Defining Leadership in the Cable World

The following is an excerpt of a speech by Kathleen Dore, president of Bravo Networks, delivered on July 31 at the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Forum 2002 in Denver, Colo.

Our post-Sept. 11, post-Enron, collapse world could use better leaders. Even more than that, it could use the unique perspective women bring to leadership roles.

I've always thought about leadership in two distinct 'chunks.' There's getting there, and then there's staying there. There's three key abilities that get you there and one primary challenge you must meet to stay there.

First of all, you must be able to create a culture … your culture, colored by who you are and what you have to accomplish. To create a culture, you must understand what you believe in and what you're good at, and then be able to relate your beliefs and your strengths to what you have to do.

When I joined Bravo nearly 14 years ago, the network was failing as an elite premium service devoted to the classical arts. I had grown up in a small college town in Iowa, loving the arts and believing that everyone could share that passion and be better off for it. I think that because I was clear in my own head that I valued things like new experiences, making a difference in people's lives, collaboration and fun. I was also clear that Bravo's culture should become one of sharing the arts experience more widely, engaging people from all walks of like, making it fun and working within my own company in a collaborative way.

This clarity of your own values has a snowballing effect in your organization, because you engage other people in those same values. In the end, the ability to create a culture provides a framework for those you lead. And that framework describes the significance of what they do.

Second, a leader must be able to create a focus. This means you have a clear agenda and seek a definitive outcome. You must be able to communicate both that outcome and
the passion you have for it because that is what
draws others in and inspires confidence in them. Then, focus that passion with laser-like intensity on the outcome you seek.

When we created the Independent Film Channel, my focus was very clear. I wanted IFC to define the category. What Xerox used to be to copiers, and what Nike is to athletic shoes, I wanted IFC to be to independent film. That focus led us to launch [IFC] immediately to preempt competition. Three years later, it clarified our expansion choices and led us to expand into film production and distribution so we could control more content and have the IFC brand visible at more points along the distribution chain.

Creating a focus functions for your team as the light at the end of the tunnel. It enables them to picture what success looks like. If you can picture it, it very likely can be done.

Third, a leader must be able to create trust. On the surface, this seems the most difficult because trust is so subjective. But if we break it down, it's really straightforward. You create trust by being predictable, reliable and honest about who you are and what you expect.

Trust isn't about people agreeing with you or the way you choose to do things and it isn't about your personal
style. Trust is about giving your team a base of security about your behavior and your expectations. If, as a leader, you can secure this trust, it gives
people permission to act. And they
act more efficiently, effectively and productively when they trust.

Once we've 'arrived,' and are using these three abilities to lead a group of people in an undertaking we feel passionate about,
the question becomes: What gives us staying power? What is it that will make us effective when that 'change' word rears its ugly head?

The key to 'staying there' once you've 'arrived' is your ability to understand and use power. This is not an easy challenge. Effectively using power involves moving away from a model which focuses on you, and how far and how fast you can push people. Instead, it focuses on using your skills, abilities and experience as a 'force multiplier' which pulls others toward you, makes them want to engage with you in the undertaking you're about. To be a 'force multiplier' you must do two things:

  • First, master your own worth. Develop a healthy self-confidence based on a realistic view of your abilities and a definitive plan for your own continued development and learning. Then
    extend this approach to others and provide them with opportunities to develop their own self-confidence in a relatively secure setting
  • Second, proactively manage risk. This isn't about eliminating risk … or failure, for that matter.
    Failure is highly underrated as a learning experience. The important thing is to understand how much risk you're assuming in a given situation, be comfortable with that risk level, and actively look for ways to reduce the risk even if you're comfortable.

A few years ago, a film script came to the attention of our film production unit. It was a controversial story on a tough subject with an inexperienced director attached, and a lead character which would be difficult to cast. All of us agreed it was a risky venture and we passed on funding the film.

However, our head of film development tracked the film, which received financing from another source and began shooting on location in Texas. When she heard they were looking for additional funding quickly, she flew to Texas and came back with 10 minutes of footage. She called me and said, 'we're watching one of the most amazing performances we've ever seen.' Based on that judgment of the 10-minute segment, I approved financing 50 percent of what became Hilary Swank's Academy Award winning performance in Boys Don't Cry.

In this situation, our risk had been significantly reduced by seeing 10 minutes of work by this director and this actor, and my management team had the confidence to know a great performance when they saw it.
People who manage risk appropriately expand the range of activities they will attempt. People who have confidence based on a realistic view of self increase the number of things they succeed at. Combine those two results for each member of your team and you have a force multiplier effect: the number of things that get done and the number of things done well expands dramatically. That's success … the only thing that can really ensure lasting power.

So now we've not only arrived but demonstrated we have staying power. So what?

Is it enough to have gone to all this effort, spent all this time, simply for our own career development and personal growth? The answer is probably yes. But I think there's a bigger picture, a higher calling to leadership that women in our industry must embrace.

Today in the media and telecom industry, 9 percent of board seats are held by women, 13 percent of executive positions are held by women, 41 percent of all jobs in cable television are held by women, while over
50 percent of our customers are women.

We are professional women in an industry, which arguably touches the majority of Americans for hours each day. For that reason alone, it is vital that we develop an independent and collective female voice and have a role in determining not only the direction our industry will take in the future, but the values and approach we will use to grow and expand as a social and cultural force.

At Bravo Networks,
60 percent of the executives are women. More than half of the entire staff is women. I think that reflecting both the makeup of the population in general and our customer base in particular makes us a very different, and more effective, organization. And I think both the men and the women at Bravo would agree. That's my answer to the 'so what' question. That's why developing women leaders is such an important undertaking.

For each of us to ensure that outcome, we must commit a great deal of effort to getting there … and to staying there. We must create cultures, focus and trust which engage others, and then use our power as a force multiplier to ensure that our organizations are successful, diverse and wise.