Every Entrepreneur Needs These Five Leadership Lessons Picked up from Nearly 15 Years in Television
I was at HBO from Sex & The City through Game of Thrones. It was a masterclass in business, storytelling, and brand. I could probably write the 1,497 Lessons I Learned at HBO, but in the meantime, these five have been game-changers on my entrepreneurial journey, and they’ll help you grow your business too.
1. Treat Your Clients (and Your Employees!) Well
Sounds pretty obvious, right? Take care of the people that drive your business forward. And yet, leaders focus on milestones, processes, timing, and clients, and the people become a means to an end.
There are two things HBO well. First, they built long-standing relationships with their partners based on generosity and mutual success. Second, they treated their employees like family, which was equally crucial to growth.
As an entrepreneur, as you make decisions about customer experience, be as conscientious about your owner and employee experiences. How can you make the costs and logistics of doing business feel effortless to facilitate peak performance all around? Can you remove friction, offer support in meaningful ways, and take care of the details?
As you grow, think about what people or organizations you can align with that elevate your business, reinforcing how you want your customers and partners to feel when they engage with your brand.
2. Stay True to Your Brand
Speaking of brand, quality over quantity was a core tenet at HBO. It was the place to be for the highest quality programming, production, talent, and marketing. They didn’t measure success by the number of titles, viewers, or how many nights they owned the living room.
HBO didn’t say, “We have something for everyone.” They said, “We are relentlessly committed to telling the best stories.”
As an entrepreneur, you’ve likely heard about the benefits of niching. The idea is to narrow who and how you serve to focus exclusively on content and products or services that appeal to that ideal customer. Niching is the first step in branding.
You don’t have to choose quality over quantity if that’s not relevant to your audience — some networks are beloved for their volume after all — but you must put a stake in the ground, declare what you stand for, and consistently deliver on that promise and those values.
For example, in my coaching practice, I make it clear that I’m not for everyone who wants to become an entrepreneur. I’m for women who want to lean into motherhood while growing an incredible business.
I’m not hustle your face off, win at any cost, scale to sell, bro marketing. I’m intentional, feel-good, sustainable, compassionate, uncover your gifts, build success on your terms, know what matters — that’s my brand.
3. Show Every Side of Being Human
Tony Soprano, Daenerys Targaryen, and Samantha Jones are three examples of the many beloved and complicated HBO characters we celebrated, despite their flaws, vulnerabilities, and imperfections.
They weren’t perfect, and they weren’t train-wrecks — they were authentic and complex. And importantly, every story wasn’t wrapped up and tied with a bow in 30 minutes or less. You sometimes left an episode feeling conflicted about what you saw, who you rooted for, or disappointed when your favorite characters let you down.
That’s real, and because HBO invited you into another world and then brought to life characters with good, bad, and ugly sides, it was riveting.
As entrepreneurs, we want to be influential. Often, we have a worldview or solution to a problem that we can see will make a difference. But because of the pressure to show up a certain way on social media, to be perceived by our customers and peers as professional, competent, and credible, we hold back from revealing our mess, our doubts, and our work in progress.
But think about how hard it is to love someone perfect — there’s nothing distinctive. We can’t identify with someone’s journey if everything seems to have come easily. If we can’t see the growth or witness the struggle, we can’t fully invest in them or their ideas.
4. Don’t Listen to the Hype
HBO’s programming streak was untouchable for so long that it seemed like they could turn anything to gold. I don’t know who was the keeper of the secret sauce, but they did an incredible job of sprinkling fairy dust on the right projects at the right times.
Still, some stuff got green-lit that shouldn’t. Some leaders got promoted that weren’t a good fit for the organization. Some strategies got pushed through that didn’t make sense. It happens to every organization at one time or another.
The lesson here is that playing your game, staying in your lane, and running the race you want to win are metaphors for a reason. Don’t listen to the noise, competition, or hype. Just stay grounded, keep close to your customers, and remain focused on what matters to you, your business, and your community.
If things start to feel overwhelming, too open-ended, or like there are too many options, you’re paying too much attention to others instead of following your instincts.
As entrepreneurs, we don’t have to take on everything. We don’t have to be on every platform or test every strategy. Find what works and double-down, refining, maximizing, and leveraging your growth, choosing what matters in alignment with what you are building. That single-minded focus will build traction.
5. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Finally, as you can imagine, at HBO, there were many ambitious, talented, smart employees, and almost all of them functioned as a team. They set team goals, earned bonuses based on team performance, and went farther and faster because of their teams’ momentum and diversity.
One of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur is not having a team. There’s no one to rely on, to run things by, to delegate to, to be inspired by. You’ve not only got to wear all the hats, but you’ve also got to fulfill all the roles. Some days I’m a cheerleader; some days, I’m a CEO. Some days I’m a worker bee; some days, I’m a visionary.
Just as you intentionally build your culture by focusing on your why, try to be as intentional about building your teams, internally and externally. Maybe you have a VA who helps out, a few interns who contribute, or a partner. Maybe there’s a mentor, coach, or adviser who guides you too.
Your team goes way beyond those with whom you share a hierarchical or financial relationship. Your team is the peers you commiserate with and the community who’s invested in your vision — it’s everyone who believes in you. Believe in them too.
Your team is the source of inspiration that fuels you, and the friends on the endless group chat that check your ideas and offer feedback and accountability. Your team is the family that shares what you are doing with pride, and the gurus and other entrepreneurs who don’t know you, who keep you going through their example. Your team is vital, and like my husband always tells our kids, “teamwork makes the dream work.”