Kristen Hadeed: Millennial expert writes book giving leaders “Permission to Screw Up”

Kristen Hadeed: Millennial expert writes book giving leaders “Permission to Screw Up”

If you aren’t familiar with Kristen Hadeed’s work yet, that’s okay, but understand she won’t be America’s best kept secret for much longer.

Hadeed started Student Maid, a Florida-based cleaning company recognized for a high-retention rate and positive work culture.

Using the lessons she learned as CEO and a viral Tedx talk, Hadeed then launched a successful speaking career, traveling the country and positioning herself as a Millennial expert.


I first heard Kristen speak in 2015 and have kept in touch ever since.

She’s genuine.



Oh, and uber talented.

Now, just as she promised, she’s releasing her first book: Permission to Screw Up. It’s available for pre-order this week before it hits bookstores everywhere on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Hadeed was generous enough to answer a few questions about the book, which she says is a departure from the usual “leaders-should-be-perfect-before-they-lead-and-if-they-aren’t-they-can’t-lead” mindset.

1. What is your goal with this book?

As I grew my business, I read dozens and dozens of leadership and business books by people who seemed to have it all figured out. Though those books offered wonderful advice and had a major role in shaping me as a leader, none of them gave me any indication of exactly how hard leadership is. As an inexperienced leader, I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone: that other people messed up along the way just as bad as I was messing up. I needed to hear that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it right on the first try every time.

This book is my whole story, warts and all. I didn’t want to write only about the good stuff, or just gloss over my mistakes and share only the lessons I learned in the hopes that they would be useful to someone else. I want leaders just starting out to read this book and think, “Wow. If she got it wrong that many times and she’s still managed to be successful, maybe I have a chance after all.”

I also want to inspire others to share their “whole stories” so we can ditch the idea that everyone has to be perfect. I used to think that asking for help or telling someone that hey, actually, things aren’t going so great was frowned upon. But it shouldn’t be: Leaders need help and support, too. I want people to be honest about where they went wrong so others feel more comfortable with being vulnerable and asking for help when they need it.


2. Why do you think leaders feel the pressure to be perfect, have it all figured out, mistake-free?

Leaders feel that pressure because perfect stories are all we hear. Even though it’s become more common for leaders who have succeeded to say, “It’s OK to fail! It’s OK to make mistakes!” not enough of those leaders talk about their mistakes. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not fun to admit you handled something poorly, or made a decision that negatively impacted people. You fear that people will judge you or look at you differently.

There’s also a pressure to make people feel safe. Success and perfection–we think–are what make our people feel secure in their jobs and in their own futures.

But I’ve found that when I admit that I’m struggling, or when I tell my team that I don’t know how to solve something, it actually builds trust because I’m being vulnerable. My people know that I’m not putting on an act. And most of all, they want to help me.

Unfortunately, when leaders aren’t vulnerable and they pretend they have it all together, they make leadership seem less attainable to everyone around them. Their “perfection” makes people think, “I could never be a leader because I’m not like that person. I must not have what it takes because I don’t know what I’m doing.” We need to break the illusion that leaders must be perfect so that more people will step up.

3. How does it feel to see your name on the cover?! What did you learn about yourself writing it?

It’s still sinking in! I just got my first physical copy, and it’s just . . . amazing. I’m proud of it because I know I poured my heart onto every page. It took two and half years to finish (and I might have missed my deadline a few times).

When I first started writing, it was about getting the book done and hitting the deadline. But then it became about writing the right book, the one I wish I would have found on the shelf when I started my business. I realized that kind of book was really hard to write, but I stuck with it.

I became a perfectionist, which is kind of ironic for a book about screwing up, but I had to get the stories right. I would tell myself I wasn’t being vulnerable enough, and I’d challenge myself to take a story further and give more of the not-so-nice details. And sometimes, that meant painting myself in not the best light. But in the end, I’m glad I wrote the book that was hard to write instead of one that made me look good.

I’m a speaker and have been giving talks for years, but writing made me realize I could do so much better in my speaking. Before I started writing, I would always talk about success and all the lessons I learned. I wasn’t talking about my struggles or what I had to get wrong to learn those lessons. Writing this book helped me find the courage to be the real, imperfect me–and I like her way better!

Ready to buy the book? Pre-order it here!

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Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad is different and she knows it, embraces it, and flat-out owns it.

She grew up in Holland, but isn’t from Holland. Her parents are from Chicago and she isn’t Dutch and she is absolutely cool with that.

Call it a transplant edge.


Don’t get her wrong, though, she has a love affair with West Michigan. After graduating college, she stayed here. Got married. Bought a house. And, yes, she posts photos of Lake Michigan sunsets on Instagram.

Yet instead of simply talking about her crush, Ulstad acted on it.

Her sweet spot? The environment.

Her strategy? Firsthand involvement.

She sacrifices Saturday afternoons to pick up trash in the Macatawa River. She persuades government officials to follow sound environmental practices. She writes columns for the newspaper to educate the general public.

Not bad for a Millennial, you know, the generation that always gets criticized.

The best part is Ulstad, program assistant for the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), carries herself in a classy, sincere manner, never looking down on you, but always looking to inspire you and teach you and encourage you.

In other words, she’s hooked on positive, everybody-wins projects in the community. Simple as that. Thankfully, unlike many areas in the country, most people along the Lakeshore are too.

“I think that our area collaborates so well for the reason that in general those that live here tend to share the same value of being a good neighbor,” Ulstad said. “I think our current leaders in the community recognize that West Michigan has had a long standing tradition of collaboration and I think they strive to maintain that same spirit.”

And sustainability projects in particular are gaining traction, thanks in part to Ulstad, also a member of the Holland Community Sustainability Committee. In her view, when the environment is improved, more money, less problems.

“In general, it makes me incredibly happy to see movement on the sustainability front,” Ulstad said. “Not only is it better for the health of the planet and ourselves, but it can improve the pocketbook by opening up the door to new technologies, businesses. It can also increase ‘livability’ which draws talented young professionals as well as those who may want to retire here.”

Improving Holland one project at a time

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Which brings us to meetings.

I have been known to skip a meeting or two, unless catered food is involved, but Ulstad, she thrives in meetings, wouldn’t miss them for the world.

“I love meetings,” she said.

I shoot her a surprised look. She can explain.

“I love things that happen in them,” Ulstad said. “I love the input. I think it’s great. You collaborate. You come up with something you didn’t have before.”

Like bike lanes, she is stoked bike lanes are happening in Holland, her face literally lights up at the thought of those lines separating cars from bikes.

Or take Project Clarity, a sustainability project she is crazy proud to be involved with.

The $12 million community effort, which has already raised more than $10 million, has a goal of restoring the water quality of Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa Watershed. The lake and surrounding rivers have struggled with high levels of phosphorus for years. Which impacts water quality and recreation and commerce.

Project Clarity’s multi-phased approach is supported by plenty of local heavy hitters – the MACC, the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, Hope College and Grand Valley State University to name a few.

“Clean water is something that everyone can get behind,” Ulstad said. “This project has been inspiring to me since its success comes from so many passionate individuals and organizations, government partners, businesses and higher education working together.”

Catching a theme?

Then there’s the Holland Sustainability Framework, a new template for the city of Holland to use when planning projects. In 2013, the city council asked Ulstad’s committee to start developing the checklist, which covers quality of life, environmental awareness/action, economics, transportation, smart energy, community & neighborhood, and community knowledge.

“Is it possible to add sustainable pieces to the project?” Ulstad said. “You can’t expect someone to think of all these things all the time.”

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And finally light pollution in Holland.

Which I know nothing about. Enlighten me, I said.

She acknowledges the pun with a smile, then explains.

Light pollution, basically excessive artificial light, affects the way we observe the night sky, can impact plant health, even animal health. New technology and designs are helping reduce the impact, Ulstad said, but those must be balanced with the public’s perception of bright street lights equaling safer streets.

One simple method to fight light pollution is Earth Hour, a global grassroots movement encouraging residents and business to turn off their lights for one hour. It celebrates energy conservation, showcases the night sky and highlights our impact on the environment.

Ulstad loved the idea, dreamed about bringing it to Holland, shared it with the Holland Community Sustainability Committee, and eventually helped organize a local event on March 25.

“I love Earth Hour because it’s completely customizable,” Ulstad wrote in a March 19 blog post for Hope College. “If your concerns are about bees and pollinators, make it about that. If you care about light pollution or wildlife habitat, make those the focus.”

Yeah, she blogs too.

Ultimately, Ulstad is a sustainability rockstar. She cares about the area. And she’s glad she’s protecting it for future generations.

“At the end of the day I’m so incredibly happy that my parents moved here 30 years ago,” Ulstad said. “West Michigan is such a beautiful place, with less traffic, a wonderful downtown and people who wave and say hello. I always wonder how different a person I may be if I didn’t grow up here fully immersed in the lake, the dunes and the forest. Michigan has a natural beauty that isn’t easily found elsewhere.”

Mic drop.

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Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Story By JEREMY GONSIOR/Photos by JOEL RODEHEAVER at Union Ave Creative.

It was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside, but inside the restaurant it was warm, vibrant and full of laughter because Abbey Johnston and Greg Mutch were there.

The leadership experts, both based in West Michigan, are executing an ambitious project: Inside Leadership, a transformative program featuring group learning sessions, individualized coaching, and a sweet Leadership 360 tool.

Yet they don’t seem tense or worried or afraid.


Greg Mutch

One minute they are deep in discussion about the latest opinions in leadership development. Then, when you least expect it, they crack a joke that is so hilarious you stop writing or stop eating or almost spit out your water.

Halfway through the conversation, to those around us, it looks like old friends are having a reunion over spring break. But I have never met Mutch and only briefly talked with Johnston a few times.

Even crazier? Mutch and Johnston met only 18 months earlier.

That’s how in-sync they are, how much chemistry they have, and how motivated they are about making leadership training significantly better.

And that energy spills over to those around them, providing a group synergy that makes time fly by. I can only imagine what multiple hours would be like with them.

Abbey - 17

Abbey Johnston

How did this happen, how did this perfect match occur?

“Work Tinder,” Mutch says with a straight face.

A moment passes and we all laugh. No, seriously, how?

Envision a movie montage with The Chainsmokers latest hit playing in the background. Then images of mutual friends. Introductions. Conversations. Johnston letting Mutch say a few words during one of her trainings. Soon mutual respect. Then a refreshing connection.

Mix that all together, shake, and add a joint passion around a unique leadership viewpoint and you have a dynamic partnership.

“I think what we found out when we started ‘work dating’ was we connected on the leadership development philosophy we take,” Johnston said. “This was pretty thrilling because, quite frankly, our philosophy isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s transformative and revolutionary – but not mainstream.”

Disrupting the typical leadership training model

Enter the “Inner Game” philosophy.

Most leadership programs focus on the “Outer Game,” how to build external competencies – team building, collaboration, vision, etc.  Therefore, around the country every week, leaders attend a conference that appears will finally address one of these problematic areas in their life, Johnston said.

“They return from the conference – with energy – and a lot of information…and we see a difference.  We see them trying,” she said. “Then a week or two later our leaders behavior returns to the problematic patterns we were experiencing before the conference. This is a common scenario.”

And Inside Leadership has a name for it: limiting assumptions.
“It might be easier for people to understand them as blind spots,” Mutch said. “When our operating system runs with those blind spots ‘unexamined’ then they slow us down, hold us back, and create collateral damage to reduces our overall leadership effectiveness (and business results).”
To combat this broken system, Inside Leadership reverse engineers the typical leadership development philosophy. They learn who the leader is on the inside, what is causing their ineffective attempts at these competencies, to spark action on the outside. In other words, the stronger the “Inner Game,” the stronger the impact.
“Performance is an outcome of an inner game. Performance is driven by our ‘internal operating system’: our beliefs, story, values, passions, strengths and weaknesses,” Johnston said. “We can be consistently hitting the target as leaders – making great strides – but not quite be hitting the bullseye. We can’t fully live into our leadership potential if we haven’t grasped what our potential is.”

They also believe leadership is not positional, rather leadership is influence and showing up and impact.

“In that way everyone has the opportunity to be a leader,” Mutch said.

What Inside Leadership looks like

The cutting-edge program began where many interesting projects do: a college campus.

They started offering a version of Inside Leadership at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). After successful cohorts, word got out and they decided to expand beyond the campus setting.

“We had such remarkable results from the specific program we launched at GVSU. There was a lot of energy around it,” Johnston said. “We’ve been doing other variations of leadership development with other groups and companies.  However, what we launched with GVSU had a specific format that we knew we could effectively deliver for others.”

Inside Leadership, a 4-month program already underway this spring, moves beyond the typical workshop-driven leadership training to offer a more experience-based training. Plus, there’s a community of 10 – 12 individuals formed around it.

Let’s not forget out-of-this-world PowerPoint slides.

Oh, and as we touched on earlier, drumroll please, fun.

“While we dig deep in our sessions we also have a ton of fun. Greg and I love to get ‘real’ but we also love to have a ‘real’ good laugh,” Johnston said. “I think we have done a good job with balancing intensity with a little bit of banter.  One of Greg’s values is irreverence – need I say more?”

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The fall cohort, which is open for registration now, kicks off with a 1-day retreat on Sept. 6, followed by individual coaching sessions to debrief your personal Leadership Circle Profile 360 results. Then group engagements, coaching sessions, and finally a half-day retreat. At the end, participants receive a Leadership Circle Profile 360 and StrengthsFinder assessment.

Plus they are more awake. Understand how they can grow their potential. Effectively aim their influence.

If the momentum continues, Mutch hopes Inside Leadership could expand stateside first and then even globally.

“We are exploring some additional cohorts regionally (Traverse City and Detroit), but the experience could be adapted and delivered anywhere (Ireland is on that list),” he said.

Back to lunch. Mutch jokingly brainstorms how to better market testimonials on the Web site. What if they add the signature “Mom,” after their testimonials? They don’t currently list names, it’s anonymous, so why not? Johnston cracks up, can’t stop laughing.

As we wrap up, it’s clear: Inside Leadership is blowing up. Get your autographs while you can.

“I love what I do,” Johnston said later. “I am honored and privileged every time I engage in this space. Our participants are brave and offer us endless amounts of insight and inspiration. #blessed.”

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