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Exploration in Entertainment Leadership

March 17, 2022

How to empower teams to constantly break new ground when operating in frontier markets and high growth industries

In recent years, online streaming services became a cornerstone of pop culture keeping millions entertained throughout a global pandemic. Technology has irreversibly changed the way the world consumes media sustaining the growth of this industry, which is forecasted to be in the neighbourhood of $192 billion from 2021 - 2025. 

Lavina Tauro is in the thick of the entertainment industry’s metamorphosis. Across her 22-year career, she’s worked with startups and one of the world’s largest media conglomerates. She set her sights on Southeast Asia over five years ago, joining Viu, a leading Asian over the top streaming service. At present, she is the company's Vice President for Marketing and Country Manager in Myanmar. Lavina shares her story as an industry veteran and imparts wisdom for first time managers in this space. 

Uncovering ‘Aha” Moments

There are three things that have helped Lavina thrive as a leader in the entertainment industry: entrepreneurial thinking, immersion in cognitively diverse teams and tenacity. These attributes she says were shaped largely by interactions with others - both customers and teams. 

Time and again, she’s found that trying to shape the market’s mindset to fit a product is bound to fail miserably. Instead, she takes cues from her customers. Letting go of assumptions and listening to consumers paves the way to uncovering market insights and “massive ‘aha’ moments”. It’s a process of observation more than it is about seeking direct feedback from customers. “Especially in the media space, in the digital space, the chances of them coming back and telling you what they want is this much”, she gestures with her thumb and index fingers two millimetres apart. “They themselves don’t know. ” Watching the market fosters understanding and enables one to pick up lessons from consumer behaviour. 

Similarly, active listening is a skill that underpins her interactions with her team. She refers to the concept of emptying the cup and takes it a step further. She encourages individuals to verbalise what they think of an idea - both positive and negative - and is careful to read between the lines: “It's the words they use. It's the topic that they choose. It's how they talk to you, what they feel. And so to me, that is all very important.” 

Approaching Opportunity in the Final Frontier

When Myanmar opened up to the rest of the world in 2013, most investors called it the final frontier, being the last untapped large Asian economy. The 7th iteration of the iPhone had hit the shelves by then but Myanmar was just warming up to mobile technology. “SIM cards then cost $200 and it changed overnight to $1.50”. Suddenly, mobile phones became much more accessible creating a market for parallel services like apps and websites. 

Lavina cautions us about the pitfalls of painting emergent markets with broad strokes. Too often, opportunity is quantified by percentages in Asian populations. “In India, a single digit percentage of the population is a very, very large number... Or when you say or 95% of the phones are there are smartphones, it kind of gives this sense of grandiosity to the entire thing. But the reality is that when you look at the people - just people and their adoption life cycle -  whether it is to a product or even their personal individual growth, it's very different.” Managers working in new markets are best served by sizing up their customer base and opportunities accurately. 

Bridging Cultural Gaps 

Some of the challenges Lavina encountered in Myanmar were also evident in other markets she worked in. For example, speaking English as a second language created communication barriers. She also noticed that the Myanmarese have a hierarchical culture, similar to many other Asian societies, making it difficult for employees to disagree with their bosses. 

Language and cultural barriers aside, it is important to remember when working in frontier markets that experiences, opportunities and ideas can be very new - absolutely alien even - to the local staff. “So there is guidance that is required, and sometimes guidance is in the form of hand-holding… As a manager, you have to be conscious of the fact that you're not grooming them to be doers. You have to groom them to be individual executors where they know that they can make decisions.”

Lavina shares two strategies she employs with her teams to overcome these hurdles. First, she creates avenues for anonymous feedback. It provides a safe space for individual opinions while validating their contributions even when they may be contrary to their manager’s position. Secondly, she cultivates relationships with and throughout her team by encouraging them to talk about things they are passionate about. She modelled the behaviour, regularly mentioning books or activities of interest to her. After some time, she invited others to do the same. Now, their weekly team calls begin with someone new taking 10 minutes to share a bit about themselves. 

Charting Your Career in Entertainment

To find their footing in the entertainment industry, Lavina recommends that first-time managers do three things: introspect, plan and accept feedback. 

  • Introspect

The media and entertainment industries can be glamorous but their hostile work cultures have come under scrutiny. First-time managers should reflect on positive and negative experiences they’ve had. From there, they can figure out how to replicate the good and learn from less pleasant situations. 

  • Plan

Clarity of purpose as a manager shapes the way one handles their team. “Articulate your purpose of what you want to be as a manager. What is it that you would want people to talk about you in the future?” Solid fundamentals and a plan made a big difference in personal development as a leader.

  • Accept feedback

“Many times people are not OK with feedback at the senior level but if you inculcate that early on, you will take feedback for what it is. You won't be averse to it.” Making positive changes to the work environment often starts with oneself. 

Seeing Development Opportunities as a Two-Way Street

“We are always told: when you get an opportunity, raise your hand. Say that you will do it and things will follow, right?” Lavina has learned over the course of her career that this advice is incomplete. “I feel that it's very important early on to establish the rules of engagement for anything that you raise your hand for”. These pursuits are meant to be a two way street and signing up for them, “You should value your time. You should value what you bring in upfront.” Especially for those looking to transition to a new industry or line of work, experience in another domain shouldn’t be dismissed. Instead, the value exchange ought to be clarified.  

Reflection questions

Leaders operating in frontier markets and high growth industries constantly break new ground. 

  • What assumptions about your team, organisation and market might you need to reconsider? 
  • In what ways are you empowering your team members to become individual executors?
  • As you pursue new opportunities, how might you clarify the value proposition on both sides?

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