Here we are in a new year with much hope for the future. Of course, it doesn’t take much to improve on the past three. Hopefully, the only trauma we need to suffer through in 2012 is a political campaign, but since that has been on-going for what seems like forever, it shouldn’t cause too much disruption. In fact, it may be a benefit because politicians will be too busy to enact restrictive legislation.

Many of you will focus on returning your company to solid footing with consistent growth. Given the volume of money the Fed has circulated during the past two years, inflation is almost certain. You should factor that into your planning.

Spend some time examining your work habits and personal credibility before moving forward. You’ve likely, in recent years, had your head down and your focus on the short term results needed to survive. You may have become more demanding and less patient. After all, you had bank payments and payrolls to meet. This can affect the way employees perceive your leadership qualities. In good times, people are more confident in their leaders. The reverse is true when times are not so good. In rebuilding your business, take time to reassess relationships. Talk with key team members to determine where and how you may have changed, creating a negative impact. Hopefully, everyone still respects your competency.

There is a book you might wish to read. It was written by Shaun O’Callaghan, an international consultant on turnaround strategy. It is titled Turnaround Leadership, Kogan Page Publisher, 2010. In this book, O’Callaghan speaks about five areas of leadership expertise that need to be honed to help you recover from crisis.

They are:

1) Making the right promises. After a crisis like The Great Recession, people with whom you interact will be feeling more uncertain about the future. They will wish for more detail in forecasts, budgets, records and more frequent reporting. Make yourself cognizant and sensitive to their perspective.

2) Gathering multiple new viewpoints. The broader the input, the more complete and credible your plan becomes.

3) Developing core business skills. As you examine where you wish to go in the future, make sure you have the necessary skill set. If not, learn it or surround yourself with others who know it.

4) Delivering results through relationships. Knowing and trusting the people with whom you work will help you achieve the desired results.

5) Rebuilding with trust and authentic communication. It is important to rebuild trust both inside and outside your company.

I also urge you to read a recent book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain It, Why People Demand It, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Kouzes and Posner have written several books on leadership. They write about the fact that a prolonged recession tends to erode the credibility of leaders and consequently the trust people have placed in them. It is critical at this time to examine how you stand with your constituents before commencing on any new growth initiatives.

The authors urge us to consider the six steps of rebuilding credibility: 1) discover yourself, 2) appreciate constituents, 3) affirm shared values, 4) develop capacity, 5) Serve a purpose, and 6) sustain hope.

To discover yourself, the authors mean that you need to really know yourself. What is the internal set of values and beliefs that guide you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How confident are you in your role?

Appreciation of constituents poses the question of whether you are a good listener. Do you really care about others and show it through how you treat people who work with you? Is your focus on yourself, your product, or other external factors - or is it on your team?

Affirming shared values is something I’ve addressed before. You can’t build a trusting team without shared values. Everyone needs to understand where you and your organization stand. This starts with personal values but also goes to a common understanding of purpose and principles of the organization.

Developing capacity deals with providing the tools, exhibiting trust and confidence in people’s competencies, giving latitude for people to do their jobs, allowing risk taking, and having open communication to keep people informed.

There’s a need to have a written purpose statement for your organization. The authors of this say true leaders lead by example and always put others and organization ahead of themselves. In Servant Leadership, by Robert Greenleaf, he says; “The true leader is a seeker, alert to new possibilities, open, listening and ready for whatever develops. True leadership, then, is an inner quality as much as an exercise of authority.” True leadership focuses on serving others. Self-serving leadership whose goal is self-enrichment will not lead to willing followers.

Leaders are responsible for uplifting people and maintaining a positive and confident vision of the future for the organization. They keep hope alive and hold out the promise of a better future. It is much easier for people to retain a positive attitude when the leadership is exhibiting confidence in the future and that the current sacrifices are worth it to assure it.

An additional aspect of dynamic company leadership is job fit. If we are serious about leading our companies back to a sustainable growth path, then we need to carefully examine whether or not we have all of our people in positions that fit their strengths and interests. You need to assess every key position and ensure you have a proper match of skills, ability and interest for going forward.

A book written by Greg Salciccioli, The Enemies of Excellence, Crossroad Publishing, 2011, describes how successful and talented people so often “shoot themselves in the foot” with destructive behavior. He describes the seven enemies of excellence: egotism, life mismanagement, bad habits, indulgence, broken relationships, isolation and self-sabotage.

I also suggest a another book, Decent People, Decent Company, by Robert L. Turknett and Carolyn Turknett, Davies-Black, 2005. The sub-title is “How to Lead With Character at Work And in Life.” Robert is an executive leadership coach and Carolyn is an organizational sociology expert. They state early and up front, “The foundation of leadership must be character, and that the foundation of leadership character must be integrity.” Integrity builds trust and respect, which in turn adds to your overall reputation and credibility. Once this is lost, it is impossible to recover. Mistakes in leadership can be overcome; a lapse in integrity cannot. It is vital to guard it carefully and manage it consciously.

Okay, so this sounds all warm and fuzzy yet you need to stay focused on finding some additional sales while protecting that thin bottom line. Is all of this really necessary today? All of us running a business know that loyal customers are the basis for solid business growth. A happy, committed and enthusiastic work force will go a long way to creating that loyal customer base. You cannot be successful if all you are doing is churning employees and customers. That is a losing game. Following the suggestions above should go a long way to helping provide you with a satisfied internal team. We will address how we reach out for a broader customer base in next month’s column.

Erdman is chief executive of Strategic Growth Resources, a business acquisition firm. Previously, he founded entrepreneurial programs at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and the University of Iowa. Contact him at 218-326-6939 or