Another day, another investment bank in trouble.

Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about Lehman Brothers ( LEH), whose stock plunged amid rumors of major trouble at the investment bank.

While your company may never be the focus of heated commentary on CNBC and the financial blogs (insert sigh of gratitude here), Lehman's troubles offer a lesson to any business facing tough times.

When you're under attack, fight back by taking swift, decisive action. Staying vague and downplaying rumors of weakness will only bring on more scrutiny.

In the case of Lehman Brothers, the trouble began as yet more fallout from the subprime mortgage mess that has ensnared countless other banks. With Lehman's announcement that it needed to raise $6 billion in new capital earlier this month, along with its quarterly loss, analysts have been wondering if it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Almost immediately, comparisons were made to Bear Stearns , which collapsed seemingly overnight back in March.

Lehman may yet go out of business or put itself up for sale. But so far, it's weathering the crisis better than Bear did. How? By targeting specific problems and tackling them openly.

"They've taken aggressive steps to stabilize their balance sheet," says Ladenburg Thalmann analyst Richard Bove. "The measures taken were significant enough for the company to withstand whatever the stock market throws at it."

There's no question that Lehman Brothers made mistakes that landed it in its current tight spot; most of the quarterly losses were related to residential mortgages that went bad. But it also made some smart moves that may have saved the company, including liquefying assets, reducing the balance sheet and bringing in more equity.

That means the company can face its critics from a stronger position than Bear did. "When Bear was collapsing, I was getting clients calling me every day, worried about getting their money out," says Bove. "So far, none of my clients have called me about Lehman."

Clean Sweep

CEO Richard Fuld knew Lehman needed to send a strong signal that it was cleaning house. The firing of CFO Erin Callan and COO Joseph Gregory was a clear public statement that the company was serious about making changes.

"The company's losses were a result of decisions made by the people who were fired," says Bove. "Investment banks like to claim they're a meritocracy, so they should have no patience for people who fail."

Neither should you. If one part of your business drags down the rest, clients and co-workers need to know that you won't tolerate it -- even if firing an employee is your most dreaded management task. (Firing Gregory had to be particularly painful for CEO Fuld, given that the two men had worked alongside each other for more than 20 years.)

So far, Lehman's willingness to be upfront may have saved it from disaster. What remains to be seen is whether the company can keep reassuring Wall Street doubters. "The company has been pretty straightforward in terms of solving its problems," says Bove. "But generally, brokerage firms don't communicate fairly and openly with investors."

Will that change? In the case of Lehman, it might have to. "If the company is going to survive, it needs to explain what its business model is going to be," says Bove.

Keep that advice in mind if your own company has to weather a storm. You can take concrete steps to solve problems, make sure employees are held accountable and be open and honest about the challenges you're facing. But to survive the bad weather, you'd better have a goal in sight -- otherwise you'll remain lost at sea.

Elizabeth Blackwell is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is the author of Frommer's Chicago guidebook, and writes for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago, and other national magazines.

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