Mark Robert Halper Photography

Everywhere there is economic fallout: unemployed friends and relatives, sinking businesses, reduced consumption. Given that my last few columns have been about how to survive difficult times, this month I’ll describe how some business owners have managed to stay upbeat yet focused. How do they lead with vigor, in a way that inspires their staff to follow them with confidence?

Pumped by the Mission

I started these conversations by talking with my partner, Victoria Downing, president of Remodelers Advantage. When she walks in the office door each morning, she is met with calls and e-mails from remodelers who are in business trouble and, occasionally, in personal trouble. Our business, like everyone else’s, is down.

Yet, “I’m pumped by our mission — our ability to help our clients,” Downing says. “The hunt for new sales keeps me upbeat, and there are many unexpected opportunities to try new things, to do more with less.”

She also revels in casual dress, bringing her dog to the office, and being open to spontaneous fun. On one particularly difficult day before Christmas, the postman delivered a gift of two bottles of wine. The staff gathered around, and one bottle was gone with lightning speed. So, partying may be part of the mix as well.

Steve Jordan is president of Rebuilding America, in Pensacola, Fla., which partners with investors to rehab houses for rent. He’s watching house values and rental prices drop and vacancies rise. But he sees opportunities everywhere.

Every day, he makes a written list of the 10 things he is most grateful for. Having been in a 12-step program for 33 years, Jordan is fully aware that “we each have 24 hours a day, and we can deal with anything if we deal with it for just one day at a time,” he says. Instead of trying “to forecast the future,” he keeps to a schedule that includes meditation, a daily routine, and a strong work ethic, all of which stand him in good stead during difficult times.

Cut Budgets, Not Fun

Liz Wilder surrounds herself with appropriately upbeat books, music, and audio books. “I have to make sure I’m positive every day because there’s a clear connection between my mood and the mood of everyone with whom I work,” says the president of Anthony Wilder Design/Build, in Bethesda, Md.

She also swears by starting each day right, with meditation and time to play with her beloved dogs. “They bring things down to a happy reality,” she says.

Critically, Wilder makes certain that her staff enjoy their work, and that good news of all types travels quickly — news of awards, signed contracts, inspirational quotes, and more. The latest all-company meeting took place at the office, “catered” by Dunkin’ Donuts rather than being held at the nearby country club. There’s a lesson: Cut budgets, but never cut fun and celebration.

For each of us, there is a key to staying balanced. As another remodeler recently wrote, “My wife and I are looking forward to our kids and our grandchild visiting. When I hear ‘Grandpa!’ called out at the baggage claim, all work worries will vaporize. The economy will do whatever it is going to do, the business may make or lose money, but the bottom line on my family investment is always positive.”

As for me, my pep-ups are my two Jack Russell terriers. Who can stay morose with these leaping and unpredictable dogs? I tend to eat when down, but committing to twice-a-week training sessions at the gym takes my mind to a totally different place (I think it’s called pain). Best of all, by living on a farm, nature constantly beckons. Walks always bring unexpected findings and fresh perspectives.

What’s your key? Keeping yourself strong and positive lays the groundwork for a strong and positive company.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;