Sam @CUSP Conference 2015

Monday, June 30, 2014

Leadership is a responsibility not an entitlement

People sometimes ask me for advice as they pursue their own dreams or embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. And I never know what to share with them because there are so many lessons and variables associated with making your dreams a reality. But, I thought today I would sit down and write about  two major lessons I have learned over the past couple months and share them with anyone out there who wants to manifest the things they have dreamed about or fantasized about in their own lives. 

The first thing anyone should know as they embark on chasing their dreams is that it is HARD. I mean, really, really HARD. It's so much easier to work for someone else, collect your paycheck every two weeks and know that if you get sick or hurt, you have a great health insurance policy that will help you get better. There is nothing easy about deciding to let go of the comfort of a 9-to-5 for a dream that may or may not work out. Period. 

After my departure from corporate America ten months ago, I decided to pursue my dream of having a Shakespeare company here in the city of Detroit, full-time. 

During this time I have experienced some remarkable things -- like having nearly 738 people show up for Shakespeare in Detroit's groundbreaking performance of "Antony and Cleopatra" in sub-zero weather, in a recycling center. Amazing! We were also honored by Mayor Mike Duggan prior to this performance and have been well received by large entities and individuals alike. 

We have also experienced some failures like not reaching our "all or nothing" goal on Kickstarter. The good news is that, I am from Detroit so I used my innate resourcefulness to still make the shows happen. That's the great thing about being from this city. We are born to defy the odds. 

So, there has been good and bad and beautiful. But none of it has been easy, by any means. 

Now, let's get to the lessons...

LESSON #1 Commit to your mission statement

The biggest lesson that I have learned so far is that living and dying by your mission statement is crucial to the process. Once you have truly defined what your business is and found that it has worked, it is important to stand strong. 

Our mission of high-quality, professional theater has meant that I have had to make some changes from concept to casting for the benefit of our shows and company. One of our audience members was recently quoted in the Metro Times as saying: "Congratulations, Detroit. We now have a world-class Shakespeare company.”  And I take that extremely serious. I look at that audience POV (point-of-view) as a responsibility. Our audience means everything and it is important that we give them what they have now come to expect. It's not about an individual. It's not about ego. It's about our people -- Our audience. In some businesses, your "people" may be referred to as the consumer. And, it's important that you not only give your consumer the product or service they expect, but it's also important to exceed their expectations and anticipate their needs. Your mission statement should serve those needs. 

While the consumer comes first, that is not to say that your employees are not important. In fact, they are your greatest resource to executing the product or service your company is expected to deliver to its audience. 

It is important to be a good listener and to be fair. But, again, the mission of your company has to always be at the forefront of your mind. And when you are in a leadership position, I've learned, you can be kind, compassionate and supportive when managing a group. However, you can't be a friend. Friendship is usually unconditional -- for the most part -- but the conditions you abide by in business are contingent upon meeting and exceeding the needs of your consumer. It's a fine balance that I am still learning to navigate. But, I'm learning. And for those of you who are artists, like myself, you'll find this aspect of entrepreneurship very difficult because as artists we operate from the heart. But, if you plan on being an entrepreneur, you have to find a way to operate from your head (but still with compassion, fairness and other soft skills). Like I said, it's HARD!

LESSON #2 Change is good 

I recently celebrated my second anniversary since I graduated from Tech Town with my business plan. And Shakespeare in Detroit will celebrate its one year anniversary since its first performance ("Othello" at Grand Circus Park, August 2013). My team and I have learned a lot during this time. 

The great news about the good and the bad and the beautiful is that you learn something from all of those experiences. 

I've learned that having my time off to focus on Shakespeare in Detroit has been great for the company and creating awareness. But what is good for the company -- at this point -- isn't always good for Sam. There have been countless examples of personal and professional growth. But, there has been a lot of sacrifice including having to eat a lot of P&J sandwiches and tuna to help finance our fundraising and production endeavors. And, so, it is time for this girl to go back to corporate America. A door has been opened for me and I am walking through it beginning next week. And I have to tell you, I am excited about the idea of collecting my paycheck every two weeks and knowing that if I get sick or hurt, I have a great health insurance policy that will help me get better. That does not mean that Shakespeare in Detroit will go away, by any means. It just means I will be well fed while pursuing it.

So my schedule is changing and we have another major change coming down the pike. 

As many of you know (those who have followed the journey with us since the beginning), I have controlled all of the administrative work at the company. However, I will soon report to a board who will manage me and help me grow the company to its full potential. It's a really awesome change that I know will only make Shakespeare in Detroit better. Most of them have been mentors to me and they have a breadth of business knowledge that I don't have. That is extremely important to long-term success. 

Change is me!

Just to recap the two biggest lessons I've learned are: 

1. Standing firm by your mission statement and learning to balance your heart from your head. 
2. Change is actually really good. Things may be different, but sometimes they are for the best (As an entrepreneur if you don't take care of yourself, how can you take care of your business?)

Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things in the world. My hat is off to all of the folks out there who have done it and done it well. 

If you're on the brink of entrepreneurship, it's important to remember that leadership is a responsibility, not an entitlement. That way, you can keep an open, humble, flexible spirit throughout the process and when those lessons come, you'll learn  and become better because of them. 

Break a leg!

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