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Leaders Letter 197 – Ask Me Anything Part 2

Dear leaders, this week I am going to answer a few follow-up questions I received this week. Thank you for your thoughtful questions and those who fed back – thank you!

The leadership questions I cover this week to help you include helping with: 

  • You or your colleagues to re-think where they think they are in their careers 
  • Quick wins for leaders wanting to improve their leadership skills 
  • Address challenges within companies 
  • How to build your executive edge (not just your ‘exec presence’)
  • How to reboot your career 
  • You to learn from hard lessons in my career 

Sharing Is Caring: Copy and paste this URL https://focus.business/blog/197 to help a colleague or team member who will benefit from this advice

» If you missed my AMA Part 1 read today 


What are 5 of the hardest lessons you have had to learn from in your career? 

  1. Leaving a workplace can be like a breakup with a long-term partner, everyone has that one former workplace, you can grieve, you will receive some unconstructive feedback, someone will always have something to say about you after you leave, you will receive some nasty comments and you will lose some “friends” in the process. If you feel this could be a case get some help through therapy, this will become more and more common in years to come. 
  2. Words and actions are often so disconnected you have to learn to dissect the words from the actions and drive the change yourself. 
  3. Colleagues will decide between professional friendships and their salary, salary almost always comes first and don’t be surprised. 
  4. A bad manager will put your career backwards if you are under them for six months – they’ll put you back a year. I have had two or three terrible managers and thankfully I learnt to get out in under six months. I thankfully had great people around me to guide me into a move for my mental health. 
  5. A company on the up is great to work in generally, a company on the way down (especially being hidden) can be an impossible company to operate in and personal development is limited

Bonus: However much you look out for your team members, department heads or senior colleagues you won’t be seen as doing enough for everyone


Are there any quick wins for leaders to get better at leadership? 

  • Learn how to present well, from creating a deck (or editing a deck) to presenting with confidence away from reading it word for word, slide by slide  
  • Learn storytelling basics and principles – capture attention and imagination, the more you compellingly tell the story and garner engagement the sooner you will improve as a leader  
  • Hard decisions have to be made – put yourself in a place where you can make hard decisions and know whether this is a quick or long process 

What are the biggest challenges companies are currently facing today, and how do you recommend the company addresses these?

  • Profitability and efficiency targets – hard for most employees to impact directly and have very little visibility. Show staff members how they can move the needle and be more open around performance and ownership. Move away from the spreadsheet view, it’s terrible for storytelling and connecting people to performance  
  • Culture – companies are dealing with social networks dividing people, political unrest and political opinions are being shared more loudly and many feel they have to have a side or pick a side. Aligning any of this and attempting to drive a positive work environment while building a culture around performance is particularly challenging. Unfortunately, I don’t have all of the answers on this one, what I do recommend is creating guidelines around topics for discussion within the work environment. Coinbase and 37Signals (Basecamp) were called out by recommending this at the time (and didn’t execute it well) but there are some valid points in helping to reduce external factors impacting the workspace 
  • Keeping staff happy – while losing colleagues and having to pick up their work. This is common until the headcount is replaced in the old normal but in today’s business landscape, this just isn’t going to happen. This needs leadership to step up, help readjust priorities and remove roadblockers 
  • Hard economy – for many it is tough and it’s hitting them harder than expected, while some big companies are cutting back on perks and some smaller firms are asking staff to return to the office, travel, food and drink prices increased. There is no fix here but there are ways companies can support their staff, help with travel or proactively help with reducing high prices. 

What are the best methods of career progression when you feel your career has stalled? 

  • Go and interview, get the experience back under your belt and understand your worth 
  • Build your own personal development plan – take control, write out the areas you have to improve, you want to improve and the areas you have always wanted to go into and set milestones. One follow-up recommendation: partner up with someone who will keep you accountable – this way you aren’t attempting to do too much and not celebrate the progress 
  • Get more experience – if that means helping other companies, helping a startup, or creating a side hustle you need broader experiences to help restart how you think and how you view your current situation 
  • Start learning again – most people in their career stop learning and stagnate, whether you are a specialist or a generalist you should be able to learn quickly. Reading a recommended book, listening to podcasts, downloading workbooks, signing up for a cohort course, and watching lectures on YouTube are all low-cost ways to learn and ways your company will pay for your development 
  • Write a professional SWOT and highlight where you need to improve and where you have the opportunity to drive your career or gain help driving it forward 
  • Get a mentor – someone who you look up to or people who will share their experiences and help put you first not just tell you how they did things 
  • Get a coach – this is biased advice however a great coach will help improve your skills, help to boost your own confidence and shape your near and long-term future. The best coach won’t just push you, they’ll help to reshape your ‘now, next and future’.  

I have read you need an edge as a leader, what do you recommend?

  • Be known for something important (not just your title) 
  • Be relatable and approachable (this goes a long way with the layers below you)
    Or be unavailable (time-constricted people’s time seems more valuable – don’t be the exec who celebrates with a busy badge of honour) 
  • Operate well under stress – if not you will struggle to drive positive change and the higher you go the more stressful it can become 
  • Be additive not defensive – add more than you create slowdown or stoppers 
  • Have a catchphrase or a look that sticks in people’s minds – this should reflect you authentically but it can also be crafted 

This week’s focus action is to create a list of actions to help you and your leadership development and the steps you will take moving forward and then help your team members create their own plan.

Have a great week and remember to sign up to the newsletter below

Danny Denhard

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    Dear leaders, this week I am going to answer a few follow-up questions I received this week. Thank you for your thoughtful questions and those who fed back – thank you! The leadership questions I cover this week to help you include helping with:  Sharing Is Caring: Copy and paste this URL https://focus.business/blog/197 to help a colleague…