Leadership secret: Tough love

By Kristen Hadeed

I’m willing to bet you’re going into this thinking “How is Kristen, one of the youngest speakers on the CAMPUSPEAK roster, going to teach me anything about leadership?”

I don’t blame you for thinking that. You’re right—I’m only 25, I graduated from college in 2010 and, while I can’t give you my entire story in this article (that’s what my keynotes are for!), I am going to give you just enough to convince you that I just might know a thing or two when it comes leadership.

Here’s a quick rundown: When I was a Junior at the University of Florida in 2009, I started cleaning houses to pay for a pair of expensive jeans (true story). After scoring a contract with a major apartment community, I quickly had to hire a team of employees to handle the work. By the time I graduated, my small cleaning company had grown to employ more than 75 students. Today, I am 25 years old—we have two locations, more than 400 employees, and we are expanding to college towns all over the country.

I can’t even begin to tell you all of the things I’ve learned the hard way and how many obstacles I’ve had to overcome to get to where we are today, but the hardest one to date has been transforming into a leader who people want to follow. My company literally grew overnight—I went from being a 21-year-old who went to the bar with her friends and partied at football tailgates to being the leader of hundreds of people. I learned quickly that if I wanted to succeed I had to become a person who people trusted, admired, respected, and didn’t party with.

When it comes to this leadership equation there are a lot of different elements that have to come together in order to be the kind of leader people choose to follow—not because they have to, but because they want to. That’s the kind of leader we should all be strive to become. Now, how do we make this happen?

Tough love.

In the beginning of starting my business, I faced one huge problem. I had 60 (yes, 60) of my employees quit in one day because I was such a terrible leader. This wakeup call forced me to make some major changes if I wanted to succeed. From that point forward I was really scared. I never wanted anything like that to ever happen again and I knew that without my employees there would be no Company, so I switched to the “nicest boss in the world” mentality.

Well, this little plan backfired too—it turns out that being the nice cop all the time isn’t actually a good thing. People actually want to be held accountable.

All great leaders know that accountability is key, but the best leaders know that the goal is to make people better. Guess what this means? Confronting issues head on, pointing out bad habits and having the most uncomfortable conversations in the world—this is tough love, and to be a successful leader, you better start doing it. When people make promises and don’t follow through, and when they have bad habits—you’ve got to tell them. Why? If you don’t, no one else will, and their behavior will become repetitive. When you don’t hold the people you’re leading accountable and avoid all conflict, you’re actually being extremely destructive to their growth.

So today, make it a goal to start showing “tough love” to everyone in your circle. Be committed to making the people around you better and you will naturally emerge as a leader, and hopefully in turn, create more leaders around you.

Kristen Hadeed is a young, fearless leader, that wants students to step up to the leadership challenge. In her keynote, From Hitting the Bar to Setting the Bar, Kristen talks about her transformation from a normal college student to the owner of a cleaning empire, and the lessons she learned about leadership along the way. A fun, empowering keynote that will get students acting on their future and ready to lead.