Integrity’s invisible influence

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr

I carefully filled the cake cone from the frozen custard machine, pushing it up at just the right moment to create a perfect ball; then as I shut off the machine, I pulled the cone away with a circular motion to give it the company’s signature curl on top. It was beautiful, and I was proud of the way it looked, knowing that my customer would be happy.

Good leaders build an atmosphere of trust

As I turned away from the machine, I heard, “What the hell is that?”

It was the franchise owner. Baffled, I asked, “What do you mean?”

Snatching the cone from my hand, he replied, “This is too much ice cream; they only get six ounces.” (NOTE: this was not a corporate policy, but his own.)frozen-custard-machine-fi

With a large kitchen knife, he cut off the ice cream down to the top of the cone, and let it drop into the overflow pan which would later be recycled back into the machine. He then turned the handle to refill the cone with a skinny shaft of ice cream. After which he put it on a scale and said, “See, six ounces.”

It looked pathetic, and nothing like the mouth-watering posters hanging all over the restaurant. Pointing to one of them, I protested, “But, mine looked just like the pictures.”

“I don’t care what the picture looks like, this is the amount we serve!”

Again arguing, from my 15-year-old understanding of business, “But, isn’t that false advertising?”

“Just do what I say!”

“Yes sir,” I acquiesced. I made the cones as he said, and as I expected, customers complained.

It was my first job, which I was thrilled to have, and I was trying hard to do everything just right. In turn, I learned many good job skills which have served me well. It paid $1.15 an hour. Minimum wage at the time was $1.60 an hour. When I asked the owner, why he didn’t pay minimfrozen-custard-from-machine-fium wage, he replied, “Restaurants are allowed to pay less than minimum wage.”

I later learned that restaurants are allowed to pay tipped employees less than minimum wage; I wasn’t earning any tips – no one was. A fellow employee told me, “He pays us less because we aren’t 16 years old, and he knows we can’t complain because you have to be 16 to be eligible to work.” I didn’t know if that was true or not; it didn’t matter, I was just happy to have a real job.

Six months later, I was offered a job where a friend of mine was working for $2.50 an hour, so I took it. When I gave my two-week resignation notice to my boss, he offered me the job of Assistant Manager for $1.60 an hour. I turned him down and explained why; he said he wouldn’t match my new wage.

On my last night, the owner was leaving for the day as I was beginning my shift. He turned to the manager and said, “Don’t let Wilson work the cash register. It’s his last night, I don’t want him robbing the till.”

Hearing that really hurt; but after he left, the manager said to me, “You can work the cash register tonight. I know you won’t steal. Besides, when it gets busy I won’t have time to stop and ring up your customers.” That made me feel better.

That ice cream franchise was open less than five years. I wasn’t surprised when it went out of business. The owner cut too many corners. He wasn’t honest with his customers or his staff. Nevertheless, I was sad to see it go because I love the product line, and it was the closest one to my house.

Employees don’t want to feel taken advantage of by their employer, or that they are being squeezed for all they’ve got. A leader must be generous to build trust; if not with money, then with appreciation for the workers’ efforts and concern for their needs and interests.

When a leader builds an atmosphere of trust, he or she will reap incredible rewards. Studies have shown that when employees know that everyone’s interest is being served, they work faster, more efficiently, and make better decisions. The opposite is true as well. When a culture of distrust exists, every effort slows down creating a hidden cost to doing business.

Trustworthy leaders exercise accountability in everything they do by giving clear directions; dealing with problems immediately; delivering on promises; being transparent about company challenges as well as goals, and showing respect to both customers and staff.

Give yourself a raise. Become a trustworthy leader.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of …and Never Coming Back, a psychological thriller novel about a motion picture director; the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places; and The Annoying Ghost Kid a humorous children’s book about dealing with a bully. For more information on Robert, please visit