Wakeup call

Ted Leonhardt
2 min readMar 18, 2023

My founder story: an unexpected blow opens up possibilities

“…and I’m reducing your salary 25%.”

I could see that he was extremely uncomfortable. He spoke in a voice that didn’t sound like him. It was lower in tone, almost as if his throat was restricted. I knew it was nerves.

I knew things weren’t going well when he called me into his office.

“Ted, do you agree that I’m the sole owner of this business?”

“Yes, of course you are. What’s wrong? The firm made more money than ever while you were on sabbatical.” It was true but seemed lame even as I said it.

I stared at him, then stared at the floor, feeling my discomfort, knowing it wasn’t going well. Not knowing how to wiggle out of this utterly uncomfortable spot. Then it hit me. With the salary reduction, I couldn’t pay my mortgage. I had to turn this around or quit.

Then, he followed up with, “the firm can no longer afford you,” and I knew there was no wiggling out.

What’s going on here? I felt shame. Shame that somehow, I hadn’t measured up, but knowing I’d done a hell of a job keeping his business alive and thriving while he was sabbaticaling in Europe.

When we’re demoted, dismissed, fired, or otherwise hit with a similar blow, it unearths our deepest fears. Scars from past emotional impacts feed the present shame, and all our carefully constructed defenses fall away.

Seeing no positive way forward, I stood, knees weak, and started towards the door. Still reeling from the blow, I paused and looked at him, hoping to catch his eye. He didn’t look up.

My year managing his business was a self-guided, yearlong, intense management training course. Before this, I had no intention of starting my own business. But now, I was ready.

Reducing my salary was the wakeup call that pushed me into it.



Ted Leonhardt

Helping designers and other creative professionals win negotiations. Author, coach, trainer, consultant. http://www.tedleonhardt.com