Over the last couple of years, many businesses (and some industries) have shrunk or even failed. Most observers attribute this outcome to market conditions or the overall economy, and as a result many business leaders have dramatically adjusted their goals and direction. While it would be naive to think that market conditions do not have a major influence on the difficulty or ease of achieving goals and results, it is important not to hand over your business and destiny to an environment that you cannot control.

As I have watched businesses both inside and outside the remodeling industry over the last few years, I have found a common denominator among those that have seen positive growth and profitability while navigating these stormy waters. That common denominator is what I call “being a student of success.” It is a mindset, it is a behavior, and it is an investment. And while it may sound a little too evangelical for some, I believe it directly affects the behaviors of success and a positive outcome.

Positive Attitude

When you adopt the student-of-success mindset, you believe that “failure is not an option,” that an extra 1% is the difference between winning and losing. You begin to make positive attitude and team morale a priority in your business decisions. Henry Ford said, “I refuse to recognize that there are impossibilities”; Napoleon Hill’s book is titled, Think and Grow Rich. They both believed that attitude is important to create success.

In addition to positive attitude, a success-focused mindset is also about work ethic. In tough times, each individual needs to step up so that work ethic becomes a cultural dynamic and is not carried by just a select few individuals.

Take inventory of both individual and collective attitudes within your company, and grade your “success mindset.” Then talk with the owners of businesses that have seen positive growth over the last couple of years and compare notes. I think you’ll find that a positive mindset is a key ingredient to success, particularly in difficult times.

Changing Behavior

In addition to adopting a success mindset, you also need to translate it into behavior. Paraphrasing Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, intentions without actions aren’t worth squat. Giving motivational speeches and singing company theme songs may help to build a positive attitude, but positive business effects are not sustainable without developing specific habits and actions. Companies and leaders who are students of success reward creative thinking and improvement even in tough times.

Watch your colleagues and employees and ask yourself if they are “students of success.” If not, you may need to devote some time and energy to training, marketing strategies, or even new processes or systems that embody the “student of success” concept.

As much as many people would like their business to “hit the lottery” and achieve overnight success, that is not a strategy you can count on. Being a student of success requires an investment both in hard cash and time; it also involves some risks. But without risk and investment, gains will be minimal.

Try to quantify how much money you want to invest annually into being a student of success. One successful friend of mine spends two weeks each year away from his business in an entrepreneurial program at a major university — during that time he is literally a student of success. Investments like this push you out of your comfort zone and stretch your business “muscles” in new ways. As you know from your experience with physical health, you achieve better results when you vary the exercise routines you use.

I truly believe that what will separate the successful leaders and businesses moving forward may be less about the market conditions and more about becoming real “students of success.”

Mark Robert Halper

—Mark Richardson is co-chairman of The Case Institute of Remodeling, which provides business educational tools and events for the remodeling industry. mrichardson@casedesign.com; 301.229.4600.