Yesterday, my wife set up a Halloween leadership experiment. Since we were out “trick or treating” with our youngest son, Jill decided to leave a BIG bowl of candy at our front door with a sign: HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Please take 2 treats! Character- It’s doing the right thing when no one else in watching!

I teased Jill because she left enough candy for 100 trick or treaters – and rarely do we have 25 costumed kids visit our home each Halloween.

By 7:45pm all the candy was gone.

I was shocked. I ran to the neighbors to ask how many treaters had come by – answer – Less than 15!

Some little punk stole all the candy! They poured Jill’s BIG bowl of treats into their Halloween bag. Maybe they couldn’t read the sign?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this. It’s really bothersome. What is the world coming too? Just look at our Presidential candidates. Look what is happening on Wall Street? Look what is happening in small town USA and in our inner cities? That punk kid that stole all our Halloween candy reflects our society. This should be our Halloween sign next year: Character – an endangered species.

But here’s the deal. A bully that picks on their classmates in the sandbox or on the playground as a kid eventually grows up. And now that bully picks on coworkers and employees in the board room. And the punk who steals Halloween candy eventually grows up. And your office supplies are stolen and travel expense reports are violated because you hire them.

Last week I had the honor to be the keynote speaker at my alma matter, East Carolina University, during homecoming weekend. It was Pitt County – Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s largest event. Ever. The Greenville Convention Center was packed. Incredibly humbling.

I invited many of my eastern North Carolina longtime friends to the Chamber luncheon as my guests. Past professors, former Chancellor of ECU, mentors, fraternity brothers, relatives and friends. And I invited my former boss, Mike Horton, the General Manager and owner of Chico’s Mexican Restaurant – where I bused and waited tables for four years. OK, OK……… five years!

I honored many of these wonderful people in my speech. I talked about how each of them believed in me and made a significant impact on my life. I told some deep personal stories. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

I told a story of my first boss in college – Mike Horton. I talked about how most of my college buddies who waited tables and bar-tended at various restaurants and bars in town – participated in the greatest college hook-up “barter” system there was. You give me free food or drinks at your pub and I will return the favor when you visit my place of work! My roommate went all through college barely ever paying for a drink!

And then there was Chico’s Mexican Restaurant, owned and managed by Mike Horton. They ran their business differently. They treated their employees differently. And because of it, they had different results.

“Nobody stole. Nobody gave away free food or free drinks at Chico’s! Ever! In fact, in my five years as an undergraduate at ECU, I never once saw anyone steal from Chico’s. Nobody. Including myself”, I shared last week. “Mike Horton treated his staff so well, built such a trusting and loving culture, that nobody wanted to do him wrong. Nobody.”

I’m in the restaurant business (Jill and I are Jersey Mikes Sub franchisees in Denver, CO). I have the best General Manager anyone could ask for. Sherri is more ethical and honest than just about anyone I’ve ever worked with. But I am no Mike Horton. I would bet there are free subs being given away (or scarfed down in the bathroom or freezer) from some of the high school kids that work at my store.
Character – an endangered species.

But if you can build a culture of exceptional respect and trust, your employees won’t steel the Halloween candy. They will look to you as I look to Mike Horton. They will never want to let you down because they know you love them. Even when the sign says: Trick or Cheat!