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Reward requires an investment
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 9, 2008.

Question: (E-351)
A global soft-drink producer is currently using these words in one of its television commercials to increase the sales of its very own brand of caramel-flavored, carbonated sugar water: “You give a little love and it all comes back to you.”

This particular giant bottling company has generated billions in profits by capturing mindshare, touching human emotions and causing the public to purchase its product. So; is it such a big stretch for a local university to expand its focus on “giving a little encouragement” to first-generation college students – recognizing that our entire community will likely “get a great deal back” – in the months and years ahead? Of course not!

One of my very first clients often repeated these wise words: “Sometimes you have to give before you get.” Investment, another way of saying that one has to risk something in order to create returns, can come in many forms; whether money, kindness, time or energy. Regardless, somebody must make the first move. Today’s society, which can appear to be so very cold and insensitive, will only become less coarse and violent, when caring people break with tradition and help others in need.

Just such a program was established in 2007 at the Foundation of California State University, Monterey Bay. Executives in Residence has enlisted 120 successful and influential leaders to help open doors of hope and possibility for young people who can become tomorrow’s leaders. The program, located on the CSU Monterey Bay campus in Seaside, California, provides students with insightful counsel -- built on personal example and substantive relationships -- to understand their potential, establish milestones and pursue life goals.

Executives in Residence's Pay It Forward scholarship program instills the spirit of hope and generosity in the next generation by demonstrating that giving back can truly be the greatest gift of all, especially for the giver. The words “pay it forward” are taken from a book of that title which showcases how helping others can create a cascading chain of goodwill and good works.

Pay It Forward goes beyond the traditional arms-length transaction of providing deserving students with financial assistance for higher education, fostering an ongoing, mutually accountable relationship between recipients and leader-mentors. Students are not merely asked for something in return for the support they receive. They are required to “pay it forward” through service to at-risk youngsters through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County. The goal is to develop confident and enthusiastic young people who gain both the means to complete their education and the tools to make their own contribution to others while growing immeasurably as individuals.

Each student chosen to participate in Pay It Forward receives up to $5,000 per year to attend CSU Monterey Bay, distributed in a way that encourages financial responsibility. As an incentive for their service as mentors with Boys and Girls Clubs, they may be eligible for up to $4,000 in additional support through club service.

Mentors and counselors from Executives in Residence continue to serve as a safety net for participating students. Throughout their college years, at least once a month, the students meet with adult volunteers to gain inspiration and practical advice. Social and economic integrity are built, one relationship at a time.

Bumper stickers wake-up calls
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 2, 2008.

Question: (E-352)
Recently, this bumper sticker caught my attention:  Age and treachery overcome youth and enthusiasm.  Maybe having grey hair and wrinkles means for those of us who have made mistakes, the benefits include wisdom, enabling us to avoid repeating too many of the same blunders.

Suddenly, my attention was drawn to brief - funny and sometimes challenging statements - that appear on moving vehicles.  Three oxymoron bumper stickers hit home: Adult male!  Religious tolerance!  Common sense!  I am a male with faith who thinks that we humans too frequently behave irresponsibly, even silly. Guilty on all counts, way too often to make me proud.

Cell phones don’t annoy people; morons using cell phones annoy people.  And, now it is against California law to use a hand-held phone while driving.  This may not make everyone happy, but law enforcement officers have assured us that “phone-related distractions” will be decreased and our driving safety will be improved. 

Closed minds always seem to be connected to open mouths.  Listening carefully and sensitively to others and their perspectives is wise.  Maybe that is why older folks often come across as more attentive and caring.

The best things in life are not things.  Precious relationships and memories count for quite a lot.

No pressure, no diamonds.   The easy way seldom leads to easy street.

Real success depends not on how fast you can climb, but on how high you can bounce.  Disappointment is quite often a by-product of striving for excellence. Getting up time and again; while learning from mistakes; is part of the continuous-improvement process. 

God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.  Stay the course and keep the faith.

To make your prayers come true, you have to get off your knees. 

Be willing to give up what you are for what you can become.  Growth and change require risk.  After all, it is true that:  Fear is temporary.  Regret is forever.

Those who discourage your dreams likely have abandoned their own. 

What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?   In the final analysis:  The worst failure is the failure to try!

Friendship is not blind; it just knows when to close its eyes.

Kindness is difficult to give away because it is usually returned.

God, grant me patience, now!   My personal expectation was that with age would come patience, but such has not yet been my experience.  So, for the foreseeable future, my efforts will be redoubled to leave my place in the world better than I found it.

Integrity has no need for rules.  Athletics (or read competition) does not build character, it reveals it.

Character is what we do when no one is watching.


Encouraging word is a tonic
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 16, 2008.

Question: (E-353)
Ben Hogan, known as the Texas Iceberg, was the notoriously unapproachable professional golfer with machinelike performance.  He became what many consider the greatest player ever, or, least until the arrival of Tiger Woods. Ignoring the debate on who was or will be the greatest golfer ever, this is a story about the remote Mr. Hogan, the perfectionist, the stony-faced clutch performer – who not only survived a debilitating automobile crash, but returned to golf – to regain his title,  as simply the best in the world.

Two writers had arrived in Hershey, Pennsylvania, many years ago, to ask Ben Hogan about his secret.  They wanted to know how he had recovered from his near-fatal car crash.  Was it his iron self-discipline he had acquired teaching himself to play golf, swinging a club until his hands bled?  Was it his legendary concentration, removing every thought but getting well, just as he had shut out distractions created by noisy fans trooping behind him from hole to hole?

Physicians and surgeons told him he would never walk again. Incredibly, just three years later, he was playing golf, reclaiming the career that would make him a legend.  When Hogan met the two nervous interviewers, they were prepared for a perfunctory interview, grudgingly granted by a stoic superstar.  Instead, he offered a smile, not a scowl.  The 130-pound man, with a slight limp, provided gracious give-and-take about what it took to make his comeback.  Yes, discipline and focus were important, but, mostly, Hogan stated:  “It was the letters.”

Letters, by the thousands, came from individuals from all walks and stations in life – each with the same message:  “We care about you, Ben!  We are praying for you.”

Hogan then made the real story of his recovery crystal clear:  “Before those letters came, I told myself that I didn’t care whether people were for me or against me.  To win, I thought I had to shut the spectators out.  Then to learn that you have thousands of people rooting for you! That’s why I just had to get better!  And, I did.”

Obviously, Ben Hogan understood that prayer means care.  Even the toughest of the tough melt when they learn of Hogan’s soft-spot for those who took the time to share their concerns for him, in writing.  Kind words softened a hard heart, helping to heal a mangled body

To bring the point closer to home: who or what do you care about?  Send a note or submit a letter to the editor?  Encourage those whose cause you support.  Raise your voice – in writing – encouraging those who stand for what is good, right and proper.  Who knows, you too might melt an iceberg.


Treat holidays with reverence
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 6, 2008.  

Question: (E-354)
Do you think that the various holidays in the United States, that mandate the closing of banks, schools, and public services, is wise? 

Yes!   However, thoughtlessly squandering “holidays” for self-indulgence, considering each paid-vacation day as little more than another entitlement is to miss the meaning of what a holiday can mean.  Integrity is about respecting our own history, simultaneously passing along the meaning of these “days-off” to others. 

New Year’s Day is about reflecting on the past and getting ready to address the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead – financial, physical, interpersonal, emotional and spiritual.  

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day addresses the struggles of those whose human rights were denied, whose dignity was challenged and whose opportunities were thwarted because of race.  Dr. King’s holiday provides time to contemplate the painful and often senseless struggles of others. Wise stewards of American culture pause and remember the sacrifices of those who made American society stronger. 

Presidents Day honors guardians of liberty: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Each, under differing circumstances, offered sacrifice as the price of liberty.  Pausing on their respective birthdays, February 12 and February 22, to remember that they dedicated their lives to freedom and democracy, is not only proper, it is an essential ingredient for those whose goal is to retain their gifts and dreams. 

Fourth of July celebrates independence, freedom and accountability. The architects of what would become the United States of America were courageous and single-minded, even if not always like minded. The “Fourth” has become for many people, simply one more day for festivities, food, listening to stump speeches by politicians and fire-works displays.  The real meaning of the day centers in the willingness of individuals to sign a Declaration of Independence, an action that could cause them to lose everything they had worked hard to accumulate – including their lives. 

Labor Day reminds everyone of the noble nature of honest and hard work. Employers and employees are bound together by the same common goal:  to provide quality and integrity of products and services, generate legitimate profits for owners while providing appropriate compensation to each employee. 

Thanksgiving Day commemorates 17th Century immigrants in New England, building relationships with Native Americans, surviving in their new home, across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hardship was the crucible for those who gathered the end of a harsh and meager harvest, sitting down with strangers, offering prayers of thanks – for simply being alive.  It was not about the food, it was about the people and the privilege of sharing. 

These holidays are about remembering, reverently and appreciatively, the gifts and opportunities provided to citizens of the United States of America, still a beacon of hope to the world. 


Caught in a web or saved by a net?
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 13, 2008. 

Question: (E-355)

Spiders weave webs and capture prey. Nets are used to catch fish; providing food necessities for billions of people.  Both webs and nets are effective. So, how do you feel about your situation?  Are you caught in a web?  Have you been saved by a net? 

There was a time when differentiating between a world-wide web and the work of an ordinary spider would not be required.   The word NET would never be mistaken for digital technology that connects people and enterprises all over planet Earth 

But, just for this commentary, let’s focus on spiders and webs and those who whose nets enable them to bring home things that swim.  

Web, of the spider kind, often is associated with the dark-side:  intrigue, control and death.  The poet wrote: "O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"  Sir Walter Scott -  Marmion - 1797. Webs can be menacing, intimidating and deadly.  Yet, when striving to capture a criminal, an All-Points-Bulletin (APB) is a web we appreciate and value.  When in need of a helping hand to find a “lost” anything, it is common to call on our friends and associates and ask them to “triangulate” on the problem until it is solved:  the wallet recovered, the child returned, the old friend located, or an illusive file or name resurfaced.  So, the “web” can be a good thing.  

Way back when, law enforcement referred to these efforts to sweep an area as a dragnet.  There is that word NET again. 

On the other hand, when we get caught “mis-speaking” – modern political English for lying, the web catches us.  During off-hand moments, when the assumption is that no one is paying attention, somehow, some way, a live, “hot” microphone reveals some of our most embarrassing, even humiliating, thoughts and words.  Lesson:  nothing is ever really off the record, and we are seldom off-stage – most especially when others are nearby. Most especially children! 

As we think through our relationships, personal and professional, do the individuals with whom we associate appear more like a “life-saving” net of caring human beings or “energy-draining” spiders, maneuvering to capture and destroy?   

There are, according to my deceased father, only two kinds of people in the world:  givers and takers.  Even though each of us can be either at any given moment, there are, again, according to my Dad, certain clues that tell us that a person is primarily one or the other.  

Knowing with whom you are spending your time will determine whether you are “caught in a web” or “saved by the net.”  Givers provide supportive safety nets.  Takers manipulate “gotcha” webs.

Control of self helps society
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 30, 2008.   

Question: (E-356)

This past week was another “wake-up” call.  Seems medical check-ups reveal how well I am adhering to diet, exercise and rest.  My tendency is offer lame excuses for falling short of what was recommended.  Blood tests enabled my concerned physician to give me that “look” that reminds me of being caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Each passing year makes the follow-through more important and more challenging.  The alternative, it seems, is to find an earlier grave.  So, for me it is time to self-regulate – and that is what started me thinking.  

The issue of self-discipline, including self-regulation, is as personal as individual application and as extensive as our contemporary culture that frequently appears “out of control.”  Across the spectrum, deterioration is apparent regarding language-degradation (both foul and sloppy), socially-acceptable behaviors, business practices, the public trust, responsibilities of role models, what we allow to go over the airwaves into homes, and the conduct of political campaigns, including those for the Presidency.  Responsible self-control is needed, now. 

The good news is that we are not the first generation to lose direction. The Bible mentions social chaos in the book of Judges, Chapter 16; Verse 6: “In those days there was no king; and the people did what was right in their own eyes.”  Thousands of years ago, human beings were self-centered and selfish. Way back then, folks liked being the law to themselves.  Unfortunately, at the extreme, which may be where we are today, nationally and globally, anarchy follows pretty closely, with the potential for creating an even more devastating mess.   

Very early in the development of our executive leadership practice, through Dimension Five Consultants, Inc., and the Bracher Center,  we concluded: “It should be common knowledge that free markets (including individuals and social institutions) must regulate themselves, or governments will.” 

We recognized that for our consulting practice to deliver high-speed, accurate and effective leadership counsel; that our clients had to be willing, even eager, to take the first step.  They had to accept responsibility for their circumstances, for better or worse.

After all who was responsible for my not paying sufficient attention to diet, exercise and rest, per my physician’s recommendations?  Me! 

Recently, public figures have again used despicable language to describe both their colleagues and adversaries. Libel and slander are legal issues which courts can handle.  However, any reluctance to “self-regulate” behavior is going to create openings for invasive, even if well-meaning, law-makers. We elect lawmakers to make laws. To avoid more “behavior-constraining” restrictions, let’s practice graciousness – personally and professionally.  Young lives are shaped by what they see and hear from us. Integrity-centered living requires self-regulation: socially, culturally, economically, and politically.

When did certain citizens of the United States determine that simply describing themselves as Americans was no longer adequate? When did it become politically-correct to hyphenate one’s citizenship with previous status regarding nation, culture or race? With the exception of indentured servants, primarily from Europe, and slaves, mostly from Africa, the overwhelming majority of immigrants came to America, intentionally. They evaluated their existing, often frustrating, circumstances, looked for positive opportunities, packed up and moved to America. How surprising would it have been to hear the young nation’s first President, George Washington, refer to himself as an English-American? Certainly, not after the Revolutionary War!   

We can stand to lose the hyphen

published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 20, 2008. 

Question: (E-357)

As waves of immigrants arrived, they were called – by some American citizens who had preceded them, and, often with a tone of disdain, at least for a few generations: “those” Irish, Germans, Poles, Italians, Greeks, Africans, Serbs, Russians, Slovaks, Chinese, Mexicans, Jews, Asians, Hispanics, and Scots and on and on. As they integrated into the great “melting pot” – adopting language and culture – some even American-izing their names – most found acceptance and success.  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have A Dream” speech, two generations ago, encouraged our nation to “. . Judge other people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”  Do hyphenated–references to one’s earlier roots do very much to support Dr. King’s dream?  Is the hyphenated-descriptor encouraging inclusion or exclusion?  Does it connect us or divide us? 

Lee Bussard, in his book, More Alike than Different, makes a strong case that what we should emphasize is what we have “in-common.” Lee’s was born with cerebral palsy, and rather than trying to explain away its dramatic muscular limitations, he transformed them. By the time he finished speaking to leaders, they no longer saw his braces, nor were confounded by his laborious speech pattern.  His dis-ability was simply a different ability. So it is in America, it is our differences that create the fabric. 

Going forward, as a capitalistic, representative democracy, how will the United States continue to leverage its multiculturalism and focus on what unites its people, as opposed to what separates them? Unlike other nations and cultures, the U.S. is a gathering of many different people – rightfully proud of their roots, yet equally eager to pledge allegiance to an American dream - E pluribus unum - Latin for "Out of Many, One."  More about this, next week: “Being an American, Part 2” 

Switzerland has three official languages: German, French and Italian.  Yet, its citizens are not hyphenated. They are simply Swiss! 

Continuing to celebrate and respect the integrity of our complex and rich history, what will it take for all citizens to believe and say – simply and proudly: I am an American?

Lessons from the Games
Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 27, 2008.

Question: (E-358)

The past two weeks enabled the world to focus on the Beijing Olympics.  From many countries, in one place, physically-gifted individuals met to celebrate sportsmanship, while determining athletic superiority.  Records were set and medals were awarded, as a global audience gathered in dozens of magnificent venues, assisted by television coverage, hosted by an emerging and powerful nation, China.

Athletes representing America were a visual confirmation of what was once considered the defacto motto of the United States: E pluribus unum – which is Latin for "Out of Many, One."  No other nation’s athletes were as multi-racial and multi-cultural as were those from America. Once again, the melting pot, that is the American tradition, continues to be the differientator for those who run, jump and swim – for the United States.  Each participant was world-class, simply by having earned the right to compete.  Those talented athletes, wearing the red, white and blue, were described as Americans – and there were no hyphens to differentiate individuals by race, culture, religion or ethnicity.  Many of us look different from those with whom we live and work, but we are all Americans, and no where was this more clearly demonstrated than in Beijing.

To represent a nation on its Olympic team, the ground rules are quite simple: performance is all that counts.  Medal winning athletes rely on discipline, focus, and follow-through; never on past history, religious preference or cultural roots.  At least at the Olympics, the playing field is level.  There are no ethnic quotas to be filled on any team for any event.  Individuals qualify based on speed, accuracy and ability to contribute to the success of the team. Awards and recognition are reserved for those who were able to achieve at one of three levels: first, second or third.

The requirements for being an American citizen in good standing in the United States of America, especially after watching the Beijing Olympics, have become even clearer.  While we can celebrate our differences, whilie simultaneously subscribing to the principles of freedom that unite us, it is apparent that productivity – personally and professionally – is essential.  The global playing field is extremely competitive.

The 2008 Olympics provided a clear view of the new world that is unfolding around us and China is an excellent reminder of what will be required to be successful into and beyond the 21st Century.  Not only did the Chinese  people present a powerful presence, from the opening  to the closing ceremonies – including the winning of the most gold medals – but also their attention to details was overwhelming.  As the host nation, taxi drivers in China learned multiple languages to increase the comfort of visitors. With one million volunteers to help with the “Games” in Beijing, the empahsis was consistently upon the greater good and not on individual recognition.  The Chinese demonstrated the powerful results that can be achieved through  education, sacrifice and an uncompromising commitment to the greater good.

The Beijing Olympics have ended, but we should remember that in China, there are more individuals with bachelors and masters degrees than the entire populaltion of the United States.  As the Twenty-first Century unfolds, we are now aware that our global neighbors, the Chinese, are also committed to excellence and are willing to pay the price.  We will remain competitive, only if we continue to raise our own standards.


Treat ‘em like dogs!
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 3, 2008.

Question: (E-359)

How should we treat one another?  Like dogs!  Try the approach with your spouse, best friends, employees, bosses and strangers you meet on the street.  Forget the standard counsel to deal with others as if they were royalty or part of a deity. Ignore the old wisdom to treat others as you would want to be treated; including the principles from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.   Just stick with how folks treat four-legged animals and you will do just fine.

One comedian suggests that if extraterrestrials are really “out there” watching us, then they just might be confused regarding who really is in charge on Earth.  After all, what does it look like to an observer when taller, two-legged human beings are walking behind these small four-legged creatures “cleaning up after them” much as a servant might?  Who might these non-earthlings assume is “in charge” when seemingly every effort is made to insure the comfort of these furry, four-legged masters? 

When a dog (add human) does not do what you want, don’t yell or threaten.  Rather, speak softly, clearly and reward admirable and appropriate behavior.  So, what is it that causes humans frequently to manage their behavior around animals effectively, while too often forgetting to exercise the same level of self-control when dealing with other people?  My answer is simple.  Human beings forget sound interpersonal communications principles because of their early and frequent exposure to poor role models and their own unrealistic expectations.

Solution:  study and apply dog-training programs and apply them.

The happiest dog lovers seem to do the following; which, with little modification, could be applied to social interactions, in just about any setting with almost everybody..

  1. Greet warmly. 
  2. Speak softly.
  3. Hug and pet, reassuringly.
  4. Make and sustain eye contact.
  5. Focus attention exclusively and allow adequate time for re-familiarizing after lengthy or even short separations.
  6. Provide gifts, even small ones that confirm appreciation and affection.
  7. Serve healthy food, in clean dishes, with fresh water; saving “treats” for special moments.
  8. Maintain a regimen of medical check ups and encourage exercise.
  9. Allow for down time, including rest periods, and have fun together.

Pets and people have lots in common.  We need them and they need us.  Certainly, there is a responsibility to provide clean and comfortable bedding, another way of saying a healthy environment.  Integrity is at the center of nurturing life, whether for animals or humans; and we would be wise to apply our intelligent “dog” insights to everyday encounters.

So, for the foreseeable future, please:  treat ‘em like dogs!  They will be happier and so will you.

Share your own brand of the 'Aloha' spirit
Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 17, 2008.

Question: (E-360)

Vacations provide wonderful moments to renew spirits, slow down, rest, read and observe others without the usual hurry.  Such was how we spent some time recently on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Getting away is important, and so are the occasions to see how others cope with many of the same challenges we also face every day.  Vacations can be opportunities to learn from others, gaining wisdom that can make life, back home, a little better both personally and professionally.

Tourism, as we all know, is suffering; but, dramatically in Hawaii.  Too many rooms are empty, with restaurants serving fewer customers.

So, what a surprise when we found, placed inside the menu, to greet each customer, the following words from David Palmer, whose business card describes him as Proprietor and Keeper of the Concept at Café Pesto, Kawaihae, Hawaii.  Obviously, he understands and accepts that his job is to “be” the very values and culture he wants from his employees.  Here is what he wrote:

We know that you, our customers have many places from which to choose and that especially now, your dollars are dear.  We’d like you to know how much we appreciate your business and we will make every effort to create for you an enjoyable dining experience.

With that in mind, we are pleased to announce the return of our most acclaimed and beloved Chef, Moses “Moki” Tavares.  His culinary talents and authentic sense of “Aloha” will enhance the consistency, value and quality that have been the foundation of our twenty-years of success.

Again, from all of us at Café Pesto, on the South Kohala Coast, thank you for choosing to dine with us.

Is there any doubt that these folks understand why they go to work every day?  They are at Café Pesto to serve delicious food in a caring and professional way.  So, how does that apply to us?

Mr. Palmer’s focus is on the integrity of his concept: making sure that each and every guest feels the Aloha spirit while enjoying a memorable meal.

Of what are you the proprietor?  How are you going about being the keeper of the concept?  As a parent, child (young or old), business owner, public servant, employee, manager, student, professor or spiritual leader - Mr. Palmer has offered clear guidelines. 

  • Let those you serve know you value them
  • Show appreciation for those with whom you work
  • Take the time to pass along your thoughts in writing
  • Set the tone, consistently, for how those around you are expected to operate
Share your own brand of “Aloha” –  which really boils down to the warmth that comes from listening and caring



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