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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 192 – How You Will Know You Are On Thin Ice As The Leader

Dear leaders, I have recently written a number of leaders letters that you have told me have resonated with you, from: 

Today’s leadership newsletter will make you take the time to analyse and your improve leadership skills. 

It makes my day when I receive feedback on the newsletters, I will always invite replies to my newsletters, to discuss the topic, and see where you have rolled something out or where you might be struggling and need a quick pointer. 

Since the turn of the year, there has been a theme of replies and they can be bucketed as:   

How Do I Know If I’m On Thin Ice As A Leader? 

Although each environment is slightly different; there are common themes that come up and there should be a series of warning signs you’ll spot or worryingly you could be blind to. 

From experiences here is a breakdown of the standard signs:  

  • Performance
    • Poor company performance 
    • Poor performance from direct reports
    • Bad decisions or poorly timed decisions leads to poor performance 
  • Communications
    • Waiting for everyone else to catch you up on the important updates
    • When you are days behind in communications (email, slack etc) and it impacts how the business operates 
  • Offbeat
    • When you are not in the same rhythm as the company
    • When decisions drive larger heartbeats jumps and is like a shock wave through the business   
  • Stagnation
    • Status quo from your team (if department lead) 
    • Projects and product(s) stagnate from decisions or lack of clarity 
  • Trust
    • Lack of trust among your colleagues 
    • Being uninvited / removed from meetings 
  • Feedback
    • More feedback from colleagues 
    • No feedback from colleagues and direct reports 
  • Discipline
    • HR issues and common HR issues 
    • Team members misbehave as they have seen others being rewarded for these behaviours in previous promotions 
  • Crisis Mode
    • Everything seems to be the highest stake meeting 
    • Everything is urgent or a crisis 

Leaders Duty

There is often a blend of the eight themes above, most often leaders are undone by their miscommunication and the lack of clarity and repetition of their important decisions. It is the Leadership Team’s duty to address the misfiring of the teams below them and build trust between internal customers and external customers constantly. 

Leadership IS

Leadership is incredibly challenging, and making the right and smart long-term decisions comes under the microscope of the business frequently especially the larger the business is, the more investors, advisors and shareholders evaluate you, one shift in the market and you will be under fire. 

Your Decisions To Delivery Hole 

In business leadership roles, there are thousands of ‘micro-decisions’ you make every day as a leader, you make what feels like small decisions and your business then gives them inflated weight, you are often judged on bad decisions part of your core team makes and frequently the disconnection between your leadership team and their department and team heads cause big directional shifts. 

AUDIT TIME! 

It is how you understand and improve: 

  • What is happening (not just the numbers – this is issue number one of bad leadership)    
  • The behaviours of you and the teams below you – if key individuals are causing the problems or allowing bad behaviours you will need to make hard decisions of keeping and improving them quickly or removing them to ensure improvements 
  • How you got to this situation as a timeline is critical to turning the problems around and addressing the majority of the issues 

Most leaders do not dedicate the time and then the resources to address the issues and core traits within the business, this is what makes the top 10% of leaders. Move into the top 10% and address the issues and audit performance of the business, the teams and the people. Get under the skin and inside the culture of the business to drive positive change within the business. 

This week’s focus action is to: 

  • Short Term: Dedicate the time to audit what is happening and not happening within the business and in your leadership 
  • Mid Term: Create an action committee from around you and your trusted team members to create the next steps and hold everyone accountable 
  • Long Term: Admit things were not perfect and present the actions under the 5 pillars you are changing and why these are changing 

Have a great week stepping up and being the leader you want to be and need to be, I will land in your inbox next week

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 191 – The 11 Core Skills For Great Middle+ Managers

Dear leaders, middle management is either the most rewarding or the hardest career phase.

Middle management should play a critical role within every organisation, unfortunately, many big tech companies have removed the middle manager and the ripple effects of how middle management can be seen is making many companies question the importance of middle managers. 

The Glue & Translator 

I am a huge advocate of the right layers of leadership within businesses, middle managers should be the glue to organisations, middle management should be the area of the business that filters decisions and applies to their team(s) and middle management should translate their plan into the company strategy and then has been able to connect the dots for their team to how they are impacting the business. 

Awareness Of The Business Finances Is Critical 

In today’s business world, if you are not in a place to have a healthy number of middle managers you will likely have a high level of staff turnover and department leads with too many direct reports.  

If you are reading this and think my business needs more middle managers, be fully aware of the financial demands on your business and operational efficiencies that have had to be made to keep several team members over a middle manager. 

If you do not know or struggling to understand this, speak to your leadership team and get under the skin of the business model and dynamics. This is what a good leader will want and shows your potential leadership skills. 

The Good Of Middle Management 

You have likely experienced a great (team or department) manager who was not the most senior within a business, who understood you, knew when you were having a bad day and understood how you liked to be praised and when to provide you feedback.

The Bad & The Ugly Of Middle “Managers”

You could have also experienced the power-hungry middle manager who put themselves first and would play the blame game, blaming everyone around them for bad results, for not evolving and not acknowledging their team when the team does a great job or delivers something that improves company performance. 

Evolution Before Revolution? 

The “role” of the middle manager has not changed too much, however, the demands have escalated particularly in the recent waves of layoffs, from managing small teams to some managing teams of 100 and having limited managers beneath them to support and shield them. 

A middle manager in other businesses has been pushed into more delivery as much as management and this is creating blurred lines. 

Remember, what happens in big tech is often replicated in smaller businesses and aspiring businesses and this creates a big divide between what management is and what are the expectations. 

.

The Core Skills & Traits For Great Middle Managers

How about I talk you through the best 11 traits and skills I have experienced and witnessed throughout my career and gathered feedback from 1000s of hours of interviews. This will help you to work through what you are good at and what you need to develop. 

  1. Communication – being able to communicate simply, cut through noise and help to set direction with their communication. They also change their communication style based on who they are talking to and on the platforms that make the most sense  
  2. Feedback – have the ability to deliver important feedback whether that is positive or negative. Being able to deliver in-the-moment feedback and creating no-surprise feedback is what makes the difference between a good and bad middle manager 
  3. Skill Development – improving their team members’ skills and improving the teams’ skill base is a vital skill middle managers have and knowing how to improve yourself or recommending training is a key skill  
  4. Time – a skill all the great team and department managers have had is creating time, managing deadlines, creating time to discuss potential problems and issues and managing their time effectively is what only the greatest managers have (particularly important as a team lead or a department head) 
  5. Deep Business Knowledge – the elite middle managers know they have to balance the personal (team members) and the business demands, often being able to inform the team of how the business operates and know good or bad decisions from the team will impact the revenue lines or cost the company 
  6. Motivation – personal and team motivation is often overlooked and underplayed, being able to motivate a team that is struggling with performance anxiety and when the team has lost a team member or headcount has been decreased. 
  7. Empathy – EQ is now widely known as a powerful leadership skill, empathy is a core component of EQ and middle managers have to show empathy, not just to their team members but also to the business. Being empathic to both needs is often overlooked and undervalued
  8. Reduce Headwinds And Create Tailwinds – this is a leadership skill that very few proactively work on, this is a core workstream in my exec coaching, understanding how “leaders” reduce headwinds for their team(s) and for the business, while how to keep the momentum going and create tailwinds, often by motivating their team to keep pushing or keep delivering high-quality work. If you want to be a business leader or go into exec teams one thing that will make you truly stand out is being able to reduce headwinds (get people out of the way, get yourself out of the way, add yourself into a problem you can uniquely solve, add people to problems, kill a part of a project etc).  
  9. Decision Making – some middle managers feel like they cannot make core decisions which is not the case. Decision-making and making hard decisions are part of parcel of your daily life as a middle manager, knowing when to dial up and dial down decisions and escalate decisions is something middle managers have to work on and the best know when to get help or be the help. Something many mature middle managers demonstrate is being able to make smart judgment calls. Judgement calls are decisions being made when you might not have the data but you have a feel for something, this is also part of your management development
  10. Cross-functional Collaboration – the worst middle managers do not and will not play cross-functionally, this is criminal and has a detrimental impact on your team(s) and the business. The best middle managers know cross-functional is key to success, even when the two department heads might not have the best working relationship or often competing for a promotion into the next layer of leadership  
  11. Resiliency – most likely the skill as a middle manager or previous middle manager you will resonate with most, you have to have a high level of resilience as a middle manager, you have the hardest management role within any organisation and you will feel helpless and alone and on other days you will lose people to other opportunities because you invested so much time and energy developing them to the next level of their career.  

The best leaders in the world learn to develop themselves and those around them, the best managers study the art of management and then apply their learnings and teach the painful (and the good) lessons to their team members. 

A great middle manager doesn’t just positively impact their team(s) or department but has a real influence on the business and in unique cases, creates a standard of management for other managers to buy into and apply. 

This week’s focus actions are to 

  1. Re-review the 11 middle management traits and skills 
  2. Evaluate yourself, consider creating a professional SWOT analysis (aka the management SWOT) and 
  3. Work through which you excel and which you have to work on. One running theme you will notice upon doing this is – these traits are true leadership traits and the best CEOs and founders demonstrate these every week. 

Thanks and have a great week ahead, 

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 174 – Storytelling Masterclass With David Pullan

Dear leaders, this week we have a storytelling masterclass. 

I invited a friend of leaders letters David to share his storytelling. David and his company help companies ignite the moments that matter. 

David (Pullan) runs the story spotters, we have had the privilege of sharing a podcast, discussions on the importance of communication (internal and external), making workshops land and leadership and why many leadership teams just don’t understand effective storytelling 


The First Three Strokes

It’s 6 pm on a spring evening in London. 

I’m sitting in the bar of a Covent Garden hotel with my partner at The Story Spotters, Sarah Jane McKechnie.

Tourists, businesspeople and a minor celebrity scour drinks lists as they make plans for the night ahead.

But our glasses of Albariño sit untouched as Sarah Winckless, executive coach, and winner of Olympic Bronze in the Double Sculls at Athens 2004, tells us a story that will change the way we think about so many challenges that leaders face.

‘The thing about rowing is that if you only thought about the end, you’d never put your oars in the water. The end is about agony. In just under seven minutes, you know you’ll be blind with pain, hanging over the side of the boat, and probably heaving bile from the pit of your stomach. Agony. If you want to succeed you have to focus on the first three strokes. Power, tempo, rhythm. It’s all about those first three strokes.’

I want to suggest to you that this approach is one that all leaders should adopt as they start their transition into the first one-hundred days of a new role.

And the first three strokes in this case are story-based answers to three questions that every team is asking.

  1. Do I like you?
  2. Do you like me?
  3. Where are you going to take me?

Now I appreciate that question three is the one we really want to answer.

Strategy. Logic. Goals. KPIs. 

It’s where time is saved, and money is made.

But as Daniel Kahneman and others have said, you will never speak to the logic of the neo-cortex unless you placate the ‘emotional gatekeepers’ of the limbic system. 

Emotion then logic. Warmth then competence. Connection then challenge.

Get this right on day-one and it will create the momentum that will carry you to victory in the following ninety-nine days.

So, let’s look at how to create the story answers to these questions.

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Do I Like You?

This is all about letting people know why you’ve been chosen for this role and what it’s going to be like having you at the helm. 

And the answer doesn’t lie in a list of your qualifications and career highlights.

The answer lies in your values and the way you go about your leadership.

I recently worked with a wonderful leader who wanted her team to know that she would be their biggest cheer leader and would encourage them to do things they never thought were possible.

The way she did this was by showing a holiday photograph of her four teenagers who were all smiling after finishing a ‘Sound of Music’ bike tour that only hours before had appealed to them as much pushing a pea up Everest with their noses.

Of course, she backed this up with details and facts. 

But she won the hearts by using her humour and daring to show her humanity.

Do You Like Me?

A client of mine was at Cambridge at the same time as Chelsea Clinton.

One day the word went out that ‘Bill was in the quad.’

Suddenly the corridors echoed to the sound of books slamming shut and feet racing downstairs to see the ex-President.

The thing my client remembers most is the way that Clinton ‘bragged about you to yourself.’ 

He had obviously heard small details about the people his daughter spent her days with, he had remembered them, and he wasn’t afraid to voice his admiration

The ability to use genuine appreciation is an instant short cut to the hearts of your team on day one.  

But if you want to get good at it you need to start preparing in the weeks leading up to your transition.

Ask HR about where the values are seen in action. Talk to departmental heads about success stories. Walk the floors and notice the things you admire.

Then be like Bill and mention these on day one.

Your team will always thank you if you are specific about the qualities you appreciate, and how they have shaped your desire to be their leader. 

Where Are You Going to Take Me?

Congratulations.

You have placated the emotional gatekeepers and are ready to create your vision.

Vision is essentially your view of where your people need to go and how they will get there. 

But possibly the most important, and most overlooked, element of storytelling is why they need to get there.

The ‘why’ provides the motivation.

Michael Watkins developed the STARS model to help analyse the type of transition that leaders face. 

STARS stands for Start-Up, Turnaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment and Sustaining Success. 

By their very nature, each situation will provide a different motivation.

But emotion alone won’t prove that this is the situation you are facing.

It’s time to get out the data and facts that will speak to the logical neo-cortex.

But never forget that the neo-cortex is already being bombarded with information and will look for any reason to switch off. 

Welcome back to our old friend story, the superhighway to head, heart and hands that Shawn Callahan from Anecdote International defines as, ‘facts in context told with feeling.’

Find the facts that prove the need. Describe who will be responsible for what. Identify where the benefit will be seen. And show how it will be measured.

Then say it like you mean it.

All of this will create belief. And belief will create action.

The Next Ninety-Nine Days.

So, you’ve arrived at the end of day one. 

You’ve set off with your first three story strokes

People know who you are. They understand that you appreciate who they are. And you’ve motivated them with your vision of success.

Which leaves the next ninety-nine days.

Ninety-nine days of focused action and choosing the behaviours that will trigger what others say about you.

But that’s a whole other story.


Want to learn more about storytelling and David’s journey? Watch David’s appearance on the 10Q interview ↓

I think you will agree this is a brilliant framing and will help you really understand storytelling and how to connect teams with powerful stories. 

Remember to connect with David on LinkedIn, I know you will also love David’s MO – to help leaders and high-performing teams turn their ‘what’ into ‘WOW!’

This week’s focus item is to learn from David’s day one idea of storytelling to create momentum (you can start day one this week with a powerful story)

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 173 – Leading With Vulnerability

Dear leaders, this week I interviewed Jacob Morgan, it so happens his book goes on sale today and it is a brilliant read. I was lucky to receive an early copy and it’s a must-read for modern-day leaders.

A little about Jacob: Jacob is a professionally trained futurist, speaker, and the best-selling author of 5 books including his most recent, Leading with Vulnerability: Unlock Your Greatest Superpower to Transform Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization and is the host of Great Leadership With Jacob Morgan. Jacob’s work has been endorsed by the CEOs of: Unilever, Cisco, Mastercard, Nestle, Best Buy, SAP, KPMG, T-Mobile, Audi and Kaiser just to name a few so you are about to learn a number of leadership lessons below: 


5 Questions

What are the five main takeaways from your latest book leading with vulnerability?
And how can a leader apply these takeaways over the next month?
 

  1. Vulnerability for leaders is not the same as it for everyone else. As a leader your words have more weight and influence so what you say and what you do reverberates much further and louder. This means that if you keep showing up to work talking about failures, challenges, and things you are struggling with, eventually people will start to wonder why you are in a leadership role and you will undermine your credibility. Be mindful of what you share and who you share with. This builds into the second point below. 
  2.  Don’t be vulnerable at work, especially if you are in a leadership position. Instead, lead with vulnerability which means combining competence with connection. For example, instead of just admitting to a mistake at work, talk about what you learned and what you are going to do in the future to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again. I call this The Vulnerable Leader Equation.

Practice this by making sure you are always bringing together competence and connection into your interactions, business decisions, and engagements.

  1. The people you work with don’t just want to know what you are thinking but also how you are feeling about a situation or a decision. Leaders are great at sharing their rationale but are poor at sharing how something makes them feel. Being able to share this is what creates connection and trust. Take a look at something called “the feelings wheel” and instead of just saying you feel “good” or “fine,” try to get better at naming the real emotion you are feeling or experiencing.
  2. Turn negative experiences into learning moments. Vulnerability means that you are sharing or doing something to emotionally expose yourself. Sometimes this will yield great outcomes and other times it won’t. For example, someone might use something you say against you to keep you from growing in your career. Instead of using these as reasons for why you should never be vulnerable again, focus on what you learned from the situation, about yourself, and about the other person that will allow you to do a better job of leading with vulnerability in the future.
  3. Climb the vulnerability mountain. The cover of my book is a person getting ready to climb a mountain. The beginning of the climb is always easy but the higher up you go the more challenging it becomes, the more you might get hurt and take the wrong path. However, the more beautiful the vistas become, the farther out you can see, the more clarity you get, and the more people you meet on your journey. Identify what basecamp looks like for you, in other words what’s something you can do today that gets you going up that mountain. Maybe it’s admitting to a mistake and sharing some lessons learned. Then, define what sits at the very top of the peak for you, something scary you can’t imagine doing. Once you have the base and the peak, start climbing day by day, week by week, and month by month!

Q. What interview question would you ask a leadership candidate to see if they lead with vulnerability? If I could only ask one question it would be:

You have to confront your leader about a mistake you made on a client project. What do you say?


Q. I call the first step to vulnerable leadership “taking the corporate armour off”, what is the first recommendation for the biggest sceptics to show their new leadership skills? 

It’s true, leaders need to remove the armor but this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have thick skin. As I write in my book:

“There’s an assumption that armoring up means not showing emotion but that’s not entirely true. Armoring up also means avoiding situations and circumstances that would require you to show any emotion or be human to begin with. Some leaders do this by shutting down difficult conversations, avoiding certain topics, or using their power and authority to get others to bend to their will without questioning authority. Bad leaders never take the hits because they don’t even put on the uniform to join their team on the field. Great leaders take the hits for their people and keep charging everyone towards the end zone. That’s what having thick skin is all about.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to leading with vulnerability is assuming that once they say or do something, that there is nothing else that can be done. It’s like taking a short in basketball, if the ball doesn’t go in, it’s not game over, you can get the rebound and shoot the ball again. The same thing is true in leadership. I recently had a heated discussion with a friend of mine about making time for us to hang out which had previously been a challenge. We talked on the phone and after I shared how disappointed I felt and how hard I was trying I noticed he became quiet. I could tell that what I said didn’t land well and was making him very angry. Instead of letting things die, I followed up and said, “you sound really upset by what I just said, tell me how you interpreted everything.” To which he replied he felt that I was acting dismissive and not appreciating the challenges he was going through. Long-story short, we figured everything out because I was able to follow up after getting a bad response.


Q. Unlocking your superpower is my favourite theme in the book. How do you recommend leaders unlock their own superpower and how would you recommend they help their teams to unlock theirs? 

For leaders, you have to start. This is one of the points I had above in regards to climbing the vulnerability mountain. Reading, studying, and examining things will only get you so far, eventually you have to start taking those steps. Build your vulnerability mountain and remember to bring both connection (vulnerability) and competence (leadership) to every interaction and engagement you have. If you want to encourage your team to lead with vulnerability then it has to start with you as the leader.


Q. Your podcast has a number of brilliant guests and is a must-listen for me personally. What has surprised you by interviewing so many leaders? 

Thanks! What surprised me the most is that leaders are just like everyone else. I’ve had CEOs and billionaires from some of the world’s most successful companies on my program and they have struggle with the same things that you and I struggle with. They all have families, insecurities, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and they want to be seen and heard, just like we all do. At the end of the day, we are all just a bunch of imperfect people.

Here is one of my favourite episodes of Jacob’s podcast with Seth Godin ↓

Connect With Jacob and his leadership content: 

This week’s focus action is to follow Jacob’s recommendation climb that mountain and lead with vulnerability. 

Have a great week and next week I will land in your inbox with a leadership storytelling masterclass. 

Thanks, 

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 152 – The Impact Of Fractional C-Suite Role

Dear leaders, have you noticed the trend of more fractional leaders? 

There have been numerous articles written in recent weeks about the rise of fractional leaders. Some have been positive, and others have questioned the risk and the reward of a “part-time lead” within businesses. 

Data via exploringtopics.com

Having been a fractional lead covering Operations, Growth and Marketing within a marketplace, I can speak on my personal experiences, however, to get to the bottom of this growth and the business impact of the fractional roles I wanted to dig deeper and ask current fractional leaders to give me their take on fractional roles and how they are driving businesses forward. 

The fractional c-suite leads interviewed were (click names below to connect): 

Q. With fractional roles becoming more and more popular, what are the two common themes you see when taking on fractional leadership roles? 

Camilla: In my experience, the main reason businesses are investing in Fractional roles is due to the unstable economic environment we are in – and the flexibility and reduced-financial risk these roles can offer. But, also the increasing understanding that a business that is not yet ready for an expensive CMO hire, can actually still afford to have the strategic prowess of one, and find it valuable despite not being full-time. 

Fractional briefs also allow you to be laser-focused on the job at hand, removing some of the fluff and politics that often come with a full-time role– so I have actually witnessed personally, and from peers, companies actually getting more impact from someone part-time, than a full time equivalent.

Mehul: I find the awareness is still very low outside the immediate group. Although in the current environment, companies are facing a multitude of challenges and there is an acceptance that they need to supplement their internal teams with external expertise to resolve those challenges

Mike: Early stage companies struggle to see the value of it until they try it. What can seem like an expensive upfront investment pales in insignificance when compared to the time that can be saved in up-skilling and waiting for a developing leader to meet the required level. More open, less defensive budding leaders see fractional leaders for what they are – a great opportunity to rapidly up-skill and increase the tangent of their own career development.
It’s not a threat, it’s a huge unfair advantage in their career.

I also see a lot of dysfunctional leadership teams with a lot of false harmony. Lots of back-slapping and perceptions that everything is rosey.
It’s only when you start peeling back the layers when teams realise that there’s a lot more to building an exceptional team.

James : Flexibility: More companies are welcoming the flexibility that working with Fractional CMOs brings. It certainly suits current market conditions, but also aligns with the remote working world.
Contractors would often be viewed as separate to the business, remote working is a great leveller with a lot of these barriers being removed. I also seeing this coming more and more into the agency world, with less “”lock in deals”” and lengthly contacts that companies are being held to. 

Multi-faceted Problem solving: Seeing more businesses looking for general senior problem solvers, who have operated in a similar space and can solve a set of key issues and problems that a business may face as it pertains to their growth.
This can often be less “straight-up marketing”, diving into a multitude of other areas – from strategy to data – all part of the modern CMO’s skillset.

Oren: Businesses early on with inexperienced leadership have a hard time rationalising the increased investment of fractionals. Why pay +1k a day when I can hire a 40k a-year marketer full-time? – The perceived value and remit of a fractional is directly proportional to the C level’s belief and confidence in the impact of marketing, and hence how and if it will influence growth.”

Q. How do you feel fractional roles are helping companies move forward?

Camilla: In so many ways but as mentioned above and below, the primary beauty of a fractional role is being able to support a business that otherwise wouldn’t be able to invest in a full-time role.
For so long these businesses went without senior leadership in key functions, as they believed unless someone was full-time, they couldn’t be valuable – but the increase in Fractional roles has proved otherwise.

Mehul: Fractional roles bring a high level of expertise along with benchmarks of what good looks like. This helps the companies and the teams to maximise their learning opportunities, contextualise their performance and ultimately unlock success earlier and more efficiently vs. what they may have achieved internally.

For e.g., most of my clients give me a consistent feedback that I have helped them identify the right projects, scope them correctly and get the required investment which supports their medium and long-term objectives.

Michael: I think they lower the barriers to excellence. Where companies previously couldn’t afford to hire experienced leaders they can now tap into the expertise of more established professionals without having to foot the bill of paying a full-time salary.

Great leadership isn’t doing more. It often involves being more selective over the things you do, making better decisions and managing teams more effectively.
I’ve made countless mistakes over my career that less experienced teams no longer need to make. What might have taken me working long days & weekends to achieve earlier in my career I can now do a day/week with a more junior team supporting me.

James: Instant expertise: Companies can have FCMO’s parachute into a business at little to no notice and immediately provide expertise in key areas. These skills would often take time to acquire, build, buy-in as well as time to ramp up. This can be a shock to the system, but also an instant energy change for both parties.

Try before you buy: This works on both sides with the FCMO and company being able to determine fit for longer term engagement in weeks, not months – saves time, money and organisational strain. It feels like an incredibly optimal way to work for senior hires especially.

Oren: Fractionals pull in C-level experience for the marketing function that was not previously available for companies pre B-round.

Q. Do you feel there are any limitations in fractional roles versus having a long-serving full-time department lead? 

Camilla: The ultimate goal for a business is to be at the size where it can justify investing in a full-time CMO. I see many businesses doing this before they are ready, however, and then unfortunately it therefore sometimes doesn’t work out. Until they are ready, a Fractional CMO is a very effective way of ensuring they have senior counsel and leadership without the risk and large investment.

Mehul: Business and category knowledge is one of them. Although you are being hired for your functional expertise.

Developing trust with the team that you are there to unblock and empower them and not make their lives harder or replace them.

You have to feel comfortable for not getting the credit or value created by your foundational work in the years to come.

Michael: The main one is logistical – it can be challenging scheduling team meetings/offsites when dealing with multiple teams with different rhythms and priorities. It’s not insurmountable but certainly requires some thought.

James: The limitations do align around people management, which is particularly salient in the remote working world. It’s difficult to develop deep management relationships with FCMO engagements, especially when it comes to line management, it means these people management areas need to be filled from other areas in the org, which requires transparency all round.

Oren: Yes, many limitations. A fractional, unlike a part-time CMO, presents a hybrid of strategy and tactical deployment, and hence with limited time/scope is constrained by time/energy. This impacts team management the most, but also availability for the rest of the c-suite who often have packed schedules making finding meeting time difficult enough. 

In general, the challenge is that business owners/founders are wedded to their businesses, and having someone who isn’t in the trenches with them 24/7 as they are, is a hard pill to swallow.


From all of the underlining data being shared and the expert answers above, the fractional role is here to stay and in many businesses, it will add a huge amount of value, particularly those at an early stage or looking to mature at an accelerated rate. Many companies will need to consider how a fractional c-suite member(s) can work and how they’ll add value away from execution and add a level of insight and education in leadership meetings and to the leadership team.

As ever if you have teams in place, do consider how a fractional lead could come in and positively or negatively impact company strategy and company culture, especially if they are not onboarded into the business properly and are not a match for the existing team in place. 

This week’s focus action: consider how a fractional leader could add value and build momentum in your business and how, rather than consider it as a hindrance how it could help your business progress and grow. 

» As ever if you have something to say about this week’s newsletter? Don’t be shy, subscribe (below) and then you can just hit reply!

Thanks and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard

Want To Work With Me? I Coach, I Advise & I Consult (email danny@focus.business)

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 142 – The 50 Best Pieces Of Leadership Advice I Have Received

Dear leaders, this week I wanted to offer something a little different.

I keep a note (you know by now I love and recommend note-keeping to everyone) of all the best and worst pieces of advice throughout my career and upon some regular reflection here are the top 50 pieces of leadership advice I have received.

I have added links to the frameworks built from these or will help you apply these pieces of advice into action in your workplace.

The 50 best pieces of leadership advice throughout my career

  1. Improve yourself every day 
  2. For every problem, have two solutions (one problem two solution framework)
  3. If in doubt, talk it out 
  4. Value is what people want 
  5. Learn from history (humans just don’t)
  6. Communicate only the most essential information. If you don’t know what’s important, work it out first before hitting send or hosting a meeting / all hands
  7. Remove emotional decision-making – we all have our bias that drives emotion, remove emotive and bias based decision making
  8. Land the exec summaries (it is rare anyone will read the 50-100 slides) – if you cannot summarise your actions in 7 bullets with dates and priorities you don’t know what your plan is
  9. Never reward bad behaviours – even for superstars 
  10. Everyone hires A players, hire smart but adaptable power players (read how power players do it)
  11. Make the complex, simple 
  12. Own your time, if it’s taken from you you’ll never get it (run a calendar audit to optimise your time)
  13. Words matter most (sentiment goes a long way for opt-in or opt-out)
  14. Underdogs win (don’t take them for granted)
  15. Think, breath, think: Take a breath, take another, then comment  
  16. Never give headcount away (whatever you do, do this for the right reason but remember once it’s gone it’s incredibly hard to replace or win back)
  17. Don’t take my kindness for weakness 
  18. Politics plays even when you aren’t playing (political intelligence is optional for you but everyone else is playing the game)
  19. Learn
    The
    Culture! (without understanding the people, processes and how culture works, you will not influence positive change)
  20. Make time for those who matter most (for life and professional work)
  21. Your deadline isn’t everyone else’s deadline 
  22. Colleagues & Friendship
    1. You’ll know if your colleagues are friends in hard times 
    2. You’ll know if your colleagues are friends when you or they leave 
  23. Walk it off: write the draft and walk it off and revisit (never hit an angry send)
  24. The CFOs formula will drive more important decisions than you will for many years 
  25. Everyone has a manager, but not many have a good or great one, make your choice (management is a privilege)
  26. Follow the rule of three 
  27. Don’t wait for luck 
  28. Be disciplined 
  29. There’s no magic system (but there is magic in some systems)
  30. If it seems too good…
  31. Remove fear (fear of missing out, fear of the future, fear of history repeating itself)
  32. The most intelligent people aren’t the smartest 
  33. Be wary of someone who always says no 
  34. Be wary of someone who never says no 
  35. Your circle of competence should be your confidence 
  36. Lies bite – liars bite hardest  
  37. Sharks smell blood 
  38. Big dreams aren’t dreaming big 
  39. You’ve won the lottery to be here (in life) – so go for it
  40. Not everyone has common sense 
  41. Work smartest not hardest (hard and smart compete)
  42. The loudest in the room is often the weakest and most destructive
  43. Keep your eye on other people’s bad habits (they’ll creep and people mimic bad habits)
  44. Mistakes happen – find those who actively look to fix their mistakes
  45. Find your edge – no one else will
  46. Plan – execute – review (I have a saying always be marketing, always be auditing and this is based on this cycle)
  47. Respect patience  
  48. Good intentions don’t always last 
  49. Knowledge builds up. It’s a muscle you need to build. 
  50. For every optimist, there are three pessimists 

Let me know which one is your favourite by emailing > danny @ focus.business

This week’s action: Review the list, and see which ones you should take onboard and apply (by all means steal them and share with your team)

Recommended Reading: The simple but highly effective pieces of leadership advice you can apply this week.

Thanks and have a great week ahead.

Danny Denhard

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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 126 – Leadership Lessons From Agency CEO Paddy Moogan

Dear Leaders, this week I am introducing a new interview series with leaders I have worked with and I asked them five important questions to help you with your business moving forward into the new year.

The first is a good friend of mine Paddy Moogan, CEO of Aira, an award-winning agency doing the agency model differently, where culture was a key and deliberate differentiator. As you will see from the questions Paddy has gone from co-founder to CEO and has some great gems and offers many wise words for you across your leadership journey.

Onto the Q&A:

Q1. You recently created an agency leadership programme, what do think are the next steps in shaping the future of digital leaders?

I think that digital leaders of the future need to be more emotionally intelligent than previous generations. Empathy is likely to end up being a superpower for managers and this can present challenges for managers too, but I think it’s an important area to develop.

We’ve been trending towards this anyway over the last ten years or so, but the pandemic and remote working has accelerated the need to understand the viewpoint and experiences of the people you manage.

Even if a manager isn’t a natural when it comes to emotional intelligence or empathy, they are things that can be learned to a good enough extent to be valuable. But it starts with a leader being open to the idea that it matters. If they’re not, they will struggle to lead the current and future generations of workers.

Aira’s recent conference at the Red Bull HQ

Q2. What is the biggest takeaway you learnt from your recent in real-life conference?

That conferences are hard! I have a huge level of respect for people who run large events because a lot can go wrong (thankfully, our event went great).

Aside from that, it was a great reminder of the value that face-to-face interactions have. I think that we’ve all forgotten about the benefits of being in the same room as a bunch of different people. So it was great to get that feeling back again and have conversations that just wouldn’t have happened via an online event. 

I do think that real-life B2B events are harder to make work (attendees-wise) than previously. But it will go back to where it was, just slowly. 

Q3. What’s the biggest shift you made when becoming the CEO this year?

The biggest shift was probably the change in mindset from co-founder to CEO. This was really interesting and a little unexpected. It’s given me a renewed focus on how I’d like Aira to operate and the things that are important to focus on.

That felt strange because things are going well and nothing felt broken. But having a bit of a reset and focus on my “new” job was really valuable and gave me some clarity that I probably didn’t have previously. 

It’s also made me let go (slowly!) of a few things that I’ve always kept hold of, particularly around people and culture. That’s a big shift for me personally, but it’s the right call and it will naturally always be something that I care about a lot anyway – even if I’m not working on the day-to-day of it.

Q4. What are the three best tips you can give leaders planning for 2023?

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of face time with your team. Remote working is here to stay, but don’t lean into it so much that you forget about the value of going for lunch or coffee with your team if the opportunity arises.
  2. Be prepared for churn. Remote working has opened up a huge talent pool for leaders to tap into. But it’s also opened up more opportunities for your team to continue their career elsewhere. Don’t take your team for granted and have a plan for team churn.
  3. Try and stay on the front foot. The economic climate is looking pretty grim and we’ve barely gotten over the impact of the pandemic. So it’s easy to batten down the hatches and go into survival mode all over again, but try to focus on leading in a positive way rather than being too defensive.

Q5. If you could click your fingers and address one big issue for 2023 what would it be?

If I could make the argument over remote / hybrid / office working go away overnight, I would!

I think it’s a flawed argument in all directions because there is no right answer. 

Of course, the world has changed and remote working has accelerated far quicker than expected due to the pandemic. 

But the real thing we should be focusing on is the change that has happened in people’s heads. Whichever working environment they prefer, they now have far more choices than ever before and expect flexibility. If they don’t get it from you, there are plenty of other companies that will give it to them. I think this is the real discussion point of this topic – not whether office or remote working is the future or not.

Go & Connect With Paddy

Have a great week and think about how you can reshape 2023 based on the great recommendations from Paddy,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 124 – 10 Quotes I Often Think About & Use To Motivate & Drive Change

Dear Leaders, this week I am going to introduce to you my favourite quotes I use and think about often. 

These are typically work-related and have been applied in the work setting many times. Often I share in presentations to emphasise a point, to peak interest and to make something land when you need external validation for a big idea or concept. 

“Be strategically patient, tactically impatient.”

— Jeff Bezos

Famous for its ten-year vision and brutal on following the ten-year roadmap this is a great quote for anyone in management.
Read my popular post the Jeff Bezos business lessons

“Being intentional is the ultimate integrity in leadership. It’s stating your values and your intentions clearly, then putting your money where your mouth is”

Fidji Simo Instacart CEO


I wrote leaders letter 61 around this quote and I couldn’t agree more with it 

“Success is a lousy teacher

Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder

Teach those around you that success is a bad leading indicator and keep your eyes open at every turn, resting on your loreals is never a good idea. 

“You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else.”

— Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Ruthless focus and prioritisation are essential for every leader. 

“I learned always to take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”

— Virginia Rometty, former CEO of IBM


I love this as it proves you have to have a growth mindset and drive yourself to evolve. 

“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo


Absolute truth from one of my silent mentors and someone who drove real business and cultural change at Pepsico. 

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”.

Marissa Mayer, Former CEO of Yahoo!


Unfortunately many still believe they are always the smartest and cannot learn from others. Marissa was famous for 100+ hour work weeks but one thing she was great at was rolling out process, bureaucracy and jams framework. If there was a process, a jam or politics in the way come forward on a fix and they’d work on it. 

“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.”

Oprah


This is something I used with many team members and made them understand by devaluing what they were doing would impact how it was perceived or the influence of their work. 

“The stuff that matters in life is no longer stuff. It’s other people. It’s relationships, it’s experience”

Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO


When work is someone’s identity they often don’t understand why others act and work differently, this is a good quote to help people understand experience and connection are vitally important 

“I promise you, a lot of it is luck. But you make your own luck by working really hard and trying lots and lots of things”.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram Founder.


Instagram was a culture-changing app and saw rapid growth, the acquisition was questioned at the time but is an incredible piece of M&A by meta. The story is a great reminder that if you work hard and have an absolute focus you can change behaviour and build one of the most influential companies of the last twenty years. 

BTW “No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram Book” by Sarah Frier is an incredible read on deliberate the team was to build out their app and build it with habit changes at the heart of every decision. 

What are your favourite quotes to use at work? Comment below and let me know and I’ll share them a future leaders letter. 

Have a great week and remember focus, prioritisation, and self-worth are the most important themes for you to win. 

Go well,
Danny Denhard