10 Tips to Put You on the Leading Edge of Your Career

LEADING EDGE, Suzanne Lyons

Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons

This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.


10 Tips to Put You on the Leading Edge of Your Career

In my last article, my focus was on turning our weaknesses into strengths.  It leads perfectly into this week’s topic… “10 Tips to Put you on the Leading Edge.”   No matter what level or what facet of the entertainment industry we’re in, it’s our job to keep raising the bar.  The bigger we get the more we allow the people around us to rise to the occasion.  It’s in that type of space that people shine and their creative brilliance will shine through as well.

As I always do with each of these topics, I engaged in an inquiry on Leadership.  I listened, observed and inquired.  I read and researched.  Looked at people I respected and admired… remembered people who inspired.  Recalled presidents, teachers and heroes… thought about the average guy and gal who quietly make a difference and enrich our world.   And did some soul searching of my own.   It all boiled down to this, leaders are people who make the extraordinary possible… who hold a vision for life and see the world not as it is, but as it could be.

The more I worked on the characteristics that define a leader, the more I realized that each and every one of us is one.  I think we’ve just forgotten.  We’ve become comfortable and complacent.  In the words of Marianne Williamson and quoted by Nelson Mandela,

“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

So, it’s time to step up to the plate.  I’ve come up with well over twenty tips to help you strengthen your ‘leadership’ muscle, so I’ll continue Part II in the next article.  In the meantime, stay in the inquiry, and enjoy using these tips to enhance your leadership skills.

1) PLAY BIG OR GO HOME

Are you playing big and taking 100% responsibility for your actions?  I admit, this one is painful.  It is so much easier to think that someone else is partly responsible.  Much easier to blame and pass the buck.  YOU are 100% responsible for every and all aspects of your life.  Not 90%, not even 99%.  100% responsible!  Listen to your conversations with yourself and others, take a look at your actions on a daily basis.  Are you really being 100% accountable? Anything less renders you powerless.

And I’m sorry but we don’t get to play that game.  Many of you reading this article are producers, exec producers, line producers, and directors.  Even those of you who are editors, cinematographers, writers, actors, etc. are responsible for what you do and who you ‘be’ on set, in the office or in the writers’ room.   We must rise above… every single time.

We don’t get to be involved in the drama.  Our job is to put the drama on the screen or the stage where it belongs.   Being a leader takes work and commitment.  So, start observing yourself, your conversations and your actions.  How are you occurring for others?  A tough question but an important one to consider.

2) SEE AND BE THE BIG PICTURE

I was reading an old issue of Oprah’s magazine and loved what she said, “The thrill is to keep envisioning what can be and then have the guts to go for it and make it real. Imagine that!”  If your focus is on the way it is and not on the way you say it’s going to be then there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are. That is not leadership.  As I suggested in previous articles, look 25 (or more) years into the future and write down your accomplishments, vision, dreams, goals, desires.

This exercise will take you out of the daily content of your life and will put everything in a context (a bigger picture).  As you make the commitment to who you’re going to “be” and what you’re going to “do” in the future, it actually alters who you are in the present… today… right now.  I have to admit this one is not easy.

Usually the conversation in our head takes over and we start to think of the times we didn’t succeed, didn’t get the call back, didn’t push ourselves to make those cold calls, weren’t able to raise the money for our film.  I’ve been there many time.  When my husband spoke at one of my workshops I asked him why he was so successful at getting the jobs he wanted in TV.

I asked him how he managed to do such a great job in those interviews.  He said that before he walked into the room, he thought about someone who inspired him, someone whose commitment was far bigger than their fear.  For him it was Joan Holmes, Founder and President of the Hunger Project for thirty years.  He said that he would stand in her shoes, take on her leadership qualities, and bring that into the interview.

By doing that he (his fears, concerns, negative conversations, etc.) got out of the way.  He walked in being brilliant, unstoppable, creative, vivacious, full of possibilities and all the other leadership qualities that Ms. Holmes possessed.  The funny thing is that he (like you and me) already have those qualities.  We’ve just let our fear get in the way.

3) PLAY THE GAME

There is a quote in the lyrics of a song by the pop band ‘Reverend & the Makers’ that really says it all, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”  Isn’t that the best?  It’s all about getting up to bat… to risk… to create the next gap for yourself and be willing to stand on the abyss… on nothing.  As a leader you no longer get to sit on the sidelines and have an opinion about the way it should be.  Get on the field, play the game, live on the edge, risk!

4) BE WILLING TO TAKE A STAND

Okay, this is a hard one for most of us.  We are so trained, so brainwashed to conform.  Taking a stand seems impossible.  But look for a minute at the alternative… losing your self-expression, your aliveness, your passion.  I did a workshop, called the 6-Day, years ago where I was repelling off mountains and doing zip lines hundreds of feet in the air.

The t-shirts we wore said, “May you live every day of your life.”  How can we do that if we are following someone else’s rules, someone else’s agenda, someone else’s dream?   Take a stand… in the face of little or no agreement.  It’s okay.  You have your own guidance system… use it… trust it.  It’s what leaders do.   

5) GO THE EXTRA MILE

In Jack Canfield’s book, “The Success Principles” he says,

“Exceeding expectations helps you stand above the crowd.”

A concept that I fear is really missing in our culture and our entertainment industry these days.  I had lunch with an executive at a big production company recently and she told me she’d been interviewing interns and how disheartening it was for her.  Almost without fail she said, their question was “What’s in it for me?” and “What will I get out of it?”  No one was saying, “What can I do for you?”

6) STAYING PRESENT

I realize I’m asking a lot here.  You’re busy, really busy, juggling multiple balls in the air.  I get it.  However, practicing this one skill can do more than just put you on the leading edge.  It will improve your health, your energy level and your state of mind.  In addition, being present impacts those around you.  When you’re truly present, you’re centered and you’re being your authentic self.

That allows others the opportunity to be authentic as well.  It’s a gift you give to people.  Try a few minutes of meditation each day and stop periodically and do some deep breathing.  See what works for you and trust that the process will be well worth it.  You own it to your cast and crew, your owe it to the folks you’re working with and playing with and most importantly, you owe it to yourself.

7) LISTEN

If you want to be on the leading edge and you’re truly committed to exploring the characteristics that define leadership, then take a serious look at this one.  There are a few things I want to point out here.  Number one is the skill itself.  Practice listening… really listening.  Usually, we’re so busy thinking of what we’re going to say, we barely hear the other person.

Try repeating back to them what you think you’ve heard.  Number two is about listening for their greatness.   Listen to people as if gold and diamonds are coming out of their mouths. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll hear.  Thirdly, stop listening to people’s negative stories and complaints.  You’re only indulging them into perpetuating more of the same.  It serves no one.  Stop them and ask if their story is empowering them… when they say no, then change the conversation.  

8) CAUSE vs. EFFECT

YOU are in charge, what you think about you bring about.  You get to decide the way it goes. You are the one causing your life to unfold.  How great is that?  In Fred Mandell & Kathleen Jordan’s book, “Becoming a Life Change Artist” they talk about leaders as “enthusiastic explorers.”  I just had to share that with you.

Wouldn’t that be a fun and empowering way to describe yourself as a leader, an enthusiastic explorer!  To be ongoingly, moment by moment, committed to being the one causing your life to happen and never being a victim of the circumstances that surround you.  Since what ‘has been’ has nothing to do with what ‘will be’ why not be a deliberate creator of your own reality.

9) A SENSE OF HUMOR 

In an article on the characteristics of a leader in HR World they say that a sense of humor is vital and that it fosters good camaraderie.  To me it’s as simple as this… if you’re having fun and loving what you do, people will want to play with you.

The minute I catch myself taking life too seriously I immediately make a point of turning it around and looking for the humor.  Our entertainment industry is just one big playground.  Have fun, be fun and attract the people who you want to play with and invite into your sandbox.

10)  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Real authentic acknowledgment is something everyone loves to hear.  Leaders are present enough and conscious enough to know that.  If you want to be on the leading edge and stand in leadership then you’ll want to get in the habit of acknowledging people.  Authentically acknowledging people.  In fact, start now.  Acknowledge at least one person today. And don’t forget to acknowledge yourself every day as well!

BONUS: A word of caution.  Be careful how you perceive leaders and heroes.  Often we see them as someone greater than ourselves, bigger than who we think we are.  That was never their intent.  That belief only takes you off the hook.  Yes, they should inspire you, but they are no different from you.  Even Gandhi, Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa… YOU have everything they have… you’ve just forgotten.  Now it’s time to remember.


Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching.  Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.    

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