Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 120 – Power Players

Dear leaders, over the past year I have ramped up my coaching, it is something I get a lot of energy from and I personally love seeing others develop their soft and hard skills. 

With all of my coaching clients (from experienced middle managers to startup CEOs), the same themes manifest, they typically mention how others are perceived and how other people within their organisation seem to have an extra level of influence or power.
(And yes, even CEOs will raise this when they are relaxed)

An exercise I ask my clients to run through is breaking down these perceived power players and understanding their behaviours and is it common within their business. 

Who, What, Why, How Exercise

Who – Who they are? Who are they connected to? Who do they champion? 

What – What makes them “them”? What drives them? What behaviours do they have personally and in small groups? What makes them tick? 

Why – Why are they in the position they are in? Why are they respected? Why do you think they are operating at that level above? 

How – How did they get there? How do they act in front of people? How do they act in important meetings? How prepared are they? How do they act away from groups of people?  

A hint, ‘the power player‘ is a blend of IQ, EQ and PQ, PQ aka political intelligence is always a core factor. Be aware that playing the game and knowing when to step out of the game is an essential skill many just do not work on and rarely decide to improve. Almost every skill a power player has is developed and nurtured for the environment they operate in now. 

Two themes that usually stand out:
(1) Do they seem to rewrite the rules whenever they want?
(2) Or act in a way that others would be called out for?  

Very often these colleagues are Internal influencers +, they have more influence than just title and status, they have an aura, they have strong beliefs or are the hammer (they force things through and ensure those around them deliver) or the strategic member of the senior leadership team and drives the business vision

Next time you are wondering how certain people operate like power players, run through the who, what, why and how questions above. 

Thanks and have a good week,

Danny Denhard

PS. Would someone benefit from this exercise or the breakdown of power players? Copy and paste into teams or slack.  

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 119 – Flex, Freedom Or Friction. Company Driver

Dear leaders, I haven’t been able to shake a phrase I heard and wanted to share it with you. 

On a recent livestream, two CEOs were debating how the company driver has to be friction driven. Meaning; that you have to create friction and then apply control to run a successful company.

They both agreed this method is engineered for success.

I’ll be honest, this made my blood boil, it was two traditional CEOs suggesting you had to control people to garner performance. 

IMHO this is mostly BS. 

Ever since hearing this, I have been deep in thought and in conversation with other business leads about how you can apply three different models.  

1/ Flex
2/ Freedom
3/ Friction

Flex, flex is my go-to method of choice, flex provides guidelines and frameworks to be successful. It is empowered by the information you provide, celebrates wins and ensures quick and easy feedback is given in the right moments. 

Flex works if you provide guard rails, often an essential part of “flex” is giving the right directions and speed signs (like you see while driving) and being able to be pliable, with the guidelines, with your people, but never too much with performance and goals. 

Freedom is giving complete autonomy to your teams and allowing each team/department to go off and run it their way. Freedom works until it doesn’t (usually means performance has taken a dip or small pods abuse this) or freedom is taken too far.

Freedom has become the default for many and when freedoms become too free, the company has to react and often overreact and remove any freedom. Often then causing issues and increased staff turnover. 

Friction – when tension is created to apply pre-determined control measures. This is often causing friction between department leads and cross-functional leads to build a competitive atmosphere where the strongest or most politically savvy survives. 

I’ll admit, we can create situations that encourage friction (I have done it a number of times with my departments in the past), such as friction between two competitive teams or competitive executives, however, friction for many is combat (not conflict) and some will want to win so badly they will take this until one admits defeat or the other leaves, sending many ripples through the business and encouraging younger team members to mimic these behaviours – be aware of this before you drive this behaviour. 

By all means, smartly test your teams, and understand their motivations and what really triggers the right reactions but learn quickly and do not push those who are close to the edge or unable to compete in these environments. Many CEOs were brought up in a time when only the stoic and “the strongest survive”, in today’s business world this only causes friction and the rewards never compare to the battle scars created. 

This week ponder on what type of company driver you have and what behaviours you encourage from your business. I bet you are driving some behaviours that you will want to address in the next business cycle.

Thanks, and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 117 – Think Big Act Small By When

Dear leaders, for years we have used numerous different methodologies to try and crack performance and roll up into the company objectives.

The trendiest of recent times is the OKRs, I will save my experiences with OKRs for another dedicated leader’s letter, we use SMART goals as a way to help be specific and make the next period of time work clear and simple to understand and execute. 

One of my personal favourites and the most effective I have used is:

Think Big Act Small By When


The whole framework is intentionally simple.

Unlike some of the other goal-setting frameworks, it is designed to be understood by the whole organisation and as a way to keep others accountable. 

  • Think Big: What is the big goal 
  • Act Small: What are the smaller actions to hit the goal 
  • When: When do we need to deliver by?  
  • My addition: Who owns this (owner of the outcome) and who is the sponsor (the team or department lead)

Tips to win with think big, act small, by when.

  1. Never allow ASAP to be used in when 
  2. Always be clear about why think big is connected to the company way strategy 
  3. Always be clear on who you will need to partner with and call this out 
  4. Only create this when you are given the company-wide objectives 
  5. Create and approve as a department (especially if you have a larger management team and many teams within a department)
  6. Check-in fortnightly, repetition wins (this can be in person or asynchronous, the more you run in async the quicker you will become at working at updates and remove the most vocal colleagues)
  7. Hold the owner and sponsor accountable for misses 
  8. You can add a score to each think big at the end of each quarter to understand performance and how it went, this is optional but can work well, especially if you are numbers driven or need a scoring system to rewards those involved 

Can you benefit by using this framework instead of your existing tool? 

Would this make collaboration easier and ensure the business understands the smaller acts to lead to appreciation and curiosity? 

Remember when most frameworks go wrong is when you have to create cross-functional collaboration and be able to hold each other accountable, can you manage this? 

Have a good week ahead and consider how you can leverage free frameworks to improve working styles, collaborations and deliverables. 


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 116 – Go Back To Basics

Dear leaders, you would be surprised how many businesses are struggling with who they are, what they should be offering and why they should be offering their product or services. 

In recent weeks, I have spoken to a number of CEOs and Marketing leads and they are at a crossroads, unsure if they are in the right market, messaging the right way and actually adding value. 

Something I recommend all businesses to go through is a super simple six-question process. 

This is something I typically run through right at the beginning of workshops but in this current climate and the number of fears people have, here are the six questions you will want to visit and gain alignment over. This is particularly useful if you are due a long-range planning meeting or you have your annual operating plan meeting coming up. 

You would have seen iterations of these questions in popular business canvas, something to keep in mind, canvas are completed and then forgotten about, this is why you should record the decision-making process and then summarise at the end of the session (importantly remember to add this to your decision document

(And yes, these are deliberately simple to make you think and revisit your core fundamental beliefs and you have to answer these questions in order 1 down to 6) 

  1. Problems: What are the top 3 problems you are actually solving? 
  2. Needs Solving: Why are these problems solving your customer’s needs? 
  3. Customers: Who are the target customers? 
  4. Selling Problem Solves: How are you actually selling the problems you’re solving? 
  5. Unique: What are you uniquely offering? 
  6. Find: How are customers going to find or discover you? 

Something to keep in mind, these questions are deliberately simple questions to focus business leads, the more simple the questions are, the better the answers tend to be, the trick with this exercise is to ensure it fits on one a3 piece of paper and the document to act as a compass moving forward. 

So this week, your action plan: plan this session with your leadership team and even give the 6 questions a go and see where you land, if you cannot answer these questions I would suggest you really drive this session forward as quickly as possible (if not everyone can answer this the same way you have a real alignment issue)

Thanks and have a great week ahead, 

Danny Denhard

Essential Reading For The Week Ahead

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 115 – Communicating: The Lost Art Of Leadership!

Dear leaders, this week I want to reintroduce the power of communication and the importance of the right communication within the workplace

We have seen an explosion of new tools over the last decade, we are expected to stay on top of the numerous channels, slack and teams constantly wanting our attention, understand the important emails, manage the flow of information and data from meetings and take the most important actions and insights, distil and then deliver on these. 

Superpower: Communication I have said this before on leaders letters and I will say many times in the future, communication is the superpower most do not work on and it is the key skill for the majority of high-level c-suite execs have (that and being able to juggle 100 things at once and stay somewhat sane). 

Communication in my eyes is often the difference between good company culture and company performance and is the element you are in the most control of. 

Remember less is very often more

Something that many feel is the best way to communicate is to send many messages, appear on many threads and add their opinion. The best communicators and the best operators rarely have to do this (from my 23-year working career), they know how to and when to communicate. 

Here are the ways communication is key in organisations and why developing your communication muscle is vitally important on your leadership journey:

  • Communicating the potential downturns and the impact this can have on the company, your department or individuals up for potential layoffs. The best layoffs (if there is such a thing) have been those that have put EQ first and put their team’s well-being first  
  • Celebrating the wins and what it means for the company 
  • Working asynchronously – despite what many believe, we are moving towards async work more and more and hybrid is forcing function in dividing the best leaders and communicators and the worst
  • Handling hundreds of inbound signals and being able to boil them down to the three most important actions for the company or team to focus on 
  • Ability to retell the same story numerous times and not get bored of creating new ways of telling it and reshaping the narrative to fit the situation 
  • Being able to distil the strategy onto one page and ensure it makes sense across the business and land with all team members 
  • The ability to write a ten-slide deck that lands across the leadership team and gain buy-in for additional budget requests or a large investment into your business area 
  • The expertise to know when to write, when to call an all-hands and speak in person or when to record a video and distribute it across the company.  

These are all areas you can identify, you can plan for and build your muscle memory around to improve your communication.

I strongly believe the best leaders make the time to improve, despite how busy they are, they find the time and energy for personal development and invest in their own training.  

So the questions to ask yourself and answer over the next month: 

  • How are you improving your communication style? 
  • How are you learning to story tell better?
    (Hint: read storyworthy) 
  • How are you learning to develop your own voice?
    (Hint: Write more, craft more executive summaries and record you’re saying this loud)
  • How are you improving your writing style?
    (Hint: Written communication is most frequent and how the majority of decisions are based on and decided with)
  • How are you working on your in-person delivery?
    (Hint: Use your smartphone and practise reviewing yourself) 
  • Are you practising your presentation skills?
    (Hint: Use the record function on Keynote, PowerPoint or a tool like Dropbox Capture and present a number of decks you have created, watch back and tweak)
  • Are you looking for training in information design?
    (Hint: Your company slide template is likely hindering how you present) 

Thanks for reading Leaders Letter newsletter again this week, I always welcome replies and conversations around the topics, and happily get in touch if you would like to dive into these points or a previous letter. 

Danny Denhard

Must Read Of The Week

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 114 – 10 Good 10 Bad Management Traits Exercise & Framework 

Dear leaders, I recently went for a walk and talk coffee with a mentee stepping up to a leadership team. They were a blend of excitement and anxiety about moving to a new company and being able to show their skills. 

We got onto the subject of good managers, bad managers and management traits. Something I suggested, even the worst managers believe they are good managers and will be able to list out a number of traits that makes them a great manager. Many good managers will list off their bad traits, humans are complex. 

Whether you’re starting a new job or becoming a manager or being promoted to a new position, the challenge for everyone’s how to be a good manager and what traits you embrace and those bad habits you mimic from a previous boss, you have to shake.  

I offer one very simple exercise to my mentors and coaching clients and it’s very simple. 

The Exercise 

  1. Find a quiet space where you can concentrate and focus 
  2. Grab your pad and pen, open apple notes or your spreadsheet software of choice and start to think, then   
  3. Write down the ten good traits, the ten that made you stop and appreciate the gesture or the extra thought, the traits like protecting the team when results dipped, something didn’t land or backing you over a senior colleague when it was needed. 
  4. Write down the ten bad traits, the ones you really dislike, that frustrated you or made you question your skills and made your confidence drop. 
  5. When you have finished these, select the five non-negotiables you will use and the five you will never use. 
  6. Write these 5 good, and 5 bad traits out on a post-it note or onto an apple note, you must revisit once a week and ensure these are your management guiding principles. This way you will hold yourself accountable and have a framework that holds you accountable for your management style. 

Something I have done in the past is run through with my team and I asked them to call out my bad traits and hold me accountable.
This takes a complete level of trust but will drive you forward as a manager, build trust and encourage a culture of feedback and importantly improve you as a leader. 

Have a great week and I’ll be back next week with another instalment of leadership advice. 

Danny Denhard

Other Great Free Frameworks To Improve Your Leadership Career 

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 113 – The Future Of Work (Re-Engineered For Success)

The Future Of Business 

Dear leader, as a long-time reader you are aware I often speak on the future of the industry, I was recently invited to discuss the future of business and how mid to large businesses may operate. 

Here are a few predictions that I made recently that you might find compelling and make you ponder how you could shape the future. 

Culture Department

We will have a dedicated department focused on culture, it won’t sit in the leadership team and it won’t sit as a team within HR.

Rethought Workplace(s)

Workplace home vs workplace office will rage for years, however, the smartest businesses will embrace the home workplace and reshape business for hybrid first, enabling great working environments (including seating, technology and wellness) rather than everyone having a different workspace and workplace 

Async First

Studying how many successful businesses have made remote work, the focus around asynchronous work and having the right tools not force-fitting the tools you already have. Async work will be adopted by many companies and will encourage more written and audio-based discussions and updates versus real-time work over video meetings and around large meeting room tables with follow-up meetings.

Rethinking Use Of Freelancer Teams

Something that hinders companies is the reluctance to embrace a freelance team that comes in and helps out on projects and acts as an additional expert resource when people go on holiday, paternity/maternity and long-term sickness. Many will have to embrace more freelance talent to help keep momentum and drive business results

IC – Expert – Management Track

Something that is obvious in large businesses is the lack of understanding of how to embrace the new ways of work and removing the two-tier system that does not embrace an expert and specialist versus just being an individual contributor and being a manager. Accepting and rewarding experts is going to reduce tensions and pushing experts into managers roles without training and reducing their impact

Be inspired by HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah (and current CTO) who does not have a team reporting to him as he knows his strength is not management.

Internal Comms Specialists

Workplaces are hard to navigate, they are hard to gain cut through and now with so many channels getting the important messages across and read is becoming a real challenge. Expect specialists to help with tools, tactics and techniques to land messaging, these will be distribution specialists. 

Squad Over Team

A popular reshuffle over the last decade, we saw departments and teams being created and tribes forming around cross-functional goals and tackling specific problems. In the near future, this approach will be reinvested, and the traditional ways of working will be rethought to hit deadlines and importantly answer customer problems and pain points over large department pain points and empire building by team and department leads. 

The importance of the squad or tribe leader is going to escalate and many of these tribe leaders will be paid and rewarded financially and many middle managers will have to adapt quickly. 

Your Move!

What do you think? Do you agree? Which of these do you feel you would have to invest in?

Have a great week and consider how these areas are going to evolve in the short to mid-term to reshape your company-wide strategy for 2023 and beyond.

Danny Denhard

Essential Resources To Help You This Week

Company Culture Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 112 – How do we work together to be successful? 

Dear leaders, the title of this week’s newsletter is simple. 

How do we work together to be successful? 

It is something that is rarely discussed and I believe is often the one missing part of conversations between colleagues and mostly between managers and their direct reports. 

In almost every working relationship I have had, there are a few questions I ask that enable you to build trust and understand each other quickly.

Three of my favourite questions I ask are: 

  1. How do you like to communicate? 
  2. What’s the best way for you to receive updates and how often?  
  3. Are you about the macro or the micro? 

These three questions will open up their working styles and help you to understand how you should communicate with them. 

Don’t be surprised if some people like the ‘micro’ and micromanagement, it is the one area we all think we hate, however, many know this is how they are going to be successful in their job.

Following these questions, it is important to say how you like to work and how you will or should provide updates. 

Common ground is essential, especially the more senior you become and work seems more politically charged

Hybrid Complexities: In a hybrid work world, we are going to see face-to-face become a real challenge unless you have set days, however, it is important that face-to-face can be replaced with video or audio calls (and likely should be if calendar conflicts). Slack or teams channels are noise that should be cut down and you leverage decision documents and more asynchronous work styles. 

Scale? An important note, communication styles and updates don’t scale very well if you have a direct reporting line of over 20 as it becomes a juggle versus being effective and making sure the comms lands as best as possible. 

Shared To Win: This is where department principles will work great for you as a department lead. 

Over the next week and if you are in a place where you are hiring and backfilling roles, ask these three questions and build out a better, more effective working style. 

Thanks and have a great week. 

Danny Denhard

Three Articles To Be Inspired By:

Should businesses remove chat apps like teams and slack? 

Can you be inspired by Spotify’s fully remote working style?

Are you embracing the digital presence? 

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 111 – Why Art Might Be The Reset You Need

Dear leaders, this week I have been on an exploratory journey – things in life that can reset work frustrations and stresses. 

Do you ever feel stressed or frustrated and can’t kick the feeling? I bet the majority of it in a work setting is either a challenging colleague, a management team member or a recurring bad meeting. 

Meeting recovery syndrome (MRS) is the time it takes to recover from a bad meeting, you have likely had a few that took hours to shake off and get back into the zone. 

Something I am a big believer in is getting out of your space, that work environment and getting a reset, both when frustrated or creatively you feel like you are struggling. 

I have spoken at length about the power of a walk, something I often do is go to London Zoo, it’s a destressing place for me and seeing animals swim, fly and play gives me a fresh perspective on many things. 

I have previously mentioned the power of art for me, getting me into a different thought process, it resets my brain and gives me a lot of ideas.
Here is an example of how I reset by visiting the RA exhibition in London

Find your place: I used to go to the Tate in London at moments when I couldn’t shake a bad meeting or another interaction with a frustrating project. The Tate was right near the office I worked at and just entering the space gave me a different feeling. 

When the management team of a business line I was responsible for and I were having a few disconnections we ended up on artwork that was a swing, you should have seen the joy in their faces and it was like a reset for the four of us. This was a micro-moment that I fondly look back at and know the hour reset helped us through a challenging time and a memory we all probably look back at and appreciate it helped to reduce our frictions. 

I have a deep appreciation for the artist KAWS, my girlfriend brought me a KAWS What Party Book recently and it is like an escape whenever I need it, from seeing his original tagging in New York (above image), to the more modern work where he floats a 115ft inflatable sculpture (image below).

This inspires me to think differently, think bigger or more broadly and understand that at a certain level you need to think differently, get out of your space, your industry and be inspired by different and more. 

There are many ways to reset work issues, some rely on music, others on walks, one thing I would love for you to do is to consider seeing more art, and less content in your social media feeds and get out to see or feel something someone has poured their heart and soul into creatively. 

Have a great week and remember MRS is real, the only way you improve MRS is by optimising meetings and your calendars. 


Danny Denhard

How can I help you? Need help improving your company culture or build strategy with people and performance at the same importance.


Other Essential Improving Work Resources

25 meeting recommendations to improve work 

It’s time for a calendar audit 

40 tips to improve work for everyone 

Approach a disconnected management team 

The solution to your team members’ burnout might not be the webinar that HR are offering.

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 109 – In-Office Operators: Are You Being Blinded By In-person Performance?

Dear Leaders, this week I want to introduce you to something that is likely bubbling under the surface of businesses who have returned to the office (be it part or full time).

Fair Hybrid? The return to the office has been playing out for a year in some countries and a few weeks in others. Hybrid work is now mostly the default choice within the office-based business world. 

Everyone is doing hybrid differently, flex work (remember renaming home to ‘workplace home’ to be on the same level of importance as the (workplace) office is going to reframe the negative conditioning) locations are where most have landed. 

Many adopt the popular 3:2, 3 in the office 2 at-home model. So the 3 days of in-person in-office time is being seen as more important people time. 

Many leaders are suggesting in person and in-office work is helping address issues. With hints of better connections and more collaboration. 

Many suggest performance has improved. Is this a temporary peak?
Or a trend that will continue? 

A Celebratory Micro-Moment? Should the leaders be celebrating this micro moment just yet? Or should we consider behaviour shifts, or, behaviour resets? 

A Quick Consideration: In-person is often a performance, several treating an office like a stage or a Shakespeare production? Remember the common thread in classic literature was the trusted confidant or friend… was actually the manipulative middle person, controlling situations and skillfully outwitting the protagonist or the leader who ultimately suffers a downfall? 

Performing: The office is often multiple performances a day, from 1:2:1 meetings, to cross-functional meetings, to team standups all performing for different audiences. 

The office is a series of politically-charged performances and games many have worked out in the return to the offices, you have to put on the work game face on again and perform to get ahead or put a brave face on to get your job done while navigating others doing this.

Is It A Win, A Loss Or A Draw? While ‘leadership’ reports returning to the office have been positive, are you seeing the return of the savvy in-office operator? 

Have we seen those who know how to work in-person system gaming the system in their favour? 

Have you seen the return of the savvy middle manager who knows how to answer questions better face to face?
Have we seen the reappearance of the manager (not leader) who can appear to police the in-person physical office more effective, where hierarchy and structure are almost fully recognised? Whereas online work removes some of this. 

Should this political intelligence be celebrated?
Or should this be something you should keep a closer eye on and understand from the signal not the noise of the performances.
Time to have a stance and step up to investigate. 

Leader Lead! Is this something to be concerned about as a leader? 


  • Have you seen individual performance and feedback actually change apart on the surface level? 
  • Has the performance increased over a prolonged period of time? 
  • Has the culture improved? 
  • Have you seen signals of your team members leaving and not reporting these characteristics in exit interviews and feedback sessions? 

These questions have to be answered by you. Ultimately coming down to trust and what environment you want and how you become an effective leader by creating a performance-driven people culture.


Danny Denhard 

Essential Supporting Resources