Leadership is not about finding a parade and getting in front; it's about creating a parade people want to follow!

Whether you are a leader of a small business or large corporation, leading during tough times is hard work. But hard does not mean impossible. It does, however, require a laser-like attention to detail and a hands-on shift from "business as usual." Profitability must be maintained to ensure your company can make it through an economic downturn, and leaders must take proactive, bold and decisive steps to achieve it.

With messages of doom and gloom permeating the news, it's easy to believe everyone is struggling to maintain profitability. And although there are companies and industries in serious economic crisis, many others continue to thrive and are poised for growth.

So what sets the two apart? According to results from a Bloomberg Businessweek.com/Hay Group 2009 Best Companies for Leadership survey, leadership is clearly linked to positive financial results, with the Top 20 Companies for Leadership consistently outperforming the S&P 500 by significant margins.

"The best companies for developing leaders recognize the value of strong leadership in both the good times and the bad," says John Larrere, national director of leadership and talent at Hay Group. "Culturally, they just cannot do away with leadership development, even in a recession. They don't see it as a perk but as a necessity."

Effective business leadership is essential to a company's survival and is the key to its long-term success and profitability. Companies that place little emphasis on leadership development struggle to maintain profitability when key leadership departs, while top companies understand the importance of investing in leadership training and development.

In her article "How Companies Develop Great Leaders," Patricia O'Connell writes that there is a sense of urgency to develop leaders in the best-led companies and that these companies actively manage a pool of successors for mission-critical roles.

Jayne Johnson, GE's ( GE) director of leadership education, comments, "Our culture is committed to leadership development....Today more than ever, we need our leaders going to Crotonville GE's corporate university . It's these very leaders who will make us successful today and in the future."

In fact, many fail to realize that the strength of a company's emerging leadership is one of the most effective competitive weapons it can have.

When budgets get tight, many companies quickly place their leadership and training programs on the chopping block. However, according to the Businessweek/Hay Group survey, 94.3% of respondents within the Top 20 revealed, "leadership development programs better allow employees to deliver on the company's goals and strategies." Since delivering results drives profitability, cutting leadership development programs to temporarily boost the bottom line is simply counterproductive and ineffective.

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