Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)

Economic (21-40)

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Question: (E-021)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 29, 2003

"Boss showed respect for worker's skill"

My brother-in-law is considering whether he should quit his job over what he calls an integrity issue. It seems his boss, the owner of a small company, left town without telling him. He left him in charge without my brother-in-law knowing that the owner was out of town and out of reach, even should an emergency have arisen.

The owner had a compelling personal reason, but did not take the opportunity to inform my brother-in-law. While recognizing that the owner must trust him with the business, my wife’s brother felt exposed because he was in charge, but in the “dark.”

I feel he is making a mountain out a molehill and should be satisfied with simply requesting that it not happen again. What do you think?

Yes, your relative may well be making a mountain out of a molehill. In fact, he may be on the brink of trading “a moment for a career”. Obviously the boss trusts your brother in law. He probably likes him, too.

Perhaps we can help your brother-in-law see the situation more clearly if we separate the “issues”:

Item No. 1: He has earned and received the respect and trust of the owner. He was left “in charge!”. That is a significant compliment. It means the boss trusts your wife’s brother.
Item No. 2: There is a problem regarding an employee being “left in the dark” about the whereabouts of the boss. As an outsider, it is my speculation that some aspect of the relationship between your brother-in-law and the boss needs improvement. Obviously the boss handled this business decision poorly. It may not be an integrity issue, but it is a management issue that needs to be fixed immediately. Wise leaders know that they need to remain accessible in the event of an emergency, especially when they place someone else “in charge”.

A long time ago, a mentor advised me that it can be naïve or even unreasonable to assume that all personal and professional relationships can be developed and sustained at the same level of intensity. He was right. During a quarter of a century in the management consulting business, some clients were closer professionally than personally. They liked our “executive counsel” services, but chose not to be as close outside of our client-counselor relationship. They paid our fees, but did not necessarily invite us to family events, such as weddings.

In contrast, other clients became more than business friends--actually more like “family”. In those instances, our personal friendships have continue today, long after our professional relationships ended.

It is seldom wise to “blow up” a friendship. Perhaps further dialogue will explain the behaviors, at least for this situation. This problem between “friends” can be turned into an opportunity to strengthen not only the relationship, but also the business and its management practices. Integrity is the key stone and is the only practical path to follow to “fix” whatever is broken.

Question: (E-022)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 5, 2003

"Ask questions of company leadership"

I manage a local retail store that is part of a large regional chain. I report to a Regional Vice-President, but have no direct contact with corporate headquarters in the Midwest. I like my job. However, in the wake of all of the recent stories about corporate corruption and greed on the parts of company executives, I would like to assure myself that those people steering my ship are really interested in the passengers.

Is there some simple way to evaluate the integrity of the president and the senior staff of my company?

Yes, there is a very simple way to evaluate the integrity of your company’s leadership. You determine the integrity of leaders by asking the right questions and not tolerating the wrong answers.

Here are nine of the right questions:

  1. Is it generally understood by employees that they are expected to do the right thing? Is it in the atmosphere of your culture to do the “right thing?"
  2. Is your company involved in local (outreach) activities?
  3. Is information about the financial health of your company readily available?
  4. Do meetings almost always start and end on time so that participants can fulfill commitments to others and not be forced to “cascade” time-insensitivity?
  5. Do your customers know that you have the authority to “make things right” for them when mistakes happen?
  6. When anyone in your company (including senior executives) under-performs repeatedly, are they given due process and then, if necessary, replaced?
  7. Does your company pride itself on paying its suppliers in timely ways?
  8. Do you have confidence that your president would never direct those who report to him to “fudge” numbers under any circumstances? (You will know the answer to this question by the ways in which your boss directs you to report your sales and profits, every month, every quarter and every year.)
  9. Do the individuals who lead your company exhibit “congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did”?

If leaders are not consistent and predictable in the execution of their duties to the point that you can generally predict what they will do and how they will go about doing their work, then some portion of the organization’s values, if not most of the values, are being violated. Such inconsistency can be death to integrity.

Now that you have read these nine questions, it is unlikely that you need an answer sheet. If you are not satisfied with your answers to several, if not all, of the questions listed above, there could be integrity issues at your company.

Hopefully you believe, as I do, that: “Integrity is the keystone of leadership. It is reflected in discussions, decisions, directives and diagnostics. Leadership emerges from listening, exhibits character in behavior, and leverages energy with integrity. Integrity is the stabilizing factor that sustains effort and causes energy to create the canopy for accomplishment. Integrity enables the achievement of Vision.”

If we are in agreement about how important ethical behavior is in leadership, then, you know that the actions of every member of your company, from front line employees to the executive team, confirm or deny INTEGRITY.

Question: (E-023)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 19, 2003

"Check before you list charges"

I traded in a car in well-above-average condition, but with 40,000 miles on the odometer. When later I saw the car on the lot, it had only 12,000 miles on the odometer. What should I do?

1. Assuming that the automobile is your former vehicle and not simply a look alike.

2. Assuming that you read the odometer numbers correctly, and you have a bill of sale that clearly reports the actual mileage of your former automobile.

3. Assuming that you can be sure the person who purchased the car from you has had the car in his or her possession (with no opportunity for a prankster to adjust the odometer).

a. Go to the owner that purchased your vehicle and explain you are concerned that someone has placed you and his/her organization in a potentially complicated and/or legal situation.

b. Clarify that if the vehicle was yours and has been adjusted, that you are aware that the Better Business Bureau would expect to have such information reported to them, and you expect the owner to act immediately or you will be compelled to do so.

You might explain that when we cannot trust the numbers on the odometer, what other "trusts" might have been broken?

c. Violations of "contracts," creating a level of mistrust that can permeate a profession, industry, community or an entire society, will interrupt the effective flow of goods and services. This interruption impacts productivity and profitability.

When individuals and groups lose confidence in the integrity of a business or any institution, then governments will be compelled to take action and add regulations..

d. Changing odometers is illegal. It is expensive for our society. It hurts business for everyone. If you cannot convince the leader of this enterprise to make the situation right, then our criminal system can.

Letter to the editor: (February 22, 2003)

The Feb.19 "Integrity Matters" business column by Jim Bracher was needlessly long and, in my opinion, offered poor advice.

The response should instead have included these actions for the questioner:

  • Check the vehicle's VIN to make sure it is the same car.
  • Check the odometer again to make certain you read it correctly the first time.
  • Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles' investigative division regarding the findings and request that they investigate.

This is what a good citizen should do when confronted with a potential violation of the law.
Going to the new owner, as was suggested, could place the questioner at needless risk.

There is no way of knowing what the new owner's reaction might be, especially if the new owner regularly engages in illegal practices.

It is also not the questioner's responsibility to provide the new owner with a lesson in ethics.

Any lesson to be taught should be taught by legal authorities.

Larry Widigen

Response to Widigen Letter (02-24-03)

Mr. Larry Widigen offered insightful suggestions in dealing with automobile odometer "roll back" activities.

Unfortunately, not all business transactions are conducted with high-integrity individuals.

Even so, Mr. Widigen's "by the book" approach could be so efficient that interpersonal relationships could be permanently injured. Our contrasting approach offers the owner an opportunity to correct any mistake.

Each of us wants to be a good citizen, practicing integrity-centered decision-making. Regardless of our responses, there are consequences. Each individual will want to weigh the costs and then proceed appropriately.

Obviously, there are many legitimate approaches to solving problems. We recommend that each reader remembers: "Integrity is one of several paths; it distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost." -- M.H. McKee

We appreciate reader input.


Jim Bracher

Question: (E-024)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 26, 2006

"Dismissal leaves store clerk confused"

Last year, when I graduated from Hartnell, I got a job at a local clothing store. After some initial training I was put on the sales floor. I enjoyed the work. I like taking care of people's needs.

Although I wasn't getting much feedback from my manager, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Customers were always thanking me for the way I helped them. Then, last week, I was suddenly fired over an incident that has left me hurt and confused.

A lady had come into the store looking for a particular brand of cotton top. We didn't carry the brand for anything else similar in style. I knew that a shop in the mall had what she was looking for and so I told her where she could find what she wanted. I then asked if she had seen our sale items or if I could help her in any other way, she said she was just interested in the blouses, thank me and left.

My manager, who had overheard my conversation with the lady, came up to me and told me she wanted to see me in the break room after my shift. Two hours later, before I was going to punch out, I went to see the manager. To my shock, when I met the manager she handed me my final check and told me I was being let go effective immediately. I will never forget her words when I asked her why. She said "you never, ever, refer a customer to a competitor". I was so stunned. I don't even remember what I said in my defense. I just remember leaving the store a nervous wreck.

Is it possible that general business practices say that self interest comes before the best interest of the customer? Please tell me this isn't so.

This should not have happened, yet it provides a lesson: simply being right is no guarantee that we will not have some "bumps." As to your Boss, everyone understands that these are demanding times. Generating revenue is tough. Likely, your former boss was feeling tremendous pressure to generate immediate cash flow from customers, despite not having exactly what the customer wanted or needed. Unless your former boss had instructed you that you were never to refer a customer to another supplier to fulfill their needs (a poor policy, by the way), your boss was wrong to terminate you for this. From a customer's perspective, you made the right decision and are living with the consequences.

When your own integrity is on the line, there is a piece of wisdom that you might choose to read, over and over. It appears on our website ( "Integrity is one of several paths; it distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost." -- M.H. McKee

You chose to meet a customer's needs by telling him or her the truth. You maintained your personal integrity and might possibly have created a customer for life for your former employer. Short-sighted bosses, those who are driven only by today's profits at the expense of longer-term relationships, are not the "stuff" of which legends have been built. They miss opportunities to create legendary service by focusing exclusively upon today's financial results. Bosses of this type terminate individuals of your caliber. Long-term, businesses that operate this way lose out. Longer term, please be confident that you will win-- as will the many customers that you will continue to attract and retain.

You are now in a very good position (having encountered a short-sighted, self-centered and greedy boss) to look with greater precision for the integrity-centered leader and organization that will respect and reward your focus on the customer. Most of the time, with the majority of people, integrity is important. Being honest is rewarded. Good leaders are working hard to equip each of their employees so that every individual will feel comfortable doing the right thing for the right reasons.

You have learned that one particular organization is not a good match for you. Be happy that you have learned this so soon upon graduation. You are now better prepared to proceed with confidence that high integrity situations do exist which will welcome you, promote you and regard you as true partner in their efforts to serve the customers effectively.

Question: (E-025)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on February 26, 2003

"Professional faces ethical quandary"

I am a professional in a specialty that is carefully, monitored by a State Board of Licensure. I am bound by the ethical rules of confidentiality and operate as a private practitioner, educator to licensed professionals, and supervisor of internships for the State Board of licensure. Recent demands from health insurance organizations now put my colleagues and myself at ethical risk are: client confidentiality. While we understand that our clients want to use insurance for health related service, we find ourselves in the untenable position of feeling "bullied" by MANAGED CARE to breach ethics and give access to confidential information. Even as we discover the risk and terminate agreements to accept certain insurances, we are facing demands to allow Managed Care staff access to records for past services to their insured.

How can we behave with integrity, protect our client's confidentiality and answer the demands of an entity that asks us to breach ethics that are already monitored by our State Licensing Board?

Your concerns about integrity cross multiple boundaries and must be addressed one issue at a time.

  1. Ethical issues: Once an informed patient asks the counselor/doctor to release information to insurers, the ethics issue disappears. When an informed patient signs a form authorizing the counselor/doctor to furnish information to insurers, this signals to the doctor/counselor that the patient has chosen to utilize funds from a third party (insurance). Then the counselor functions with a lowered-obligation of privacy-confidentiality, and the insurer is now able to be involved in the case. This is called informed consent and is both ethical and legal. In this way insurers can protect themselves against those who would abuse the system. It does, however, open the door to some potential for abuse of information.
  2. Legal concerns: It is likely that you and your colleagues belong to a professional association that exists, in part, to strengthen your profession, protect your rights and maintain the integrity of those who are licensed colleagues. Quite likely the executive in charge of this association has access to attorneys who can assist in defining needs and creating recommendations to address concerns regarding conflicts of interest and compromising situations. Seek advice and provide input, lest those who are paid to represent you miss the message. It seems that unless you are able to function (consistent with your ethical priorities), your productivity and high quality service will decline, along with adequate income to support the professional association founded to assist you in the carrying out of your professional expertise. After all, it is from successful members of your profession that your association is funded.
  3. Financial implications: Obviously, you must understand all of the requirements of your state's certification procedures as well as the code of ethics of your profession or you could lose your privileges to practice in your chosen profession. Loss of certification has enormous financial ramifications. Morally, legally and financially you would be wise to know, in detail, from whatever organization is responsible for professional ethics, the best approach that enables you to remain in compliance with any and all professional obligations.

Summary thoughts and suggestions: First, unless or until these issues are resolved, the only way for you to guarantee strict confidentiality is for the client to pay for your services without the benefit of third party insurance. Those who can afford this may choose this rather than enable an insurer to know their particular problems. This seems, unfortunately, to push hard up against the concept of equal rights to privacy, for everyone. Second, your ability to remain effective with the practice you have developed (and at which you hope to continue to earn a good living) depends upon your success in securing legal protection, whether from your association, your state licensing entity or the legislature of your state.
Actions you may choose to take as a concerned licensed service provider, seeking to strengthen your profession:

A. Clarify your ethical concerns with the State Board of Licensure (your professional Association can help).

B. Know your rights and responsibilities regarding confidentiality (your attorney and/or your Association's attorney can be of immense help in these areas).

C. Define your principles regarding the ethical execution of your duties and measure them
against what is currently provided for those in your profession. Where there are differences, you have choices: create regulations that cause the principles to match or choose to modify your behaviors to live with the existing operating principles. If these options are not adequate, you can always select a new way to make a living.

Remember, each and every one of your patients will understand that integrity is congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did. Integrity is the keystone of leadership in all fields, including medicine. The keystone holds the profession together at its most critical junction, where knowledge and counsel serve the patient... Integrity is the strength, unity, clarity and purpose that upholds and sustains all of the activities of any medical provider. Leaders in all professions exude integrity.

Question: (E-026)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on March 4, 2003

"Boss's behavior seems harsh"

A friend in Hawaii has announced his retirement at age 55 from his employer of 21 years. He is in sales and recently told me that his boss put him on written warning for his performance last year, even though he met his sales quota. It was because he did not sell enough to one of the accounts per sales plan. My friend is 55 and cannot really afford to retire, but felt he was going to get forced out in a “youth movement” and did not want his work record to have on it the word “fired”!

I do not know all the facts; however, it does seem to me that when an employee has 20-plus years with a firm, having always been loyal to the organization, he deserves more than routine consideration. The behavior of the boss seems to lack integrity. It appears that this situation smells of constructive or wrongful discharge. What do you think?

Companies have rights to manage their operations in a variety of ways. They can legally, hire and fire employees. Your friend is no exception. With reference to the integrity issue, we may find answers by first breaking down the concerns expressed in your letter.

Your friend announced his retirement, and for whatever reasons he chose this language, it may be difficult to undo this potentially legally binding announcement.

A written warning is serious matter and may be associated with breaches of conduct that can outweigh other valuable contributions. For an outsider to comment on such actions by management might assume legal knowledge (even labor precedents) that rest beyond the practice of addressing integrity in leadership.

A career of 20 years, assuming competence, would certainly warrant due process. Your friend should have been keeping copies of every relevant document. If he has not done so, he should make every effort to secure them. Given the facts presented, it appears this person would be well advised to follow a four-step process:

Review his situation with the appropriate personnel professional.
If things cannot resolved satisfactorily, he should outline his alternatives and confirm them with his attorney.
Seek a solution that does not “burn the bridge” for any future career opportunity with the company.
Accept the reality that a solution that in not integrity-centered could force a separation that has legal, financial, and emotional complications.

Legally, he may have boxed himself in. On the other hand, integrity-centered leadership could open a door for a more humane solution.

Question: (E-027)
My insurance company hires aspiring younger people, those between ages 28 and 40, then we spend about two years educating and training them in our specialty. We open our client files to these newcomers to our industry and we equip them for success using our knowledge and experience. We pay them while they learn and expect them to re-pay us with several years of service and loyalty.

Over the past decade, and especially more recently, we have noticed a very disappointing trend. These valuable individuals leave us, shortly after their two year orientation and take with them our contacts and our intellectual property, seemingly without remorse or guilt. When confronted, their responses vary, but one theme bursts through all of their explanations and rationalizations: we are doing nothing that is illegal.

Is this an integrity issue? If it is, how can we address it and stop this waste of time and money?

A Concerned Founder of an Insurance Firm

Integrity is at the heart of your story, really saga, of individuals landing on board your insurance boat, eating your business food, only to leave your employment with the mess created by their premature exit. Their respect for your investment in them (these individuals) is absent. There appears to be an abdication, on their part, of any responsibility for returning some portion of the training costs. When these trainees mention that what they are doing is not illegal, they seem to be saying that relationships and accountability are not the cornerstones of the social contract they are honoring.

How sad for you and how very tragic for these individuals and the values they are using to build the future.

The tone of your question communicates that you understand the importance of character in the transaction of business. The following definition might easily describe how you operate.

Character is the ability to carry out the resolution long after the initial burst of enthusiasm is gone. Character shows when decisions are implemented. Character is the sum total of behaviors and is most completely demonstrated when individuals perform under pressure. Graciousness is almost always part of effective leadership character. Leaders with character drive organizational culture in all actions.

Loyalty is a two-way street that has been clogged with selfishness and self-serving leaders across multiple industries. You are reaping the whirlwind of brutal layoffs and short-sighted strategies that have been high-lighted by the media for a quarter of a century. It has now become a game of who can take theirs first. For those who play this game, trust has moved to the back of the line.

Please do not give up on the next generation. From the letters received here, through the INTEGRITY MATTERS column, the search is still on for high-quality firms. There are individuals, many of them, who are looking for integrity-centered leadership. Their desire is to find a worthy mission and work toward its accomplishment. They are not afraid to commit. They are eager to learn. They are willing to give back.

One of my favorite advisors, a retired founder of an insurance company that grew quite large, told me that his key to growing his successful organization centered in three questions he asked of himself after he interviewed prospective employees.

  1. 1. Did he like the person? Over a meal, it becomes fairly obvious if one enjoys being with the other person. If you really do not enjoy their company, why hire them?
  2. Had the individual ever had to sacrifice? Had they overcome humble beginnings? Were they an accomplished musician, athlete, speaker, user of a second or third language? Did they work while attending college?
  3. What was and is their divine factor? What did they do for others simply because they wanted to? Do they enthusiastically give to charities? (whether in terms of money or time)?

When you can answer affirmatively to these three areas, there is an improved chance that the individual will see the partnership and obligation. Such individuals have integrity.

In the meantime, maintain your standards and hold your course. Good people are out there.

My boss was recently hired from another company, and after he joined us, several of us have noticed he has a tendency to fall asleep in conversations. I watched him carefully,
and became convinced that he has narcolepsy. He is in a very senior position, and this condition could seriously embarrass the company with a customer, or detract from employee morale if it occurred in a major presentation to employees.

I confronted him, and he acknowledged the problem, but begged me not to disclose it to anyone else. He said it is treatable, and only happens when he forgets his medication (he must forget a lot!). He is afraid the senior management above him will terminate him if they learn of the problem--while I am of the opinion that they will terminate him for sure if they learn of it from anyone else!

What should I do?

A concerned employee

Your concern is valid, and the fact that you have already confronted him the first time is commendable. While you could choose to do absolutely nothing further and wait to see if anything changes, that seems unlikely

Because you have already addressed your concerns directly with your boss, it seems more likely that you want to help the boss and your company. The tone of your letter suggests that you have a direct reporting relationship to him, and that you will do whatever it takes to protect the larger institution out of respect and commitment to that institution.

This is an integrity issue as it relates to the honesty of your “boss” regarding how forthcoming he was during his own hiring process. Certain unfortunate health conditions can cause physical harm to the individuals themselves and those with whom they might be associated. Should an individual fall asleep while driving a vehicle, the costs are difficult to calculate. Obviously, medication intended to address such ailments must be taken as prescribed, without fail. Falling asleep during a business meeting can be embarrassing; falling asleep at other times could be disastrous.

When you mentioned that your leader forgets to take his medication regularly, you have identified a situation that could harm the leader, the company and (potentially) innocent bystanders. Disclosure of health issues is expected, when integrity is the foundation of the relationship. If the folks who hired the boss were not made aware of the situation, they should be, now. In the meantime, the boss needs to treat his medical issues, all the time.

As for your concern: You can address your own integrity dilemma by considering these actions:

First, remind your leader that if this news about his health situation comes to his bosses from anyone other than him--and one day it will--he risks his own reputation of being honest with his superiors. Simply waiting for another “falling asleep” event to occur is courting disaster.

Second, suggest a time (preferably in the very near future) for the boss to discuss his health situation with senior management. If the truth is not communicated soon, let him know that you will be in an untenable position. You want to be loyal to the leader himself, but you feel a corporate responsibility to protect your institution from any harm that might occur for the boss, your institution or innocent bystanders. What other choices do you have?

Third, be prepared that you may be seen as a “whistle blower”. Even though Time Magazine’s “2002 Persons of the Year” were whistle blowers, as the three recipients can attest, there can be painful and costly consequences.

Fourth, if these actions seem too demanding, then consult your own legal counsel and ask for guidance regarding your liability if you do nothing.

Finally, weigh the alternatives and proceed with full awareness of the risks as well as the rewards.

Question: (E-029)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on March 19, 2003

"Check track records before investing cash"

Over the past several years, I have watched our economy sputter. Big dreams for early and comfortable retirement for my wife and me have evaporated. We are partly responsible for the difficulties. We, no, really I am mostly the one who pushed for higher returns on investments. We kept reading about these high technology projects that had tremendous valuations for their stocks. I insisted that we jump in and enjoy the returns. When things began to fall apart, the advice my wife and I received was to “stay the course, stocks are a long term investment.” We trusted our investment advisors.

We lost about 60% of our funds.

Was our tremendous loss related to the integrity of those who sold the investments and counseled us? Was this an integrity issue for those who were the leaders of the companies in which we invested? I am willing to accept responsibility for every dollar lost, primarily because I must. Yet, there were people (advisors, venture capitalists, corporate executives and investment bankers) who must have known more than we did. Many of them bought in early, watched the stock price catapult, then they bailed out and left us to go down with the sinking ship.

I am angry, embarrassed and a lot poorer. Whose integrity can one trust?

Please help because, I am in over my head or maybe simply a victim of fraud.

Your situation is all too common. You feel taken advantage of and there are legitimate reasons for your feelings. You may or may not be a sophisticated investor. You may or may not have close friends who are wise in the ways of finance and investments. You may or may not have legal recourse, even though you may believe that those in control of your investments could have advised you to sell before risking so much of your money.

Here is the irony and the sad truth of a seemingly modern and wealthy society. Long ago, in the Middle Ages, many of the leaders of the Catholic Church kept language and education away from many deserving and capable people. Instead of educating the masses, the power hungry of this earlier time kept writing, reading, math and science in the hands of the few. In that medieval era, the few were primarily members of the “club” made up of church leaders (clerics and bishops). An exclusive club back then was wrong in the ways it treated those who trusted it and it is wrong today.

As a consequence of the actions, freedom was kept in check and a certain theological aristocracy operated pretty much as it chose. That period of time was often called the Dark Ages, not simply because people were unable to educate themselves through reading and study, but also because the world was lighted only by fire. The Middle Ages had only the intellectual light offered by those in power. Any other light was from the fires that warmed their humble homes, cooked their meals and tortured those who challenged accepted rules and regulations. A fascinating book addressing this medieval integrity-crisis is: A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance Portrait of an Age (William Manchester).

The situation today is remarkably similar. Medieval priests reading and speaking Latin have been replaced in our era by balance sheet wizards and magicians of money. Instead of a Dark Ages being manipulated by well-read theologians with power and prestige, today we are surrounded by articulate and sophisticated gurus of finance, banking and capital formation.

They are well trained in these modern times to speak in a language calculated to be beyond the “average” wage earner whose dollars have disappeared. It seems that many of “the best” of graduate business institutions pride themselves upon the fraternity that they helped to educate. More recently this “elite society” has begun including women. These fraternities and sororities communicate an image of self-perception that they own and can manipulate the financial transactions of our nation and a significant portion of the world. Unfortunately, in many instances, they do.

Financial power, consolidated in the hands of the few, no matter how well educated, can too easily place personal greed and club-membership loyalty (to those already "in") far above integrity. Feelings of exclusivity abound and those outside the circle may not receive appropriate advice and counsel. In fact, your story is not unique.

Encouraging beginning or unsophisticated investors to participate in these inflated valuations, fabricated by members of the “financial wizards club” is wrong. Keeping them in these inflated transactions long after they should have exited is borderline corrupt. It may not be illegal, but most assuredly it is immoral. Too often the “off the street” investor was losing a small family fortune while those in the know, who invested early, were taking high profits and bailing out. These friends of the “magicians of money” knew the game and played it well. Those outside the club circle suffered reversals of fortunes that left them devastated, in lots of ways.

If you do not understand the investment enterprise, are not 100% confident that your counselor really works for you; then you are playing in a game that offers a low risk of winning, or sometimes, even surviving.

What has been going on relative to the making of money is not right. Using insider information, parsing words and avoiding giving prudent counsel are some of the symptoms of an elite group run amok. Society will be healthy again when we reject the fraudulent behavior and reward integrity-centered advisors, just as the Reformation worked to cure the ills of the Middle Ages.

Obviously, there are honest professionals in finance and investments. It is important that you know a great deal about their skills, credentials and motivations. The very best way to learn about advisors (financial and others) is to review their track records with those who have worked with them before. History is often an excellent way to predict or at least better understand the future.

On a personal note, I am very sorry for what you and others suffered during these recent times, specifically as you sought ways to secure your retirement years.

Question: (E-030)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on March 19, 2003

"Readers: We need your help"


Thank you, in advance, for your help. A few weeks ago, a coupon began appearing on the business page asking for your assistance. We are asking you to identify an ethical company. We suggested nine guidelines. These nine questions address the way a company operates.

So far, we have received one nomination. Now, who wants to come in first in a one person activity? Further, who in their right mind wants to be singled out as the only ethical leader in our community? So, come on and let us know the names of those individuals who represent what is still right about leadership and ownership.

We know that you come into contact with high-quality organizations all the time. So, please lend a hand. Tell us the names of companies that exhibit positive qualities related to:

1. behavior (atmosphere for doing what is right)
2. charity (community involvement)
3. open (financial transparency)
4. gracious (respect and discipline)
5. authority (employee encouragement)
6. performance (accountability from top to bottom)
7. partnership (prompt bill payment)
8. unimpeachable (honest reporting of numbers)
9. consistency (congruence between word and deed)

Just in case you want to review the original nine questions, they are listed in the coupon shown below. We would like to report in our April 2, 2003, Integrity Matters column that the readership of the Californian identifies ethical companies.

Question: (E-031)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 16, 2003.

"Government must help the working poor"

Dear Jim:
I read in our paper that “Quick Tax Loans Cost Taxpayers almost $2 Billion”. Further, these check cashing fees add to the cost of getting tax refunds and loans. And the worst part is that these fees are targeted at the working poor. What kind of integrity is this? What is the thinking of those who prepare the taxes for the working poor as well as those who make available their financial institutions to assist in carrying out this high cost activity? Is everything about money, no matter who is taken advantage of?

Dear Concerned Citizen:
You have raised an issue that is central to the integrity of our society. We are supposed to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And, our society is judged by how we respond to those at high risk.

The working poor are an admirable segment of our society. At one time or another, most of us had immigrant ancestors who came to the United States of America as “the working poor” and found independence and success; economic and otherwise. Working poor means that these are individuals not asking for a “pass” – they have taken a job and they are contributing. They work in hopes of finding what Americans have always dreamed about, a better life through effort, sacrifice and commitment. Taking advantage of this group is awful.

Having done research about this tax-refund and loan process, where a number of tax preparation organizations, some being quite large, and certain financial institutions charge high fees and interest rates, it is difficult not to be appalled. Their leaders respond that if they did not supply these expensive services, then someone else would. Whether they are right or wrong, we should be thoughtful in hurrying to find a scapegoat. Blaming accountants and bankers is not productive. The solutions lie in the hands of those who regulate these types of actions, namely, our government officials.

Without an upward success path for the working poor our society, they are left with little hope and motivation. If you feel, as I do, that this callous manipulation of our emerging work force is wrong, then contact the Attorney General’s office in your state. Unless free markets (in this case, the tax preparers and their collaborating financial institutions) are willing to regulate themselves, then governments must. If what is being done is legal, then find out how to change the laws. Right now, in these harsh times, we all need one another.

Preying on the working poor, reducing an already small amount of money that is rightfully theirs, by taking advantage of their lack of knowledge and sophistication, says allot about the character and integrity of those who know the ropes and utilize the loopholes.

Question: (E-032)
Dear Jim:

Why does it seem like a certain local, large hospitality organization, seemingly a fine company, can't keep management?"

Dear Local Business Observer:

Some facts never change. Quality leadership and integrity generally attract and retain the best people. The exception will prove the rule. There are always reasons why folks choose to change organizations and that is another reason to live and work in the United States of America. We are free to do pretty much what we want.

Without responding to any company in particular; generally, retention is all about leadership and values.

Books are written about retaining employees. Seminars and training programs are offered to thousands and even millions of attendees annually, probably netting the providers incredible profits. But, that approach may be missing the mark. Leadership effectiveness is uncomplicated. At least that is what we have learned during the past twenty-four years consulting with about 8000 clients.

Most of our executive development and leadership enhancement consultation centers in training individuals with lots of responsibilities. They often need to learn to incorporate three important phrases that were taught to many of us who remember Captain Kangaroo. He was a pioneer in television programming that focused on children. He preceded Mr. Rogers and taught many of the same valuable insights. His three lessons could save management careers. His basic approach might catapult leaders (or wanna be leaders) if only they would learn to think, feel and say:


Organizations that fail to emphasize these practical and profound behaviors risk losing a great deal, beginning with customers, employees and managers. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers taught integrity. We can profit from their wisdom.

Question: (E-033)
Dear Jim:

I read a national news (Wall Street Journal) front page article today, Friday, February 21, 2003, regarding a Topeka, Kansas, energy company (Westar Energy, Inc.) A small part of that article discussed the resignation of a Board Member because of being kept in the dark regarding overcompensation of the CEO. The article also reports the former CEO as saying the Board Member was simply a poor performer. Two questions arise in my mind.

First, is it not the Board's prerogative and responsibility to set the compensation of the CEO in the first place?

Second, assuming the Board Member indeed was performing poorly, is there not an ethical, moral and perhaps a legal responsibility for Board Members to take their position seriously and to perform to the best of their ability?

A concerned investor

Dear Concerned Investor,

Yes and Yes to questions one and two.

Number One, boards are responsible for the compensation of the Chief Executive Officer, the boss.

Number Two, board members have financial and legal duties to the stockholders of the company to take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously and perform to the best of their abilities.

Fortunately, the majority of members of boards must be living up to these responsibilities or even more corporate scandals would be wall-papered across the headlines. You can safely assume that most people intend to do a good job.

However, we are uncovering a level of casualness; some might say callousness, regarding the way too many individuals are behaving in positions of responsibility. Sadly for our economy, and our nation, stories of irresponsible leadership at the top, including the board level, bubble onto headlines at an alarming rate.

To underscore your concern, let me repeat a story that was related to me within the last week. A high technology company was holding a board meeting, with several board members participating via telephone. Not very long into the proceedings, a loud swishing sound was heard, above the usual hum of multiple phone connections. As the meeting continued, one officer from the company asked the person phoning in from Colorado if he was on the ski slopes. The board member responded that he was actually skiing down the mountain, but had no idea that the others could hear the noise of the wind, the skis and the snow. The person who told me of the incident was a co-founder of the company. He was dumbfounded, angry and disappointed.

Simply put, how can an individual be giving 100% attention to board responsibilities while playing in the snow? Hopefully, this is the exception and not the rule.

Unfortunately, the acquisition of wealth can cause some people to believe that their genius in guiding previous success stories (whether through skill, timing, a strong market or simple luck) makes them immune to the disciplines of listening and focus. Such behavior sets a poor example for those who are charged with daily operations and it is a violation of trust between and among stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, investors, etc).

Leadership is about integrity and it never runs away from responsibility.

If you have stock in this company, you have to believe that integrity-centered leadership prevails.

Question: (E-034)
Dear Jim:

I found your recent column dealing with nine questions regarding leadership integrity enlightening and disturbing. You instruct that we should not tolerate the wrong answers from bosses on questions that probe at the ethics of their actions and business practices. I am inspired by your ideals, but I am cynical enough to think that searching for a corporate head who could give the "right" answers to all nine of your questions would be more challenging than the ancient Greek who wandered around his civilization in vain search of an honest man.

I want to believe that there are companies out there who deal with their employees, shareholders, suppliers and customers completely ethically, but, frankly, in my limited experience, I'm not sure I've met any. Who should my heroes be? I live in Monterey County. Do you know of any local companies that might pass your nine-question test?

Can you suggest any books dealing with corporate leaders or companies that are both financially successful and operated with integrity?

I have been feeling o.k. about my present bosses and my company until I read your February 5 column entitled "Ask questions of company leadership". After thinking about them and my answers to the nine questions, frankly, I don't feel so good about my answers or my company. Where I work fails to meet the benchmarks you laid out in half of your questions.

No longer can I work in this company in denial. Your standards are correct and my company falls short. I have a dilemma. Either I search for a new company with higher integrity standards or accept that my standards are higher than those of my company. In the meantime, it would be reassuring to know that there is some "greener grass" out there.

What do you suggest?

Dear Individual with High Standards:

Thank you for reading and responding to the February 5, 2003, Integrity Matters column titled: "Ask Questions of company leadership". Those nine important questions to ask about business and its leadership are:

1. BEHAVIOR: atmosphere for doing what is right.
· Is it understood by employees that they are expected to do the right thing? Is the right thing defined in a code of ethics? Do leaders exhibit the right behavior?

2. CHARITY: community involvement.
· Does your company support charitable activities?

3. OPENNESS: financial transparency.
· Is information about the financial health of your company readily available?

4. GRACIOUSNESS: respect and discipline.
· Is there an understanding that meetings start and end on time so that participants can fulfill commitments to others and not be forced cascade time-insensitivity? Or, is only the boss’s time important?

5. AUTHORITY: employee encouragement.
· Do you have the authority to make things right for the customer when mistakes happen, and confidence that your decision will be supported?

6. PERFORMANCE: accountability throughout the organization.
· When anyone in your company (including senior executives) under-performs repeatedly, are they given due process and then, if necessary, replaced?

7. PARTNERSHIP: prompt bill payment.
· Does your company pride itself on paying its suppliers in timely ways?

8. HONESTY: truthful reporting of numbers.
· Do you have confidence that your president would never direct anyone to “fudge” numbers under any circumstances?

9. CONSISTENCY: congruence between word and deed.
· Do the individuals who lead your company exhibit “congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did”?

You are right to be concerned about the quality of leadership, the need for an integrity-centered business climate and the values that are expressed by those who lead your company.
Yours is not a new concern, otherwise that ancient Greek, Diogenes, would not have spent a significant portion of his adult life searching for an honest man. Don't forget that Diogenes lived from 412-323 B.C. What makes finding integrity so important is the profound impact it has on our every transaction. Those individuals and institutions that embody high ethical principles are beacons of light and hope for all who come into contact with them.

If you are looking for "saints" to serve as business executives, your search, like that of Diogenes, could be disappointing. On the other hand, if you wish to get a start for clearly understanding those attributes that cause organizations to be successful over the long-haul, consider purchasing and then carefully reading an important book addressing the very best in business leadership. Built to Last (Successful Habits of Visionary Companies) by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras will provide an objective overview of those attributes that have shaped "best in class" business enterprises.

To find companies in our local area that are integrity-centered, you might consider checking with the Better Business Bureau, local Chamber of Commerce or even Dun and Bradstreet. Should these resources fail to satisfy your need for integrity information, then watch for responses in this column, Integrity Matters, for the results of a survey that we will be reporting here, on April 2, 2003.

We will be inviting individuals in and around our communities to send us their appraisal of those companies that receive high marks in response to the above nine integrity questions about management and businesses.

It is quite likely that there is a lot of "green grass" (excellent working situations) and that we will soon be in a position to share such alternatives with you.

Question: (E-035)
Dear Jim:

As a local business owner, I have always felt that I have run my business the “right way”. I have kept my word to my customers, employees and vendors; I have trained my staff well; and I have rewarded and advised my people irrespective of gender or ethnicity. I have followed your columns each Wednesday and, for the most part, have agreed with your advice. Overall, I think you are helping people on either the customer or employer side of the business equation. You are able to clearly distinguish acceptable from unacceptable behavior. However, I took exception to a recent column of yours in which you seemed to suggest that you could apply nine questions to a business relating to its integrity and that if it failed any of the questions then it wasn’t an ethical company.

I believe you should consider two factors: if a company’s right standards put it at a disadvantage to its competitors to the point where it can’t survive then nobody wins. Community involvement you seem to consider as one of the nine criteria for a company to maintain integrity. Yes, I agree, yet it is clear to me that heavy involvement here is a luxury that comes only after profitability and taking care of employees.

I do well in most answers to your Integrity Questions, but not all. It seems to me that you suggesting that an individual not be satisfied with a company unless they got the right answer to the each and every one of your “integrity-test” questions.

Can you cut me a little slack here? I’ve actually urged many members of my staff here to read your column. Now that they’ve seen your yardstick for being a truly ethical company, I’m starting to hear some grumbling. I don’t want to feel sorry I recommended your Integrity Matters column, but we have some people who were quite content with their company (my company) who now aren’t so sure.

Now, what do I do?

Dear Concerned Leader,

From the way you describe your business and your leadership, you have every right to be proud of your own high-principled operation as well as the effectiveness of your company.

Regarding answering affirmatively to all nine questions about integrity and leadership, please understand that these are guidelines and not hard and fast rules. When the Integrity Matters column was asked to establish criteria for identifying high-integrity organizations, our nine questions became the starting point.

When a leader or an organization falls short in any or several of the suggested nine areas, then there could be opportunities for growth and engagement. Growth opportunities (sometimes disguised as challenges) seem to emerge often for leaders to showcase their desire to listen and improve. When employees, customers and suppliers see an organization trying to improve (and improving), their levels of confidence are likely to improve. Engagement with various stakeholders to help a responsive leader to find ways to improve (in any or all of the nine areas) brings a new and healthy partnership for the enterprise. Every participant has ownership in the progress of the institution, company or department. Asking for help is a sign of openness and willingness to get stronger. So, go ahead and ask for help.

Your reference to “grumbling” is probably another good sign. Your people are communicating that they do expect more from you and your organization. Obviously, they believe you are not only willing to listen, but also you are capable of doing something about making improvements. Acknowledge all of this wonderful “grumbling” as a call for action and prove how right your people are to believe in you.

You mentioned that community involvement is more of the luxury of the already successful. Not necessarily! Some companies decide early-on to “reach out” in small ways to demonstrate their social commitment in those communities where they conduct business. In the early (often struggling) days, “sweat” and time are what is contributed. This behavior announces to all who are affected that leadership really cares.

When leaders wait until such commitment is convenient and comfortable, it may be too late to teach (by example) that sacrifice is a part of the soul of an integrity-centered organization. The sooner you set the tone, the sooner you reap the rewards of commitment and involvement – both for and with your people, your community and your own business enterprise.

Question: (E-036)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 9, 2003

"Scoops drive war news broadcasts"

As a former TV News Anchor in both the Miami and Los Angeles markets, I am well aware that the media prioritizes and slants stories to gain maximum viewer-ship. However, I am horrified to see the steps that the networks and news services are taking in their coverage of the war in Iraq to outdo each other. It seems that they are determined to gain, and disperse as much information about our military actions and strategies as possible. Every network has a correspondent with some sort of camera at the front. Each network or cable operation has military experts detailing and anticipating our war plans. It seems to me that the safety of our soldiers doesn’t factor into what information is put out over the airwaves for everyone, including our enemies, to see. I feel powerless to do anything about this situation, but since you provide a forum for issues of integrity, I wanted to at least vent to someone who might care.

Anxious about the airwaves

Integrity may not be the issue regarding tactical battlefield reporting. In fact, we can only hope that information that reaches the public never places the men and women of our armed services in jeopardy.

Of greater concern, however, is the lack of integrity shown by some highly placed celebrity news anchors who, in their slanted speculations about events, motivations and strategies, could undermine the legitimacy of our leadership, inadvertently provide strategic insight for our enemy, and otherwise give aid and comfort to that enemy. Throughout the media, it can be difficult to distinguish between the objective delivery of news (reporting) and the attempt to influence thought (editorial and commentary).

Worse still, unscrupulous and perverse members of our media, in their misguided efforts to "scoop" the competition, have exposed to American families the wartime slaughter of their sons and daughters on television before the next-of-kin notification process had an opportunity to assure simple human dignity. Recently, a case in point from the Associated Press (by Sandra Marquez) regarding a southern California’s El Monte High School graduate, Jorge A. Gonzalez, who upon graduation joined the Marines:

"Rosa and Mario Gonzalez were flipping through TV channels on Sunday [March 23, 2003] when they saw footage of an Iraqi soldier showing off the dead body of an American serviceman."

"When they took a closer look, they thought they recognized the body as their son, Marine Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez."

"I said to myself, it's not him," Mario Gonzalez said Wednesday. "All day Sunday, we were in shock. We would close our eyes and see those images. ..."

"...The parents said they saw their son on footage originally shown on the Arab network Al-Jazeera that was rebroadcast on Spanish-language Telemundo on Sunday. In the footage, four bodies could be seen lying on the floor of a room."

"Over the weekend, Al-Jazeera aired video footage provided by the Iraqi government that showed dead and captured soldiers. At least two of the interviewed prisoners said they were with the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, part of the 111th Air Defense Artillery Brigade."

"The footage was broadcast around the world. U.S. networks initially declined to show it, but some have since shown parts of the tape that does [sic] not reveal identifying features."

News coverage that is live twenty-four hours a day faces incredible challenges. This coverage must be enticing and informative, yet simultaneously attract sponsors whose objectives are to sell products and services. Herein we find the difficulty. When push comes to shove, will news organizations choose to supply us with important news? Market-share seems to influence the shape of the news reporting. Cash casts a giant shadow.

Our media supply lots of interesting stories, but not necessarily important information. Further, when the public demands sensational stories rather than enlightening information, reporting will likely respond to the “want to know” mentality instead of the “essential to know”. Add the economic pressure of attracting advertising dollars to our society’s incredible appetite for gobbling up stories and tidbits of fascinating and sensational news, and one is confronted by a competitive stage ripe for abuse, indecision and irresponsibility. When the mass audience applauds and the writers of current events respond with their media magic, then we may be presented with the sensational and superficial at the expense of the substantive and the important.

"Reality Shows" (and sensational stories) that celebrate our lowest instincts deliver little long-term value. When a certain Middle-Eastern television enterprise passed along horrible films of the murder and torture of our military personnel, most broadcast networks decided not to “air” the material. Some, however, decided that we ought to view the horror. This is not ethical journalism; it is horrible sensationalism!

The responsibility of a news reporting organization is not entertainment. Giving to people what they want (and beg for) may not always be what is wisest. Consider the alcoholic begging for another drink or the drug abuser seeking one more “high”. If the media, electronic and print, cannot determine how best to regulate themselves (on behalf of the society that bestows freedom of the press), then they jeopardize the very foundations of our society! Our column, Integrity Matters, has addressed abuses by many enterprises. Over and over, we caution individuals and institutions to govern their own behaviors. The very same must be said about the media: “It should be common knowledge that free markets [including the media] must regulate themselves or governments will.”

Seemingly, everyone wants to know how best to remain a productive citizen and our media can help through responsible reporting of events. They can communicate a sense of proportion in how stories are presented and refuse to get caught up in the rush to sensationalize the news. In the final analysis, integrity matters.

Question: (E-037)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 2, 2003


We promised to tell you, today, about the responses to our Ethical Company Survey, begun in The Californian on February 26, 2003. We received one nomination and following a phone conference between the nominee and our Editor, Scott Faust, the decision was to defer any recognition at this time.

Now, what might a low response or almost no response mean?

  1. Are there ethical companies in Salinas? Certainly
  2. Are many of our readers reluctant or too busy to speak up? Probably
  3. Is our society in general pre-occupied with the war? Sure
  4. Does current economic uncertainty scare us? Absolutely
  5. Might there be a better time to identify ethical companies? Of course
  6. Next time we ask for you to name an ethical organization, will you? Yes

So for the time being, please accept a sincere “Thank You” for your interest in our
efforts to spotlight ethical companies. We will return to the nine questions when
the world settles down with the hope that you will provide us with a long list of
qualified nominees. In the meantime, remember, integrity matters.

James F. Bracher
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership

Question: (E-038)
Dear Jim,

I just learned that my employer has been monitoring every Universal Resource Locator (URL) that I have visited on the internet while at work. Of course, 99% of everything I do is for the Company, but I have purchased books and DVD's online while at work. In the old days, I would take an hour of personal business and go to the store; now it takes me 10 minutes online. The Company gains, but now they accuse me of using their time and computer resources inappropriately. What do you think? Am I violating integrity?

Dear URL user:

Violating integrity depends, in part, on the contractual relationship you have with your company. Living and working with integrity also can be evaluated by the level of trust that exists between you and your company. Integrity can also be traced to the level and quality of your productivity for your company and the responsiveness and appreciation demonstrated by your company for your successful performance. After you answer these three questions, you will be clear about integrity concerns.

First, what is your understanding of what you owe your employer in terms of measurable productivity? Do you know what your leader expects from you each and every day? Are you clear regarding how you are expected to utilize your work-day? If you are unable to articulate answers to these questions, then gain that clarity, immediately.

Second, do you have confidence that the leadership of your company, more precisely, your boss, has earned your trust and that you have earned both your supervisor’s trust and the company’s trust? Trust is the concrete knowledge you have that integrity is at the center of transactions inside your company as well as with the outside world? Trust is the confidence that comes from the observation that behaviors expected throughout the organization are modeled by each and every leader. Unless or until this trust exists, there will always be an undercurrent of resentment and dissension which will erode openness and limit productivity.

Third, are you confident that you will be recognized and rewarded for going the extra mile as well as for consistency and dependability? At what point do you know for certain that excellent and consistent performance is the key to success in your organization? If you are assumed to be a partner in the organization, then there will be very little concern in how you take breaks and utilize those business tools for personal use. If, on the other hand, your every effort is under suspicion, then you can be confident that integrity and trust will not sustain the types of relationships required to build a healthy organization.
Now that you have answered questions about the company in these three areas, are you clear about the integrity issue? Now, just to make sure we have not overlooked the obvious, would your boss identify you as a productive partner or simply a paycheck earner? Are you simply one of the “slot fillers” who show up, giving only your time but not investing genuine commitment? Would your leadership team see you as an individual dedicated to corporate values or simply one who adheres to the rules when others are watching?

Trust is about the two-way relationship. Seek clarity regarding performance and work toward relationship and communications improvement so that you and your team members can build the atmosphere that nurtures openness, honesty, care and trust.

If you determine that this high quality of relationship exists and you are still monitored for every action you take, then you may want to rethink your evaluation or simply begin the process of looking for work elsewhere.

Question: (E-039)

Dear Jim,
How dare the executives of American Airlines grant bonuses to themselves without disclosing same, at the very time they are asking their unions to make major financial concessions? Of course they can do it--it is not illegal-- but where is the integrity here? Shame on them!

Dear Seeker of Integrity in Leadership ,

Your letter singles out American Airlines executives as exhibiting conduct unbecoming leaders. You are right that they behaved poorly. However, they are not alone in the airline industry, nor are they unique in much of the current business environment. The executive “perk” is an innocent sounding word that covers a multitude of greed-driven activities. A significant number of these “big shots” have been playing both sides of the fence in areas of salary, stock, free loans, gigantic bonuses, travel, disability insurance, health coverage, and a list of self-serving services that cause many in their organizations to feel the top brass lives in the penthouse, while the majority of the workers feel relegated to the outhouse.

You might also be aware that another airline, Delta, recently asked its pilots to accept reduced work schedules without pay to save money. Shortly after the pilots accepted what they believed was a good-faith proposal, headquarters declared multi-millions in special executive bonuses. A short while later, under significant pressure from their disgruntled employees, especially the pilots, those at Delta Airlines revisited their earlier bonus decisions and said they had behaved inappropriately. The truth is the executives blew it. This level of misbehavior reminds me of the insensitivities of the French nobility just before the Revolution of 1789. When the masses were starving, begging for the basics of life, bread, French Royalty is reported to have said, “Let them eat cake!”

It is now and will remain – an issue of integrity. Productive citizens know that they must have an environment that creates trust or the fabric of faith in the system is torn, sometimes beyond simple repair. These “unprofessional” behaviors are not exclusively about “perks” for those in the penthouse, they are about greedy and short-sighted power-brokers abandoning social responsibility and accountability. Each of us, and most especially those in leadership roles, are responsible for leaving society stronger than we found it. Sacrifice, when not shared appropriately by all of the stakeholders, becomes unnecessary suffering for those further down the food chain.

We need for our leaders to lead with integrity. Integrity is the keystone of leadership. It is reflected in discussions, decisions, directives and diagnostics. Integrity-centered leaders do not worry about taking care of themselves at the expense of those who work with and for them. Leadership emerges from listening, demonstrates character in behavior, and leverages energy with integrity. Sharing the good times and the tough times together is what builds confidence and trust throughout an organization. Integrity is the stabilizing factor that sustains effort and causes energy to create the canopy for accomplishment. Integrity enables the achievement of Vision. Integrity guides responsible decision-making and effective leadership.

Question: (E-040)

Dear Jim,
My boss just called me on the carpet for sending an email to purchase some blinds for my home. I could have taken time off to go to Wal-Mart and do it, no problem--but with
my workload, I thought it would be simpler to engage in the purchase on line. Fine, next time I'll take the hour or so to go shopping--but, now I'm upset! They are reading my mail! Isn't that a violation of my right to privacy, my first amendment rights, etc.?

How to navigate technology and privacy

Dear Technology User:
Whoa! Slow down. While private time when at work is a legal tangle that lies outside my expertise, common sense and some of my own personal business experiences might shed light on the problems you raise. Being “called on the carpet” for what amounts to your making a purchase, with your office internet connection, may seem out of bounds, at least in terms of a solid working relationship. In my own business, when an employee is busy with personal activities when I need their help, once or twice, there is generally not a problem. However, when personal priorities become a frequent intrusion into my working productivity, then my frustration grows rapidly. My respect for that employee deteriorates at an alarming speed. Keep in mind that when circumstances of a highly productive associate require that they handle personal issues, there is seldom a problem. Their reputation has earned patience. Has yours?

Your boss may or may not be singling out your behavior. Sure, you are upset, but ask yourself: what might have prompted the dramatic action of calling you on the carpet? Perhaps there have been numerous violations of work-personal abuse of time. As has been the case with the introduction of “casual days,” some people exhibit good taste and others do not. You know there exist misguided and often tasteless individuals who use the “freedom of choice” to dress inappropriately or worse.

Judgment, on the part of some employees, has been so poor in many companies that external consultants were hired to teach people how to dress properly. My only response to this expensive baby-sitting is: “Such measures confirm that too large of a segment of our society must be S.O.S. (Stuck On Stupid). So, without greater knowledge of your situation, it is impossible to speak with insight. However, you probably know the level of abuse of company time by others in your organization.

There was a time when individuals were very sensitive about taking time during the work day for personal priorities. Also, in days gone by, there was an understanding that the time would be made up. Similarly, “way back in the 70’s and 80’s” the owners and operators of the business gave back time to employees when extra hours were required. After a couple of longish days, folks were invited to take a half-day for themselves. It was a two-way street of give and take and share and help. Such actions built trust and increase productivity.

Let me share one final thought regarding your concerns about your rights to privacy and email. To obtain clarification about what is legal and appropriate, whether about your purchase of items for personal use on company time, or having the company monitor your email, human resource professionals and legal counsel should be able to bring light to privacy and first amendment rights. You should be aware, however, that any email you send exists not only on your computer, but also on the Company’s server. It is more like a letter sitting open on someone’s desk, than a sealed first class letter.

In the meantime, remember that integrity is congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did.

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