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Countdown to December 31, 2009

countdown-12009 will be remembered as the year the rules of business changed. The year began with the economy in the throes of the worst global recession on record. Business leaders were being pummeled by one ugly piece of economic news after another. Unemployment was soaring, financial institutions were crashing, automakers were on life support, and the government was doling out bailout and stimulus money like Halloween candy. Simply put, consumers and businesses alike initiated a lock-down on spending.

As we approach mid-November and officially enter the mad dash from Thanksgiving to the New Year's holiday season, we are clearly in different economic times. Bad recession news is giving way to encouraging recovery news. Consumer spending is up just a notch. The housing market is actually showing signs that it has a pulse. Ford is reporting a profit. A leaner GM is making a comeback. Chrysler, now owned by Fiat, still can't find the on-switch to its business GPS. Yes, unemployment just hit 10.2%, the highest since April 1983, but with "run lean" as the mandate, this was expected. In fact, it would take explosive economic growth to drive down unemployment and that's just not on the horizon.

So, with the end of 2009 just over six weeks away, here are some no-compromise leadership insights:

  • Turn all of your systems on now: Finish 2009 by going for the brass ring. I emphatically believe that the vast majority of businesses have 20% more growth just waiting there if you go for it. And that 20% can only be achieved if you have all of your systems, procedures and accountabilities turned on and running.

  • Do more with less: The days of "nice to have" are history. We are officially in the era of high productivity, efficiency and accountability. The budget is the boss. Cash flow management is a non-negotiable. Most of all, building cash reserves must be a priority. Any business that entered the recession cash poor is either out of business or hanging on for dear life.

  • Information flow: I will never stop preaching the vital role of rapid information flow to drive a sense of urgency, company focus and achieving the right outcomes. Everyone must be locked into the company vision and its key objectives. Everyone must know the score. Everyone must understand the "why" behind the decisions leadership makes. Everyone must be clear on what the company's expectations are for individual performance.

  • Make tough decisions faster - don't avoid them: Leaders that hesitated or avoided making tough decisions early in the recession paid dearly. The recession essentially pressure-tested your ability to be a no-compromise leader. It's stressful to be confronted with decisions that involve major cost cutting - especially when it means cutting jobs or closing facilities. Ford did it early. GM and Chrysler waited too long. The solutions were there but the leaders didn't want to rock the already sinking ship. GM had to implode for its leaders to engage. The days of procrastination and avoidance are gone.

  • Be present as the leader: It's so easy for leaders to get distracted by priority projects that pull them away from its most precious resource - its people. Employees need to feel connected with their leaders. They need to know their leader is present and cares about their work, their ideas and their lives. Fact: Company cultures demand perpetual care. Ignore your people and you're destroying your company from within.

Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.

Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO and author of No-Compromise Leadership


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