With all the news about the sub-prime mortgage crisis, recession, energy prices and rising unemployment, it would be easy to start feeling pessimistic about your own business prospects and start creating a bunker mentality. One advantage of reaching my late forties is that I can now claim to have seen more than one business cycle. Grey hair is worth something, and in this case, it’s perspective.

So what’s the message for leaders?

Keep a cool head! Recognize that we’ve been here before and each time we have come through better than we entered.

Use any slowdown to reinforce the fundamental values, competencies and strengths of your business model.

Get closer to your customers: when times are hard, you find out who your friends are. Now’s the time to be a friend!

Cull the herd, getting rid of any employees who are not going to be your better players when things turn around.

Do some opportunistic hiring. Some of your weaker competitors will lose their more talented people when things slow down.

Generate your own future. The future is the conversation you have with yourself now. You get to decide whether it will be a rehash of what some commentator says or a self created act of your own.

Hard times are the times for leaders to differentiate themselves. Here are a few things to remember and to tell your younger colleagues when you are tempted to freak out at the latest economic report.

1. In every economic downturn there are winners and losers. The losers need help minimizing their losses. The winners need help consolidating their gains. In the recession of the early 1990′s, Intel took the opportunity of slower growth to make investments in preparation for the recovery. When things turned around, they had an even greater advantage.

2. The news is usually worse than the facts. News media sell bad news, not good news. It may take some critical analysis, but frequently one can find as many facts in support of a favorable outlook as an unfavorable one. For example, while jobs data last month indicated a drop in employment of about 80,000 jobs, Robert Half Associates is reporting that IT organizations are concerned that they cannot hire enough people to fill the growing need for talent.