of England's Parliament, William Wilberforce, spent 30 years to pass the 1807 law that ended English slave-trade. His success paved the way for the abolition of slavery in the United States through the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln took responsibility for changing a society, for the better, and later paid for his courage, stopping an assassin's bullet. Lincoln's integrity was exhibited in his willingness to step forward and deal with both praise and blame. As an integrity-centered leader, he was accountable.

Question: (E-263)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 25, 2006

"Always protect the children"

Children are being sexually abused in alarming numbers. As caring and responsible adults, how can we learn to identify predators before they do harm?

Substantive television programs and newspaper stories have given important and legitimate focus to this unspeakable crime against youth. Those afflicted with whatever sickness that enables them to violate young people, including infants, must be identified, isolated, treated and, if necessary, incarcerated. The eyes and ears of a caring public must be trained to identify the "child abuse" signs, early, and initiate protective responses.

Here are 23 Signs and Cautions of Sexual Abuse of Minors as researched and compiled by Gerald Coleman, a Roman Catholic priest, whose announced-goal is to upgrade the process of identifying anyone who might further disgrace society and the Roman Catholic Church.

These 11 "Warning Signs" apply to potential abusers who might be targeting young people. Not designed as blanket indictments for anyone who displays affection for and with children; nonetheless, they clearly alert responsible adults to pay attention to the integrity of the environments provided to children.

When you feel that an adult or older youth:

  1. Finds reasons to spend time with minors.
  2. Prefers time with minors to time with peers.
  3. Gives gifts to minors, especially without permission.
  4. Goes overboard with physical contact with minors.
  5. Wants to wrestle or tickle minors.
  6. Shows favoritism toward minors.
  7. Treats minors like equals.
  8. Keeps secrets with minors.
  9. Ignores policies about interacting with minors.
  10. Uses inappropriate language with minors.
  11. Tells off-color jokes to minors.

Be on the alert to an additional 12 risks to children related to inappropriate displays of intimacy:

  1. Any form of unwanted affection.
  2. Frontal hugs or bear hugs.
  3. Touching bottom, chests or genital areas.
  4. Laying down or sleeping with minors.
  5. Massages.
  6. Patting children on the thigh, knee or leg.
  7. Tickling or wrestling.
  8. Touching or hugging from behind.
  9. Games involving inappropriate touching.
  10. Kisses on the mouth.
  11. Showing affection in isolated places, for example, bedroom, closets, restricted areas.
  12. Compliments that relate to physique or body development.

Children may or may not know what feels right to them - but a caring and observant adult can protect them. When uncertain of the motives of those exhibiting any of these 23 Signs and Cautions - consider these actions:

  1. Remove accused perpetrator, immediately.
  2. Clarify concerns to alleged perpetrator, privately.
  3. Reassure child.
  4. Investigate and seek advice from authorities, including the police.
  5. Stay alert and maintain an integrity-centered environment for all children, making sure the individual or agency providing care for your child conducts background checks.
    • Conduct random unscheduled check-ins on providers
    • Keep internet access in public areas
    • Install discreet surveillance cameras

Responsible and caring adults protect those unable to protect themselves because it is the right thing to do.

Question: (E-264)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 1, 2006

"Skilling's sentence falls short of delivering justice"

Jeff Skilling will spend his next 24 years in prison. He stole hundreds of millions of dollars for himself while costing Enron's employees and investors billions. Do you read Skilling's incarceration as justice?

Justice is defined as fairness, evenhandedness, honesty and integrity. Is it possible to "make things right" for all who were harmed by the slick-operating criminals at the top levels at Enron? Probably not! Justice is unlikely given those parameters. And, even though Ken Lay's curiously-timed death prevented him from serving a lengthy jail sentence. Others who were involved with him will spend time in prison. The real harm that has been done is separate from the penalties to be paid. To some degree, those who are hearing prison doors slam shut are reminders to others that legitimate business priorities need to take center stage or integrity will suffocate.

Companies built to last are different from those simply created to generate immediate returns to financial wizards. Enron turned out to be a giant shell game, a scheme to fleece lots of stakeholders, with seemingly little concern for the future. Too many magicians of money have risen to positions of power, wielding influence but little wisdom. It is time for a change! So, let's look beyond U. S. borders, and see others doing what we affectionately remember as the way it was "way back then." Or, from a movie, Field of Dreams, "remembering what once was good and could be good again."

Successful 61-year-old entrepreneur from India, N. R. Narayana Murthy was quoted on September 20, 2006, in the Wall Street Journal: "Great companies that are built to last hundreds of years require a foundation that goes beyond revenues, profits and market capitalization. He even refers to Gandhi's maxim: "be the change in the world you want to see."

For organizations to achieve longevity and impact, they:

  1. Reach out to society and build goodwill -providing opportunities regardless of social and economic circumstance.
  2. Strive for operational transparency because the softest pillow is a clear conscience.
  3. Establish and communicate values:
    1. Listen to ideas of others, especially from younger people
    2. Maintain meritocracy with competition and courtesy
    3. Benchmark against competitors, continuously improving - speed, accuracy, profitability
    4. Continue to develop better ideas
    5. Maintain pressure to implement with ever-higher performance levels
  1. Lead by raising the aspirations regarding products, services and quality of life.
  2. Design work to capitalize on multiple levels of capabilities.
  3. Embrace a global economic system with production machinery that leverages technology and communication, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
  4. Hold fast to fundamental values and remain vibrant.

Integrity suggests we can "be the change in the world we want to see."

Question: (E-265)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 8, 2006

"Pay gap continues to widen"

CEO compensation packages now run as much as a 1000 times what front-line employees make. Will such inequities destroy whatever is left of the trust that needs to exist between labor and management?

Yes, because short-sighted members of corporate board's compensation committees repeatedly send demoralizing signals to the rank-and-file. Frontline employees feel relegated to second or even third class slot-fillers, asked to accept minimum cost-of-living-increases and nod acceptingly while those in corner offices reap giant stock-options and bonuses. Simply blaming an executive for taking the fat pay package is to miss identifying those truly to blame. After all, who sanctions these packages? The members of the board of directors! The same workers who resent the disparities in pay are forced to pay ever-higher prices for products and services that have been intentionally inflated by irresponsible corporate board members, who overpay rock-star executives.

The fascinating facts about these fashionable and culturally-acceptable high-pay practices are that these approaches to business leadership are not what the best of the best do. Case in point is the research that is presented in Jason Jennings 2005 book: THINK BIG - ACT SMALL - How America's Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-Up Spirit Alive. The Jennings research team screened more than 100,000 American companies to find nine that rarely end up on magazine covers, yet have increased revenues and profits by 10 percent or more for ten consecutive years. Then they interviewed the leaders, workers and customers of these quiet superstars to find the secrets, the building blocks, of their astonishingly consistent and profitable growth.

America's Nine Best Performing Companies: Cabela's, Sidney, Nebraska; Dot Foods, Mount Sterling, Illinois; Koch Industries, Wichita, Kansas; Medline Industries, Mundelein, Illinois; O'Reilly Automotive, Springfield, Missouri; PETCO Animal Supplies, San Diego, California; SAS Institute, Cary, Carolina; Sonic Drive-In, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and, Strayer Education, Arlington, Virginia

Of the ten building block secrets, humility was first listed, because it was and is the most important. Here are the other nine, after down to earth and humble: Keep your hands dirty; Make short-term goals and long-term horizons; Let go; Have everyone think and act like an owner; Invent new businesses; Create win-win solutions; Choose your competitors; Build communities; and Grow future leaders from within. To contrast these world-class performers with flashy pretenders, consider these operating aspects of first building block: Down to Earth, Humble:

  • Stewardship - respect and protect resources
  • Transparency - information availability
  • Accessibility - visible, attentive, respective
  • Work Ethic - lead by example, offering praise
  • Stand for Something - mission beyond self-interest
  • Erase Superficial Distinctions - everyone is important
  • No Big Offices - stay humble

Trust is built with integrity in small and large enterprises!

Question: (E-266)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on December 13, 2006

"Micromanager undermines service"

Just had an evening out at a top-rated restaurant and left unsatisfied, embarrassed and upset. The waiters were great, but the supervisor's behavior was awful. Intimidating a staff that knows more about people than he will likely ever learn, he created a level of anxiety among his most important resources, his people. Before he arrived they were relaxed and friendly. Around him they acted like robots. To make matters worse, the food was mediocre and I am not sure I will ever go back. Am I complaining about an integrity issue?

Micro-managing bosses can mess up a good thing - in a restaurant, an office, with sports teams, and just about anywhere that communications, trust and mutual-support are important to success. These three interconnected leadership factors are critical everywhere.

Obviously, you were expecting top-level service and exquisite food and received neither. You are describing a disconnect between what this high-end establishment has provided in the past and what you likely paid for, yet again, but did not receive. Something has changed in the way the organization - in this instance, a restaurant - delivers its service. Expensive mediocrity is unacceptable.

Your positive description of the service staff indicates that they are not the problem. So, with no more data, the evidence points to an ineffective supervisor - who might lack interpersonal skills as well as insights into differentiating between price and value. The word cheap comes to mind. When unskilled and ineffective managers fail to distinguish between costs from investments, they will tend to make unwise decisions. The manager of this fancy restaurant is trying to generate short-term profits. His operating style might ultimately create customer-relationship disasters that will do more harm than good, down the road. Disappointing customers violates the first Integrity-Centered Attribute: character, which demands consistency between word and deed.

My suggestion is to clarify your disappointment with those in charge and if you do not receive a professional and gracious response, then take your restaurant dollars elsewhere.

In contrast to your recent experience with poor customer service, note how two Monterey-based United Express employees, Judy Hamilton and Eric Deberdt, dealt with a customer issue. When they learned that a couple's ticket to Iowa was somehow "lost" in the black-hole of computer space, they teamed up, finding the solution, quickly. The already-distraught travelers were leaving home to attend a memorial service; and were grief-stricken. They did not need to be advised or accused, as is sometimes the case for travelers, that something in their ticketing process had been recorded incorrectly. Two customer-service professionals recognized a need and filled it. Judy and Eric chose professionalism and graciousness - because integrity matters.

Question: (E-267)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on December 9, 2006

"Greatness requires much hard work over many years"

Is the pursuit of excellence about integrity? And if I am not great, does that mean I lack integrity?

Greatness and integrity are reflected in how individuals operate. Not everyone is wired for super-stardom and greatness but all people can exude integrity and excellence by consistently matching their words with their deeds. For those with tremendous talent, the pursuit of excellence is about relentless improvement. Greatness is achieved through an enormous amount of hard work over many years. The October 30, 2006, issue of Fortune Magazine's, Secrets of Greatness (pages 88-96): states that talent has little to do with greatness. Talent is an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well; it is not simply intelligence, motivation or personality traits. Most accomplished people need ten years of hard work before becoming world-class; in some fields like music and literature, elite performers require 20 or 30 years to reach their peak.

Deliberate practice is intentional, focused and measured continuously. Elite performers practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends. In a study of 20-year-old violinists, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next- best averaged 7,500 hours and the next, 5,000. It's the same story in surgery, insurance sales and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance.

Vladimir Horowitz is credited with having said: "If I do not practice for a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't practice for three day, the world knows it."

High performing business leaders deliberately practice presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements, making judgments and decisions with incomplete information, writing reports, interacting with people and soliciting information. Chairing a board meeting requires an in-depth understanding of the enterprise's strategy and a coherent view of the coming market changes. What is done at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill. Asking for feedback is the first step toward achieving excellence.

Feedback is crucial, and getting it should be no problem in business. Yet only the most effective leaders seek it rather than wait for it, half hoping it won't come. Without accurate feedback, as Goldman Sachs leadership-development chief, Steve Kerr says, "It's as if you're bowling through a curtain that comes down to knee level. If you don't know how successful you are, two things happen: One, you don't get any better, and two, you stop caring." Perseverance and intentional-practice create opportunities for excellence. Integrity, along side greatness, incorporates self-discipline, sacrifice and dedication.

Question: (E-268)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 29, 2006

"Traditional writing losing out to Internet shorthand"

Are you concerned that Internet "short-hand" is doing harm to spelling accuracy, writing quality and the integrity of language?

Yes. Cute abbreviations are simply that, cute. However, when a generation replaces established writing standards with instant-massaging protocols - folks who have not studied the new language patterns will be even more confused. Talking to one another using clever short-hand, created by insiders for other insiders, like jive and pigeon, may be acceptable in a certain "in-the- know" circles, but, the world still depends upon universal language patterns and practices. Saying someone is "bad" - but really meaning that they are talented, attractive and accomplished can be confusing. A traditional way of writing an email is this: "You are to be at our offices for an interview at 8:30 AM, to discuss a position, salary and start date." A more contemporary method might look like this: "U R 2 B @ Corp. 4 8.5 AM tlk re:jb, $ and Git-Go."

There is nothing wrong with either method; however, only the naïve assume that all patterns of communication are clear. Furthermore, without the rigors required for mastering spelling, syntax and language structure, there is no baseline from which to build direction and accountability. It would not be appropriate to take the pressure off, simply sounding out each word using phonetics - or maybe just call them fonetiks!

Many years ago, the word "super" was the cliché of the day. If someone asked you how you felt, the answer was: super. How was the movie, your dinner, vacation, birthday present, parent-teacher conference, new home, golf game, fishing trip, and on and on? Always, SUPER! And, to add insult to the situation, decision-makers of the National Football League, in their effort to properly title the Professional American Football Championship, elected to call their title game the Superbowl.

Other terms and phrases which have been and are over-used, even abused: totally, passion, cool, the cats pajamas (this one documents your age), empower, really, are you serious, bitchin' (from the 1960's) and you can add to the list. These "hot and relevant" words pepper what otherwise would be intelligent conversation. They become "throw-away" terms and fail to add meaning because they are used indiscriminately.

Another word is "goes" - and it has become the verb of choice for those not listening to their speech. Instead of he said that he was going to be late for the meeting - the new-age linguists say: "And he goes, I'll be late." Goes becomes the catch-all, and makes the speaker sound like a gum-chewing, air-head with no awareness that nouns and verbs are to be taken seriously. The word goes is not the same as mentioning that another person: said, suggested, challenged, confronted, encouraged, offered, sobbed, and lamented. Precise language is more effective and needs to taught, modeled and monitored by those guiding the next generation: teachers, parents and those in the public. Simply saying that "He goes" reflects poor language habits and enables the lazy and casual to wallow in their shallowness.

Language discipline and precision are the windows into the operational integrity of a culture. Short-hand dialogue and clichés are useful, but only insofar as they do not violate the integrity of communications, interpersonally, professionally and on the Internet.

Question: (E-269)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 22, 2006

"Thanksgiving has much meaning"

Thanksgiving seems to me to have become little more than the day before the launch of Christmas shopping, the biggest retail day of the year. How did our society lose the integrity of the day originally set aside, in the early 1600's by the Pilgrims? They paused for humble appreciation? What ought one do on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Day is an annual one-day holiday to give thanks (traditionally to God) at the close of the harvest season, officially started in 1621. In the middle of the American Civil War, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the next-to-last Thursday of November. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression. This seems to be how we arrived at where we are.

My recommendation is to enjoy a good meal with family and friends. Include time to offer thanksgiving for some or all of the following:

  • opportunities to live and prosper in a society with the freedoms and life-affirming principles forged by complicated and committed citizens who, nearly 250 years ago, formulated the Constitution and Bill of Rights?
  • friends and family who care and support you, even with their full knowledge of your imperfections?
  • faith you have the spiritual truths that feed your mind and soul?
  • health and safety professionals including doctors, dentists, nurses, medical support personnel, officers of the law, emergency personnel, including fire-fighters, those from the military who risk their lives without complaint, and public servants who labor on behalf of so very many who are unable to protect themselves?
  • teachers and professors, from pre-school to graduate -level, who transfer essential cultural building blocks and inspire intellectual breakthroughs that propel society along positive and constructive pathways?
  • hospitality workers who clean rooms, wash dishes, garden, do laundry, park cars, maintain sidewalks and offer a pleasant respite from the demands of everyday living?
  • artists, actors, entertainers and musicians, on stage, in concerts and films, including television, theater and radio, who provide renewal through stimulating diversion and creative escape?
  • sports figures who demonstrate the benefits of sacrifice, hard work and teamwork?
  • your parents - living and dead - for having brought you into the world?
  • mentors who have taught important lessons for life and success?
  • your body and its organs which enable you to breathe, listen, understand, speak, communicate, and offer integrity-centered thanksgiving?

Question: (E-270)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on December 20, 2006

"Resolve to keep your New Year's resolutions"

New Year's Resolutions are made, only to be broken, time and time again. According to the Bracher Center's definition of character, consistency between word and deed, those who fail to follow through on promises are not exhibiting integrity. Any comments?

Yes, having been guilty of over-zealousness regarding New Year's commitments, many times, it is now time for me to ask for some understanding, tolerance and patience. The end of one year reminds individuals that very soon they can start fresh, a new beginning, and fix; or at least address, whatever character or behavior flaws they have been tolerating. As another year comes to an end, January 1 becomes the symbolic birthday of new hope.

So, what can one do, now, to get ready for fulfilling promises that have been made before, and not kept? Start by setting realistic goals, sharing them with friends and asking for support, periodically.

What might be the wisest plan to monitor progress along the way so that milestones will become beacons of hope on the path to?

  • losing weight
  • stopping smoking
  • throwing fewer golf clubs
  • offering genuine praise and encouragement more often
  • being more patient with slow drivers
  • not interrupting
  • protecting time for family conversations
  • regular exercise
  • reading thoughtful materials - and reflecting on them
  • ignoring rules of the road with speeding and running stop signs
  • reaching out to friends, and even ex-friends, to show concern and forgiveness
  • being gracious when frustrations and disappointments make it difficult
  • finding something positive to say about topics, individuals, other cultures
  • showing gratitude for the multiple opportunities - personally and spiritually

Measuring success, the keeping of promises, is about understanding the race between the tortoise and the hare. Steady progress usually wins the day. Always, persistence is the key. And, knowing where to turn for assistance can mean the difference between accomplishment and defeat. Few individuals really do go it alone; rather, they rely on friends to be the cheering squad, the ever-present conscience along the way, signaling when promises are being kept, ignored or broken. Fulfilling promises may not take a village, but a supportive network can make a big difference.

So, how does one prepare for honoring and fulfilling New Year's Resolutions for 2007?

  • Assume, once again, that possibilities are alive, in many aspects of life.
  • Remember that all journeys, great and small, begin with the first step.
  • Share your New Year's Resolutions, in writing, with those closest to you.
  • Commit necessary resources for being "better"; - including time and energy.

Allow for occasional slippage, and double efforts to regain momentum.

Question: (E-271)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 3, 2007

"Gerald Ford lived a life of integrity"

On February 1 and 2, 1990, my wife, Jane and I hosted President Ford, in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of our Monterey-based leadership development firm, Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. Twenty-five of our clients, senior executives from around the United States, accepted our invitation to participate in a two-day "Talking with Leaders" Symposium. We wanted to bring in a guest who had dealt with hard issues and would be willing to share his wisdom, engaging attendees. President Ford fulfilled our expectations, and more.

We selected him because, according to James Cannon, a White House aide to Ford, in an essay recalling that tumultuous time: " . . . when the embattled President, Richard M. Nixon, was finally engulfed by the Watergate scandal and forced to resign himself, it was the unimposing 'gentleman from Michigan' who inherited the leadership of a deeply troubled nation. More than any other president of this century, Ford was chosen for his integrity and trustworthiness: his peers in Congress put him in the White House because he told the truth and kept his word."

For two days, a gracious and thoughtful President Ford confirmed that he fully grasped the issues that surrounded his complicated presidency. He shared his thought process that enabled him to pardon a discredited President Nixon, with the full knowledge that such an action might lead to his losing his own bid to be elected. And, it did. But, his thinking was that for the good of the nation, his personal aspirations were secondary. Riveted to his every word, that spelled personal political disaster, attendees nodded the knowing-nod reserved for those admired for their quiet and remarkable courage. He offered no remorse or regret, only a resolution that commitment to the larger good is always best.

Immediately after thanking our attendees for their respectful questions, many of which were geared to domestic and global economic challenges, he offered stories about just how difficult it had been for him to manage Dr. Henry Kissinger. The net take-away from the Kissinger conversation was that "highly-talented individuals, who also possess large egos, require respect and praise in public along side repeated and clear reminders of adherence to operational rules, privately."

President Ford then offered insights and reflections about his wife, Betty, and the health issues she faced. As we know, now, her challenges culminated in founding the Betty Ford Center, in Palm Springs, California, to assist those with drug and alcohol problems.

Throughout his several memorial services, repeatedly, the word integrity has been used to describe the man and his life, by both supporters and adversaries. His legacy includes humility, selflessness and healing; important reminders for us all.

Question: (E-272)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 10, 2007

"Colleges chase learning curve"

From December 19, 2006, through January 8, 2007, 32 "big-time football games" were televised, involving 64 universities. The total amount paid out to these academic institutions was above $127 million dollars. Is such a focus good for our society?

Probably not! Several years ago, the person sitting next to me on a flight from Los Angeles to Monterey had recently-retired from professional football. He was a famous running back, having attended a major university in southern California, for five years, and academically-eligible to play on their top-ten team for four. He was able to read and write, but barely. For him and too many other athletes, universities are places for showcasing outstanding football talent, generating cash on Saturdays for highly compensated coaches and making names for a few superstars who will earn a living - or make a killing - in the National Football League.

Do academic departments outside football benefit from these large incomes and celebrity coaching programs? Yes. Do many athletically-gifted youngsters gain access to higher education who might not otherwise? Yes. At least, they are housed near scholarly-environments that were founded to pass along intellectual insights and practical applications for living. However, the rigors of practice and performance sometimes get in the way of substantive learning. The consequences are that young athletes are used, but not necessarily educated well, and then discarded, four or five years later, inadequately prepared for living productive lives. Older, often with physical limitations caused by sports injuries, these individuals face downward spirals, disappointment and depression while the next crop of talent is recruited by the same illusive hope.

In his best-selling book, The World is Flat, Tom Friedman makes a strong case that while a significant percentage of American students choose the easy life of the university, young people from around the world are eagerly working to learn and grow. They intend to do more than compete with America, they intend to lead and dominate. Where else, other than the United States, does an entire nation appear to deify college athletes? Former Georgetown University Head basketball Coach John Thompson, speaking at a Nike coaches' clinic, reminded attendees to not oversell the golden opportunities for talented young athletes. He then quoted these eye-opening statistics: "A young man growing up in Harlem has a better chance of becoming a brain surgeon than becoming a starter in the National Basketball Association."

Are Americans doing the right thing by encouraging sports-entertainment to overshadow sound academic development? No! America's immediate focus needs to be less on national sports championships and more on those learning how to deliver fresh water, develop alternative energy sources, discover solutions to diseases and provide integrity-centered leadership.

Question: (E-273)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 17, 2007

"Coaches show class, respect unlike Rosie, 'The Donald'"

What is your thinking about the vicious personal attacks hurled back and forth between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell? How do they get by with such immature and cruel behavior

When the Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump feud became a media event, my first response was to feel sad that they were, by their poor examples, encouraging despicable behavior. My second concern was that way too many people were paying attention to their antics. How can seemingly intelligent individuals, with high visibility, wealth and power, rationalize rude behavior, sinking to personal attacks about the looks and life-style of another human being? Very early in life, my parents and teachers were clear that denigrating others was unacceptable. Challenging ideas was admired, but personal attacks were forbidden. Appropriate behavior never included using racial or cultural epithets, certainly never humiliating others because of their appearance. If Rosie and "The Donald" were in kindergarten, they would be disciplined and given a time out, possibly with an additional restriction to stand in the corner.

Contrast their immature and destructive actions with the admirable behavior of two high-profile head coaches in the National Football League: Herman Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs and Tony Dungy from the Indianapolis Colts. Their teams met on Saturday, January 6, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to decide which team would continue toward the championship. They greeted one another warmly before the start of the winner-take-all game, and, at the end of an intensely-contested, loser-go-home game, again showing their respect for one another with a few words, accompanied by a gentlemanly embrace. They seem to understand where competition ends and relationships begin. Thank you, coaches, for demonstrating to young and old, rich and poor, that respect and graciousness are central to living a good life. As public personalities, Edwards and Dungy honor their additional responsibilities beyond chalking up victories; they exhibit appropriate behavior.

O'Donnell and Trump are publicity-seeking moguls who masterfully use the media. Perhaps the purpose of Trump's "hyped hurt feelings", when he pounced on Rosie's slurs about him and his business enterprises, was to create a controlled and well-timed fire-storm to draw attention to his upcoming television program. Rosie readily jumped back into the fray, sensing that her own week-day show might need a little boost in the ratings. She then immediately capitalized on the free marketing and advertising provided by a market-savvy media all-too-willing to feed the base interests of its gossip-seeking public.

My Integrity Matters advice is to ignore Donald and Rosie while encouraging frequent imitation of the actions of Herman Edwards and Tony Dungy. These two coaches appreciate that integrity-centered relationships, built on character, graciousness and honesty, matter in private and public.

Question: (E-274)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 31, 2007

"Poisoned organizations do a little, want a lot"

My current employer's reputation - for retaining customers - from professional surveys, is the weakest in our market? Customers will rent from us, once, but our service is so poor that they seldom come back. Should I stay and try to make improvements, or look elsewhere?

Before offering recommendations, please answer these three questions:

  • Does your manager listen attentively when you describe service problems? If yes, then stay a little longer. If no, start looking around for another job.
  • After your boss hears the issues, are you pleased with the actions taken? If yes, you still have a good place to work. If no, then management is more concerned with looking responsive than being responsive which translates to a dead-end for those who stay.
  • If you are seeing some positive actions to address customer issues, are you confident that the "service culture" is being driven by management, top to bottom, even when some employees are falling short of standards? If yes, then "hang in there" because the changes for the better are just around the corner. If no, then mediocrity will remain and you will be tainted by the culture you support by staying too long.

Poisoned-organizations adopt a philosophy of doing as little as possible in order to keep a customer or make a profit. Fraudulent organizations are proud of their behaviors, knowing that they are riding the edge, barely staying legal. Poisoned-organizations routinely sanction, if not in writing, then certainly with the knowing-wink of senior leadership that it is o.k. to:

  • Water down drinks and down-grade brands, without notifying patrons
  • Supply inferior quality items; selling them as premium to unsuspecting customers; including shoes, bread, automobiles, steaks, tires, shirts, meals and rental products, including cars, furniture, tools and even land
  • Pad expense-accounts and pass along the "jacked up" numbers to naïve clients - with the implication that such gouging is really an justifiable entitlement, since the client is already making big profits

When those at the top are willing to break their covenants with customers and suppliers, it is likely that employees will suffer the same abuse.

There really are only two kinds of people and two kinds of organizations: givers and takers. Giving individuals and organizations seek to go the extra mile. They reach out and serve. Takers minimize everything that relates to others. They are selfish and viciously self-absorbed. Building longer-term relationships with those with integrity is certainly healthier; probably even more profitable! Givers exude integrity. Saying good-bye to takers is the first step toward freedom and fulfillment, personally and professionally. So, yes, look for ways to move on, sooner rather than later.

Question: (E-275)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 25, 2007

"Some corporate boards fail leadership category"

Jack Welch placed three individuals from inside General Electric (GE) on his potential-successor short-list. He convinced GE's Board to award these three individuals large amounts of stock options, indicating that GE would have to make good on one of the offers - since only his successor would likely stay. He apparently suggested that the two also-rans could use the generous stock option awards to negotiate larger compensation packages with future employers. Sure enough, each runner up parlayed these "artificial-incentives" - securing incredible contracts.

Interestingly, one of the GE awardees was the now infamous Bob Nardelli, ousted CEO of Home Depot. Seems he crafted his "package" on the front-end, cleverly leveraging GE "pretend" options. When Home Depot's board "made him whole" they made him really rich. Even so, Home Depot's shares sank under his brutal leadership. How does this outlandish compensation scheme fit with integrity in leadership on the part of Mr. Welch and his board; to say nothing of the ineptitude of Home Depot's board?

Bob Nardelli recently flamed out after his self-serving greed, callousness and heavy-handedness caught up with him; but not before he collected an exit package worth $210 million. Home Depot employees and stockholders cannot be happy. And, while some "concerned" political leaders wring their hands, pointing accusatory fingers at Home Depot's board, these same public servants, really career politicians, continue to feather their own "private-club" nests with non-contributory, taxpayer-funded generous retirement programs. Who is watching out for John Q. Public?

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank weighed-in, saying, "It's a sign of being totally out of touch. The [members of Home Depot's board] don't understand the extent to which they make the American public angry." Grand-sounding thoughts from another Congressional insider, elected repeatedly, while being a willing participant in the often-immobilized House of Representatives! Even after Sarbanes-Oxley and the sins of Enron, Worldcom and HealthSouth - now, Home Depot's board behaves irresponsibly!

Home Depot investors should strongly consider a change in a board that negotiates ridiculous and one-sided CEO compensation deals. Nardelli was passed over by GE, yet Home Depot's board believed he would be their star worth lots of money. Was that possible? Yes. Likely? No. Who is watching out for investors?

Nardelli's golden (make it platinum) parachute of 210 million dollars is seven times the total of the $30 million that Home Depot's board authorized in June, 2006, for customer-service excellence, to motivate their 355,000 employees. Who is watching out for the rank-and-file?

Board integrity at Home Depot relates directly to fiduciary responsibilities, which seem to have been ignored or misunderstood. This is totally unacceptable. Should stockholders - at GE and Home Depot - demand board member changes? Yes!

Question: (E-276)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 7, 2007

"Let's work to replace 'greatest'"

Tom Brokaw extolled the virtues of dedicated and hardworking Americans in his book, The Greatest Generation! These folks are now in their 80' and 90's. How will they be replaced?

Tom Brokaw published his integrity-affirming study about citizen heroes and heroines, who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and then went on to build modern America. United by common purpose and values, the "greatest" generation exhibited duty, honor, economy, courage, service; love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.

According to Brokaw, members of the "greatest" generation understood, even when they were in their early teens, that the United States was balanced precariously between the darkness of the Great Depression and the storms of war in Europe and the Pacific. They knew the events surrounding them were critical to the shaping of their nation and the world, equal to the revolution in 1776, and the perils of the Civil War. Young people knew their duty and they volunteered willingly to do whatever it would take to build and preserve a way of life they admired.

One member of that special generation was John A. Zoller. He was born on December 5, 1924, and died of leukemia on January 30, 2007. Last Saturday, February 3, hundreds of friends gathered in his honor. His son, Bob, shared thoughtful memories of his father; touching the hearts of those who came to say their final formal farewell to John, while striving to be supportive to his widow, Donna, their children and grandchildren. It was a celebration of a life, and despite the stated wishes of Mr. Zoller, who wanted no tears shed, moist eyes were commonplace. John's memorial event was a vivid reminder that our society is fast losing these special Americans.

So, where will we find their replacements? Pay attention because they are all around us, waiting to be trained to live similar lives. Like those of John Zoller's "greatest" generation, shaped by depression and galvanized by sacrifice and dedication, today's youth desperately need caring parents and conscientious teachers who will provide appropriate types of tough love along side rigorously-monitored standards of behavior; including accountability. These young people must be taught to work hard in school and at their jobs in order to be prepared to deal effectively with life's inevitable ups and downs; including successfully competing in a global economy.

As fewer members of the current "greatest" generation remain living role-models, then we must become what John Zoller and others like him became: hard working, value-driven and courageous. We are responsible to encourage and direct our youth to become the next "outstanding" generation. We can and we must!

Question: (E-277)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 28, 2007

"We rely on our leaders to help inspire greatness"

So what do effective and successful leaders do?

Fair Isaac Corporation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, the global leader in predictive-analytics, decision-management and credit-management solutions, promotes seven qualities of leadership that consistently create long-term success. Fair Isaac's seven qualities reflect the Bracher Center's Eight Attributes of Integrity-centered Leadership: Character, Honesty, Openness, Authority, Partnership, Performance, Charity and Graciousness.

  1. Leaders Have Vision and Share It
    Leaders turn strategy into action and stay focused, despite distractions. They pay attention to the vision, balancing short- and long-term issues, distinguishing the important from the unimportant and simply the urgent. Leaders create the business models necessary to generate value by understanding markets and clients. With business savvy, intuition and judgment, they define the path to pursue the vision.
  1. Leaders Inspire
    Leaders "pull" people forward as opposed to "pushing" them along, rallying all levels of an organization around the vision. Enthusiasm, drive and competitive spirit enable leaders to raise the achievement bar even while celebrating successes. Leaders recognize the contributions of others and demonstrate a high level of respect at all times; remaining approachable and creating an environment that fosters company loyalty.
  1. Leaders Accomplish
    Leaders know what to do when 'stuck' because they are quick to try new directions when first attempts fail. Leaders leverage networks of advisors to build non-bureaucratic solutions to real problems. Reaching out for help, they are restless in the face of slow progress, expecting the same of others.
  1. Leaders Attract and Build Teams
    Leaders find the right talent, whatever their assigned resources, to get the job done; attracting the very best. Leaders have the courage to require contributions from all, and growth from all team members, capitalizing on talent and diversity; establishing constructive working relationships across the organization.
  1. Leaders Set the Scope of Responsibility
    Leaders set an appropriate scope of responsibility based on an individual's demonstrated competencies and potential, remaining open to differing opinions and approaches. Leaders see themselves as serving their people; not the other way around. With the courage to make tough decisions, leaders provide frequent and honest feedback, balancing individual desire for growth opportunities with accountability.
  1. Leaders Teach and Foster Employee Development
    Leaders, by example, encourage leadership behaviors in others, and are involved in the success of team members. Encouraging appropriate risk-taking including learning from mistakes, leaders establish challenging roles that promote experience-based employee growth. Leaders assess honestly, continuously refining the capabilities of people, recognizing and rewarding successes.
  1. Leaders Demonstrate Values
    Leaders tell the truth, seeking to understand before seeking to be understood. Leaders have the courage to address their own weaknesses; sharing credit for ideas and results. They establish effective methods, challenging colleagues to do their best, all the time.

Question: (E-278)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 14, 2007

"Smith's death news, but not newsworthy"

Anna Nicole Smith died at age 39 on February 8; having lived a fast and complicated life. Suddenly, her "high-roller" life story is getting more air time than major issues facing the world: war, disease, starvation, political gridlock, immigration, energy, healthcare costs, gangs, crime and education. Does this make any sense?

The Anna Nicole Smith story is receiving disproportionate attention. Her lifestyle was intriguing, sometimes scandalous, but seldom newsworthy. Iraq, North Korea, constitutional freedoms, and even crimes against children have been upstaged - once again - by sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

Many people in the United States, and around the world, struggle with focus and priorities; unable or unwilling to demand important information. Sadly, for our society, we are no longer demanding "real news" - the news you and I need to keep our freedoms. We now want to be entertained, whether with mis-information - sloppy and inaccurate; or dis-information - lies. Instead, we "fiddle with the dribble" - while Rome (our nation and world) is burning with mistrust, uncertainty and tension.

If an individual, not an entire society, behaved in such an unfocused manner, he or she might be diagnosed with an advanced case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Regardless of what the current important task might be for someone with ADD, diversions seem to be magnetic. Paying attention is difficult. Yes, there are occasions when distractions are healthy and even improve productivity. Case in point: when performing demanding or monotonous tasks, taking a physical and mental break can renew energy; making the distraction a positive. However, when a neurosurgeon is in the middle of a procedure; or a pilot only a few seconds from landing an airplane, any loss of concentration would likely be disastrous.

It is disturbing that the New York Times devoted an inordinate amount of space, four columns by six inches, to a picture of media people who had flocked to Hollywood, Florida, filming the dead body of Ms. Smith. Obviously, the public wants to see the remains of this young woman who was famous primarily for being famous. Participating, vicariously, in the trials and tribulations of others may attract viewers, listeners and readers - filling some sad emptiness for millions of people; however, it is certainly not the best use of time and energy.

Just a week ago, this column, honored members of the "greatest" generation, because they exhibited duty, honor, economy, courage, and service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.

Our society has serious work to do and there is little time to waste paying attention to sensational and superficial hype. Rather we need to focus on important and substantive issues, including how best to keep our freedoms!

Question: (E-279)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 21, 2007

"Success measured over long haul"

Success means getting results, creating sales and profits. Isn't your emphasis on certain "nice-to-have" behaviors naïve and unrealistic?

For the short-sighted, you are correct, because success for them is about immediate economic gratification and power. However, many wise and successful individuals define achievement beyond one-dimensional balance-sheet measurements.

A first-run movie, Amazing Grace, will be shown nation-wide, and at the Osio Theater, in downtown Monterey, beginning on Friday, February 23. One of our friends, Ken Wales, is the producer, having invested a decade bringing this culture-changing story to the big screen. He and his colleagues believe life-affirming values trump greed and merit presenting responsible messages to our drifting society.

Amazing Grace is about William Wilberforce, Member of Parliament, who navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics; ending slave trade in the British Empire on March 25, 1807. Parliament's decision shattered the business strategies of many. Elected to the House of Commons at the age of 21, and on his way to a successful political career, Wilberforce, over the course of two decades, took on the English establishment; making himself into a genuine hero for humanity.

John Newton, reformed slave-trader and confidante to the young politician, inspired Wilberforce to pursue a life of service to humanity. William Pitt, England's youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24, encourages his friend William Wilberforce to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and supports him in his struggles in Parliament.

Amazing Grace, presents powerful stories of Wilberforce, Newton and Pitt and introduces Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) who wrote an eyewitness account of his life as a slave and of his work in the anti-slavery movement. Though born in what is now Nigeria, Equiano was kidnapped and sold into slavery in childhood and taken as a slave to the New World. As a slave to a captain in the Royal Navy, and later to a Quaker merchant, he eventually earned the price of his own freedom by careful trading and saving. Equiano, like Wilberforce, stood for more than just abolition. Equiano was an African, a slave, a sailor, an Englishman, an abolitionist, a Christian, a writer who used his many titles to show how slavery brutalizes society as a whole.

In addition to ending slave trade throughout the British Empire, likely inspiring the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, Wilberforce also wanted society to be more civil. How people treat one another is critical at home, on the job, in politics and throughout daily activities. Thoughtful individuals strive first to understand; even before seeking to be understood; and they succeed frequently. Integrity-centered behaviors, including character and graciousness, generate trust, confidence, relationships, productivity, and, yes, profits.

Question: (E-280)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 4, 2007

"Select overseas workers carefully"

We are feeling pressure to compete overseas; and essentially have no experience. What should we do?

Make sure that those assigned overseas are properly qualified. Successful expatriates must be grounded in their own values and beliefs; requiring hiring managers to assess the fitness of candidates, including competency and flexibility. Clear self-awareness enables those working internationally to leverage their talents, character and abilities; generating productivity in multicultural settings. In addition to integrating their behavior with local customs in a manner that overcomes routine barriers to outsiders; they must be at ease bringing in local talent.

Consulting expertise, such as that provided by the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership, expedites getting high-speed and accurate information regarding those being considered for international assignments. Successful organizations reduce the risks of costly global disappointments by securing answers to these 11 questions.

  1. Are they motivated to work in another culture and is their family willing?
  2. Do they share the belief in multi-cultural leverage?
  3. Can they be trusted?
  4. Have the expectations for this assignment been communicated?
  5. Will they and their family adapt with ease to other cultures?
  6. Will colleagues from unfamiliar cultures tend to react favorably to their style?
  7. What support will they need to be successful?
  8. Will their leadership style enhance or inhibit performance?
  9. Will they grow as international citizens and leaders?
  10. What is the strategy to capitalize upon the wisdom gained by the returning expatriate?
  11. Are they likely to return to "home base" better - or bitter?

With positive answers to the first 11 questions, these next "9" are designed to make sure those working internationally will do the right things, the right way, repeatedly. Decision makers must have accurate information regarding the ability of the candidates to:

  1. Understand, appreciate and accommodate cultural differences?
  2. Utilize a proven "bridging" mechanism to integrate cultures?
  3. Demonstrate culturally-inclusive listening skills?
  4. Define, communicate and model constructive leadership behaviors?
  5. Create a process to recognize, encourage and reward cultural congruence?
  6. Encourage other members of the organization to exhibit appropriate behaviors, all the time?
  7. Sustain high morale with constant pressures to resist cultural integration?
  8. Mitigate demoralizing and destructive (local) "third party" critique?
  9. Monitor progress, systematically, frequently and energetically?

Profitable results are created by good working teams. Wise leaders make sure that their expatriates will exude integrity and operate with a sincere desire to listen; respecting the uniqueness of their host country’s social and business cultures. To maximize dollars invested on international assignments, invite the Bracher Center to provide quality information on candidates regarding their integrity, capacity, motivation and sensitivity.

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