Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 158 – Reshaping How You Think About Management, Leadership & Training

Dear leaders, I have recently delivered a couple of talks around management, leadership and how training does or doesn’t exist. 

Why? It is one big web that many businesses neglect based on time and ownership. 

The big lesson many tell me they take away is how we haven’t really set managers up to succeed, let alone take the journey from manager to leader. 

Some just get into the swing or groove of being a people manager and then are thrown into leadership roles. 

Here is how I break down the different steps within many careers: 

You go from: 

  • A team member to 
  • A manager to a manager of managers to 
  • A team lead (an example would be a Head of CRM within the Marketing Department) 
  • You then become a Department lead (Marketing Department Lead) 
  • A C-suite leader (this is often when you step up in a C-suite title (like CMO) and then potentially to 
  • A CEO, a founder or you can become an advisor 

Despite what many companies have with their levels system (Amazon have their own system from L0 to L12, Facebook and Apple also have similar systems and works best in engineering and for compensation) or tiers they aren’t supported in management development, the process is mapped out, and the requirements are supplied but the training or coaching is not there, you learn good and bad on the job. 

Or, you have to mimic (this is almost everyone’s default – to mimic good and bad managers – it’s how we are taught to fit in or stand out) those in management or leadership positions without understanding the context or some of the reasons behind it and you sink or swim without support until HR sends an email… 

Manager To Manager Of Managers 

The biggest leap in anyone’s career is going from a manager to a manager of managers, it is usually where you become a middle manager and potentially align when you became a team lead. 

I know from working in-house and agency side, when you take on a series of managers in your career, it’s not for the faint-hearted and becomes the time you have to juggle most issues whether that people’s problems or performance problems. It is often the phase you raise quickly or you stagnate in. A manager of managers is a specialist role most struggle most in this stage of their career. 

There is rarely ever a cheat sheet or a dummy guide to prepare you for the journey of being a manager of managers. As a wise person once said to me, “Being a team leader or department lead is time to buckle up and ride that daily rollercoaster of emotions and problems” 

Management To Leadership Is A HUGE leap 

I then suggest you have two phases, management and then leadership, management is often harder and where you are not supported or trained. 

From team member to even a Department Lead you are in the weeds of management, you are managing tasks, workloads and varying-sized HR issues, you are rarely trained apart from your on-the-job experiences and the lead from manager to manager-of-managers is often the biggest and most unprepared step you take on the management ladder. 

“Leadership” often sits at or above Department lead, this will depend on company size, operating models and how the management and leadership teams are determined – it isn’t always role and title assigned. 

You often get into a VP title and just about start to step out of the management grind and start to be able to become a leader, you are a step removed and driving the 100-1000ft and on or below the surface.  

Specialist & Expert 

You will notice I have included two critical roles here, the discipline specialist and the expert in the team or department, these in themselves have internal influencer traits and even some leadership characteristics but rarely are part of leadership. 

As referenced in leaders letters 146, it’s time to recognise the role of the expert and how essential they are and should be within your business. 

Middle Management and specialists/experts have been badly hit by the mass layoffs in big tech, the sad element here is this highlights the problem, managers are not being trained, poor internal practices have diminished the impact of management and when experts aren’t treated accordingly many lay off instead of having the second or third order effect of improving the company processes around T&D. 

Training Zones 

You then have to consider how and where people are trained, this is from discussions, my experience and reviewing how training courses are positioned. 

There is no surprise of the ed-tech platforms (from LinkedIn learning to udemy to Masterclass) raise over the last four years, smaller fee courses based on team members to managers of managers to charge back to the company while they are not supplied training or feel like they have to double down in specialist areas. This is where historically companies offer group training and group management sessions. 

Ways Some Tackle This 

  • I remember a company I worked with had a monthly dinner for middle management which supported the manager of managers area with some developmental plans and the leadership team would attend to help with alignment and get connected cross-functionally.  
  • Some large companies have say the top 200 managers as part of a group that receives updates and recommendations they could take onboard without the help or guidance for real training. Some actually enrol each manager in training every six to twelve months 
  • Some other large companies have internal training teams and performance coaches that improve individuals and departments 
  • A startup I spoke to recently has terms like schools where they are provided training modules and trainers would come in and it was optional to attend, many opting out for time issues. Adding in terms is a good step, adding in tutors and trainers is another good step, not enforcing training hurts the business and doesn’t improve management.  
Management & Leadership Explained Simply

Management has to be learnt, it has to be taught, life lessons and learning the hard ways can help but many middle managers fail because they aren’t ever given training until something goes wrong or their manager steps up and recommends training.  

Leadership is a unique set of skills, leadership can be taught to some people (not everyone is ready or have the foundations to become a leader) there is a small % of people who are moulded into leaders. 

Leaders are often born with that something and frequently those lacking one or two skills then go on to acquire the one or two skills to become a leader, how? Often they seek out great mentors and coaches. Others are given coaches to take them up the ranks and give them the ability to lead people, departments, business lines and then potentially whole businesses.  

Ask sports coaches, ask those who have served in the military or held high positions, often they say leaders are born and they almost always rise to the top in their fields. 

This week’s focus actions are a number of steps to improve managers, management track and build a set of leaders: 

  • Look at these phases of management and leadership and assess where training is taking place and where management training and exec coaching should be available 
  • Place a lead in charge of rolling out training (or place a management pod on leading training roll out) especially to first-time managers and then managers  of managers 
  • Add in the next 1:2:1 and help to uncover what training is best for your team members 
  • Senior leaders – even if you are in the c-suite it is up to you to own your development track, add into your next 1:2:1 and ask for feedback on which training you could benefit from or where there are gaps 
  • Include management and leadership in skip meetings – the most impressive managers know how to influence the two to three phases below them
  • Sponsor – Are there natural leaders within your org or department who would benefit from leadership training or coaching?  

Thanks and have a good week thinking about assessing training and development across your team, department or business. 

Danny Denhard 

PS Remember company culture is shaped by good and bad managers, with training and development you can improve people’s performance and the company’s performance leading to connected and cross-functional teams. The better the training the better the follow-up coaching and leadership should be. 

Company Culture

11 Simple Tips To Improve Company Culture 

When defining the key ingredients for company culture, there are four pillars that will always guide you towards building a good foundation.

The 4c’s of company culture are:
1/ Campfire
2/ Competition
3/ Community
4/ Collaboration  

Here are eleven of Focus’ top tips to improve your company culture

  1. Agreed Principles & Approved Behaviours – the best companies understand the boundaries of each team and understand the principles that drive them forward and the agreed and approved behaviours are universally agreed are driving the people and company forward. Knowing that humans are designed to understand guidance (remember many believe rules are made to be broken) and boundary lines will help all employees from the least to most experienced.
    Key for success: review and update agreed principles and behaviours every six months
  2. Eat Together: Have a food you all can eat and eat together, whether in person or virtually. The connection that is made around eating at a campfire setting is priceless.
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  3. Drink Together: Enable rotating “coffee chats” across the business, this should be randomised and connect colleagues from all areas of the business, including the “most senior and most junior”.
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  4. Show & Tell: Create a company show and tell – enable departments to demo what they are working on, encourage departments to create games and interactive elements to explain what the department does and how they feed into the business
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  5. Forums: Regular Forums focusing on show and tells – take it a step further than standups and recurring meetings, enable teams (not just departments) to show their work and demonstrate the value.
    Have this open to the whole company, these forums could be optional to attend for companies with over 350 employees; if you can record these, share and have a record on your wiki these drive companies to create connections, coach, collaborate and curate collectively.
    Keep for success: ensure feedback is provided (not opinion) and there is applause. Applause creates herding  
  6. Games: Create a company-wide game that teams are mixed up for, so they can compete against each other and build bonds with colleagues they rarely work with.
    Key for success: Small disposable games not touraments work best
  7. Captain: Use a captain system in meetings, rotate the owners of regular meetings and intros a captain who steers the meeting. This helps to remove HIPPO’s owning the meeting, it can remove status games, it helps to evolve individuals and places respect at the heart of the meeting. I have gone so far in buying a captain armbands and ensuring the captain wears the armband in each meeting. Visuals help, thats why flags exists, thats why unforms work, thats why adding ranks to uniforms exist, thats why captains wear armbands in sports.
    Key for success: Ensure everyone supports and respects the captain in every meeting
  8. Caring & Causes: Create a cause the company supports and creates squads to dedicated days to supporting the agreed cause. Awaydays supporting charity and non profit days are popular, curating how many of the team go together are important and varying how they can support is important. Connecting smaller groups of people to support these together is important, creating mini herds of teams drives movement within your business.
    Key for success: Report back with videos and images of the cause each herd supports  
  9. Storytell Failure: Create failure of the month storytelling – when failure is discussed and openly understood, companies can move forward and help a learning culture to develop and remove stigmas against failure. Companies who celebrate together in the good and the bad have the best company culture.
    Key for success: Thank the storyteller and engage with their failure  
  10. Unsung Heroes: Something that is rarely celebrated but should be are the unsung heroes in your business, the ones who go over and above the roles to ensure success happens, not just on projects but with developing and mentoring others.
    Key for success: Call out unsung heroes formally and informally
  11. Agreed Anthem: Have an anthem (a song, a sound or even a poem or film clip) that whenever played recreates a connection.
    Key for success: Refer to the athem and play regaulrly  

Best of luck rolling these out for your business, remember you can roll out some at a time to help start the ball rolling.

Anonymous Career Advice

How do I get unstuck in a stagnant job?

This week’s anonymous career advice is something I am confident 99% of people have faced and a large number of people are facing today, not just because of the job market and business climate, but down to how we all face career crossroads every few years of our working lives. 

Dear Focus, How do I get unstuck in a stagnant job? 

There is a time in any job when you feel like you, the role and/or the business is stagnating. It’s one of the most common discussion points in my coaching services

One of the more painful truths in business is roles do actually slow and stagnate, one of my truths I let people know is if you feel like something is stagnating you have the power to evolve in and around a role, don’t let the company or the role hold you back.

You have the power to understand your strengths and weaknesses, you have the power to find resources online to help you (the internet has brilliant free resources), you can find an internal mentor or find an external mentor to help you develop. 

If you need help to understand your professional strengths and weaknesses, read this it’s time for a professional and personal SWOT leaders letter for guidance and how to address some of your concerns. 

If you feel like this is a professional injury or you need rehab from previous situations, read this professional injuries and rehab leaders letter and speak to your manager or step up as a leader and help those to progress around you. 

One of the most important aspects here is to uncover what is stuck, where do you feel stuck and what opportunities are there for you. This could be taking on broader projects, stepping up and taking over an area of the business that is underperforming or needs more guidance or assistance.

Something many people take on as a challenge is a side hustle or a passion project. In a lot of my own personal career, a side hustle taught me more about business and operations than many large businesses I worked in or with.

If you feel like you want to make the move away I recommend reading our recent anonymous career advice, unfinished business vs knowing it’s time to leave

If you need more help or you need help highlighting bigger issues at your company, our anonymous text helpline will help take this forward.  

Good luck and remember this is the time to step up and own your career.

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 36 – Three Questions To Build Relationships

Three Questions To Build Relationships

Dear Leaders, I hope you are doing well.

I asked a CEO I mentor how they were doing and their response last week was “you are the first person connected to work who has asked me how I am doing in months”.

It is likely feeling a little harder as a manager as of late, alongside being a support network and a confidant.

For almost everyone, its important to know you got this, you have likely done a better job than you know and you will likely have some time off booked that will help you refresh.

With that said, I have three questions for you to ask your team to help you feel like you are making progress and some exercises to follow up with.

The 3 Questions

When was the last time you reconnected with your team members individually?

Yes, this seems counter to my opening of the leader’s letter, however, it is an activity that brings people closer together and allows all parties to want to connect. Arrange a speed round of connecting to your team individually and asking for their advice or their opinion on something important coming up in 15 minutes slots. Short and concise meetings are essential to connecting.

I suggest this is done on the phone or through a video call and a project that you will need their help and guidance on.

When was the last time you found out something new about your colleagues?

Letting you into a little secret, in the Focus remote company culture workshops, the first thing we do is ask you to answer a number of quick-fire questions as a group, aiming to bring you closer to your colleagues by finding something out you would not know today. Starting with a positive is something we learnt from leaders letter 2 from Disney chairman Bob Iger and this is a great way to achieve this.

A very popular free template we launched recently will help you do this and enable your team to find out new things about you that will help to bring down some fears or barriers to asking how you are and if they can help you. This template works with teams, departments or companies and will kickstart improving your department’s subculture.

When was the last time you surprised your team?

Being remote has been a challenge logistically for almost every company, as a manager, one of the best ways to engage and connect with your team is to surprise them.

I know you have a number of tasks to complete and big projects to smash, however, if you are in a place to, consider making the time and thinking about how you might send a small thank you to your team members or the leaderships team around you.

It could be something small like their favourite snack or could be a new notepad with a handwritten thank you note.
Liaising with HR will be important re addresses etc but small gestures go a long way to (re)build trust and connection and importantly, showing you are thinking of them and how they are doing as people.

By giving to others you are taking the time to connect, to build stronger bonds and offer yourself a rest bite.

Have a good week answering the three questions and actioning small but significant gestures, and you will be surprised what you learn and how colleagues will want to connect in a reciprocal relationship.


Danny Denhard

How about sharing a few teamwork quotes?

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 1 – Develop Leaders

Develop Leaders


Dear Leaders,

Welcome aboard to the first leaders letter.

Each week there will be a weekly letter designed to help you address something important for the future and focus on moving forward.

If you have to read one piece of content this week, it is  to the LinkedIn team.


LinkedIn’s growth and development under Jeff’s guidance has been incredible and has strategically transformed LinkedIn from an occasional visit to a daily utility for many businesses and professionals.

If you haven’t already watched Jeff’s famous all hands from 2016, watch it at the bottom of this letter.

Future Focus
Something to remember this week, while looking forward to the future, ask yourself how are you looking to develop your existing staff.

It’s easy to look at the upcoming months and look at the list of objectives you want to hit, however, without your people in recent months the business wouldn’t be in the place it is today.

Help to develop personal growth plans together with your leaders and their teams.
Ensure you make and take the time with your managers to create personal development plans for each team member, fix dates and milestones in to understand the progress and how you can continue develop your team.

Until next week,

Thanks and have a good week.

Danny Denhard

Focus Leader