What I’ve learned about leadership and my roadmap that transformed Phoenix Theatre

What I’ve learned about leadership and my roadmap that transformed Phoenix Theatre

Vincent VanVleet

Managing Director, Phoenix Theatre


Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership and my roadmap that transformed Phoenix Theatre:


1. Bite off a piece at a time. I can’t emphasize this enough, which is why I placed it at the top of this list. There will be intense pressure from many directions to try and solve everything at once. What I have found is great power in identifying the thing that will provide the biggest lift for your organization, and maintaining focus until it is achieved. 


2. Put your audience ahead of everything else. Curate every aspect of their interactions and experiences from the first time they visit your website to the moment they enter the parking lot. Take control of all of it. Be intentional about those experiences that shape how patrons feel about your organization.


3. “Who are we doing this for” cannot be the last thought on your mind when engaging in artistic and loyalty/engagement planning. Have a plan that allows efficient development of one to one relationships with patrons. Talk to them where they are and earn their trust.


4. Think like an entrepreneur. Innovate. Invest in what matters even if the funds are not readily there. Inspire key stakeholders to join you in a big vision. Be bold!


5. Use data to guide all your strategic decision making. Even when we thought data would tell us artistic risk is off the table, using it taught us quite the contrary. There is an audience for it, and they are passionate loyalists.


6. Hire for the right reasons (namely executing the things above). I don’t hire employees for life, I hire with a “will you help me do/build this thing.” What you need may be short term or may be long term. Finding a team that can help take you where you want to go is critical. Invest in getting the behaviors right. Revenue will follow.


7. Once you hire right, treat them like you treat your top donors. That includes letting them chew your ear off with candor when they are not happy with decisions you’ve made. Culture is critical to success. Candor leads to understanding, the right behaviors, and revenue.


8. Give them the tools they need to be successful. Invest in the right systems, training, and coaching. And, get in there with them. Do it together. It will transform your leadership.


9. Integrate your efforts. The more integrated the team is, the more efficient they become, the better the results, and fewer office politics result as everyone is rallied around the same cause.


10. Programming matters in growing loyalty. Programmatic decision-making can’t happen in isolation. Regarding audience, ask yourself, “who does your organization have and who do you want?” Work with the artistic side. You want the same thing. The result will be happy audiences, loyalty, and more people experiencing your art form.


11. Have a framework to do all this in. Thean’s Rhythm is now ours but there were two previous iterations. A framework allows for accountability, which is key to moving the needle.


12. Revenue is the byproduct of getting all the behaviors right. Focus there. Don’t be a “boss.” Be a leader and out in front with your team at all levels of the organization. Check your own behavior. It matters.


As arts and cultural institutions, I believe we are the solution to an increasingly virtual, synthetic space the planet is living and working in. We are still a place that the world around us gathers, live and in person, to have an actual experience, not a virtual one (even if there is a virtual component in your art form). This is our calling.


The model can’t be broken. In fact, I contend we are only just beginning. As companies shrink or go out of business, the ones remaining have an oversized responsibility to take on. How are you setting yourself up to be successful so we can meet our future? It’s coming. Will you be ready?

Posted October 5, 2018

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