There are endless lists on what entrepreneurs should know before starting a business, but none such as telling as Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s article The Eleven Laws of Showrunning.
Producing a show is much like running a business, there are characters involved, decisions to be made, and a presence that creates a connection with an audience (if done well). As an entrepreneur focused brand, I know just how vital it is to master every step of the process, but Javier offers an insightful take on what we all should consider when building a showstopping brand.
The answer is that “simple” doesn’t mean “easy”. The simplest decisions are often the hardest because they demand a painful concession to an unpleasant truth. Every one of the Eleven Laws asks for the same thing: the surrender of a quantum of attachment to a showrunner’s idea of themselves as the fountainhead of the show’s greatness to serve the show and those who work to make it.”
A brand’s vision is hard to create on its own (and I would know, I have three brands!). Each brand I have created is uniquely different and I love what each has to offer across the fashion and beauty industry, but even I know that ultimate vision is hard to communicate to other people.
Inviting a team into your vision is a whole different story than when working on a business idea on your own. As Javier talks about in the first law, he points out that our vision as showrunner’s can be used in immensely positive ways, but it takes a few steps to get there. That process can begin when we recognize it takes a team to get anywhere. And not just any team - a team that believes in your vision too!
“It’s on you to invest your staff in the vision of the show - in your vision - and turn them into true believers and dedicated workers who will go the extra mile. You can do that by giving them the opportunity to express themselves within the framework you have created.”
The question is how do we let our team be their best when it feels like you’re looking after every need of a brand in it’s early stages of life?
The key is to communicate well and let go! I know my team has my back and they each have incredible gifts to bring to the table. Javier calls out the first law as nearly a warning to showrunners. If we don’t get out of the way of others who are bringing their best to the table, our companies will never reach their full potential.
“Are you strong and secure enough in your talent and accomplishment to accept the possibility that other people - properly empowered by you - can actually enhance your genius…or will you cling to the ideas that only you can be the source of that genius? How you answer that question determines the leader you will be.”
Much of what we do as entrepreneurs is storytelling. We share the ins and outs of our business and products hoping that it resonates with others who have similar dreams to us. I know for myself, my company Emikeni is focused on developing avenues where women’s voices are the forefront of new inventions and entrepreneurship in how to run brands that make a difference.
Talking about this vision is easy in its early stages, but asking a team to implement those ideas is next level leadership. Javier’s advice in the second law is to know your business so well, that you can repeat it with ease and everyone knows exactly where to steer the boat.
“As a showrunner, you must communicate your vision so that everyone understands it, and then preach it, day in and out, to the point of exhaustion until everyone feels it in their soul like a gospel. And here’s the great part of successfully communicating a shared vision: your employees will love you for it.”
Think back to the moment you launched your first business. You had all the jitters and nervousness about whether it would work, and with a lot of hard work it did! Then comes the reflection part - what did and didn’t work (and all the miscommunication gaps inevitably that grew wider between you and your team in the process).
Communicating sounds simple at first, but as your brand grows bigger it can be hard to keep all the information syncing together. When you successfully share your vision from the start, your team will know exactly how to spread the message clearly. In turn, there is no confusion about who you are, or what your company is about.
“Bottom line: the creativity of your staff isn’t for coming up with your core ideas for you, it’s for making your core ideas bigger and better once you’ve come up with them.”
When it comes down to it, being an entrepreneur is about developing ideas where you can bring on a team that not only makes your vision come to life, but can be a story worth telling to an audience who loves your brand.
I have admired entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely and Joy Mongano my whole life. They are female entrepreneurs who, despite all odds and every closed door, created inventions and products that we still love and use today. They found the golden road to success, but it seems simple to look at it in retrospect.
We don’t see the grit and grind of the behind the scenes that many of us go through when trying to bootstrap a business. Javier offers insight into how to define a better path to success, and that starts with having done the research to define objectives for your business to reach.
“A clear direction is an indication of trust: your way of saying “I have taken the time and effort to figure out our goal. I now acknowledge that you have the knowledge and resources to figure out the process.”
This goes back to the above law - trust your team to get the job done! At Emikeni, I believe in thoughtful leadership that gives my team the space to step up in their skills for us to reach our company objectives.
That starts with a clear direction about where I want to go, and my team helps us all get there together.
Javier immediately calls us entrepreneurs out in the fourth law - we are averse to making tough decisions.
“And yet, an aversion to making decisions is a massively common showrunning dysfunction. It comes out of an understandable insecurity: once you make a decision, the world knows where you stand.”
On one hand we are worried about making the wrong decisions for our brand, but on the other side of it we are worried that it will hurt our team. Javier points out that avoiding decisions actually harms our teams further in the long run. It blocks them from doing their job to their best ability and bottlenecks genius ideas for our company.
Our job as entrepreneurial leaders is to make decisions (even when they are uncomfortable) and to commit to make more decisions just like it. To quote Javier - “Commit early. Commit often.”
We have to make the tough calls. In making those brave and bold decisions, it helps our companies grow and eliminates barriers for our team too.
As entrepreneurs, our job is to see the full vision of our business and our products. That means not leaving people guessing about what it could or could not be. Javier warns if we continually are frustrated with employees and their ability to do their job, we need to rethink how we approach the creation of ideas. In other words, we need to clearly build from the ground up.
Building out ideas often means we have to take ourselves out of the equation to see the full picture. Handing off our ideas to a team may seem difficult at first, but as a result, we get to see the amazing things our teams can do when we stop standing in the way of their bright ideas.
“You take the leap of faith that the professionals you hired can execute on the page what is shorthanded on the board.”
What’s the main lesson from the fifth law? Give ideas time with the right people, and you will get a whole lot more in return.
The strongest point for entrepreneurs to take away from the sixth law doesn’t have as much to do with revising itself, but more about how to hold yourself to the same standards you expect from your team.
“...dysfunctional showrunners routinely avail themselves significantly longer spans of time to write their own scripts. This destroys morale - as your staff sees you taking liberties you would not give to any of them - and causes chaos in production.”
You can choose to be a change agent in your own business by advocating for processes of movement, or you can (often accidentally) be the block that is in the way. If you are continually having to redo or rewrite things that should be someone else’s role on the team, then it may be time to reevaluate those processes and the direction you are giving.
This law is all about creating tangible steps for your brand, and the best advice Javier gives is that “your best ideas will survive criticism.” So don’t be afraid to step forward with your ideas, just remember how to hold yourself accountable and give your team the best possible direction to deliver in their areas of expertise.
With or without ego in the way, entrepreneurs are often needed in more places than they are able to give. This relates all the way back to the first law and how implementing the second law becomes even more vital.
While your job as a leader in your business is to track targets, it helps to equip your team well so they can be a voice for your vision. It frees up time in your schedule to get the important high level actions done and directs your team with more attention to the objectives as a whole.
In my own company, I had to learn (with some difficulty) to give up the heavy burden of stress on my hands trying to be too many places at once. As Javier points out, “entrepreneurship is the Everest of work.” There is a lot to plan for, but there are also incredible people with the skills to help you get there. Much like the outdoor gear you need to climb a mountain, it helps to know what you need in order to delegate tasks to the right people, at the right time.
“The more your stories represent the purest version of your vision, the more involved will be your writer’s knowledge of that vision.”
Avoiding the glamour means not being blinded by the flashy roles of running your business. Especially if you are a CEO, brand model, and the showrunner all at once. Javier also lends advice to the issue of being a “time bandit,” meaning that sometimes as showrunners we want to fix things to fit a specific image when it is already too late. This results in your team working exhaustive hours over something that could have used a more clear vision from the beginning.
It is a hard lesson to realize at first, but a necessary (if not inevitable) one for any entrepreneur learning how to run a business and successful brand.
“The longer you spend with your other departments, the more you rob from them the time they need to actually do their job…most of them will be too nice to tell you to go away and let them work.”
In other words, don’t be the helicopter in your own business that keeps production at a standstill. Keep your eye on the vision and keep conversations concise for team member input on whether your brand is communicating its message well to your customers.
I spun this law into my own words - we as leaders have to be compassionate about varying degrees of skills across our team. In some cases we may have veterans in the field, while others are just beginning to get their feet in the business world.
“Among the many keys to being a successful mentor is the understanding that - when you have have a room full of writers of different ranks and levels of ability - they will all perform on the page, and in the the writers room differently.”
Javier points out a key difference in personalities when in charge of a team. There may be people on your team who talk the whole meeting, while others show their skills behind the scenes. The point is to not keep everybody crammed into a box expecting cookie cutter outcomes. Your team are human, and will need various levels of communication and support, especially if you are starting a new brand for the first time.
“Sometimes it’s more expedient to stall until you find the time to fix it yourself. It’s also wrong. You hired them. You teach them.”
Stalling in order for you to fix something is a common issue for entrepreneurs! We have all the ideas in our head, but at some point or another, we failed to communicate the deliverable accurately. As a result, a task is blocked and may never be revisited with our attention directed elsewhere.
In Javier’s ninth law, he recognizes that as a leaders we earn love by acknowledging that everyone’s gifts are different and giving a safe space for employees to try new ideas (even fail and succeed at them) creates stronger teams and an even better company.
Truth in business can be unpleasant, but as a leader you want to be the source of where the information is coming from, always.
“Make truth telling your business, rumor control your secondary vocation, and complete transparency your ultimate goal”
Javier warns that our teams should not be hostages of protection for us to save face against any situation. We have to lead with transparency about all aspects of our business for our team to work well with one another and for our brand to uphold integrity where it counts.
“Transparency streamlines your life. Being transparent before anyone can be transparent for you means you control the narrative.”
This also relates to controlling your brand’s own narrative too! Deliver news early before anyone else has the chance to dictate who your brand is.
In the eleventh law, Javier shares that we should always celebrate individual’s work that got our companies to a new level. Your team depends on you for a living, but also looks to you on a creative and emotional level. Your audience listens to how you celebrate your team and it truly is the gift that keeps on giving when you acknowledge individual team member efforts and celebrate them.
“The more credit you give, the more credit you get - for being a genius and hiring a great staff, for being a good boss and a nice person who can acknowledge the contributions of others”
Javier calls creativity a renewable resource where your business is fed by everything around it, especially the incredible people you hired to get your business to the next milestone. Be the renewable resource that gives your team time to expand their skills, grow your company, and create meaningful customer experiences.
Javier gives valuable insight in how to be a showrunner that leads a business to its full potential. What’s the main takeaway?
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
While we have all the ideas that could flood a room, we still need the skills to communicate our brand stories with precision and get out of the way of our amazing team to do their absolute best in their expertise. In return, we can lead growing companies that make meaningful change across industries.
Do you have insights or thoughts about the Eleven Laws of Showrunning? Comment below!