Cleaning industry leaders talk about people, places, and mistakes on their leadership journeys.

The cleaning industry – in fact, all industries – abound with leaders. Cleaning Business Today has been privileged to feature some of them in our Success Stories column in the past year, and we look forward to continuing to do so.

A leader is too often identified as the person who appears to be in charge—because she is visible, vocal, opinionated, sometimes demanding, the center of attention.  Leadership is both much simpler and more complex than that: “[l]eaders develop a vision, mobilize others, take responsibility, and make changes that benefit others,” according to business leadership expert and coach Dr. Earl Walker.  Leaders can be quiet yet attentive, creative and missionary, equalizers or dividers, all to achieve their goals.  But above all leaders touch something in others that makes them want to act.

We can read books and articles about leaders, defining leadership, outline activities designed to teach specific skills that empower leaders, and we’ll find something pretty similar to these Top 10 Actions or Mind-Sets of a Great Leader:

1.       Encourages and motivates the team members
2.       Actively listens – to their staff, to their clients, to their communities
3.      Explains to the team how its job is important and how its job is aligned with the overall mission of the organization
4.      Stays open-minded when receiving criticism and constructive when offering criticism
5.      Is persistent in applying these characteristics and behaviors in every area of his/her life
6.      Maintains high ethical standards and practices and is a role model for those behaviors
7.      Gets the team the resources it needs
8.      Runs interference so the team can more readily achieve its goals
9.      Builds trusting relationships through the appropriate use of feedback and self-disclosure (sharing your thoughts and opinions and mistakes with your team)
10.   Creates a fun, positive work environment where the team’s successes are celebrated and recognized.

But leadership is much more personal than the lists experts derive from the tales of the leaders themselves. So we asked cleaning industry leaders what it’s like to be “that” leader, what they’ve learned from their mistakes, and what they have on their “to do” list every day that helps them become an even better leader.

Enid Tate-Shephard, Enid’s Cleaning Service
In the early years of my business, I’d have to give credit to each of my clients for inspiring my leadership, especially the difficult to please clients I worked for. My clients also taught me another lesson I pass on: “Every person has a story; it’s up to us to read it and understand it.” I was very socially backward and basically afraid of life. Through this business, I have learned to meet all kinds of people who vary from easy going and friendly to difficult, grumpy and critical to name a few. I’ve taken the time to understand my most critical clients to see what makes them the way they are. Once I can understand, dealing with them and pleasing them is a piece of cake! They also seem to really enjoy that I stick around and they treat me/us much better knowing we will stay and work at making them happy.


Greg Macchia, Clean Conscience
My mother is the leader that helped shape me in to the leader I am today.  She raised 5 children on her own. She had a full time job, she volunteered, she cooked, she helped with homework and she did it all gracefully. She was a grinder!

A great small business leader has to plan. It’s not uncommon for a small business to experience double digit growth year after year. In order to maintain this pace you must plan for it. And to plan for it you’ve got to live and breathe the numbers. Like the old saying, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” We have twelve metrics that I look at on a regular basis that we refer to as the dirty dozen.  They are a snapshot of the health of our business.

It can be lonely being the leader of a small business. Small business leaders often don’t have a management team or an advisory board around them to share ideas, dissect fiascos or celebrate victories.  You have to grind every day….the troops are counting on you!

Laura Barnard, Grakei Maids
As a leader, I encourage a work environment where people feel free to speak up and be proactive. Being receptive to my employees’ suggestions has proven to be extremely important when it comes to improving job performance and customer service. My leadership style involves putting the tools of success in everyone’s hands to meet the objectives I establish year after year. I understand that one half of leadership is inspiration and guidance, the other half is giving the employees the resources to attain the proper success within the Company.

Kristen Hadeed, Student Maid
I was a 19-year-old college student when I signed my first cleaning contract for 1000s of apartments…with only three cleaners. In the five years since then, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and from them I’ve learned that there are five main things every leader must do to be successful on a basic business level but also to be able to grow that business into more:

1.       Create a vision for the company and share that vision with everyone in the company; make it clear how each person’s job connects to the daily activities toward achieving that vision.
2.       Live the Core Values of your life and your company; this can be particularly difficult when you first develop those Core Values because it might mean you need to remove friends from your life and staff from your company.
3.      Adopt a Tough Love approach; be willing to hold your staff accountable, even when that means having the tough conversations. Always remember that your job as a leader is to make people better.
4.      Nurture relationships with everyone, from the day you hire them and through their career after they leave you; when I interviewed one of my first cleaners, I had no idea that going to her wedding five years later would lead to the connection I needed to expand to a second location.
5.      Step back to gain Perspective; see, own, and share your failures. Too often leaders forget that failure is an opportunity for improvement, not an obstacle to success.

Alison Palmer, Custom Maid
My role model as a leader was my dad.  He had more integrity, more confidence, more compassion than anyone I’ve known.  I recently met an ARCSI member who said to me that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  I like that definition.  I think a leader has to be firmly grounded in integrity whether leading a team of employees or a group of clients…or your kids.

The worst leader I have known is a boss I had for many years.  Let’s call him “Joe.”   An example of his leadership style was to expect everyone at work every single day no matter what.  He threatened to fire a woman whose infant son was in the hospital if she stayed with the child.  I used to cry before (rarely) calling in sick for fear of my job.  When I started my business and an issue would come up that I hadn’t dealt with before, I would ask myself, “what would Joe do?” and I would do the opposite.  Look where that got me!

Amy King, 2 Green Chicks
Find a mentor; that person will be your best tool in becoming a great leader. When I worked in the corporate world, I had a manager Darren Lyons who encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a consultant with IBM.  I had doubts and apprehensions about taking that huge step, but with his help, I did it and I never looked back.  Starting a family and deciding to leave corporate America was another challenging transition, but with the support and experience I had gained working with Darren, I was ready to open and manage my own company.  It’s this same mentoring that I try to give to my employees. And beyond having a positive and healthy relationship with your employees, you should also be a leader in your community.   Being involved in community events, clubs and meetings allows me to not only focus on growing my business, but it helps to grow others in my community as well.  It just feels good.

Stephanie Nesseth, Absolutely Clean
The leadership and success that I know is a life style.  It’s who you surround yourself with, the discipline you have in your day to day life. Success becomes who you are, and it’s not necessarily about the paycheck.  It’s a value; we are not ONE person on the clock, and another behind closed doors. We surround ourselves with people who support us with understanding and “how can I help?” mentalities.

I look for and see leadership in young people; they influence me to be all that I can be because I know that in order to truly lead, they must WANT to follow and WANT to walk in our footsteps. Each year, my company organizes a large carnival fundraiser for our foundation, and we have started pulling in young people to help. The leadership that comes from them is truly inspiring. They influence their peers and are making a difference.  Leadership isn’t about the titles or the money in the bank.  It’s how you inspire others to make a difference as well.