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How Successful Leaders Capitalize on Good Times

Just because times are good today doesn't mean they will stay that way. Great leaders know how to take favorable conditions and make them sustainable.
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All leaders know to be proactive when times are challenging. They don't always know exactly what to do, but they know they need to do something. My most recent column helps with those choices.

But I am surprised at how few leaders work to capitalize when things are going well. When market conditions are favorable and business is booming, this is not the time to just sit back and enjoy the spoils. Great leaders know that they need to be even more strategic and proactive during boom times as responses to "sunny day" temptations can make the difference between being good, great, or even awesome.

A great leader making the right choices regarding the following seven temptations can move mountains and create wealth for all, leaving behind those who have to start the hard work again when the bust inevitably happens.

1. Temptation: Save praise for later.

When things are busy and bonuses are high, the positive morale makes praise and compliments seem superfluous. Plus, people are busy, and as the saying goes, "good news waits till noon." But noon often becomes never.

What great leaders do instead: Now is the time to make sure that people feel appreciated for the growth and hard work. Make a point of offering small bits of specific, positive feedback on a regular basis. Put systems in place that help the team members celebrate their accomplishments--beyond the extra cash in their check.

2. Temptation: Give in to "good enough."

When things are going well, it's hard to see the little errors and systemic breakdowns that occur. Often the lost deals and customer dissatisfaction are hidden by increasing top-line revenue and margins. Robust times are when it's easiest to coast and let your people do the same.

What great leaders do instead: Heavy volume means you can put the systems to the test with minimal risk. Dedicate time and resources to stretching and testing limits so you can increase capacity and efficiency. There is no better time to look for new opportunities and ways to improve. Use this boom to encourage team members to think of the future and big possibilities. Then empower them with committed resources to go as far as you can safely go.

3. Temptation: Become invisible.

Good times are often busy times, and you may be wrapped up with travel, meetings, and communication. You may disappear for weeks at a time. You know what you're up to, but your staff will not.

What great leaders do instead: It's good to delegate and focus on growth, but the team still needs direction and confidence in the leadership. The more quickly they surpass goals, the more they need guidance toward the next summit. Make a point of being visible and active in goal discussions. Come out of your office and talk to your people. Schedule lunches or happy hours so they can get creative talk time outside of day-to-day issues.

4. Temptation: Over-rely on star players.

Big producers add a lot to the company, but it is a mistake to underplay the rest of the team. Diversification is key to longevity in down markets.

What great leaders do instead: Make a conscious effort to monitor, motivate, and cultivate each team member. Repetition of consistent business is a great way to help that "B" player get closer to becoming an "A" sales star. Use the abundant market to build skills and deepen your bench. That way you will have redundancies in place and people ready to step up if your starting players become unavailable.

5. Temptation: Decide you are indispensable.

There is nothing wrong with knowing the value you bring to a company. If things are going well, it is natural to feel a sense of pride and ownership. Just be very careful to avoid thinking or behaving as though the place couldn't carry on without you. Remember what they say about cemeteries being full of indispensable people.

What great leaders do instead: Stay mindful of the ways you personally can continue to improve, which will keep you learning and keep you humble. Empower your team to grow and aspire to bigger positions that will expand the company exponentially. If they are aspiring to take on your position, you are doing something right.

6. Temptation: Stop asking "What If?" just because you can.

Daydreaming, asking questions, cultivating curiosity--these are the activities that fuel creativity and innovation. When you're riding high on what's already working, sometimes you forget to explore new territory just because it is there.

What great leaders do instead: Make opportunities for creative thinking at work and in the personal lives of your team. Create challenging exercises to keep team members on their toes. Schedule regular retreat time away from the craziness of daily operations to address new opportunities and resources only available when abundance is high.

7. Temptation: Give up experimenting.

It seems counterintuitive to think that success can cause paralysis. But when things are great, you want them to stay great, and if you are not careful, that can lead to a paralyzing fear that they may not. It is easy to become too afraid to try anything new. Unfortunately, what works during the boom may kill you when the bust comes.

What great leaders do instead: Apportion time, resources, and funds to create a laboratory where safe failure can occur regularly. Challenge the team to take calculated risks on a regular basis, so you can learn, grow, and capitalize.

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Last updated: Aug 19, 2014

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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