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Kristen Hadeed

October 3, 2017

Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong

A book excerpt from Kristen Hadeed's "Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost Everything Wrong). Download the first full chapter here or pre-order the book today! 

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.

Kristen Hadeed Permission to Screw Up

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.

 More silence.

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.


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About Kristen Hadeed

Kristen Hadeed has never met a person she didn’t believe in. She lives to unleash potential in others so that they exceed their own expectations. At 19, she launched Student Maid, a cleaning company that hires only students, which has since grown into a company that has employed hundreds of millennials. Student Maid is known for its industryleading retention rate and its culture of trust, accountability and empowerment. Over the last nine years, Kristen has challenged the millennial status quo. Kristen’s experience as CEO has earned her a unique perspective on leadership, organizational culture and engaging the next generation. She is an expert in developing and teaching practical, ready-made tools that inspire people to take action. Kristen didn’t always get it right. Her first leadership disaster, which resulted in three-quarters of her workforce quitting on the spot, was the catalyst to beginning her leadership journey. A selfdescribed “typical” millennial, she overcame her own greatest 27 obstacles and learned how to help those around her overcome their challenges, too. Today, Student Maid is thriving. Kristen has opened her company’s second location and successfully handed over day-to-day operations to a leadership team comprised of millennials. Kristen has learned what it takes to create a work environment that brings out the best in people. Many of the students who have worked with Student Maid have gone on to run their own businesses and have received highly sought-after positions in companies around the world. Kristen now spends most of her time helping organizations across the country make a lasting, meaningful impact on people by creating environments in which they thrive. Kristen and Student Maid have been featured by news outlets including PBS, FOX and Forbes. Her first TED Talk has received more than two million hits on YouTube.