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Economic (361-370)

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What if they find you out?
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 10, 2008

Question: (E-361)

One of my mentors, Dr. Stanley R. Sherman, a psychologist, told me that in his consulting with leaders, in many professions, one of the big fears was being “found out” – being exposed as having “ship-sinking” flaws.  He went on to explain that talented and hard-working people were often anxious that one or more of their traits, performance mistakes or general weaknesses might be fatal for their continued success.  The recurring question that hounded these people was simply:  if they knew such and such about me, would that cause them to lose confidence in me?  Short-hand:  will my imperfections derail me?

Even in an ever-increasingly casual world, standards matter.  Excellence and morality count and
Integrity is still the keystone of leadership.

Unconditional love is often discussed by theologians and marriage counselors. Regardless of who you were what you might have said or done, these practitioners offer the promise of clean slates and total acceptance.  They encourage penance and other forms of healing actions – on the assumption that human fabric can be mended. 

In contrast, Harold Geneen, a powerful and successful business leader, formerly CEO of ITT Corporation said:  “If you run out of the money, they will throw you out of the game.”  Translation, there are certain actions, when taken, can seemingly spell the end of the line. While some charismatic people defy the odds, overcoming their lying, cheating and stealing, most of us mere mortals need to know the ground rules and abide by them or be sidelined, even destroyed.

In business circles, the vetting process is described as due diligence, including the careful checking of personal and professional references while systematically and painstakingly assessing the accuracy of submitted work histories. In politics at all levels, and most especially at the higher levels, the process appears almost medieval.  Statements that individuals might have made or words credited to them are taken too often at face value, and then utilized for the game of “gotcha” - with the object of doing harm, at the expense of seeking the truth. Common mistakes – taken out of context – are spun maliciously, creating the nectar that rewards the skullduggery of “stinging partisan bees.”

Maybe transparency is the result of what in the 1960’s was described as simply “letting it all hang out” and “letting the chips fall where they will.”  After all, the theologians said it first:  “God knows everything, anyway, so why try to hide anything?”  With the pervasiveness of the internet, phone records and video-equipment – our sophisticated world seems to have re-discovered what many who grew up in small-towns and local neighborhoods already understand: just about everything said and done is widely known.  Then and now, integrity matters.  And, even without unconditional love, folks have to accept others pretty much as they are, because that is reality. And we should all be thankful that our global village still needs imperfect human beings to carry on the work that propels society – in public service and the private sector.


There's a new world order
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 15, 2008.

Question: (E-362)

America is in serious trouble. Brazil, China and India – along with other nations - are poised to assume significant leadership positions that have been provided by the United States. Several emerging populations are well educated and appear willing to work and work very hard.  While the United States has evolved, for the better, in terms of creating and supporting opportunities for its underclass, one cannot be confident that other global powerhouses will operate in the same way.  How will these newer economic giants respond to the laments of those left behind when there is a plea for equal rights for the new minorities, some of whom will be citizens of the U.S.?  Free markets, once again, will measure organizations and individuals on the same three tested and proven criteria: productivity emerging from innovation, quality and price.  Those unable to compete will suffer.

If you haven't had time to pray lately, consider offering up concerns for the plight of those who will need to upgrade their minds and skills, including language and cultural proficiencies, or run the real risk of being marginalized.  Serious and practical education needs to take center stage throughout our society; from pre-schools to graduate studies, or jeopardize America’s promise.

Unfortunately, insecure minds seek out and too often cling to conversations with those whose positions already appeal to them. Education as usual will not be adequate. In addition to not wanting to face these serious challenges, some would prefer to maintain walls, rigidity, self-righteousness and close-mindedness discouraging mature discussion. But, that will not work in a global competition, in which the playing field is becoming more and more level.  Tom Friedman’s latest writings talk about how America can regain its international stature by taking the lead in alternative energy and environmentalism.  His insights assume an educated population with inspired leadership in both the private and public sectors.

While other parts of the world will grow using more traditional energy sources such as coal and oil (with larger carbon footprints); the United States has an opportunity to become the undisputed leader developing innovative energy-efficient approaches.  To the surprise of no one, this requires serious education, research, discipline, sacrifice and relentless follow-through.  Immediately and regardless of where one stands on global warming, renewable energy or political leadership, Americans will need to assess carefully what it means to change the way the world needs to build an effective economic engine in the 21st Century.

Demonizing those with whom we disagree spells disaster.  Unless change occurs soon, my expectation is that newly emerging global powerhouses will prevail.  The 2008 U.S. Presidential election is not singularly about winning the White House for either Democrats or Republicans; so much as it is about resurrecting and invigorating American society’s integrity, innovation and productivity.


We'll end up paying greed's price
Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on September 24, 2008.

Question: (E-363)

The New York Times provides this headline on September 19, 2008:  “Vast bailout plan is proposed in bid to stem economic crisis.”  So, you ask, how does that relate to integrity?

And, how did this happen?

Each year, major financial institutions – including investment banking enterprises, global consulting practices and powerful law firms repeat their annual drill.  They camp out on prestigious educational campuses, recruiting the “best, the brightest and those with the finest of connections” to work for them.  With credentials in hand, these “newbies” are provided generous starting salaries with the promise of incredible bonuses.   Blue-chip organizations, including political parties and agenda-driven think tanks, attract, groom and reward their protégés; whom they will mold, unfortunately, in their own self-serving image.

Many members of the power elite start with substantial intellectual talent that is refined by gifted professors who help to sophisticate their financial and political language; facilitating their questionable practices.  America’s “elite” are then positioned to leverage their knowledge to influence markets and create unprecedented financial rewards – most recently for themselves and their cronies.  With the willing participation of co-opted political operatives, including greed-driven lobbyists, pathways to even greater influence propel the system to the brink of chaos; which is where we are, now. 

The “best and the brightest” in business, education and politics have knowingly taken advantage of the masses, including the poorest and most vulnerable. These wizards of Wall Street and Washington (add state capitols to highlight the pervasive cancer upon our land) are being reprimanded for providing inappropriate and unrealistic loans.  A few years ago they routinely charged incredible interest rates on unpaid credit card debt, having targeted those least able to pay.  Where were the lessons about real integrity in the classrooms of the business schools?  What oversight was being provided by regulators at the local, state or national level?  Why weren’t business leaders looking out for their stockholders, customers, suppliers or the communities in which they operated?  One answer:  unconscionable greed!

When institutions fail in their values, they decay from the inside. Once again, the excesses of the self-serving elite have punished the whole of society, especially the economy. Unfortunately, the prevailing structures promote the politics and the economics of convenience over the commitment of leadership. Overpaid “big-wigs” basked in the excesses of destructive compensation, all the while drifting from quick deals to devastating dishonesty.

It should be common knowledge that free markets must operate with integrity, a culture of compliance, or face increasing government oversight.  This current debacle is likely to cost each taxpayer at least $8000; with the financial fallout threatening to go even higher as more shoes fall.  If you have had enough of this greed-driven fleecing, then respond with your vote, buying habits, investment strategy and charitable giving.  I am nervous, angry and ready for better leadership, across the board.  How about you?



When elephants rumble, the grass - us - suffers  
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 1, 2008.

Question: (E-364)

2008 “elephants” are the power-brokers in Washington and the masses of citizens are the grass being positioned to bail out Wall Street.  Well-paid partisans do battle, wasting even more resources in what sometimes appears to be a blind rage of party-driven righteousness to facilitate the assignment of blame. And who suffers when these “elephants” fight? It is the everyday folks – “the grass” - who will again be stuck with the bill.  And this time the financial damages are not in the millions or billions, but in the trillions.

Our nation has devolved into a dysfunctional family. The primary players are parents; not mom and dad, per se, but rather, Democrats and Republicans. They set the tone for the entire family.  Their bickering, back-biting and outright mean spiritedness etches ugliness on the very soul of society’s family.  Honest grievances are trivialized, while dialogue becomes diatribe. 

Members of the “family” – the citizens –look to their “parents” for guidance, reassurance and leadership.  Instead - the elected leaders - both Democrats and Republicans –bombard each other and society with their self-serving attacks on one another.  The tensions they create are confusing.  If they treat each other so harshly, just how will they treat us if we challenge them?  Even though they justify their vicious actions as having been motivated in the name of “doing what is best for the family” – the climate is confusing.  After a while, the family members themselves begin to behave as members of an alcoholic or co-dependent family.  The “youngsters” – the citizens - wanting to please either or both of their intense and indulgent parents, are often confused on just how to gain approval and reduce their own anxiety. 

When there are seemingly no lows to which the fierce partisans will not stoop to maintain power, then there will be very few, if any, rules to guide integrity-centered social interactions.  Violence is lamented, but is clearly sanctioned by the irresponsible “parents” who, instead of resolving differences in respectful discussion, relentlessly sabotage one another; infrequently apologizing. 

These “parental” turf-battles may not create gangs and endorse class warfare; however, they do little to discourage counter-productive or anti-social behavior.  Self-interest replaces social commitment.  Selfishness, in the name of leveraging a majority power position, fuels opportunistic decision-making with unintended, even destructive, consequences. 

Perhaps Senators McCain and Obama, with a combined 96% buy-in from the American voters, will choose to release their Vice-Presidential nominees, deciding to lead our nation together.  The winner becomes President and the loser, Vice-President, just as presidential elections were conducted in the early days of the republic.  During their partnership, they agree to be forthright and forceful, yet gracious – remaining singularly-focused on the well-being and security of the United States of America.



Bailout worries Main Street
Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 8, 2008.

Question: (E-365)

Our elected officials are being paid, and expected, to carefully consider the issues before them, and take constructive actions to address them.  When they fail to do so they are not doing their job.

A special friend, a retired judge, is clear about the responsibilities of his profession.  “A judge is expected to render the right decision and at the same time be perceived as having made the right decision.”  As the person rendering just decisions, the judge needs to know the law and be effective in communicating the rationale for the sentences handed out.  Such clarity is required in our current political-economic crisis.

Millions of “Main Street” Americans are still uncomfortable with the BAILOUT package – at least, what it smells like to them!  And why wouldn’t they?  The study of general semantics acknowledges that words have an impact on our psyche, our attitudes, even our nervous system.  So, why would really skillful “spin-doctors” in Washington choose to call this a give-away (a.k.a. $700 billion BAILOUT) program?  And why would they not explain, in clearer language, that it is not just for the financial wizards club, whose members have created the current mess by having operated in careless and sloppy, maybe even preferential and irresponsible ways? Further, this gigantic financial action should not be called a RESCUE

Words matter.

Our leaders need to employ the right words and acknowledge that Main Street folks deserve respect.  What if this were called an INVESTMENT?  Business ventures ask for capital infusions, often more than once, and they are not called BAILOUTS. Such financial infusions are called INVESTMENTS at the formation, mezzanine and advanced levels of enterprises – each with the expectation that performance will justify the financial support.  Lots more people will be willing to get on board with that which they understand.  Our leaders need to act as prudent managers, now, and communicate that our nation’s economic engine needs an INVESTMENT. 

Just how far off course our system has gone is revealed in the term used by Social Security to describe the monthly payment returned to tax payers: AN AWARD.  Our tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside, by law, into our retirement accounts, to be retrieved at the time we turn 62 or older, are titled:  AWARDED BENEFITS.  The implication is that our government – although simply returning to us what is rightfully ours is at the same time telling us that this money is now “owned” by the bureaucracy, and has been miraculously transformed into Social Security’s gift to us:  an AWARD.  No, bureaucracy, it ours to claim, not theirs to award!

Please do not harangue the employees of the Social Security Administration.  Find out who invented that wretched phrasing and get it changed.  Congressional representatives probably do not know of this AWARD distortion, because most of them have a preferential program that is much better.  Even so, the word AWARD really irritates me, how about you?  Words matter!


Wake up to fraud, America!  
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 29, 2008.
Question: (E-366)

The Bad News is - by way of reminder – that the $700 Billion investment by American taxpayers - is not the solution, but the beginning of “paying the piper” for our self-indulgences. Unfortunately, a society that sanctions a “greed-driven” value-system – as portrayed in the Michael Douglas film:  “Wall Street” – is likely to precipitate a crisis, like our current one.
The Good News – which is not all that reassuring – is that we are not the first culture to experience the chicanery of those in power along side those who want something for nothing.  Seems the Ancient Romans, at least from the observations of Cicero , watched their citizens, from top to bottom, behave similarly. 
"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.   People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."  Cicero , 55 BC
The Bad News continues to be that Americans, in alarmingly larger numbers, believe that if they want it, and if those in authority tell them they are entitled to it, then miraculously, like manna from heaven, whatever they desire will be “provided” to them – little or no effort required.  And, this garbage is being sold (and enthusiastically bought) seemingly across the board. If ever there were miracles being promoted, never more obvious than among the “guarantees” of our politicians, where one is promised something for nothing.
Wanting to represent my nation in the Olympic high jump, because my society tells me all folks are created equal, does not mean that I do not have to fulfill the requirement to ready myself and qualify – in order to be chosen to compete.  Even then my success is not guaranteed. 
Hoping to live the American dream, being in position to “enjoy” the same social, economic and cultural rewards of those who already “have” what I “want” - does not mean that I am not required to earn it. Whispering “sweet nothings” in the ears of voters, pandering to their self-centeredness and short-sightedness, does not mean that they are suddenly qualified to receive a highly-leveraged loan for home ownership. Wealth, fame and power – at least for most people – mere Middle Class mortals – comes before work only in the dictionary. 
The time is now to pay attention to what is happening and make sure – each person through his or her actions – to blow the whistle when fraudulent behaviors threaten to undo what has been, and could be again, an effective and powerful economic and political system.  If a deal sounds too good to be true; then very likely, it is! 

Lesson:  just say NO to false prophets selling “house-of-cards” loans and sophisticated “hustlers” with articulate and flawed schemes to steal money. 

Next week, more Good News – all confirming that Integrity Matters!


Use discipline in spending
Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on October 22, 2008.

Question: (E-367)

Recently, two Monterey Peninsula residents, Linda and Mike Dorn, went on a buying spree on behalf of eight Pay It Forward scholarship recipients.  They purchased “typical” items that are popular for college-age impulse shoppers.  They compared prices in order to provide financial counsel to these college students through my current Executives-in-Residence project at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB).  The objective of their spending excursion was to educate young people on ways to leverage dollars, getting the most from their available financial resources.

The Dorn’s, benefactors and mentors in and through CSUMB’s Executives-in-Residence Pay It Forward program, priced and purchased items from convenience stores and “big box” retailers – underscoring the premium often paid by impulse shoppers. They focused on typical items students might buy:  candy bars, snack crackers, cookies, batteries, chap-stick, aspirin tablets, gasoline, bottled water and canned soft-drinks. 

Students got the picture quickly.  A 48-pack of candy bars, purchased in bulk, reduced the per-bar price by more than 50%.  Soft-drinks from vending machines can sometimes cost as much as 400% more than when purchased in bulk.  Bottled water is another cost-saving opportunity, as much as 700%. 

The purpose of the activity was not to become advocates for “big box” stores.  However, those who leverage their dollars effectively, frequently and consistently practice prudent planning, self-discipline; including avoiding grocery shopping when hungry and not using a list.   

To further emphasize the importance of working within a budget, these first eight Pay It Forward recipients kept a record of all their purchases for two weeks.  They were then asked which items they “needed” versus which items they “wanted.” The results were eye-opening. For young university students as well as more experienced folks who might have developed less disciplined purchasing habits, it is wise to develop dollar-conserving practices to more efficiently stretch financial resources - especially when the economic health of the nation is still a little “wobbly.”

Waste not, want not!  Perhaps the recent Wall Street calamity, creating a $700 billion “bailout” or “investment” depending upon your perspective, is a wake-up call to practice smart shopping.

Pay It Forward is an ON-RAMP FOR FIRST GENERERATION COLLEGE STUDENTS FROM MONTEREY COUNTY at CSUMB and goes beyond the traditional arms-length transaction of providing deserving students with financial assistance for higher education by fostering an ongoing, mutually accountable relationship between recipients and leader-mentors. Scholarship recipients are required to "pay it forward" by providing their own service to 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.  Certainly, sound personal financial discipline reflects integrity and leads to success.  Pay It Forward provides access – the ON RAMP - to opportunity.

President must adopt code of ethics
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 5, 2008.

Question: (E-368)

A new President of the United States of America will likely have been chosen by the time this Integrity Matters column appears on Wednesday, November 5, 2008.  Our nation’s new President needs everyone’s support and prayers and he must communicate his personal and professional code of ethics by living it, every day.  Perhaps the new President would be wise to incorporate the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics as presented by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  Each Police Academy graduate is required to read, understand and endorse this code.  Should we expect less from any public official, especially our nation’s President? Of course not!

As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.

I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency. I will maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed both in my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the law and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, political beliefs, aspirations, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of police service. I will never engage in acts of corruption or bribery, nor will I condone such acts by other police officers. I will cooperate with all legally authorized agencies and their representatives in the pursuit of justice.

I know that I alone am responsible for my own standard of professional performance and will take every reasonable opportunity to enhance and improve my level of knowledge and competence.

I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession . . . law enforcement.

Sabbatical – a time to reflect
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on November 12, 2008.

Local columnist says his goodbyes

Question: (E-369)
Nearly seven years ago, on December 4, 2002, Integrity Matters, my weekly column, was launched here at The Salinas Californian. After 309 published responses to reader’s questions, along with some editorial positions of my own, it is time to say “thank you” for the opportunity.  The Californian’s decision to provide this space for me has been and will remain a truly significant and life-changing opportunitySupport, critique and suggestions from readers have been appreciated and valuable.  However, it is now time for me to go on an “Integrity Matters” writing sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a “leave” from daily obligations, originating in Biblical times: a year observed every seventh year under Mosaic Law as a “Sabbath” during which the land [read Jim Bracher] was allowed to rest.

It is valuable to differentiate between “doodle-ing” and “noodle-ing.” Doodle-ing is when we write without thinking.  Noodle-ing is when we think without writing.  Now is the time for me to noodle – for a while. 

My intention was to raise awareness on a tough and demanding subject, integrity. As we know, it is easier to “go along to get along” and excuse irresponsible behaviors – in both word and deed – than to hold up the integrity-mirror to ourselves and those with whom we associate. Truly critical commentary too often gets lost in “everyday conversations.”  When concerns are raised, integrity-challenges can come across as little more than superficial punch-lines connected with a knowing “wink” - looking the other way instead of forthrightly addressing cruelty, dishonesty and hypocrisy. Hopefully, our Integrity Matters columns have offered constructive approaches with practical tools; improving our world, one person at a time.

Our book, Integrity Matters, published in 2004, was an outgrowth of management consulting conversations with our clients from across the United States and around the world. But, in reality, Integrity Matters, which showcased my weekly columns from The Californian, was most clearly shaped by hours and hours of discussions with agribusiness and community leaders from the Salinas Valley. So, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you via this Integrity Matters column that enabled me to listen to you and learn about your priorities.

By way of reminder, here again are the Eight Attributes of an Integrity Centered Organization (or individual):

1. CHARACTER: consistency between word and deed.

Do the leaders of your organization exhibit congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did? Do leaders exhibit the right behavior?

2. HONESTY: truthful communication.

Do you have confidence that your leaders would never engage in or sanction misrepresentation?

3. OPENNESS: operational transparency.

Is appropriate information about your organization readily available?

4. AUTHORITY: employee encouragement.

Are you able to correct a customer problem? Do you have confidence that your actions will be supported?

5. PARTNERSHIP: honor obligations.

Does your company pride itself on timely fulfillment of all commitments?

6. PERFORMANCE: accountability throughout the organization.

When individuals, including senior executives, under-perform repeatedly, are they given due process and then, if necessary, replaced?

7. CHARITY: generous community stewardship.

Does your organization reach out to those in need?

8. GRACIOUSNESS: respect and discipline.

Does your organization demonstrate care and concern for all stakeholders?

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