Credit: Illustration: Barry Blitt

The lead situation was bleak. The salespeople wondered who would be the first to go. What to do?

What this particular company owner did was to call an emergency marketing meeting. The goal: generate new ways to get leads, and create an action plan.

That was a year ago. Today, the same company has leads in abundance and saw sales rise by a third in 2009.

It's amazing what can happen when you acknowledge that you don't have all the answers. Of course, leaders of an organization are supposed to have the answers, that's their role, right? Actually it isn't. Their role is to set the direction and motivate people to give their best efforts.

One of the great casualties of the current recession is morale. In many places employees are stretched to the snapping point. They're being asked to do more, much more, for less and at the same time no one is giving them any reason beyond telling them how lucky they are to take home a paycheck. Since they are viewed as expendable, they don't feel respected. As a consequence, they view any managerial pronouncement with skepticism, if not ridicule.

Could you actually sell a homeowner a job if that homeowner didn't feel respected? Or if that homeowner didn't trust you? So how can you sell employees on the need to contribute their best efforts, let alone step forward with new ideas, if respect and trust are missing?

This company's newly created marketing plan did just what it was designed to do. Not only because it was a great idea but because everybody in the company got behind it. Everyone there had a part to play and everyone pulled together.

Ask owners what they think they've learned so far from the recession and the usual answer is: I should have started cutting my overhead sooner. Overhead of course includes payroll. What about your relationship with the employees who are there? If someone from outside your company was hired to ask them how valued they feel for working there, what do you think they would say?

People throw around the expression "leading by example." How about just leading? That is, setting the direction, communicating with the people you manage, asking for their ideas, acknowledging their vital efforts, showing how to work as a team? It sounds simple, yes, though it's not easy to do. But neither is turning around a bleak lead situation.