What does it take to lead in a creative industry?

Today in our leadership series we head to Los Angeles to hear from Virgin Produced’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Tobin Armbrust, who discusses the importance of creating the right space for a team to operate in.

Hey Tobin, so tell us about what it takes to lead at Virgin Produced.

Virgin Produced is in the business of being creative. Part of our day is always spent working on scripts, identifying new properties (books, comics, remakes, etc.), recruiting talent (writers, actors, directors, musicians) and tying it all together into our film, television, digital and music endeavours.

To lead in a creative space takes on a slightly different meaning than the leadership needed when engaged in sales or acquisitions or marketing.  When you are producing an entertainment property you are really facilitating. Our ultimate goal is to marry inspired ideas with great talent to create entertaining stories. Leadership in our business is knowing how to create environments that allow artists the space and security to exercise their talents. We interject our own creative ideas into this process while at the same time facilitating the financing, sales, marketing and distribution of the end product.

What's the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?

Listen. Obviously it’s important to lead by example and to set a course for the company, but none of this is possible without having the pulse of your co-workers. Creating an environment in which people can express their views on a professional and personal level is integral to leading an organisation. By listening to colleagues, a leader can help formulate and augment the vision and strategy for the company.

What’s been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Hiring is difficult in the best of times and has always been an area where I’ve made mistakes and then learned from them. Identifying a need within your organisation is the easy part. Hiring the right person to address that need can be difficult because its human nature to project your hopes onto that person even though there may be signs that they aren’t right for the job. I have had to evolve my techniques over the years to avoid over-selling a position or selectively editing out the more mundane/difficult parts of a job when recruiting a candidate we really want. The way to avoid this mistake is through experience and being self aware during the process. My advice; avoid putting blinders on when recruiting top talent.

In your opinion, what’s the difference between leadership and management?

Leadership is intertwined with management, obviously. Managers are leaders and leaders are managers. The difference probably revolves around vision and strategy. A leader is integral in formulating vision and strategy, articulating that vision and strategy to the outside world and the internal team and then deploying the company’s resources in order to meet goals. Beyond that, I think a leader constantly questions the status quo. To do this you need to be aware of what innovation looks like inside and outside of your company and be prepared to foment change as needed. A company can fall into a rut, especially when it’s been successful, of going through the motions and ignoring introspection.

How do you inspire other leaders in the business?

I know that I get inspired through networking and sharing stories with other executives and owners. Hearing about how others have built and ran their companies as well as their personal stories always gets me fired up. I don’t think you can set out to inspire someone per se, but by being honest and open about your experiences, you may end up doing just that.

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