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Let's make tax day Election Day
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 16, 2008
April 16 should replace the November timeframe, when possible. If the first voting day after April 15 must occur on the following Monday, then so be it. The “window of acute awareness” regarding government’s costs and benefits should be kept closely linked to tax day. Being aware of just how much money it costs to “keep the system” going can be a powerful motivator – encouraging accountability and effective communication – at all levels of our government.
To make the point, using a Clint Eastwood movie title; each of us deserves to know “the good, the bad and the ugly.” So that we don’t write-off the up-side of government services, knowing the good can be a powerful source of reassurance for individuals who might take granted what is provided. Some of the good – in terms of education and social services – if better understood – build public support regarding the positive value and constructive impact provided by hard-earned tax payments.
But, back to April as the right time for holding elections -
- Mid-April is a reminder of just how much government costs each individual.
- Common sense ties public service costs with individuals and community benefits.
- When one can see and feel the benefits, then public servants’ positions are secure.
- Disconnects between promises made and services delivered will be a red flag.
- Who would willingly re-elect the same folks who cost a lot, and deliver very little?
- Energy and housing costs, improperly addressed, could bankrupt our nation.
- Recession is more than a mind-set for those without jobs of prospects for income.
- Who is accountable for the policies that address job training and economic stimulus?
- Is there a better time to crystallize public service accountability to each and every citizen – who works to support the essentials of government - than when payments are made?
So, why not ask your local elected officials to consider establishing mid-April as election time? Those who know what needs to be done, and are working diligently to deliver on promises, will have little reluctance to the change. It is pretty clear, at least from the media coverage, that most folks in public service are doing their jobs, listening to constituents and following through. Even so, keeping the spotlight on prudent investments and cost containment is a daily activity for taxpayers. So, why not plant the same discipline throughout the economic system that underpins our government.
Transparency is when we can see the operations of organizations along with the individuals working in them, top to bottom, and know that integrity and accountability is a core operational principle.
Keep an eye for an 'I'
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 7, 2008.
Andy Rooney, the octogenarian from Sunday evening’s “60 Minutes” provides commentary at the end of the broadcast. His remarks can be informative, irritating or inspirational – sometimes all three. Regardless, he makes me think. Perhaps my reflections on the use and abuse of the word “I” will do the same for you.
The “Me Generation” transcends birth years – it includes egotists and narcissists of all ages. To learn of their savage use and abuse of the one-letter word “I” – please cut me some slack before you over-react. Two illustrations will make the point. Below are two letters (emails): one from a “big-ticket” sales manager and the other from a recent “prestigious school” MBA graduate and a candidate for a position at a Fortune 20 corporation.
Having communicated to a prospective buyer that a delayed response to his phone calls was not quite up to his standards, this sales person had the audacity to send this email, explaining his own difficulties in being prompt:
- Hi Ms. -----
- I was off yesterday.
- I just saw your email.
- I will be going next Wednesday to hunt for your item.
- I will also call so-and-so and see if I can get what you requested.
- I will let you know what I find out.
- Mr. - -------
And retail owners scratch their heads, wondering why they are losing sales! Ego and arrogance are getting in the way. Mostly this is slovenly thinking, lacking any tone of graciousness. How sad!
So, you say, maybe this only happens in the rough-and-tumble world of retail sales. Not so fast. Here is an email sent by an individual soon to receive a Masters Degree from a very expensive graduate school of business. Attempting to “secure a job” – this “All About Me” self-absorbed scholar digs an even-bigger hole for himself with a typo (see capabilities, misspelled below);
- Hi – Potential Employer
- I appreciate the time you spent with me today to discuss my background
- I believe that my experiences and capabilites (misspelled word, didn’t proofread)
- I have an excellent track record of leading large teams effectively
- I realize it's late in the process
- I am hopeful
- I welcome the opportunity
- I mentioned in our call,
- I will be in [in your city] again next Monday and I can be available for meetings
- I really enjoyed our discussion today.
- Signed, The Candidate
Two simple responses are missing: please and thank you. Where is the word we? Success is more likely to come to those who avoid too much “I” in writing, speaking and in attitude.
Treat your customer like gold
Travel can be difficult; and, dealing with airlines – on the ground or in the air – can be cumbersome, occasionally nightmarish. Even so, thoughtfulness from a caring employee can transform tedious checking-in, intrusive security-screenings, crowded cabins and poor-quality food into “bring-you-back” customer-retaining moments.
Case-in-point, a United Airlines pilot on flight 584 from Denver to Boston! Having logged about 3.5 million air-miles, in excess of one million on United alone; something special happened to me. The Captain wrote a personal note on the back of his business card – had it delivered to my seat - thanking me for flying with his airline. He acknowledged my Million-Mile-Flyer status; thanking me for being a loyal customer. His few words touched me confirming that he cared.
Being appreciated is always “in-style” and never more so than when the economy is sputtering. Obviously, front-line employees are most effective in carrying the message of customer- appreciation. Motivational-plaques and catchy public-relation slogans are just so much hype, unless, when real-time customer-moments occur – top-level service is graciously delivered. Genuine customer appreciation occurs one interaction at a time.
Many years ago, an elderly gentleman observed my visible agitation while not being served at an automobile dealership in Terre Haute, Indiana. That morning there was no “service” in the service department – certainly, not for me. Sweeping the floor, in a corner of the lobby, this alert employee noticed my impatience and approached me asking if I would like a cup of coffee. Nodding in a way that said “yes” but, don’t invade “my space” - he made his way to coffee machine, further inquiring about my cream and sugar preferences. Delivering cream-only coffee, per request, he asked if he might be of assistance. He was still holding the broom in his left hand.
A little uncomfortable, not knowing what to say or do next, I asked to speak to a supervisor. To my surprise, he said he was the semi-retired owner of the business, He pointed out that his job was, in addition to sweeping floors and picking up trash, was to make sure his son’s team was doing a superior job operating their Lincoln-Mercury dealership. His gracious style and genuine warmth created another loyal customer – namely, me.
An unassuming semi-retired owner demonstrated superior customer service by his own example. Thirty years later, the positive memory remains vivid. And, yes, our car was repaired promptly.
Integrity-centered appreciation attracts and retains customers, challenging employees to consistently communicate magical messages: Please allow us to help you. Thank you for your business. We’re sorry we didn’t respond faster or better. We will continuously work to improve.
Bottom line: appreciated and satisfied customers generate profits, building organizational morale while creating job stability.
We're all models of behavior
Another school teacher was arrested, this time for drug possession in a nearby community. Others from across the United States who work in our nation’s classrooms have been accused and some convicted of rape, stealing, and a host of crimes that are an embarrassment to the honorable profession of education. Regardless of the excuses offered by these socially and morally bankrupt individuals – their failure to live up to their social contract is indefensible.
Human beings are obligated to be respectful and honest. They are expected to bring with them, each day, appropriately-developed competencies; including constructive social and language habits along with performance skills that enable them to do their jobs well. Individuals who interface with the most vulnerable members of society, our youth, are challenged – in an intense way, being held to an exacting standard - to honor the public trust, remaining above reproach. Mistakes happen, but seemingly wholesale violations of cultural integrity – by educators - give caring members of society reason to pause. Teachers themselves are outraged by those who have broken the public trust. But, before self-righteously condemning those who have been “bad” examples, it could be informative to take out a mirror and assess hypocrisies in our own lives.
Everyone is a role model, for better or worse. Educators – and who among us is not a teacher in one context or another - are responsible for living-up to the “demands of the job” - of guiding others, constructively. Certainly, modeling positive values is essential. But, mistakes happen. Careless and thoughtless behaviors tear at the fabric of community. Yet, with pro-active and thoughtful responses, the integrity of relationships, personal and professional, need not be damaged permanently. Sincere apologies combined with corrective actions go a long way in making things right.
Thank goodness that we still recognize “out-of-bounds-behaviors” and are willing to condemn them:
- spiritual leaders violating young people emotionally and sexually
- self-serving attorneys who misappropriate funds from a last will and testament
- accountants who knowingly set in motion tax evasive financial transactions that leave clients high and dry
- healthcare professionals practicing sloppy or even life-threatening medicine
- skullduggery, trickery, chicanery and deceit – by public servants and private bankers
Should teachers seduce students or deal drugs? No. Should power-brokers, whether at home, in public, in the boardroom or on the political stump, embarrass, devalue or humiliate others? Of course not!
As our society experiences increasing coarseness – in language and behavior – it is incumbent upon us to remember that our words and deeds, all of them, have an impact. Pointing to the frailties of others, while continuing to ignore one’s own destructive behaviors, will not restore integrity.
Success is goal of firm process
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 21, 2008.
Thousands of fans watched as drivers and teams competed to win automobile races at the Laguna Seca racetrack this past weekend. From drivers to mechanics on the pit-crews; split-second timing behind the wheel of these super-charged vehicles was matched by the finely-tuned and physically-prepared members of support teams.
With hopes for victory, dozens of drivers, from all of the United States, participated, providing a speed-spectacle for three days. With no guarantees; each race identified winners and losers. Even so, there were very likely many heart-warming and courageous stories, along side the hard work and heart-break.
One local race car driver, Thomas Merrill, from Salinas, working his way – one step at a time - into ever-higher levels of competition, invited members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County to visit the track on Friday afternoon to observe a race, and then stop by his race paddock to learn from his perspective, what it takes to be successful – in auto racing.
Merrill, age 22, summarized his thoughts regarding SUCCESS – at least in driving. Success, he reminded the young fans, comes from being productive, caring and responsible. You have to be competent behind the wheel, build solid relationships with team members – specifically pit crew team members – and be willing to own disappointments, even failures, while always sharing credit for success. Success is about being a leader, regardless of age.
First, he encouraged everyone to DREAM. His dream is to be the best he can be behind the wheel; suggesting others also to be willing to share their dreams.
Second, there is DESIRE, an internal need to accomplish something by bringing something of value to others. What is it that you really want? Are you willing to ask for help?
Third, DETERMINATION is the drive to achieve, moving an internal thought to an external effort. Are you willing to invest adequate thinking time and energy to create a written plan, even a simple one that maps out objectives?
Fourth, DISCIPLINE is the willingness to work hard at whatever one wants. Discipline, for drivers, is all about staying clear-headed, and physically-fit. It means planning the work and working the plan, relentlessly. Discipline comes from the individual commitment to see things through. And, he suggested that discipline applies to school, sports and just about everything people do.
Fifth and finally, DESTINATION is the achievement of the SUCCESS dream. Success seldom comes all at once. However, when the integrity of focused-energy emerges from the dream, through desire, determination and discipline, then success, victories and rewards follow.
Thomas Merrill did not come in first place on the track on Saturday, but his integrity-centered insights – for young people and older folks - are certainly # 1 with me.
Integrity wins out in the long run
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 25, 2008.
“Big hat, no cattle” is a down-home phrase, probably originating in places with open range ranching, describing individuals wanting to be seen as power-players, when they aren’t. These image-only “fake-it-till-you-make-it” folks dress the part, talk the talk but really don’t or can’t walk the walk. They are scammers, con-artists, dead beat parents, crooks, fore-flushers, hustlers, weasels – you know the type. They jump from one cosmetic cover-up to the next – pretending to be serious when they are anything but.
The word pseudo devolved into a popular term of derision in the 1960’s, describing “wanna-be’s” – “big-hat, no cattle” pretenders. Being defined as “pseudo” meant you were a fake, an imitator, artificial, bogus, a counterfeit. So, to avoid being classified as pseudo-anything, including having “pseudo” integrity characteristics, certain behaviors are expected. Responsible individuals have a big hat (positive image) and lots of cattle (admirable principles along side success). As a consequence, they:
- Return phone calls promptly, confirming a thoughtful and caring manner
- Show-up on time, consistently, prepared to contribute constructively to discussions; personal or professional, or risk being known as a callous time-waster who abuses relationships
- Honor promises, verbal or written, building trust through predictable and constructive behaviors
- Present personal and professional information, factually, confirming integrity
- Avoid over-selling. When discussing one’s associations with other people; whether simply dropping names, or even appearing to do so – be sure to apply one sure-fire principle for accuracy and truth. When you state that you know “so and so” – make sure that “they know you” rather than simply that “you know them.” One does not really “know” another person unless or until the other individual can say that he or she actually knows you. Bottom line: it is not as important that you know them, as it is that they know you.
- Learn from substantive individuals who have been successful at “figuring out things” -
- Intelligence emerges in wisdom from experience-based insights and not from meaningless dribble, punctuated with the use of superficial adjectives in efforts to sound profound. Abraham Lincoln used lots of little words and provided the world with powerful messages.
- Effective demeanor transcends clothing, mode-of-transportation and wealth – because elegance and style are always “in-style”
- Athletic, intellectual and social prowess, when graciously exercised, will showcase others, instead of embarrassing or upstaging them
- Maneuvering unobtrusively through the maze of bureaucratic challenges keeps the focus on solutions and not on building the celebrity of the problem-solver. Effectiveness is about we, not me.
Quality and integrity are their own reward. The key is to simply be real. Character, honesty and openness, when combined, create a solid integrity-centered foundation for healthy relationships and success.
Team USA an example for all
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 4, 2008
My wife, Jane, and I were guests of our special friend, Susan Merrill, on Friday evening, May 23, when - TEAM USA - the 2008 United States Olympic Softball Team played an exhibition game in Salinas, at the Sports Complex. They played against a local – high performing team – the Salinas Storm. Team USA stopped in Monterey County to visit the home town of one of their stars, Monica Abbott, while raising funds for their travels to Beijing later this summer.
So, there we were, watching an exciting and maybe a once-in-a-lifetime event, along side about 3500 others – cheering the local team – encouraging them to perform at their best. And, simultaneously, we wanted our nation’s Olympic Team to confirm their excellence – on the field and off. And, from every perspective, we were proud and very satisfied. The game was not as much about winning as savoring superior athletic performance and honoring a local talent who has reached the pinnacle of her sport – representing the United States in the Olympic Games.
So, what is the message?
1. A local athlete remembered her roots. Monica Abbott came home.
2. A local community took the time to say thank you to a former resident, allowing her to say thank you for the opportunities afforded her. The City of Salinas, North High School and lots of local fans joined together to create a venue to say: Congratulations! We are proud of you!
3. TEAM USA, a gathering of world-class athletes from all over the United States, stepped back and gave center stage – and the spotlight - to one of their own – in this instance, to Monica Abbott, to show her their support, respect and appreciation.
Seems the success message remains the same:
- Remember who you are and where you came from.
- Accept, graciously, the sincere praise of colleagues.
- Share recognition, generously, maintaining a true sense of humility.
Young women, from TEAM USA, before, during and after their May 23 exhibition game in Salinas, reminded us that an Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, which is their definition of excellence, will be by-product of a good working team. From what we saw and felt, they are well on their way.
A T.E.A.M. is brought together in order to have its competencies and complementary talents deployed. TEAM excellence demands preparedness, self-discipline and humility, along with a commitment to operate, with integrity, in the following ways:
We are, now more than ever, in need of a solid TEAM – everywhere: at home, at work and in the interdependent global village. The economic health of our community – city, county, state, nation and world – is a team effort. Education trumps crime. Respect trumps fear. Cooperation trumps greed.
Lead the way by excelling in life
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 11, 2008.
Excellence is the result of:
- Caring more than others think is wise
- Risking more than others think is safe
- Dreaming more than others think is practical, and
- Expecting more than others think is possible
On May 16, 2008, “Lead the Way with Excellence” was the topic of a commencement address for 168 recipients of a Masters of Business Administration from the Tippie School of Business at the University of Iowa. Eric P. Hansotia, General Manager of Deere Harvester, East Moline, Illinois, emphasized the importance of “leadership” – saying:
Scrap the Career Map Don't waste time mapping your career. Instead, get totally focused on driving excellence in your current role.
I've learned through my decidedly zigzag career path that growing isn't always “up” and it's important to view each position as a chance to make yourself more valuable to the company by generating excellence, and inspiring it in others.
Maintain Work/Life Balance Often, I find that 80 percent of the total impact of priority lists lie in 20% of the “to do” items. Instead of starting at the top of the list and working down, I first take care of those few items that will generate the biggest impact.
Do the Right Thing As you lead the way, be sure to do it in the right way. Examine your personal value system and pick your role models carefully. It's up to you to decide - when faced with decisions - what to do with that talent.
Integrity is one of John Deere's four core values and throughout the enterprise we talk about “the how” - how we will reach our goals, how we will perform our duties, how we will treat our customers and suppliers by always doing the right thing.
Generate Excellence As a leader it becomes ever more critical for you to inspire large groups toward a breakthrough change, and build alignment on how to execute in order to achieve excellence.
I keep a framed print in my office that was given to me as a wedding present by my college roommate. Its inspiring words are a persistent reminder for me to do my best. Here's what it says:
“Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible.”
If you limit yourself to what others are already confident is wise, safe, practical and possible, then you will have confined yourself to yesterday’s constraints, seldom leading the way. Integrity-centered leaders and socially-responsible entrepreneurs always care, risk, dream and expect; paying for their mistakes and savoring their successes.
U.S. needs to learn to compete
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 23, 2008.
Competing for the Future – Dr. Henry Kressel
Competing for the Future is a very important book, and a must read for anyone concerned about the continued success of the United States. The digital revolution – much bigger than the pervasive presence of the Internet, requires clear understanding by every leader in modern society. Individuals guiding nations, businesses and institutions, in addition to those dedicated to education and social services must respect this new world. Everyone needs to grasp today's global challenges by accepting the revolutionary changes created by the intellectual horsepower that invented and applied digital technologies; enabling globalization. The “digital” genie is best managed with knowledge, business savvy and a longer-term view of return on investments. It touches everyone.
Competing for the Future shows how a handful of U.S. inventions launched the digital revolution, and traces how digital technology has sparked economic growth and improved human life around the world.
Dr. Henry Kressel and Thomas Lento reveal how digital technology has sparked the globalization of commerce and enabled the rapid industrialization of previously underdeveloped countries, particularly in Asia.
They warn that the U.S. risks losing its leadership role – and the basis of U.S. prosperity – by outsourcing – at least more recently - much of the production to developing countries. Competing for the Future shows the close link between invention and production, and notes that if you don’t produce what you invent, you eventually lose the resources and knowledge to invent it.
The U.S. must encourage the manufacturing of high-tech products, on home soil, if it is to continue to be a technological and economic leader in the world.
Readers come away with a basic grasp of the technology, an appreciation of the mechanisms created to finance its commercialization, an understanding of how technical skills have spread around the world, and a sense of what is required for the U.S. to maintain its status as a technological and economic leader.
The United States can avoid mortgaging its future, but only when those in positions of leadership – right the ship – through serious rethinking of success in the current era. Delayed gratification – in taking profits – is but one step. So too must educators guide intellectually-sound minds with the rigors of math and science – along side interpersonal and cultural insights.
If the road to hell was paved with good intentions, then most certainly the road to ruin is created by greed, laziness and ignorance. Competing for the Future is a wake-up call for all of us – and should be required reading for every student who enters a college or university – regardless of career objective. Competing for the Future provides insights for being a responsible citizen in Twenty-First Century America.
Share your energy, watch results
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 18, 2008
Politicians, powerbrokers and celebrities “work crowds” extending their impact – for votes, influence and fame. We love it when they shake our hands, make direct eye-contact and flash what we hope is a sincere smile – at us. Seeing them up close, obtaining their autographs or simply being near enough to actually hear them – their “persona” often provides an electrifying motivation.
Is this “aura” just so much fluff or is it real? Only you can make that determination for yourself.
NBC’s Tim Russert of Meet the Press fame, died this past week at age 58. He was a legend, loved by millions and respected by the powerful and those who trusted his journalistic methods. Early in his life, this Buffalo, New York, Catholic trained, son of truck-driving, sometimes three-at-a-time-jobs “working-stiff” – Tim was able to shake the hand President John Kennedy. An elected official, working yet another crowd, made physical contact with a youngster, whose father was remembered for saying, “a Russert shook hands with the President.”
Did this one moment transform his life? Maybe! But, this physical-connection with the President energized him and the rest is what it means to live the American Dream. For the last couple of decades, he was an individual to whom those aspiring to become President would want to speak. And, it may have started with a two-second gift of a Kennedy handshake.
Former President Bill Clinton had a similar experience, also with President Kennedy, when he was attending a national Boys State conference in Washington, D.C. as a representative from Arkansas. He recalled, with great fondness, his opportunity to shake the President’s hand. The moment, recorded on film, may have been a watershed event for him as well. Energy can be passed from one individual to another – and, in this instance, it stayed with him, all the way to his own two-term Presidency.
Closer to home, at the Carmel Mission, during the visit of Pope John Paul II, the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics, three small girls received a personal blessing, including a kiss on their forehead, by the Holy Father. In just a few seconds, three young lives were forever changed. They had come into contact with the one individual who – in their religious tradition – most embodies the faith-history of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
We may not be Presidents or Popes – but, to others we can be sources of energy, hope, stability and support. Making the time to greet others warmly, shake their hands, listen attentively and graciously to their concerns and pass along words of reassurance – such are the actions of integrity-centered individuals. Sharing our energy, unselfishly, can and will transform others – for the better.