THE current financial crisis is a war and business managers who adopt the approach of ancient warrior leaders are most likely to get through it and emerge well set up on the other side.

"It's a real battle for survival out there. They don't actually kill anyone anymore, but apart from that, everything else is the same," says business consultant, speaker and author Kevin Ryan, who works with Training Edge International.

Centuries ago, a leader's place was up front - leading the way into battle astride his horse or in the front chariot. We can all imagine Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan or William Wallace inspiring their warriors to victory against all odds.

Then, leadership changed and the generals started commanding from the back where they could be better analysts and strategists (and they were, of course, less likely to be killed!).

In the business world, the modern corporation has adopted the "managing from the back" model. Look at where the manager's office is in most buildings - in the spot that's furthest from the customers. We even call staff at the opposite end of the business hierarchy "front-line staff".

In these times of crisis, leaders need to adopt more of the old "leading from the front" model. Both your customers and your staff need to have confidence in you - your customers to stay loyal and your staff to stay fully engaged.

McDonald's recognised this many years ago when they launched their very successful Back To The Front Day, where senior managers spent a day at the counter serving customers. "The only question is," asks Mr Ryan, "is once a year enough?"

When was the last time you left your office and visited some clients? Says Mr Ryan: "What stops most managers is that they don't believe they're good at it. Or, at least, they don't believe they are better than their sales rep, so why do it?"

He adds: "They are missing the point. Just the fact that you took the time to go and see them will build loyalty. Also, there are techniques that leaders can use to help themselves to perform this more upfront role with confidence. And the leaders who do that will earn greater respect from their staff - particularly their sales staff."

Now is the time your client loyalty should be at its highest level - before they get a tempting offer from your competitor and not after, when the best you can hope for is an opportunity to make a counter-offer.

The battleground in the business war is the sales market, and salesmen are finding it tough: they are losing long-term clients, experiencing extra delays, encountering unmatchable pricing as competitors go down or try to buy market-share.

This is why leaders need to be better salesmen - so they can offer the empathy, support and suggestions that their struggling sales staff need.

"Even the best sales staff will need help to get a deal over the line in this environment. They need a leader who is sales-focused. Otherwise they will get frustrated and look for a place where they are understood," says Mr Ryan. "And when the recovery starts, you want the best sales staff working for you, not your competition."

Difficult times demand change. Often, this is for the better, but any change is disruptive to staff and threatening to those feeling insecure. This will create a negative attitude towards the change which will compromise its effectiveness. And in a crisis, you need your initiatives to work!

This is another area where a leader needs to be a salesman - to sell the change. Your task is to sell them a future with you that is better than now. You'll never instil that confidence in them unless you can demonstrate it yourself.

Says Mr Ryan: "In wars in the past, the generals at the back most often used their weapons not to threaten the enemy, but to threaten their own (deserting) troops. Now what does that tell you?"

Smart leaders need to be more visible and demonstrate and articulate their organisation's values. Mr Ryan says that many business leaders have lost the ability to do this because they have left image-building to subordinates or public relations professionals. In these times, they need to reclaim that role.

Smart business leaders will see this financial situation as an opportunity to reposition themselves with their staff and clientele so that when the recovery occurs they are best positioned to reap the rewards.