Years ago, there was a student on our team—I’ll call her Julie—who did some strange things while cleaning our clients’ homes. She would try on clients’ shoes, spray on their cologne, play their very old, very expensive and very off-limits pianos (“Mary Had A Little Lamb,” no less), and she even made a long-distance call from a client’s landline once.
And I, her boss, said nothing.
Her teammates—and even a couple clients—had informed me of her antics, but every time, I’d swept the issues under the rug, thinking surely Julie would realize how bonkers this stuff was and quit doing it eventually—right?
One day, I drove up to our office and saw Julie’s car in our parking lot with “BLOW ME” scrawled across her dusty back window.
I was furious. What if she pulled up in a client’s driveway with that written on her car? How bad would that make us look? Really, really bad. I was done letting this girl slide. She was about to get it.
So, I called her into my office right away, sat her down, and let her have it.
Instead of talking to Julie face-to-face, I sat down at my laptop and wrote her an email. I saw this girl almost every day in our office, and I couldn’t work up the courage to just talk to her like a person.
After I clicked “send,” I avoided Julie like the plague. Luckily, I sent the email right before the Thanksgiving holidays, so I had a ready-made excuse not to run into her for a while. A few weeks after that, though, Julie resigned.
On one hand, I was happy I wouldn’t have to deal with her weird antics anymore, but on the other, I felt guilty. On some level, I had betrayed Julie. By refusing to call out her bad behavior for so long, I wasn’t just allowing a problem to fester; I was keeping Julie from growing and learning from her mistakes. If I had told her what was wrong right after her first offense, it would’ve been hard, but at least Julie would know she had room for improvement and she could work on it. Instead, I’d let the problems grow and grow until they were overwhelming, and then I dumped all this criticism on Julie all at once. Julie said she resigned to focus on her classes, but I have a feeling it was because she felt she’d fallen out of my good graces so suddenly there was no going back.
And it was all because I couldn’t handle confronting my team members with negative feedback. And that, I know now, is not OK for a leader.
The fact was that I couldn’t bring myself to tell Julie she was screwing up because I was afraid.
I hated being anything but nice to my team members. I wanted them to like me, not think I was some big, bad authority figure they should fear (and hate). But wanting them to like me had made me, well—a total wuss. I didn’t call anyone out for anything, no matter how bad it was.
What I’ve learned since Julie left our company is that confronting someone and telling them how they need to improve isn’t necessarily a negative thing. In fact, it can be a good thing.
It can be really hard to tell someone something they don’t want to hear about themselves. But 9 times out of 10, that person will end up thanking you for being honest with them. Sometimes they don’t even know they’ve done something wrong, and they welcome the opportunity to learn, grow and improve. If you refuse to confront people because it makes you feel bad, remember that you’re not the only one who stands to lose: You might be keeping that person from becoming a better version of themselves.
To learn more about Kristen Hadeed and her programs, visit campuspeak.com/hadeed.