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clients going bust – a leadership challenge

I got back from the US last week to find that one of my clients hadn’t paid me for the previous month’s invoice. My initial reaction was “here we go again”; some clients do have to be chased. My work with this one was on cost cutting, but not paying people isn’t one of my recommendations!

As they were on my route the next day I thought I’d call in for a chat, but got there to find the premises vacant and with a To Let sign outside. Enquiries since have revealed that they had ceased business the day I flew out to America (and the day on which I had posted my second invoice).

At first I felt anger for myself. They owe me a decent sum and I can ill afford to lose it (I will be a long way down the list of creditors). But then I thought of the people who had worked there: 90 or so decent people who came in day after day and did their best and I wondered how they were going to cope, out of a job a month before Christmas, bills hard to pay and jobs hard to find.

I have put aside any feelings of sorrow for my own position; I’m big enough, old enough and ugly enough (check my photo) to survive losing what I am owed and just feel sad for those who have lost their sole source of income. Do I blame the company? To a degree, but they did at least try to do something in hiring me. Too late though, as they had barely started to put my initial proposals in place before the plug was pulled.

What can I do? Could I have saved them? I’m not going to claim that I could have, but what I can do is try to make sure that what I provide for my clients is the very best that I can. Whilst, as a consultant, I may not have executive responsibility when at a client’s site, I am still a leader, and have a leader’s responsibility to stand up and be counted, to challenge what is wrong and to show what is right.

Whilst over in the USA I was reminded of a quote that I believe came from Martin Luther King; “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.

These are trying times still, and the world needs its leaders, at all levels, to show their mettle. Whoever that quote comes from, let us all try to live up to it.

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