Model These Key Leadership Principles in 2018
How was your 2017? Was business growing, was it flat, did you have a few big wins, or lose a major customer to the competition?
What we do in the midst of great times and hard times greatly influences our long-term prospects for being a high-performing company with an uncommon sense of purpose and teamwork. For leaders, this is an ideal time to take a fresh look at the fundamentals of the business and ensure a solid foundation for the future. Here are some action items to consider:
■ Get Off the Ledge: First things first! If you’re still operating in the red or running
‘close to the edge’ on cash, what (or who) are you waiting for? If your sources of
funds don’t provide enough cash each month to meet your uses of funds, you’re
playing a losing game or putting your head in the sand. Even if you’re carrying
retained earnings on your balance sheet, you’re squandering your assets and
harming your team by masking reality. If you haven’t done it already, it’s time
to reset your resource/capacity levels to match your activity so that you can
continue operating indefinitely and profitably at this level. Seize ‘recessionary’
cost reductions (e.g., renegotiate marketing costs, rebid supplier and service
contracts, offer voluntary leaves, or reappraise tax values). Consider shedding
surplus assets (e.g., tighten inventories or sell surplus equipment) and crosstraining
a smaller staff to wear more than one hat. Actively ‘share the pain,’
lower your ‘breakeven point,’ and look for ways to restructure and redesign key
offerings and processes, thereby raising company operating standards going
forward. By deeply engaging your ‘going forward’ staff in the process, you’ll
find surprising ways to shore-up the business and protect the greatest number
■ Build a Winning Team: C12 has covered a lot of ground in this area in recent
years. This is a great time to clearly communicate and then regularly reinforce
alignment on your firm’s core principles (i.e., vision, purpose, and core values).
Deep engagement is necessary to ensure clear buy-in and to help employees
coalesce into a solid team. Step up and address all known ‘gaps’ [e.g., skeptical
managers, poor communications skills, incomplete skill certifications, weak
personal commitment to operating standards (e.g., reliability, productivity, quality,
safety, teamwork), and hesitancy to embrace performance pay and continual
improvement initiatives]. Engage your staff in addressing Patrick Lencioni’s Five
Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002): (1) Absence of Trust, (2) Inattention
to Results, (3) Fear of Conflict, (4) Lack of Commitment, and (5) Avoidance of
With unemployment low, this is a perfect time to ‘raise the bar’ and
shore-up organizational weaknesses. The ready availability of many strong
candidates can bring incremental capabilities to enable you to confidently delegate
and drive improved performance. During tough times it’s easy to let upward
delegation become a widespread bad habit. Take a look at your own routine tasks
and shed as many as possible to those closer to the action. This will enable you
to lead, plan, work ‘on’ the business, and stretch your team.
■ ‘Lean’ Sales and Marketing: Are your marketing efforts disjointed and based
on historical habits and generic sounding appeals? Or, are they unified and
based on a very focused and distinctive core message delivered through the
most productive communication channels, beginning with your name, tagline,
signage, website, literature, stationary, email and targeted ad spending? Do you
begin with a clearly defined and widely understood served market definition and
targeted segments? How well do you understand the needs and wants of each
target segment? Have you tailored your offerings, messaging (i.e., Unique Selling
Proposition), and marketing choices to increase your share of the best customers?
Now’s the time to cut the fat and question the productivity of your habitual
sales and marketing efforts. Reevaluate everything and terminate those that aren’t profitable.
Increase your focus on the things that work and sharpen your message.
Look for incremental sales opportunities by probing existing customers regarding
expanded service possibilities (as they’ve also reduced staffing). Pursue product
line extensions in existing channels/geography and consider entirely new offerings
to leverage your existing expertise, staff, channels, geography and reputation.
Bundle products and services together in novel ways to approach new accounts
and existing customers in an effort to sell more. Lead a workshop with your key
staff to brainstorm and systematically find new sources of growth.
■ Clean-up Historical Operating Problems and Compromises: Now’s the time
to get serious about eliminating repetitive waste (e.g., poor project plans and
costly quality problems), unnecessary capacity, underperforming suppliers, and
organizational ‘ankle weights’ (e.g., naysayers, upward delegators, untrustworthy
teammates, and accountability avoiders). When sales are down, it’s easy for everyone
to become hesitant and defer to the boss since the survival stakes seem higher.
Instead, lean the other way by engaging your team to find better ways to do
things. We have two choices: micromanaging our smaller staff or working
to reset expectations so that clarity, personal accountability, and buy-in are
sharpened. If you do the latter, you’ll rebound in the economic recovery stronger
than ever. What’s your readiness to serve your market niche with superior cost,
quality, and service? Do you have a solid and accountable team, able to plan,
execute, and drive improvement in each functional area? Now’s the time to raise
expectations, shore-up weaknesses, ensure commitment to unifying principles,
clarify deliverables, renew focus on fundamentals, and tweak your team’s pool
of talent and skills, just like a sports team in a rebuilding year.
■ Refocus around Planning and Execution Discipline: Allowing multiple agendas
in the same company is crippling. Involve key employees and staff leaders in
the planning process and hold them responsible for delivering their piece of
the Plan (e.g., revenue growth, cost, asset turns, etc.). Engage them in building
the business ‘on paper’ with a fresh plan. Identify specific sources of growth
(i.e., price, geography, channel, line extension, new offerings, etc.) based on the
actual expressed needs and wants of your existing clients as well as others your
capabilities could also serve. Delegate ownership of P&L categories (revenue
and expense) and assign ‘gatekeepers’ to drive each major area. Do the same
with working capital accounts (inventories, receivables, payables) to drain wasted
■ Establish a Culture that Integrates Learning, Accountability, and Performance
Pay: A team that’s seriously engaged in making its Plan will constantly confront
‘off-Plan’ areas, hold each other accountable, and celebrate successes together.
Share the pain and the gain, while cultivating a culture of ‘owners’ and committed
‘professionals.’ Help them see the necessity of lifelong learning and improvement.
Communicate the opportunities which successful businesses can provide for
those desiring to grow. If necessary, remix who’s “on the bus” to achieve a highfunctioning
team. Are your employees eager to learn and contribute? Do they share in the
risk and reward related to your performance against Plan?
■ Unwavering Personal Witness: It’s incumbent on us to communicate clearly
and lead with grace when making changes that negatively impact others. As a
steward, servant leader, and Christ follower, we’re to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit
in all seasons. Do we exhibit His peace in the midst of the storm? The Lord gives
and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord! Long after this recession is
a memory, others will most remember how we led and interacted while under
How can your leadership help your team to use the ups and downs of business as a foundation strengthening time that provides a fine launching pad for the future? If you need some help in this area, visit a C12 Group today.