I never thought being kind would get me fired from a job.

One of the many lies women are told by society is that if you’re pleasant, agreeable, and kind you’ll go much farther in business and in life.

I was always kind to others, but not because I thought it would get me ahead. This Ohio girl was always greeting someone with a smile, trying to solve someone’s problem, trying to make someone feel better, because that’s what felt right to her. I never thought it could backfire.

The second job I ever had was at a Chicago radio station. It was an unpaid internship, which is why I had to simultaneously start the third job I’ve ever had, working at an Italian ice shop, which provided a little cash for my summer in the city.

My boss at the shop was … unpleasant. He could be best described as a tyrant. Always rude, no empathy, extremely critical of everyone who worked for him. He was the kind of guy you would see coming toward you, and you would just sort of shrink in his presence. Gives me chills just writing about him now. Nonetheless, I still scooped with a smile and tried not to let my boss get to me.

One day, someone came into the shop claiming that they had lost their glasses, and they believed they left them in the shop earlier that day. After checking the lost and found and letting him know we hadn’t come across any glasses, he began to get very irate. Clearly, this guy was just having a bad day, and I felt I had to make it better.

To ameliorate the situation, I decided to give him a free scoop of Italian ice. It was my way of saying “sorry you lost your glasses, but they are not in this store, so please take this treat and leave” without actually saying those words. In my experience, frozen treats tend to heal all wounds. Definitely true with my two boys at home.

And it worked, the guy walked out. The Italian ice seemed to make him forget about his lost glasses.

A moment later, I felt my boss breathing down my neck. He had caught me giving away products for free. He yelled at me, “how could you do that?!” and then fired me on the spot. I hung my apron up. I didn’t get a chance to wash my sticky hands, I just walked out the door. And then I broke down crying in my car.

I’d like to go on the record and state that this was the ONLY job I’ve ever been fired from. I’m proud of that.

I was fired for being too nice! I guess giving away free products is a no-go. But I was young, a little naive, and a real people pleaser. Years later, I’ve learned I’ve had to let that part go because it hasn’t always resulted in the best situations for me.

Reflecting on it now, I realize how important it is to have a great boss. A great manager. A great leader. It doesn’t matter what you do–if you’re being led by an ineffective or insensitive leader, you’re not going to thrive in your work environment. So I encourage all of my managers, entrepreneurs, team leaders–don’t be like my former boss. Have some empathy and respect for others. Your investment in your leadership style and your team will pay off in the long run.

Being a good, empathetic person also matters in parenting. If you want to raise the most happy,  healthy, and successful child, your parenting style is incredibly important. If you’re a parent, I recommend you listen to Stroller Coaster, my podcast with Munchkin. Each episode features inspirational stories, fascinating guests, innovative parenting tips, and tons of “Wow, I have been there” moments. 

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