A True Parable: To Declare or Not to Declare Bankruptcy

It was 1991. I was in my third year at RIT, and my parents had just purchased a condo in Florida. Then the construction industry tanked, and my Dad’s business — Monroe Piping and Sheet Metal — took a huge hit. At the same time, he discovered his accounts manager had not been paying their vendors.  

It was a mess with seemingly no way out. His business partner, Harold, came to him in a panic with one solution. Bankruptcy. “Hell no,” said my Dad. “We’ll figure this out.”  

He explained the situation to his employees along with a plan to get them out of their current circumstances. He and Harold would take a significant pay cut, and he asked the team to do the same. He promised that once the company was back on its feet, everyone would get paid lost wages and more. 

All but one employee stayed. One year later, after many strategic moves including firing the accounts manager, Harold and Dad made good on their promise. Monroe Piping and Sheet Metal was back on its feet and continues as a successful business today.

That story is one of many from my entrepreneur father that has had a profound effect on how I see leadership. So, what makes the difference between a committed leader and one who is ready to throw in the towel?

Here are the five qualities I’ve come up with:

    1. Solution Rather Than Problem-Focused. Solution-focused leaders ask questions like “What can we do to…” rather than making statements like “We can’t because…” Asking open-ended questions to any challenge provides the space to gain clarity on a way forward.  
    2. Global Rather Than Individual View. Good leaders take into consideration all stakeholders and how their decisions may affect the whole. If there is a major change coming, they consider how that change will affect others and do whatever they can to mitigate its effect. If my father had closed the doors to his business to protect himself and his partner, it would have put many people out of work.
    3. Perseverance Rather Than Defeatist. When things get tough a good leader is steadfast in their approach. They make continued efforts despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. 
    4. Doing the Right Thing Rather Than Lacking Integrity. A leader does not ask anyone to do what they are not willing to do. Furthermore, a leader is a person of their word and follows through on what they say they will do. My Dad and his partner showed integrity by taking significant pay cuts, as well as not hurting their vendors by declaring bankruptcy.
    5. Responding Rather Than Reacting. When faced with challenging circumstances, a good leader listens, reflects, and responds with discernment.  They act intentionally, rather than reacting emotionally.

My Dad was a modest man, and my guess is he didn’t think of his response as a “sign” of good leadership. He was just doing what came naturally to him. But what comes naturally to some leaders, may not for others. 

The good news is any leader can develop these qualities if they are willing to use their current circumstances as a platform to become a better leader. Your current circumstances and the way you operate within them can give you clues on where you can develop yourself.  

Additionally, often an outside perspective is helpful to uncover those areas for growth. As always, I’m here for you. If you are thinking it’s time to become the leader you were meant to be, start here with a complimentary discovery session.