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Leaders Letter 170 – Leadership Lessons With Jo Bird

Dear leaders, how has the start of September gone? Are you ramping up for Q4 or are you in the middle of reviewing what has happened this year? 

This week I am continuing the 5 questions theme by interviewing Jo Bird. 

So who is Jo?

  • Jo is the creative lead at Lounge (the underwear brand) 
  • Powerful creative, being responsible for a number of powerful campaigns 
  • Conference speaker (has spoken at TEDx watch below)
  • Authentic Social Media Leader – Jo is one of my go-to examples of how leaders can show up authentically on social media, particularly on LinkedIn. 

» Please do connect with Jo on her website or on LinkedIn


The Q&A 

Q1. You share some incredible pieces of advice and insights with your connections and followers on LinkedIn, What’s the most valuable piece of advice you would give anyone progressing on their leadership journey? 

Ask yourself: ‘why do I want to be a leader?

A lot of people are chasing a job title so that they feel better about themselves. 
Or to gain respect. 
Or to challenge themselves in their own career. 
But the ‘me, me, me’ approach is a big fail at the first hurdle. It can also be incredibly disruptive to your team in the long-term. Trust me… I’ve had those bosses!

Being a great leader is about serving other people. It’s about standing in the shadows and applauding your team while they’re in the spotlight. It’s about empowering others to be their best selves. It’s about inspiring the team to reach a shared goal, together.

So, my advice would be to ask yourself why you want to do it. 

And then go from there.


Q2. The creative industry is likely going to experience big shifts with AI, what are the three pieces of advice you give fellow leaders on how to navigate the upcoming changes? 

  1. Be curious. You need to ask questions, do research and speak to industry professionals in order to make discoveries, learn and then subsequently inspire your team to also explore new technology, too.
  2. Be open-minded. Technology might not be your forte, or newness might feel uncomfortable, but great leaders do not stand still. 
  3. Be honest. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. AI will continue to develop at a rapid rate, which can feel overwhelming. If you are uncertain in any way, your team will appreciate your honesty.

Q3. You’ve given big conference talks, including a TEDX talk. Do you have three tips for other leaders who want to deliver brilliant presentations to their peers or at larger conferences? 

  1. Record yourself. Honestly. Self-awareness is the BEST tactic for developing as a speaker. Once you get over the ‘cringe’, you’ll start to notice your bad habits. ‘Ums’ and ‘ars’, awkward body language, lack of charisma. Only then can you start to practice.
  2. Practice! It’s true that preparation prevents p*ss poor performance! Do your research to make sure your presentation is air tight. And then rehearse in front of a mirror as many times as you can. When you feel like you can deliver the talk without looking at your notes, you’ll be so much more confident on stage.
  3. Treat it like a conversation. People think that being a presenter means being a robot or foghorn. It’s the opposite. The best, most captivating presenters are the ones who have built the courage to be themselves on stage. Like they’re speaking to a friend. To include their quirks, charisma and invite the audience in to their conversation.

Watch Jo’s Tedx video here


Q4. You’ve been a creative lead at both Lounge and Gymshark, both influential and culture-based brands, how do you inspire your teams when every campaign is expected to make a direct impact on the business? 

I have a few techniques that are working really well at the moment:

  1. Empowerment: I believe that creatives need to feel trusted, inspired and enabled to do their best work. For them, it can feel exhausting to constantly share their true, emotive, creative selves at work when pitching ideas. Especially if not all ideas are received well. So, they really need a leader who creates a safe space and continually champions them. Someone who ‘has their back.’
  2. Lead by example: I like to get my hands dirty, do great work and make it known to my team. If they are inspired by me – both inside and outside of the business – then they are more likely to respect my instructions as a leader.
  3. Communication: I am a high communicator. I am as transparent as I can be with my team. If there are business updates, if they have concerns, if they need more direction. I will speak to them as much as I can to make sure they feel supported and included. If they understand the bigger business goals, they are more likely to perform well.
  4. Humility: Working for rocketship brands means that the leaders can’t possibly know everything. The brands are growing at such a rapid rate, the leaders are learning and figuring things out all the time. So, I like to show a lot of humility. To leave ego at the door and encourage a ‘let’s learn this together’ attitude.

Q5. What’s the best piece of career advice you would give to C-suite leaders who don’t quite understand the power of creative (teams) or it’s just not landing right with them currently? 

I would quote Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar. In his book Creativity Inc he said: 

“You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”

Creatives are the most curious kind of employee. We’re the ones who like to turn left when everyone else turns right. We’re the ones who thrive in problems and strive to break patterns. 

I don’t think creatives should take over the boardroom (we’d spend all the money on games machines and slides in the office), but I 100% think creatives should be in the decision-making room.

We see the world differently. And that is what every business needs in order to stay relevant, stay inspiring and stay profitable.

(And if that didn’t work, I’d probably just hit them with a research study like: 70% of companies that engage with creativity had above-average total returns to shareholders – McKinsey & Company.)


I think you’ll agree Jo offered some incredible tips and you can apply them this week. 

This week’s focus action is to ensure you embrace your creativity and ensure you enable your team to integrate creativity into their work. 

Have a great week if you haven’t subscribed you will miss out on with the big question you need to answer: 
Which Do You Need, A Refresh, A Reset, A Reboot Or A Restart? 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 169 – Leadership Lessons & 5 Questions With Industry Leader & Coach Joe Scarboro

Dear leaders, this week I have a leader joining us who I can only describe as the nicest and smartest leader I have had the pleasure to get to know and have enjoyed a number of coffees with. 

Joe has worked across the C-Suite (holding both COO & CFO roles), been a successful founder who sold his company, led many others and now is coaching other C-Suite leaders. 

This week’s 5 questions are packed full of gems from Joe and I know you’ll get huge value from this.

Connect with Joe On LinkedIn

Joe Scarboro 5 Questions 

Q1/ You have a unique background where you’ve been a leader across the full spectrum, from Chair, COO, CFO and including being a founder. What are the three main leadership lessons you learned from operating across the C-suite? 

Broadly, these sit within the huge topic of “people”.

Having the right people on board is vital – whether that’s the one Co-Founder that you start with or your employees, board or management as you grow. It’s closely linked with purpose, as your values and how you recruit will define your people. Making people mistakes is costly though and this is amplified in the early stages and also when making senior hires at most stages. The downsides are mitigated as you grow, as bad hires have less of an impact, but I’d strongly advise against the temptation to get *someone* in a role sooner, rather than the right person in the role a little later. This is particularly common after a fundraise and during a stage of rapid growth. Creating a robust and well thought out hiring process will serve you well here.

The next tip would be on self awareness. As a leader, you need to be able understand your biases and tendencies in order to make better decisions. For example, acknowledging that you’re bad at delegation because “That’s not how I would do it” (and that makes you uncomfortable) allows you to begin to accept that someone else might not do it the same way, but will still likely get it done (caveated with the above of hiring the right people!). Self awareness needs constant attention though, it’s much easier said than done!

Lastly, I’d go with understanding when to listen to customers and when not to. There are a huge number of examples of successful companies on both sides of that argument, so it’s not as if one way is right and the other isn’t. Understanding how customers interact with your product or service and how they feel about it is generally always important, but if you’re doing something new (be that a totally new product concept, or a new feature) you may be better served by starting with your vision, with a clearly defined purpose for it and working from there.

Q2/ You are coaching across the C-suite, what are the current elements of leadership that are coming up in your coaching that could help leaders to improve their own organisations? 

I see systems thinking and second order effects often not always being given the consideration they need. Leaders deal with a number of issues at the same time, often under a lot of pressure and they operate to solve those issues quickly and effectively. In doing so, they can easily miss fully considering the impact of those decisions on a variety of other areas of their business and beyond. 

A classic challenge of this type is formulating sales comp. Solving for maximisation of incentive (and therefore sales) may seem the right way to go, but there are a lot of other considerations. 

  • What will the impact be on the non-sales team? 
  • Do you make it confidential so as to minimise the impact? 
  • Does making it confidential align with company values? 
  • Will it erode trust within the non-sales team? 
  • Are there mitigating measures you can put in place? 

If you make it transparent, how do you otherwise incentivise the non-sales team members? Of course, you can disappear into this type of thinking and emerge with a huge number of variables and no answers, so the key is to go to an appropriate level of depth for each decision. Having an appropriate heuristic for assessing decisions in this way really helps here, be that something simple like the important/urgent matrix, or something more specialised to the business.

Q3/ You recently took over hosting dinners for Tom Blomfield (the Monzo founder & GoCardless co-founder) from Series A to Series C, are there any themes that are coming that would help leaders understand how to handle today’s demands? 

The startup investing landscape has changed more so in the last twelve months than in the last decade. With the exception of certain areas (AI etc) attitudes to risk have changed, “available funds” are much less available and there’s a push towards profitability that just hasn’t existed for a long time.

This has fundamentally changed most businesses’ strategies. In some cases what was a 5+ year path to profitability now needs to be on a 2 year trajectory because there’s no guarantee that growth funds will be available.

That’s a lot of change to deal with in a short space of time. It’s given rise to a number of themes around hiring, product pricing, unit economics and a lot more besides. Whilst these attitudes are likely to change again, it’s not looking to be any time soon, so these are big issues that need strong consideration from founders and boards.

Q4/ Apart from the mass move to AI, are there any other important moves that you feel all companies will be making in the future? 

I find it hard to apply generic thinking to companies, as every one I have worked in has been different, you need to dig into the nuance and context in order to be able to provide appropriate advice. AI for example, should *everyone* be implementing AI? No. I don’t believe they should. Should everyone be looking at how it impacts their business? Absolutely, but that also goes for a number of areas. It’s more about remembering to lift your head up and consider the fundamentals and macro environment rather than being swept along by the latest hype or making specific moves because “everyone else” is.

One trend that I hope I see come in, is the removal of shareholder value being the de facto, priority number one of a company. There’s already a groundswell of companies changing their charters or otherwise operating with a wider pool of considerations, but I believe we’ll see an expansion of statutory reporting to encompass an element of this too. It’s been happening for years already (see corporate ESG reporting), but I believe there’s a strong chance this thinking will be brought into other areas of legislation too (employment law, consumer protection etc).

Q5/ What was your favourite leadership moment of your career?

There have been many, but most involve helping people. 

As a leadership team in one of my companies, we felt a particular employee wasn’t learning and growing to their potential, but we had no resources internally to help. We were a small company and whilst they were junior in their position, there was no one with more experience than them. We approached them and suggested it was time they moved to a different company, they resisted, but we pushed them forward (and out!). We believed that we were doing the right thing and thankfully we turned out to be right. The employee left, had no trouble finding a new role (including a 50% salary increase) and their career has since taken off!

This was packed full of insight and actionable tips, I am sure you will have a lot to think about this week.

So this week’s focus item is to re-read Joe’s brilliant answers and see where you can apply his lessons. 

Have a great week and I will land in your inbox next Monday,

Thanks, 

Danny Denhard

Read the other 5 questions about leadership interviews 

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Leaders Letter 161 – 5 Questions With Dave Cairns The #digitalhomad

Dear leaders, this week I have a brand new and special “5 questions with” series. This leadership newsletter is with futurist, SPaaS (Space-As-A-Service) and the creator of the #digitalhomad Dave Cairns

Dave recently started to work from anywhere (despite being an Office Leasing Agent) and is sharing his flex journey blending work and parent through a mix of video, written and audio content. 

I was introduced to Dave by the previous 5 questions with Caleb Parker and we have had some enlightening conversations and know he will inspire you to think about workspaces and work environments differently.

Dave is a brilliant thinker, he is prolific on LinkedIn and really shares his knowledge and insights. If you are an exec looking to see how to leverage LinkedIn to add value to your audience and customers Dave is a great example.  

The Q&A 

Q1: You used to be a professional poker player, how did being a top poker player help with your career and leadership style?

Poker is an interesting game. It’s the only pursuit I’ve encountered whereby it’s expected that you’ll be lied to. Ironically, there’s a lot of honesty in this dynamic; you can almost breathe a sigh of relief in that the baseline expectation is some form of deception. 

Conversely, in our professional lives we are always having to suss out whether or not we are being deceived by our colleagues, bosses or clients.

Having a background in poker has allowed me to apply my knowledge of zero sum games (in poker, your win is always someone else’s loss) to win-win(-win) outcomes.

Having a deep understanding of deception and self-interest allows one to evaluate bringing two or more parties together in non-linear ways. 

Q2: What are your top three recommendations for companies trying to get the most out of “hybrid” work? 

If you think culture = the office – start by reconsidering as “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Suzuki Roshi

Check out Dave’s insightful prediction from last year and his excellent thoughts on the topic shared on LinkedIn.

Increasingly, one of your most common employee avatars will resemble that of a “corporate freelancer” – an employee who desires the job security and values being on a team but wants to behave with the flexibility of a digital nomad/freelancer.

Beta test workplace strategies that embody unbundling work from a central office model and instead seek to create a network effect for your employees when it comes to where they work – both physically and digitally (in a digital capacity – explore virtual worlds that make up an aspect of what we define as the Metaverse)
Read Dave’s supporting metaverse LinkedIn post

Future of Work strategy must be built around the understanding that: both employees and employers must be able to reserve the right to change their minds. For employees, their life circumstances will change which will equate to ever-changing workplace needs.

For employers, long-term office leasing as primary strategy never made sense in the first place as no business can predict where they will be in 5-10 years time, yet their real estate is fixed and leased long.

Employers will continue to be at the mercy of destabilizing forces like de-globalization and climate change – they will quite literally need to be able to pick up and move “houses” (good thing their employees all have homes!). 

Q3: You are an active member of helping companies enable better working environments, most recently you entered the metaverse and help companies with your expertise and answered Q&A.
What have you learnt by sharing your ideas regularly across LinkedIn and embracing different technology platforms?
  

The way I see it, there are only advantages to exploring your own mind and sharing it with the world. And the same goes with novel technologies. It’s for these reasons that I publish content daily and that I explore new ways of connecting to & collaborating such as virtual worlds. 

If I write something stupid it’ll be forgotten tomorrow but if I write nothing I’ll miss the opportunity to keep getting to know my own mind. And if it turns out the metaverse is in fact “dead”, I’ll have lost nothing as I’ll have engaged with all kinds of new people along the way and will have valuable skills/perspectives BECAUSE I was curious. 

Q4: You are a huge advocate of Space as a Service (#SPaaS) – how do you see this really shaping the future of work? 

Over the last few years I’ve often said that there is NO office “amenity” more valuable than the choice to go there or not. I firmly believe this to be true as what is more valuable than autonomy? Autonomy provides us with the agency to decide where and with whom we belong. If I’m right, companies who compete for the next “warm body” to sit in their seat will get increasingly competitive.

It’s no longer just corporate executives that are consumers of the workplace. Whether they like it or not, their employees have been granted that same privilege. Accordingly, these newfound consumers will align with certain brands and not others, and will need different types of products/services.

The only words I can think of to describe this movement are Space-as-a-Service.

Q5: You started the #digitalhomad hashtag on LinkedIn to let people follow your journey and updates – how do you think your approach to LinkedIn can help business leaders from around the world to become more authentic across social media? 

After I left poker, I spent 8.5 years living in a state of cognitive dissonance. Even though I make a living from the office, I’ve NEVER romanticized it and in fact a lot of office culture just doesn’t work for me (I suspect I have ADHD and am trying to get assessed). 

For many years prior to Covid, I made content on LinkedIn but it wasn’t authentic. I was making videos and shit about how to sublease your office and relocate without having to pay double rent. While stuff like that matters to some of my customers, I wasn’t at all passionate about these subjects. 

I thank Covid for creating the space for me to access a former version of myself, a digitally nomadic online poker player. By accessing this guy once more I was able to start to poke holes in not just the office market, but the culture. In doing this, I’ve been on a journey of getting closer and closer to my authentic self. It’s brought me closer to all the change agents out there and has gotten me more deeply aligned with the types of customers I want to work with.

Saying what I think has also gotten me into a lot of trouble but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You can’t put a price on authenticity – you win and so do the people you care about. 


» A huge thanks to Dave for answering these questions so transparently and offering his unique insight.

With the way the new world of work is shaping up, David is definitely a thought leader and I highly recommend following or connecting with Dave on LinkedIn. When I re-boot Fixing the broken world of work podcast, Dave will be the first guest I interview. 

Have a great week ahead and this week’s focus action is to rethink how you will look to work and leverage space differently. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Read The Other 5 Questions Series 

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Leaders Letter 138 – David Siegel 5 Questions

Dear Leaders, this week I ask five questions to David Siegel. David is the CEO of meetup.com & led Meetup through the pandemic, for a company that is built around connection and real-life community you can imagine the hugely negative impact and the fight for survival David and his team went through and how they bounced back, through brilliant and deliberate leadership.

David’s book is an essential read, it is my essential company culture books to reads, I also buy it for my exec coaching clients and when I run workshops I enforce the exec team to read Decide & Conquer: 44 Decisions That Make or Break All Leaders.

Onto the Q&A, this is fascinating and brilliant.

Q1. You led Meetup throughout the pandemic in near-impossible circumstances, what is the biggest lesson you took away as a business (and people) leader? 

When the pandemic hit, Meetup faced an existential crisis that could have destroyed our 18-year-old company. Until then, the focus of our business had always been about bringing people together IRL (in real life) to make connections.  When COVID-19 hit, we had to ask ourselves whether our mission was more about meeting IRL or about fostering connections. Our answer was clear: we are a connections company. For the first time in our history, we allowed groups to meet online. And it was so fortunate that we did. Online Meetup events and groups helped millions of our members get through the most isolating periods of pandemic. 

I won’t downplay how rocky that period was. Running a company called “Meetup” in a time when no one was meeting was a tremendous challenge.  We saw decreases in many key metrics including the number of events on our platform and event RSVPs, which negatively impacted our revenue. As a leader, my focus was on transparency. If the company had challenges, my job was to address those challenges head-on so we could find solutions. Building trust during a crisis by sharing the good, bad, and ugly was critical. The crisis is behind us, but our culture of trust and transparency will continue to strengthen the company.

Q2. You wrote brilliantly about your 44 decisions to make and break all leaders, which one do you feel are the most important to start with? 

First, thank you. Of all my decisions for new and seasoned leaders, I think I need to start with what I call “Decision 0,” which is deciding whether you should take the job in the first place. 

One of the most hazardous biases in decision making is the sunk cost fallacy. This is the tendency for people to be biased toward actions because they overvalue the time, money, or other investment they’ve “sunk” into an action. Most of us don’t appreciate that this time spent preparing for anything is gone. Our job is to make the best decision we can. People are often reluctant to reject a job offer after they invested so much time in interviewing. The fact is, the time spent interviewing is gone and it has no bearing on whether the job is a good fit.  

Before I became the CEO of Meetup, I went through no less than 27 interviews with WeWork (our corporate owner), followed by meetings with every Meetup vice president. After three months and hundreds of hours of interviews, it would have been easy to accept the position based on my time commitment alone, but I knew that time was gone. I needed to make a decision based on the facts about the role and the company I’d be working with, and I strongly considered not accepting the role in the first place. 

I caution all leaders (and even non-leaders) to make the right decision for you and not be influenced by how much time was spent leading up to a decision.

Q3. The power of community is a key message throughout your book, what do you think CEOs (and their leadership teams) should truly understand about community and then embracing community into their business? 

Hundreds of studies have found that community is one of the most important elements to both a happy work life and personal life. Yet, having a strong sense of community is also on the decline in nearly every country and age demographic. Early humans relied on community to survive and the need for community is hard-coded in us.

Meetup is the ultimate source for building community, whether it’s personal or professional. Many companies—IBM, Microsoft, Google, etc.—use Meetup to enhance their communities and build user networks. Community drives employee retention, motivation, collaboration and ultimately results in greater success. As more companies move to remote work, the importance of community is becoming more evident. It is incumbent on every leader to incorporate community building into their business.

Q4. What are your three leadership non-negotiables for your exec leadership team? 

First, no assholes. The members of my executive team are all kind people. We spend more time working with colleagues than we do our spouses in some cases. I only want to work with high integrity, empathetic individuals. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Second, they must have a data-driven approach. Leaders shouldn’t ignore their instincts when making a decision, but we always need to look at what the data tells us. We need data to size gauge the impact, priority, and opportunity of any choice.

Last, I look for the ability to embrace change. Leadership requires adaptability. And if a leader is not flexible then they won’t be able to steer the ship for their team during times of crisis. The ability to listen and change one’s approach based on data and experience is one of my top priorities when looking for a leader.

Q5. How has your professorship at Columbia university helped you to develop your leadership? 

I’ve always believed that when you teach you have the greatest opportunity to learn. For nearly ten years, I have been teaching undergraduates at Pace University and then graduate students at Columbia in the entrepreneurship and strategic planning program. My former students have gone on to found startups that have helped millions of people around the globe. Having even a small impact on their path to success is incredibly enriching. One of the reasons I wrote Decide & Conquer was due to my interest in helping people beyond the 70 students in my class. The book has now been read by more than 15,000 people and is being translated into Chinese and other languages. I consider the book to be an extension of the concepts we learn in class. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities to teach and learn that I do.

Links 

Go and have a great week and I’d love to hear from you about how you are going to take inspiration from David moving forward.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 137 – 5 Questions With Sonja Nisson

Dear leaders, internal communication and gaining cut-through with messaging have never been as important as it is today. Just ask all those tech companies making mass layoffs primarily through email.

The most important element most leadership teams and “leaders” are messing up on is keeping their people updated, enabling them to make the right decisions and repeating their message over and over again until the whole business can repeat it whenever they are asked what is our strategy and why we have the goals we have for the next 12 months.

So, this week I bring you 5 questions with content and comms specialist Sonja Nisson, her answers will help you craft, reshape and drive your comms forward in whatever state you are in currently.

The Q&A

Q1. You specialise in creating valuable content to communicate with your audience.  What are your three go-to tips for leaders to improve internal communication? 

I know from experience how important, and how tricky it can be, to get internal communication right. I worked as interim head of content design for a large building society through the first wave of the Covid pandemic. We had difficult messages to communicate to our worried teams. My Valuable Content principles came in useful, but it was a tough test. When creating content for an external audience you often don’t know how it lands. With an internal audience, if it misses the mark, you know about it! I learned a lot. 

I think of valuable content as win-win communication: information that’s relevant, helpful and valuable to you and your business (gets your message across, helps you achieve your goal too) and equally valuable to your audience too (answers their questions, helps them achieve their goal). 

Whether you’re communicating a message or creating an article, a video, a podcast, or a talk, to be valuable it must hit the sweet spot between what you want to say and what your audience (be that external or internal) needs to hear.

With this in mind, here are 3 top tips for anyone who wants to improve the value of their communications. 

  1. First, be crystal clear what it is you want to say. What’s the big idea – the main message you want to get across and why? Get that straight from the start. NB: Don’t try and say everything in one communication, focus on one message at a time. 
  2. Next, work out who you’re writing for and where they are at. What questions do they have in their mind around this topic? How can you answer those through your communication? Put the reader and their hopes, questions and fears at the heart of the piece of content you’re creating. Empathise and address these in your content. Make it more ‘you, you, you’ than ‘we, we, we’.
  3. Make it actionable. It helps the reader to do something new or to change hearts and minds. So what’s the purpose of your communication? The goal? What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently? Decide on the goal, and make that clear in your content. Tell people what you want them to know, think or do.

Q2. You help brands get clear on their story. What is one ingredient to your secret sauce in helping brands become clearer on their story? 

I’d say, go back to your roots to find the essence of your story. Founder stories are personal, powerful, memorable and magnetic. Good companies are born out of conviction, a quest to right a wrong or do things differently and better. Go back to the beginning to find the source of your story.  

Here are 3 examples:

My co-author and long-term collaborator, Sharon Tanton has some great tips to help you sharpen your origin story: https://www.sharontanton.co.uk/blog/founderstory

Q3. What is the best piece of advice you would give to leadership teams trying to gain cut through with their brand?

Work out and communicate what you believe in and stand for as a brand. Make your brand mean something with a single, inspiring, meaningful message at its heart. Find your north star – it’ll all flow from here. 

To help you get clear, it can help to frame this as a question – what’s the big question at the heart of all you do? Create content that answers that question for your audience. 

As a starting point to that clarity and cut through, I’d recommend conducting research with people outside your organisation. It’s all too easy to become inward facing. Listening to your stakeholders – your clients, partners and other supporters – is the most useful exercise you can undertake to understand your business, from the outside in, to see how your brand message lands. 

“Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap

This type of external brand research is a powerful catalyst to help you confidently shape your future direction and message, so you cut through and deliver your mission with greater impact. You’ll be amazed at the value of the insight you get back. 

Q4. Brands are increasingly losing their brand identity, is there a common theme that leaders should look out for at the start of the year? 

Recognise that the world is changing fast. Your business will have evolved and changed a lot over time too. I think the start of the year is the perfect time to assess how you’re seen by the outside world. Is your brand still relevant?

I’m a big fan of the work of Al Reis and Jack Trout, and their book – The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (summarised nicely here). Law #12, The Law of Extension rightly highlights the irresistible pressure to extend what you do and the equity of your brand. 

“The key is to be the best in your niche, and not try to be all things to all people. Less is always more. The narrower the focus, the better you’ll be able to fortify your position in the mind of the prospect. In order to address new markets, create a new brand, rather than extending the equity of your current brand into the new market.”

I think leaders should use this opportunity to carefully review their brand and positioning. Is it still relevant? Is it focused enough? Is it inspiring – for people inside and outside your organisation? Time for a refresh and renewal?

Q5. We live in a content overload world. What are your three top tips to cut through the noisy feeds and really land?

If you want to connect in the sea of noise you have to really push it on the value front these days. Create and share stuff that’s “inherently valuable, surprisingly human or unexpectedly useful.” That was Joe Chernov’s advice in a recent interview and I think he’s so right.

  1. Get your intentions right and your actions will follow. When it comes to creating and sharing content ‘help don’t sell, talk don’t yell, show don’t tell’ is the very best mantra to hold in mind. I’ve found that there’s a paradox at the heart of all good communication: the more you help, the less you ‘sell’ your idea, the more impact you’ll have. To truly connect you have to genuinely care about those you’re communicating with.
  2. Be warm, personable and relatable. People want to hear from humans, not corporate robots. Share your excitement, your hopes, but also your fears. Intimacy and vulnerability is a trust-builder. Not just the polished corporate version of yourself but the human side too – real, messy stories with genuine authenticity. 
  3. Write for one, help many. Have a real person in mind with every piece of content you produce. Can’t think of WHO it’s for and how your content will help? Then the content is unlikely to connect. Write for someone, always. If what you create helps or inspires one person then chances are it’ll help many others like them too. But write for everyone and it’ll fall between the cracks. It always helps to have someone in mind.

Yes, the content game – internal or external – is not an easy one but that’s an opportunity, not a blocker. You can do this. You CAN create meaningful content that makes a real connection.

NB: You’ll notice that my first 3 tips involve doing some thinking upfront. I’m a big believer in planning before you start writing. I have a simple Valuable Content Planning Template to help you here – if anyone would like it, please just shout.  

Please go and connect with Sonja:  

On her website // On LinkedIn // Or get her book

Have a great week actioning Sonja’s great advice and I’ll land back in your inbox on Monday morning.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Here are 5 leaders letters you have to read today

Leadership Hack: The Pratfall Effect

Business Direction: Where are you when consolidation happens?

Leadership! It’s Never Too Late, You’re Never Too Old

Cultural 101: Cultural Shift To Beard, Hoodies & Sneakers

Culture Development: Fika – State Of Mind Coffee Breaks

Hiring Hack: What Is Your Talent Density?

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Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 134 – 5 Leadership Essentials With Sharon Aneja

Dear leaders, happy new year!

This week I bring you an in-depth interview with Sharon Aneja from Humanity Works Consultancy, you may remember Sharon joined me on fixing the broken world of work podcast, where she shared her incredible back story and the great work she is doing in the burnout and wellness space.

Sharon and I go deep into how to improve your EQ, burnout, company culture and why apps won’t fix burnout.

Q1. What do you think are the 3 essential steps every leader should take to improve emotional intelligence throughout 2023? 

  1. Leaders need to think about the shadow they cast in terms of their leadership. There are two important elements: 
    (1) How self-aware are you of how your behaviour impacts others?
    (2) How do people experience your leadership?

    Your shadow is easily tracked: The important thing to do is to give yourself space, keep a journal, think about how you have reacted to situations and how you have come across to others.
    This will tell you a lot about yourself and improve self-awareness.
    Rethink and reevaluate the shadow you cast, think about how you make people feel. 
  2. Be aware of how your mood influences everyone around you. We talk a lot about the contagious leader, leaders have a lot more sway and influence on those around you than we realise.

    We should never be happy robots, but we should help to positively shape people and think about how we are shaping them with our daily interactions and gestures.
  3. Practise your listening skills, if you want to improve your EQ (emotional intelligence) skills. Give people space to express themselves, to feel safe and understand what’s happening to them.

    When you practise active listening this is a great way to listen and become more aware of those around you and you as a leader.

Think about the ‘stay interview’, not the exit interview – really listen to what people are actually saying – just listen and then decide on how you interact.

This is a really good method to understand and develop your EQ and improve the experience you and the team around you have.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

Q2. 2022 was a rollercoaster for so many, what is the best advice for leaders to handle their own burnout for this year?

What I always say to leaders who are experiencing burnout – check out the 12 stages of burnout 

Leaders really need to understand that to prevent burnout in themselves and in their teams, the solution is never just self-care, it’s mainly about caring for each other.

Burnout can never be fully addressed by the old advice of “Take a break” or use your annual leave or the more modern approach “use this app for this mindfulness” – to stop burnout we need to address the root causes of toxic workplace cultures that leave people feeling devalued, under appreciated and not respected. We need to change the narrative on burnout!

Checkout the six organisation causes of burnout to truly understand the value mismatch and if you’re exercising the sense of belonging that people need to feel appreciated and valued at work. 

The strongest leaders are those who bring out the best in their teams, remain curious, compassionate and are inclusive.

Really look at YOU:
How are you measuring success as a team and how are we showing up and how are we treating each other? How connected are we as a group? 

Also, importantly look at your own behaviours and the boundaries you set for the team. 

Look at the examples you set, and role model the behaviours to prevent burnout.  

As a leader within your business, use that power to create a better workplace – you have the power to push deadlines and how people experience work. Question: Am I using my leadership effectively to support my people and my team’s performance in a sustainable way?  

Remember to look at all of your options, get some coaching support if you cannot address these behaviours alone and work to change the narrative around burnout in the workplace.  

Q3. Culture is something we both press leaders on and help to reshape, what two areas of  business need to change to prioritise a healthy culture?

Question: How do you measure success within the organisation?

  • Is it projects over people or people over projects? If the main focus is just sales, delivery or performance and you’re not measuring how people feel, their wellbeing levels and how much you all trust each other, you will only ever end up with a narrow view of success and one that is not sustainable. This isn’t what it takes to build a modern successful workplace.
  • Look for the important signals: Turnover rates, sick rates, poor communication, low levels of psychological safety, etc these things are telling you that just focusing on the bottom line is harming your productivity and people and is a one way ticket to burnout. 

Question: are we holistically measuring the right behaviours in organisations? 

  • Promotions – are we promoting people with toxic behaviours? When we do this we normalise a toxic work culture and this creates burnout, disharmony and disunity. 
  • Accountability – how are we holding ourselves accountable as leaders within the workplace?

I was really disappointed by the letters from Mark Zuckerberg (Meta lay offs memo) and Patrick Collison (Stripe lay offs memo), how are we holding these tech leaders accountable for their so-called “over-optimistic” recruitment strategies and vital strategic business errors? How do we hold these people accountable for over-promising and not adding value back to the business? They made a lot of people redundant with no accountability for these leaders and certainly no consequences?

There would have been signs that action was needed before having to let all of these people go? Where was the board? Where were the other leaders calling out these signs?
Their letters were merely a PR show, and they don’t show that these leaders are going to change at all.

Q4. If you could change one area of bad work environments with a click of your fingers, what would it be and why?

  • Low trust without a doubt.
    Low trust work culture, where people cant be themselves, where cannot speak up without fear of recrimination, this creates bad and toxic work environments. 
  • Really work on the ladder of psychological safety and set up high-level trust environments. Letting opinions count and matter helps to reshape the work environment.
  • Really work on the important core factors: Trust and psychological safety.
    It is time to coach your leaders on how to create a psychologically safe work culture. That’s not a nicey-nicey culture. Safe is not the antithesis of high performance. It is the foundation of high performance. 
  • Work on cultivating belonging beyond just the EDI lens, focus on addressing psychological risks – that’s how you build a thriving work culture.  

Q5. What’s the one overhyped trend leaders should be mindful of for the year ahead?

A digital app won’t take away stress or burnout. You have to attack the causes, the primary causes. 

In our workshops and surveys, we find out the causes of burnout, no one is saying Ukraine, the cost of living, covid etc, the answer is always bad management, the management doesn’t understand my needs, there is no connection, I feel isolated, if you really want to be proactive in making a difference, don’t fall into the trap of wellbeing washing or the trap of sending people onto an employee assistance program or send people on mental health courses, work on the actual causes and the culture around you and the culture of your team, these all help unlock performance. 

You cannot yoga or mindfulness your way out of stress of burnout.

Think more carrot than stick and don’t fall for the trap of apps fix these problems. Default to: We are all in this together, how are we going to address the root causes of stress, anxiety caused by the workplace within our business.

Go and connect with Sharon on LinkedIn and see some of the great work her consultancy is doing.

Listen to Sharon and I discuss how we are fixing the broken world of work

Thanks and best of luck for the week ahead.

Danny Denhard

Read the other 5 leaders questions series with business leaders:

Leaders Letter 133 – Leadership & New Years Resolution

Leaders Letter 131 – 5 Questions With Tim Grimes

Leaders Letter 129 – Space-As-A-Service With Caleb Parker

Leaders Letter 128 – Leadership Lessons From CEO/COO William Phillipson

Leaders Letter 126 – Leadership Lessons From Agency CEO Paddy Moogan

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 133 – Leadership & New Years Resolution

Dear Leaders, I trust you are having a great holiday break.

This week I speak to my friend Keith, he is my former colleague, ironman, COO of a challenger brand and as well as a personal trainer. I asked him how to juggle a career and a passion and how to kickstart your health journey for the new year.

I trust this helps you for January!

Q1. As the COO of a busy startup, you are challenging bigger well known brands and going fast is a given, what are your new three resolutions to improve 2023 for the company? 

  1. Keep investing in people as much as possible
  2. Ensure we focus on the biggest product levers that help raise more money
  3.  Always keep and build momentum

Q2. What are two key non-negotiables within your leadership team that you hold everyone accountable to? 

  1.  Trust
  2.  Quality. The more quality, the more raised.

Q3. Is there one book/podcast/video you would recommend any leader to watch? And why?

Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s all about marginal gains.


Bonus is a 3min watch of Nick Bare Video around discipline at 6mins into the video and 8min:30secs and absence of purpose.

Q4. You have always been someone who builds community within businesses, you are an ironman trainer, a PT and a busy COO, what are the important steps to help leaders improve their physical health? 

Ask yourself “am I happy with my health?”

If the answer is no, then maybe think of a challenge that would motivate you and sign up for it. Then explore the process of creating a healthy body, which then creates a healthier clearer mindset, that then leads to a happier and highly productive you. 

Either way, have the discipline to build some focused activity and movement into your daily, weekly life. Really focus on it being your time getting active whether it’s dialling in on yoga form, walking, easy running or a hard gym session. Do it without distractions, including phones.

And make sure it’s sustainable. For example, it’s better to start with one press-up on day 1, then two on the second day, then three on the third and so on than start with a completely unrealistic goal.

Q5. What are the simple 3 steps you advise your clients on to get started with their health journey? 

  1. Understand why you want to be more healthy, and visualise what success would look like and how you would feel when you got there.
  2. Talk to someone who has been through the journey to understand the path to take and create a plan to be accountable for. Or if you don’t know where to start and need someone to make you accountable, hire a Personal Trainer initially to get you on the right path that suits your lifestyle.
  3. Commit, be consistent and celebrate every small win.

» Connect with Keith on LinkedIn, his PT website and check out funraisin.

Have a great break and I will see you in the new year.

Thanks and happy new year,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 131 – 5 Questions With Tim Grimes

Dear leaders, this week’s 5 questions are with Tim Grimes, Tim is on a mission to improve work, so embracing and pushing flexible work, hybrid work, and helping companies to facilitate 4-day work weeks

An important workstream that Tim and his company offers is their site offers new filter roles with over 20 different flexible working options.  

Tim’s answers are great and super actionable for the new year. If you are struggling with being flexible and moving to more modern ways of working, Tim’s answers will help you rethink your approach or guide your company forward. 

Q1. You are flying the flag of flexible work and making it work, what are the 3 ways leaders can make flexible work, work? 

  • Transparency: Leadership must be upfront with employees and candidates around flexibility; be it flexi-time, compressed hours, remote working, phased retirement or career breaks. Only once a candidate/employee knows their options, can they make informed choices on whether it’s right for them. It’s also critical that leaders commit to these ways of working; ideally contractually. During the pandemic many organisations bought on new staff under specific flexible circumstances, only to backtrack, which causes retention problems.
  • Individualisation; leaders must remember that flexible work is never one-size-fits-all. Every individual has different circumstances that require someone to work flexibly; for some, it can be a preference; for others, it can be a life circumstance. For myself particularly, it was a life-event that made me realise how important work/life balance is, whereas I’ve haven’t got a requirement such as childcare. Regardless of circumstance, everyone should be treated equally, which creates an inclusive culture, built on trust and autonomy. 
  • Trust & Autonomy: To make flexible policies thrive, leaders must create a culture that’s built on trust and autonomy. Many leaders have a disconnect with their team around productivity, which is primarily due to the lack of trust. 

Q2. Implementing a hybrid working model has been challenging for many businesses; what are your tips for making the most of this model? 

Since pivoting to hybrid working, many companies are still struggling to adapt or have simply failed. And there’s a reason, most organisations have attempted to continue their pre-pandemic 5-day office model into 2-3 days. With teams utilising the office on different days, and workplaces focused on desk space rather than shared space, it’s incredibly difficult to foster a productive and inclusive working culture. However, there’s a way to make it work, something Nick Bloom has built; the seamless hybrid working model: 

  1. Source feedback and data to understand your team’s existing and preferred working patterns (don’t do this company-wide); 
  2. After establishing your team’s working pattern, ensure everyone comes in on the same days; 
  3. Make sure you front-load office days with in-person meetings and events – employees come in for collaboration; 
  4. Promote wider departmental video meetings and ‘deep thinking’ work on remote days; along with building out internal tech resources to bring people together remotely. 
  5. Newer team members should come in an extra day each week / fortnight for mentoring. 

During the limited collaboration days, there’s no point in employees attending the office just to sit on video calls. Companies must focus on collaboration done correctly, and built for the new world of work. 

Q3. What is the one trend you are predicting for 2023 that every leader should be building towards from today? 

In the new world of work, every leader needs to understand the era of adaptable personnel and explore new models of working. 

It’s time to build out nimble and dynamic teams, with individuals working differently; be it part-time, reduced hours or a 4-day week. For example, before hiring, managers need to move beyond the mindset of ‘full-time default’; this allows organisations to access wider and diverse talent pools. 

These different working arrangements provide businesses with lower fixed costs, whilst still giving them the opportunity to grow. Leaders have a duty to become more adaptable & open to new ways of working.
This mentality shift could future-proof many businesses, avoiding layoffs, which ultimately protect the livelihoods of their employees.

Q4. There have been huge numbers of layoffs impacting professionals across the world, what are the most important learnings others can apply to make this period better for both those impacted and those left in their roles? 

Being made redundant can be one of the most challenging periods for anyone, and leadership must treat any period with time and consideration. You can’t and shouldn’t expedite a redundancy process; leadership and management must be given enough time to make educated and informed decisions. 

An example of where this has failed is during the recent Twitter lay-offs; many individuals were laid-off, only to be asked back a few days later.
Once an employee is made redundant, and let-go, loyalty and trust is severed; bringing people back after is incredibly difficult; something that Twitter experienced.  

For those left in their roles, businesses must do more to protect their employees. I personally don’t believe organizations do enough before lay-offs. Businesses and leaders should be continually reviewing their staff to future proof; and before firing, businesses need to give employees the opportunity to work differently before severance. 

Q5. Culture is going to be the most important factor for many looking for a new role or staying in their current role, do you have any advice to make company culture a priority in other businesses?

Many businesses are simply playing the old culture game. Nearly 50% of job seekers cite company culture as their reason for looking for a new role, yet companies are still approaching culture like it’s 2001. Back in 2001, organizations previously focused on soft perks such as gym passes, dog-friendly offices, free lunches, beer Fridays, ping pong tables; the list goes on.

In the new world of work post-pandemic, priorities have shifted and organizations must focus on people, building a culture around principles of flexible working, autonomy, recognition and trust. 

Employee Growth Culture is about a human value proposition; not giving employees things. If businesses invest in culture correctly, they’ll see a happier, more productive workforce.

Want to get in touch with Tim, get in touch below: 

On WorkYourWay site // Email Tim // or Tim shares regularly on LinkedIn and are always insightful and actionable. 


Leaders, go and have a great week and consider how you will roll out Tim’s recommendations for the weeks ahead.  

Thanks and speak next week,

Danny Denhard – On a mission to fix the broken world of work

Struggling to understand some of the core topics, here are some invaluable resources:

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hybrid office Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 129 – Space-As-A-Service With Caleb Parker

Dear Leaders, this week I speak to the Space-As-A-Service (aka SPaaS) Pioneer Caleb Parker.

Caleb is one of those people who is on a mission to improve working environments and actually connect communities together within his co-working spaces.

Caleb and I connected last year and he is someone you want to collaborate with instantly.

I asked Caleb five questions to help you understand his driving force and why you can make positive changes too within your workspace and importantly in your working environments.

Q1. What is the space as a service movement you are leading on? 

Simply put it’s access versus ownership.

Space-as-a-service is space that is procured on demand. So instead of buying or renting space long-term, then going through the headache and costs to customize it, you pay for the exact experience you want it only when you want to use it. 

Like every other aspect of our lives, the sharing economy is changing the way people think about space. We share our cabs and holiday destinations. We stream our movies and music on-demand. 

Today convenience and accessibility are more important than ownership.

Because although we want things here and now, we’re less concerned with having them forever.

This change is making itself felt in the world of real estate too, where people are looking for convenience and flexibility. Instant access, with minimal commitment. Having a place to live or work, meet and share, only matters as long as you need it.

This enables people to choose the experience, or community where they feel they belong, and taken care of.

Q2. What are your essential tips to make the most out of workspace and offices?

Most of us don’t need an office to get our work done. We learned that through 2 years of lockdowns. 

But the value of face-to-face was felt by us all when we finally were able to come back together. 

Since we don’t need to be together every day anymore, what I believe people should look for when choosing a place for face-to-face is vibe.

  • How do we feel when we walk through the doors?
  • Is it cool?
  • What’s the service like?
  • Am I taken care of?
  • What’s the community like?
  • Can I be inspired here?

Ask how this place is going to help me better than my home office or local cafe. 

Q3. What is the trend you are predicting for 2023 that everyone should embrace or adopt? 

Authenticity

Q4. What is the one piece of bad advice you hear regularly that business leaders should instantly stop?

Say no. I believe we should say yes more. Because that leads to opportunities and learning.

Q5. Community is a hot topic and something you have promoted for years, what’s the key to a great community?

I believe a great community inspires us and offers opportunities to inspire. 


Go & Connect With Caleb: On LinkedIn // On Twitter: @caleb_parker // Listen To His Podcast & find out more about Bold and his SaaS service at WorkBold.co.uk

If you’d like to understand how to become a thought leader and drive change within your industry Caleb is a brilliant example of how to reshape your business as a modern-day media company.

Here is one of the most thought-provoking pods from Caleb and Bold

https://pca.st/u27sq6og

I trust you will have a few valuable takeaways and apply them to your workplace to improve work for your company.

Have a great week and I’ll land in your inbox again next week.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 128 – Leadership Lessons From CEO/COO William Phillipson

Dear Leaders, this week I want to introduce you to Will Phillipson, Will is one of those leaders who you meet and know he is someone you would love to collaborate with and learn a tonne from.

Will has been a CEO and COO of well known companies and is someone you will learn a great deal from his answers and feel inspired to make positive changes for the end of this year and kickstart next year off in the right way.

Leadership Lessons From CEO/COO William Phillipson

Q1. You’ve led and sold your own business and been COO at well-known businesses, what’s the one leadership trait you have to teach each leader?

Communication. When you’re in the details day to day – especially when you’re at the center of a business – you understand and feel the business like no one else (or at least very few others.) It’s also easy to assume that everyone has the same level of understanding. That’s not the case. So as a leader, you have to communicate, frequently and repeatedly. Explain to the team – with the right level of nuance and transparency for every level of the team – the vision, what’s going on right now, and how it relates to achieving the vision. People who understand the environment, their part in it, and how everyone is working together to make things happen are more effective.

Q2. One of your best traits is being a translator between management and the different departments – what’s the secret to getting everyone on the same page?

I’ve found the secret to be two-fold – first, taking the time to understand what the department / team / individuals do; and second, communicating and relating the vision and action plan to them in the context of their environment.
Doing this reduces misinterpretation – you “speak” the appropriate language to each team – and also gives each team confidence that you understand the value and contribution they bring to the overall mission.

Q3. Is there one common mistake you see company leads repeat over and over that you can share that you’d warn department leads on what not to repeat?

Accountability is huge, and often not thought about until things go wrong – then the blamestorming begins… Part of the communication – part of the vision – needs to be metrics that can be used to measure whether the vision/mission/project has been achieved. If that is part of the formulation, then those metrics can be used by each team – and the company overall – to ensure that progress is being made. And most of all, failures need to be identified, acknowledged, and particularly where the failures impact other teams, those responsible need to be held accountable.

Nothing demotivates team members more than seeing repeated failures go unpunished – or worse, being rewarded… (We all know of those cases where repeated failure has resulted in people getting promoted…)

Q4. What’s the biggest opportunity for businesses in 2023?

Big Tech is struggling. Thousands of high-quality people are available on the market. Consumers are demanding exceptional online experiences and seamless online and offline integration. This all breeds amazing opportunities for disruption and the birth of the next generation of super businesses. 

The businesses that survive will focus on the customer experience – better online user experience coupled with an offline fulfilment that matches the expectations set by the online experience.

Q5. What do you think every leader needs to teach in 2023?

Humility & patience coupled with purpose and vision. The world is chaotic at present and people are worried and often overwhelmed. Leadership will set the tone for the team – treating people with humility and patience will build a culture of respect; providing – and clearly communicating – a purpose will give team members a reason to show up, be present, and drive towards success.

If you’d like to connect with Will on LinkedIn.

Massive thanks to Will for answering these questions and adding a lot of value and a number of actions to move forward with. I’ll see you again next Monday.

Have a productive week!

Thanks,

Danny Denhard