It’s a hundred-degree day in the middle of a scorching Florida summer.
I’m sitting in a comfy armchair, right smack in the middle of a beautifully decorated, air-conditioned apartment clubhouse where the residents congregate to play pool and watch football. I’m checking Facebook and texting my friends to make plans for the evening, and every few seconds, my eyes flick to the big clock on the wall in front of me.
It’s been three hours, I think to myself. Hope they’re okay out there.
Outside, sixty fellow college students, all of whom I hired within the last couple weeks, are scrubbing their way through hundreds of empty apartments, attempting to rid them of the filth left behind by the previous tenants—an incredibly tough job, especially when some of those tenants were frat guys (and roaches) who lived there for years with-out ever so much as lifting a toilet brush. Doubly tough when the AC units are down for maintenance and your novice boss doesn’t even think to offer you a water break.
I contemplate checking on them but talk myself out of it. They had to have known what they were getting themselves into with a cleaning job. And anyway, they only have to do it for three weeks. Plus, I told them if they needed me, I’d be in the clubhouse.
I prop up my feet, put in my earbuds, and tell myself I have it all under control.
As you might have guessed, it doesn’t take long for things to go south.
Like, way south.
Hours later, I’m still perched in my armchair, congratulating myself on how well the day is going so far. We’re more than halfway through, and no one has run into a single problem yet (well, no one has told me about any problems, at least).
As I’m about to take the first bite of the Caesar salad I just had delivered, the clubhouse doors swing open, and my employees suddenly start shuffling through single file. It’s not just a few of them: As I watch, fork halfway to my mouth, forty-five out of sixty of them crowd into the room. For a split second, I think they’re finished cleaning which would be surprising, considering the amount of work I assigned them this morning—until I catch sight of their faces.
As they spot me, freshly showered, with my hair done and makeup meticulously applied, every single one of them scowls.
Yeesh. Why so serious?
“Hey, guys! How’s it going?” I ask cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood.
As they continue to make their way toward me, I can’t help but cringe a little. They’re all dripping in sweat. There are huge black grease marks on their arms and faces from scrubbing ovens and who knows what else, and they smell like a gross combo of body odor and moldy refrigerator.
“Bet you can’t wait to shower!” I joke awkwardly, desperate for just one of them to crack a smile.
What is going on?
Suddenly they start whispering to one another, and they begin nudging one person forward. I hear someone say something that sounds like “Do it.”
Little do I know that I am about to experience the most humiliating thirty seconds of my life.
Slowly, one steps in front of the group. And then, care-fully avoiding eye contact with me, she says, “We quit.”
I almost drop my fork.
Wait . . . wh . . .
Before I can even think of a response, all forty-five of them turn around at exactly the same moment and begin to make their way out the big double glass doors, dragging their vacuums, buckets, and sponges with them.
Forty-five people quit.
At the same time.
Seventy-five percent of my team.
That’s the moment that inspired my obsession with learning how to be a better leader.