We can truthfully say that effective strategic leadership kept TLA alive for 33 years in a variety of manifestaions.
Casting a strategic vision is imperative for effectively leading others into an uncertain future.
Successful leaders are able to anticipate future trends and needs, weave those into the company or personal mission and vision, and then communicate a plan to a diverse audience in a manner that inspires action.
Being grounded in your values gives you the guideposts for staying true to your mission.
All of this was true for us as we survived 33 years of our business – and yes, I started VERY young! We navigatged the technology changes, changing partners, and several economic downturns along the way. I’ll highlight some of the transitions below.
But first, let’s look at the the five primary elements of effective strategic leadership.
Watching current and future trends carefully
Knowing your company’s core mission or purpose, vision and values
Creatively and decisively planning for the future
Communicating that plan effectively and enthusiastically to your team
Making sure that everyone is set up to implement the plan successfully
The ability to look ahead with foresight and perspective can make the difference between surviving and striving or failing miserably. Kodak is a clear example of this. Their leaders ignored the threat and opportunity of the digital world, and the consequences have left a shell of the former giant company.
I am very proud of how my former company survived all the changes we faced. I hope our story demonstrates what can happen when you follow the steps above.
In my former business, planning strategically took us through several significant market shifts quite successfully. My business partner was very adept at spotting upcoming changes that would affect our business and bringing that to the team’s attention. Over the years, working together, we transitioned from TLA, The Theater of the Living Arts movie theater to video store to online sales.
In 1995, as our older movie, calendar style of theater was fading away, we launched our first two video stores right next to those theaters. The country saw a high of over 200 repertory cinemas decline to just 24 in a two-year period. To my knowledge, we were the only ones to make the jump.
Then we watched the increasing trend of people buying videos online and again, we were one of the few independently owned video stores to have an online retail site. We then ran film festivals and opened a film distribution arm.
Sadly, we did not make the very expensive transition over to the streaming model, but because of our strong online presence and film rights, we were able to sell for millions of dollars with my guidance and perseverance.
Our core mission was always to provide a wide variety of films in whatever format we were using, with a knowledgeable staff and later, deep, and proprietary film reviews, that would enlighten and entertain our customers. All our endeavors and businesses supported this mission.
We created our own film database which ran the website. In addition to the writing of several of the partners, we hired expert editors for the content. You can still buy our 2005 film guide online! Our stores were laid out like bookstores and our store staff had to pass a film quiz to get hired. We eventually ran 29 films festivals in Philadelphia, including 10 years of the Philadelphia Film Festival, which led us to create our own film distribution line. First, we sold our VHS and then DVD films to Blockbuster and Hollywood, followed by the sale of the streaming rights to Amazon and Netflix as we adjusted to the changing formats and outlets.
All along the way, we remained true to our core mission. While we all watched the trends, I give my partner credit for almost obsessively reading and exploring what was happening in the film market to keep us one step ahead. He brought his ideas to the team so clearly that we were inspired to work enthusiastically and carefully on the implementation. We had truly amazing people working for and with us and their talents greatly contributed to our award-winning and profitable company.
From this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about how to lead and execute with foresight and careful planning. My coaching and the training materials have benefited from having been there, done that.
Now that you have the elements, here are some tools you can use to help you be more strategic and forward thinking.
* Take time to plan and strategize
* Get clear on your mission, vision, and values
* Read and learn as much as possible
* Get outside perspectives
* Be willing to take risks
Set aside time to work on your business, not just in your business
This is important on both a personal and a business level. We spent hours in meetings planning our next moves. While it is often useful to do it with someone else, making the time for your own future is important even if you are doing it alone.
A former hairdresser I know went away for a weekend every year with her business partner to plan the next year. She credits that with successfully implanting their plan of profitably and predictably selling their business after 20 years. I highly recommend putting that time on your calendar and treating it as sacred.
Make sure to get your mission and vision clear
This will ensure that as you face the need to pivot, you have guideposts that will help to make choices in alignment with your values. A friend of mine was running a very successful company that conducted exit interviews with restaurant employees. After COVID, she successfully branched out and started offering the same services to other industries, helping her weather the decrease in her restaurant clientele.
Using your core strengths can make decisions more logical and easier to enact.
Make a commitment to read, listen to or watch something that broadens your perspective
The opportunity for learning has never been better. The trick is setting aside the time to take advantage of the options. It can make all the difference between seeing the change before it’s too late or getting caught off guard.
Make time to find and speak with others who can introduce you to new ideas
Speaking with other people can offer spontaneous ideas and connections you might miss otherwise. The give and take of conversation offer a door to opportunities and insights. who might have information you want or need, have a business you admire, or have set a great example you’d like to follow.
Be willing to take a risk in a new direction
In my example, I have given you the victories but along the way there were a few risks that did not pan out. The trick is to pay attention and to make modifications as needed. For example, one of the video stores we opened along the way grossed significantly less money than all of the other stores, so we closed it within a year rather than dragging it out. We absorbed the inventory and staff as much as possible, learned a lesson about psychographics and moved on without regret.
Anyone can become a more effective strategic leader by paying attention to these elements and tools. Today more than ever, this is an essential element of success or failure. It starts with awareness and the commitment to implement some of these concepts.