Anonymous Career Advice

Is there a better way of quarterly planning?

In this week’s anonymous career advice column we tackle the dreaded planning phase, a team lead asks how to improve their planning

Dear Focus, When it comes to planning my team hate it, they struggle to complete the required documents and prefer just to do it. Is there a better way of planning? 

Almost every company has a slightly different approach to planning, whether thats campaign, projects, monthly, quarterly, annual or long range planning. 

Friday Focus

Friday Focus – 16th April

This week’s five for Friday to focus on breaks down 5 things you are told are bad ideas or silly but are essential parts of the business world.

Ask The “Stupid” Question 

Why? Very often in a meeting with more than three people, there is a fear to appear stupid or ask the most obvious question no one else is asking. Ask it, stupid questions clarify situations.

State The Obvious (when no one else is

Why? In busy environments, it is essential you have a centre point, an agreed place where you are operating or the problem you are tackling. Very often the obvious needs stating to align and drive projects and campaigns forward.

Think Bigger & Longer Term

Why? In the majority of businesses they are often only thinking of the next few weeks (aka the tactical level), businesses commonly operate with a few weeks cycle, you should know to drive a business forward you need a couple of smart future seers to think and plan while others action.

Remember the Focus approach to company strategy:

  • Think 5 years ahead
  • Plan 3 years ahead
  • Action 1 year ahead

Ask If Your Boss Is Ok 

Why? It is rare unless you have a direct or personal relationship that you ask the boss or your boss if they are ok. This will likely come as a shock to most leaders (they are just not used to being asked) however it helps to understand how your boss is feeling and if they need to talk or run things past you. Company culture and organisational health have to work for everyone from the least experienced to the most experienced and most senior.

Say “I Don’t Know, I’ll Come Back You”  

Why? Not knowing an answer is completely ok, not wanting to make something up or take a guess is completely acceptable and responsible. Often coming back with the right data, the correct information and being a few steps forward will ensure progress. Many businesses are powered by the quick answer, not the right answer or smart approach.

Looking to become a better or more thoughtful leader? Sign up to the Focus Newsletter


Recent Focus Blog Articles To Help Your Business

Anonymous Career Advice

Self-Taught Manager Issues?

 This week’s anonymous career advice comes from “middle manager with middle manager problems”. 

Dear focus, I am a self-taught manager and I struggle managing my team and manage my manager’s expectations. What is the best way to develop my management style of managing my manager and managing my team? 

There is something quite important about understanding you can improve as a manager and improve managing those around you and those you come into contact with regularly. 

An issue managers face is typically being able to create time to manage, to do their own work and manage out managers, or at least their expectations. 

Middle management is the hardest area of management, it is often the time you learn most about the work environment, the way people are motivated and what expectations truly are. 

Personally, I have a belief that management is an art form that a tiny per cent of people have managed to crack, it evolves every day and with every interaction, so this advice won’t be perfect but will be a guide to help you improve as a manager and improve communications and expectation management.

Management Advice

Managing up 

Managing up is about relationships and time management, most senior managers are time-sensitive and struggle to have much time to dedicate themselves to one to ones or one to few. 

From experience key to managing up is to communicate the most important aspects and goings-on with clear thought and in digestible chunks. Being able to have an exec summary and a list of objectives and the ways you are thinking of tackling those objectives often puts you on the front foot. 

One issue to countermeasure is handling the requests and helping your manager to know when you can take more work on and when they need to take work off you. This happens with a relationship and having clear one to ones and clear communications around hurdles. 

One problem two solutions framework will help greatly with overbearing bosses as will risks vs benefits framework when going through and managing your communications. 

Managing Around 

Managing around you is an area many ignore as managing those managers in the same position as you are is an important part of your development and building a support network. 

Managing Your Team 

Managing your team is always a challenge, something that has been a help in my career is working out the individual motivations and the way people want to be managed and compare to how you manage them. Surprisingly you will find some are motivated by praise, others are motivated by money and some are motivated by knowing they can improve. 

Being able to have open conversations, help problem-solve together and collaboratively and speak on the right level will help you have better relationships and improve as a manager, being trusted and proving you have their best interests is vitally important. This comes with time and having their back and supporting them by knowing when they need you, when they want you and when they don’t know they require support and guidance. 

An important lesson: saying my door is always open and not being available is something that upsets and frustrates your team far more than you will know. 

More actions you can take to proactively progress as a manager:

  • Hire a professional coach 
  • Ask for internal mentors 
  • Look for external mentors – costs can vary but important to know how much an external mentor will improve and challenge you differently
  • Hire a personal development coach 
  • Join a manager group – some can be particularly useful, be wary of HiPPO bias or admin bias in big groups
  • Build a management group on slack, discord or on LinkedIn to improve your skills and be able to have voice anonymous issues. I have built a number of communities that have helped greatly  
  • Write a professional and personal SWOT – this will help you spot your own weaknesses and build on opportunities you and others see
  • Read lessons from leaders this was an important set of interviews from last summer
  • Bringing those up around you will improve you as a manager, consider is it time for a co-pilot
  • Ask to co-create leadership principles to roll out to your leadership teams if this does not exist and will enable you to understand different situations and working environments particularly if you have access to broader teams, for instance: tech vs non-tech management are completely different challenges.

Leadership is not a linear journey and often you learn more in challenges than you do when everything seems to be going well. 

Keep up on knowing you want to progress and being proactive in developing out your career. 

Finally, never discount free resources on YouTube, LinkedIn and don’t be afraid to invest in books. 

Have Your Own Question?

Our book recommendations can be found 

Focus book recommendations 

5 Business Books To Read 

Ride of a lifetime  – The Disney Chairman autobiography

The Netflix Company Culture Book aka No Rules Rules – – The Netflix CEO book autobiography

Sign Up To Become A Better Leader Newsletter

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 43 – Have you been the boss for so long you try and boss everything and every situation?

April 5th, 2021.

Dear Leaders,

For the past few months, I have been working more regularly with more founder-led businesses. 

Founder led businesses are notoriously more difficult if you do not know how to ask the right questions and you answer their questions quickly and concisely with a focus on delivery. 

One question that has bubbled up with each founder 

Have you been the boss for so long you try and boss everything and every situation?

The answer is 90% of the time, no, the 10% are the more open and transparent and typically say yes. 

The yes answer is good, they are aware of where they are and know they will be pushed to step back and challenged to understand where to let go.

The 90% have a few more sessions to go, they are unaware of having to control not boss each situation.

The 90% then split into two camps, those who want to change and those who want to control. The controlling group are those who need more coaching and guidance, you need to show where they are being too hands-on, too overbearing, too much talking nowhere near enough listening. 

So the question for you to ask is have you been the boss for so long, you attempt to boss everything? 

If yes, step back, challenge yourself to listen more and understand where you need to take a leap back or leap into action and where possible bring in external help or hire more people to remove some friction. 

Have a good week and remember being the boss doesn’t mean making every decision and kicking every ball it means knowing when to bring others to the table, bringing support in for you and the team and then being clear and concise when delegating. 


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 41 – Four Questions To Build A More Informed Company

March 22nd 2021.

Dear Leaders, 

In recent times the majority of companies start by solving a problem or particular customer need and then build out on top of it. 

Some smart businesses solve a need by combing a few needs together, the package and branding create a desire for that particular product or service and then it catches on, gains referrals and gains tractions. 

The Large Company Example: Apple

Apple is the most famous at this. Steve Jobs for all of his known management and people management faults obsessed with only three things at one time and answered customer problems while packaging them together like a magician.

Apple famously followed this magic many times, firstly with the iPod, created a whole market with the iPad and most specifically with the iPhone, it’s been that way for fourteen years.
Given the choice, the majority of users would move across to the Apple ecosystem and then buy up and keep buying into the ecosystem once they are in.

Most recently Apple created a multi-billion dollar operation in the AirPods. Yes, Bluetooth headphones that most first thought was not much better than their parents Bluetooth headset for driving. How wrong were they?
There is an argument to be made it is down to age, brand power and equity, however, Apple is known for their quality, known for creating inspiration and aspiration in their product and marketing, but also, knowing where they can make smaller improvements in their core products that last without having to launch numerous products but large leaps in existing problems and releasing at the right time.

The New Entrance Example

Startups do well as they start small, niche and the bigger companies do not fear one problem being solved, what startups and smart companies do well is understand customer needs and builds out their solutions.
By the time the startup builds up and answers more problems, the incumbent struggles to defend and cannot attack.

You have likely been in one of the two positions, you could have been in the third, the thick middle aka the hardest fight, where you cannot seem to compete with the big player but the smaller more agile startup starts eating your dinner too.

Over Subscribes

Most recently the shift to subscriptions has seen many businesses move towards valuing their product or service monthly and suggesting to customers you have the choice to look around but the pain point and friction to leave is going to outweigh the price difference or the value difference. 

With all this said and experienced, this has helped me to ask questions that open up leadership teams and make them face the battles they have likely ignored or not made time for.

Consulting with a number of companies most recently, there a few questions many if not all struggle to truly answer. 

The four questions many just cannot answer are:

What are you uniquely good at? 

What problem are you truly solving? 

If you turned off all marketing – would anyone come directly to you and still buy?

What is your internal secret sauce?

These questions are designed to be easy to answer however they are crafted to make you rethink who you are, what you do and how you do it.

Great leaders have to be able to ask and answer these questions, not alone but with their departments, with the smart people around them and know if they are struggling to answer these type of questions to bring in the right support or external agency or consultancy to help improve their company.

Survive is not a strategy and is not something that helps teams buy into the company or the leadership. Survive is the bare minimum, despite how hard it feels this is only going to result in you creating an uninspired and unhappy workforce.
Going from survivor => compete => thrive can feel like a long battle however as a leader it is essential you and the company know how to and when to ask these important four questions.

As Q2 starts this is typically the best time to ask these questions and gain market intel on competitors to inform some of the reshaping of the business.

If you are struggling to answer these, you are not alone, however answering these four questions will help to shape your company’s requirement to improve product, improve training, improve internal communications and external messaging and refresh how you approach problem-solving.

Why not add these questions to your next management meeting or ELT and prep time for you and your colleagues to discuss this at length.

For one business, we created an internal motto; more deliberate direction = less reaction, more action. This was then added to the leadership principles.
Consider how you leverage both pieces of advice to progress your company this month.

Good luck for Q2 and keep driving forward.


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 40 – Start A Meeting With A Get To Know Me Question

15th March 2021.

Dear Leaders,

In the current state of work, working remotely and tackling meeting and video call fatigue, we have two options, keep going as is or change it.

Staying as is, is not really an option. If you were to poll your company or your team you will see quite quickly things aren’t working.

Not everyone enjoys small talk, however, small talk is an important part of team building, a foundational level of company culture and a way to kick off work positively.

Younger staff can suggest they dislike small talk, however, hearing a senior member of the company open and recommend something builds connections and compassion towards the leader they have not connected with previously.

Over the past year, leaders letters were created with three themes in mind:
(1) improving personal and professional performance
(2) improving company culture
(3) ensuring work is more deliberate and the world of work is less broken.

I always enforce meeting agenda’s, quick reminder of my rules:
(1) knowing the objective of the meeting,
(2) understand what success looks like at the end of the meeting,
(3) always take the notes and actions, centralise and share. I call it the DAN framework, what are the decisions, what are the actions and what were the notes you should share openly and to those in the meeting, those who could not attend and those who did not attend.

These are critical elements in the equation for successful meetings.

You may remember in leaders letter 20, I laid out ways to optimise your meetings.
Here is a free tip to add to team or departmental meetings.

This week, my recommended focus area is adding a new agenda item to team meetings. This means kicking off a meeting with get to know me questions, on the agenda, agree it is for this specific purpose, then a five-minute rapid-fire conversation around a connecting topic, trivial questions designed to connect colleagues together.

Some of the questions you can include:

  • If you had to select one cereal to eat every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
  • Ideal holiday / vacation?
  • Favourite pizza topping?
  • Coffee shop order of choice?
  • Favourite animal?
  • Your spirit animal?
  • Hidden talent?
  • One app you couldn’t live with?
  • Favourite memory in the company?

You will find this will set the meeting off positively (remember Bob Iger’s business lesson number 1), you will learn more about your colleagues and where there is a tie in you can bring into future meetings, the food discussed, remember and share the drinks suggested by your team and apps to download and use.

If you read any of the company culture books, including the stables, the five dysfunctions of a team, the culture code and Netflix’s no rules rules, the key message is relationship building for many (outside of the US) cultures wins the internal business battle, not diving straight into business.

So don’t be a bad HiPPO and create better and more connective meetings. Remember, to keep a mental note of the small and quirky and keep coming back to them and throw in a surprise, you will be surprised how far this goes.

Thanks, be well and have a great week.

Danny Denhard

Focus, Founder

PS here are some of the most important reads for improving company culture :

  1. Your secret weapon
  2. Find and embrace your Hidden leaders
  3. No Rules Rules – The Netflix company culture guide
  4. Fewer managers, more coaches and mentors
  5. How remote work impact company culture
  6. How to review forced work from home

Business Performance

The Focus Corporate Speak Bingo Card

The business world is full of corporate buzzwords, they are typically shared on a Forbes or HBR article and make their way into the boardrooms and creep into email chains, slack chats and teams channels.

There are 100’s of examples but here at Focus, we have collated our personal favourites and put them into a handy corporate buzzword bingo card.

The 2023 Edition

The Corporate Buzzword Bingo Card 2023 - Focus

The full buzzword bingo list:

Bang For Your Buck
Blue Sky Thinking
Circle Back
Deep Dive
Get Ducks In A Row
Hit The Ground Running
Hard Stop
Just Looping In
‘Let’s Socialise This’ (new)
Low Hanging Fruit
Low Performers (new)
Macroeconomics (new)
Microeconomics (new)
Mission Critical (new)
Move The Needle
Moving Parts
No Brainer
On The Radar
Pain Points
Put On The Record
Quick Win
Quiet Quitting (new)
Reinvent The Wheel
Return To The Office aka RTO (new)
Signing From The Same Hymn Sheet
Special Sauce
Take This Offline
Tech Debt (new)
The Bottom Line
There Seems To Be A Disconnect
Thinking Outside The Box
Under The Bonnet
Up The Ladder

How many do you use in leadership meetings? Long range planning and AOP’s?

The 2022 Edition

This year we saw hybrid work and asynchronous really break into the corporate vocabulary but many stay from 2021.

Are you looking for resources for your annual planning session or long range planning get away? Here are 11 free resources to help you improve long term success.

Compare with the 2021 Edition

Business Buzzwords From 2021

Below is a more detailed list you have likely heard each one this week

Bang for buck
Blue sky thinking
Break bread
Bring to the table
Buy in
Circle back
Closing the loop
Deep dive
Game plan
Get ducks in a row
Get shit done
Hack hit the ground running
Hard stop
In the pipeline
Lean in
lets circle back
Let’s take this offline
Low hanging fruit
Lunch and learn
Move the needle
Moving parts
No brainer
On the radar
Open door policy
Pain point
Put on the record
Reach out
reinvent the wheel
Signing from the same hymn sheet
Special sauce
The bottom line
There seems to be a disconnect
Thinking outside the box
Under the bonnet
Up the ladder
We are like family here

Turn Buzzwords Into A Game

If you wanted to create a game with your leadership team, you could treat it like a swear jar for every mention of the buzzword you could donate the money to charity or put it towards a team meeting for when you can safely meet up or have a working from home remote lunch together.

Sign Up

If you would like weekly suggestions for you and your leadership team sign up for our weekly leadership newsletter in the form of an emailed letter.

Company Culture Leadership

The Best Teamwork Quotes

Something you will notice is how popular quotes are. Whether this is on social media or shared internally.

Some leaders love quoting others, others share the same quote over and over (like the famous Mike Tyson quote: “Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth”) however here are the best quotes for teamwork and leadership.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
–Michael Jordan

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
–Helen Keller

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
–Ken Blanchard

Related Read – What company culture really is

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
–Henry Ford

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
–Phil Jackson

Related Read – Phil Jackson Eleven Rings Is Included In Our Must Read Recommended Business Books.

“A leader must inspire or his team will expire.”
— Orrin Woodward

“Together, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results.”
— Becka Schoettle

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
— Peter F. Drucker

“Good teams incorporate teamwork into their culture, creating the building blocks for success.”
— Ted Sundquist

Recommend Read – The 20 Good Manager Types

“Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavours.”
— Jocko Willink

“Everyone is needed, but no one is necessary.”
— Bruce Coslet

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Recommended Read – The 25 Bad Manager Types

Must Read Presentation

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 35 – Your Star Performer Decides To Leave – Now What?

Your Star Performer Decides To Leave – Now What?

8th February 2021,

Dear leaders,

This week I wanted to provide you with a quick scenario that some of you are facing currently that will help with the next few months. 

It is the first few weeks into the team’s stride, you have grand plans to execute, you survived the most testing year in our lives, and you get the dreaded “Do you have five minutes?” teams message sent to you. 
You make a guess of what it is but you are unsure. 

You arrange a quick teams call, your team member looks nervous and cuts straight to the chase, I’ve been offered another role and I wanted to let you know.

The team member is the “star performer of the team”, the best at their job and the one you tended to rely on.  

Your heart sinks, you look at your own face in the camera box and catch your face full of disappointment and regret. 

Your reaction says it all, you say “congrats” and “you’re happy for them” and you say the cliche, “is there anything I can do to change your mind”.

The response is a polite no. 

If you are unsure why you landed here, you won’t be the only manager or leader to in January or February. 

Your reaction and next actions will set you and your team up for the future, yes speak to the rest of the leadership team and HR to find out if you can replace, this will be the first question your team asks.

Ask for the formalities from your departing colleague but most importantly take this opportunity to step up and become the leader you need to be, the team need and lead from the front and be the leader you likely didn’t have.  

Your next actions are critical: 

  • Arrange an exit interview, ask for the factors that led to your colleague wanting to leave, ask for full transparency, it is important you understand the decisions they made and how you could have improved the team or the role for that person. Even if you don’t want to hear what they say, transparency is essential
  • Set up times with the rest of the team/department individually to understand how they are feeling and how they can operate
  • Understand the morale of the team and the department and address the concerns and arrange actions that will help to bring the team or department closer together 
  • Transparently call out any issues you may have uncovered, show your workings out and how you will address this and how you would like the team to assist.
    Bringing the team closer together is essential when the high performer leaves. Many will want to step up, they will want to be asked
  • Team Design: Being deliberate about how the new team will shape is often an important step many overlook, replacing like for like might not the best for the team. Show how you are looking to reshape and design the team moving forward, consider those who are on the team and how there could be someone internally who can step up or move across to bring in a different set of skills. 
  • Break down the team goals and how you can focus the team’s efforts on the goal – focusing the team around the collective goals helps everyone to focus as a team and become together  
  • Arrange a timeline of the next actions and when they will take place, who you will want to be part of the process and think of how you can bring together the hidden leader and secret weapon together to help ask for their feedback and help coach them. 
  • Make time to discuss this situation with other leaders: Make time with your leadership team and discuss the steps you took and why you made the decisions you did, you likely would have brought this up at your management meeting but these steps will help those around you to improve their leadership skills. As suggested in management pods there always ways to grow as a leadership team. This is one.

This seems a daunting list however these are the most important actions you will take when this happens. The team will rely upon you and your leadership skills will come into question.
Your Company Culture is often shaped by those who leave and when they leave as much who those are in the business. Owning this and co-owning the performance moving forward is paramount.

Many times when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, you will need to operationally improve and make time to the leader, prioritise and attack, this is not the time to be on defence.

Have a good week and formalise this as a plan when this happens in the next few weeks.

Thanks and have a good week.

Danny Denhard.

Recommended Read: If you might struggle to gain support from the managers around you, consider reshaping into Management Pods

Read last week’s newsletter:

Business Performance Company Culture

Replicating 10 Rules

Kobe Bryant was a basketball legend, a LA Lakers hero and someone known for being hyper-driven. If you have ever seen Kobe play, you would have seen it from training, pre-game, during the game, to post-match press conferences and leaving the arena.

In one of my favourite leadership and management books; Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson former LA Lakers coach discussed how challenging it can be having such a brilliant and driven player, especially when he and the other star Shaquille O’Neal just didn’t get on for a number of seasons.

Being driven can be seen as a negative, however, the best colleagues and managers in my twenty-year career have been driven, had their own style of rules and deliberate in their steps.

Kobe was driven to be the best and is well know for having had ten rules he followed. This is similar to having shared team principles, the drivers of your team, department or company.

It is rare we see this sort of insight from the elite professional players.

Kobe Bryant’s 10 Rules Were:

  1. Get better every single day 
  2. Prove them wrong 
  3. Work on your weaknesses 
  4. Execute what you practised 
  5. Learn from greatness
  6. Learn from wins and losses 
  7. Practice mindfulness 
  8. Be ambitious 
  9. Believe in your team 
  10. Learn storytelling 

My personal favourite is: Learn from wins and losses.  

As a huge believer of rules and personal drivers, when offering c-suite mentorship and executive coaching and management team development I ask for leaders to write down five of their rules.
This is an exercise many executives struggle with.

Why? This is typically down to management teams and leadership teams never writing down their own rules, guides and principles, it is just something that is ever taught or developed.

How To Make & Use Your Own Rules?

The Exercise

  • Set aside and dedicate thirty minutes to write down five of the principles or rules that guide you and your career
  • Rewrite the list for clarity,
    • Once as a list – A sentence, aka a short rule
    • The second as something you expand into two sentences. The secret is explaining as a short sentence and why
  • Use a design tool (Can be Word, PowerPoint, Keynote, Canva etc) and create the fives rules as one page with images to associate with.
  • When you next have a team meeting ask the team to follow the same steps.
  • Ask the team to share their one non-negotiable rule and consider how you could use these personal rules as team drivers.
  • Sharing the individual rules are important, aligning these to their colleagues really help the team understand their drivers and what makes their colleagues tick or keeps them doing what they do.

Moving forward I strongly recommend you and your team get to know each other by replicating Kobe’s rules and sharing as a team. The most important element of this, revisit the rules, allow them to guide you and enable yourself to grow and update when you grow personally and professionally.

Watch Kobe’s Rules Video

Important Recommended Reads