How to Be An Effective Leader in a Flat Economy

Business owners and managers continue to be stuck in the past. They fail to realize by squeezing out the last drop of productivity, cutting their overhead and costs to the bone, working harder, and continuing to do business the same way with the same old customers and project types won’t cut it today. I’ve been getting lots of e-mails asking what should companies do as the market remains flat. When companies don’t get the results they want, it's not their competition, the economy or their people. It’s usually the leader who has gotten stuck and not willing to try new ideas or change.

Start at the top

Company owners are 100 percent responsible for everything in their company: sales, profits, growth, quality, customer service, organizational systems, people, productivity, cash-flow, and management. In other words, the buck stops at the top. Weak leaders blame poor results on circumstances beyond their control. Weak leaders sit and wait for something to happen, customers to call, the economy to turn around, or some other miraculous event; while they don’t do anything different or decisive. Leaders have to make it happen - now (or never.)

I drove by a well-located Sears department store and the parking lot was empty while the rest of the shopping center was jammed full. Sears can blame its decline on Wal-Mart, Target or the Internet. But in reality, the leaders of Sears were stuck in the past and made decisions to do nothing. Rather than trying innovative products or unique concepts, they kept offering the same tired products, average service, old comfortable ways, and didn’t change their business model. The leaders hoped their new competition would go away and customers would keep buying from a business that was out of touch. The leaders didn’t do what they needed to do. No vision or innovation and afraid to try new things. They got eaten alive and now continue to scramble to keep up with their competition.

Change me first

Getting great results in this economy is an indicator of the leader’s vision and innovation. Real leaders make quick decisive decisions to adjust and stay ahead of changing business climates. Poor leaders wait for something to happen and complain about everything except their own performance. Business owners rarely come into the office and say, "I've made a decision I need to change how I manage, how I lead and the direction of the company.” Poor leaders walk into the office and say: "My employees aren’t making it happen. My customers aren’t paying us fast enough. My competitors are too cheap. I can’t make enough profit. Everyone will have to work harder, and we’ll have to cut costs.”

Effective leaders realize they must have the courage to change themselves first before anyone will follow their lead. They must have a vision of where they’re going, be willing to try new markets, different customers, additional project types, and go against the grain. Over 90 percent of employees rate their company leadership below excellent. Employees don’t see business owners taking charge and going for the winner’s circle in these times.

Are you doing something?

I speak at lots of conventions to entrepreneurs, business owners and managers. The common business challenge is to make a profit and grow. This starts with a business owner having a dynamic focused vision employees get excited about. People want to follow a leader on a mission. They won’t follow someone who is negative and complains about problems. Leaders who really lead, stand up and say, "Here's where we're going, the changes we need to make and how we’ll make it happen." Instead of, "Work hard and we'll see how it works out; and if we do well, maybe we'll be able to stay in business and survive." This attitude doesn't make people excited about coming to work and improving the bottom-line.

What’s your innovative vision?

Effective leaders start with a new innovative vision and connect it to specific measurable results. Some companies have visions to be the best company, offer the best service or provide the best quality. While that's an ok vision, it’s not exciting. Examples of exciting visions include:

  • Be the leader in cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions providing customers a unique finished project
  • Be the leader in completing projects 25 percent faster than competitors
  • Be the ‘go to’ company for building difficult complex projects

What’s your target?

After defining your exciting vision, specific results must be targeted to quantify your goals. For example, if your vision is to be the fastest service provider, determine what specific measurable results enhance your bottom line. Some specific targets can include: a referral from every customer, installation errors, or 98 percent on-time completion. What specific targets and numbers can you shoot for to realize your vision and get the results you want?

It’s time to stop the buck

Ask everyone at your company, "What's the innovative vision of our company? What are we trying to accomplish and our top three priorities? What specific targets are we shooting for?” You'll get 37 different answers if you have 37 people in your company. To get bottom line results, get everyone on the same page from top to bottom.

Leading and getting the results starts with you. Change, innovate and try new ways of doing business, new project types, new customers and new markets. Communicate your clear exciting vision. Define specific targets with expected results. And make it happen. You can sit and wait or stand up and get your company moving again. What’s your choice? Only you can decide if you will start the bucks rolling your way.

George Hedley is a professional business coach, popular speaker and best-selling author of “Get Your Business to Work!” and “The Business Success Blueprint For Contractors” available at his online bookstore. He works with contractors to build profitable growing companies. E-mail: to request FREE admission to his next webinar, signup for his e-newsletter, be part of a group BIZCOACH program, join a peer mastermind BIZGROUP, take a numbers class at Hardhat BIZSCHOOL online university, or hire George to speak. Visit