Best leaders understand when to lead and when to follow

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Dave Veale’s interview with Greg Hemmings, Founder & President, Hemmings House Pictures, as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

Greg Hemmings is pure magnetism. Watch out, you’ll get a big bear hug and an even bigger smile when you greet him – even if you don’t know him. But under that friendly outgoing persona is a passionate, energetic, and creative genius.

Greg is the President and CEO of HEMMINGS HOUSE PICTURES (HHP), an award-winning media production company, specializing in branded entertainment for a diverse clientele. HHP products range from television, film & video production to advertising & commercial photography and audio production. They have studios in Saint John, Halifax and Tokyo. 

While this all sounds very exotic, Greg had humble and unusual beginnings. After graduating from film school in 1999, Greg fully leveraged his aptitude for experiential learning as he worked toward building his understanding of both his craft and his business. For example, he learned to work a camera by filming local musicians, discovered the art of editing when he was the broadcast manager on a cruise line and focused on absorbing critical production techniques while travelling the world filming the television show Planet Luxury.

Greg’s unique approach to building his business has paid off in many ways.  In 2005, he was recognized as Saint John Board of Trade’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Industry recognition has also been piling up for HHP which has won prestigious awards from the Banff Television Festival, the Royal Commonwealth Society and The Originals [Saint John Arts Awards] to name just a few.

I recently sat down with Greg to find out what he feels is required from a leader, in a creative field, to have both commercial and critical success.

Q: So how did you go from the guy in the darkroom to someone who is out front leading a company like HHP?

A: Two things. One, my addiction to adventure and two, my extremely short attention span and impatience for boring, day-to-day – what’s the word I’m looking for – getting into that groove that you’re doing the same thing every day …

Q: … monotony?

A: Yes, monotony. I have no patience for working in a non-creative environment. Working on the film sets – my darkroom days – you’d think was a creative environment, but when you’re a technician you’re a robot, you’re grabbing lenses, you’re changing film…it is monotonous. I remember consciously deciding that I want to be using my brain and being creative. So, I incorporated my first business, which was called Hit! Media. That was my opportunity to learn how to run a business – and how not to run a business. I learned a ton. I didn’t go to business school, but I definitely had the ‘hard knocks’ experience and that was very helpful when I started HHP.

Q: Tell me about the team you have working with you at HHP.

A: Our team has fluctuated. We’ve gone up and down and there’s been a core of five or six people that have been here almost from the beginning. The team is the only reason why I’m here right now. Without my team I would be distracted and frustrated and impatient. I would probably be working in another industry right now if it wasn’t for them.

Q: Would you agree that this team keeps you grounded?

A: The team keeps me grounded – we actually keep each other grounded. It’s been fascinating leading a team that, in fact, is really leading me.

It’s a very interesting dynamic where I lead the team at the visionary level, but they lead me in other ways. For example, they are the cutting edge technicians and artists who give me direction in these areas. It’s a neat back and forth. There are also times when one member of the team will step up and become a leader and just totally stick it to the rest of us and say, “Hey, we’re not holding on to the vision that Greg set” – and usually it’s me who’s the offender.

Q: There’s a concept in leadership – the best leaders understand when to lead and when to follow. What supported you in getting to a place where you’re not always the one who needs to be out front charging ahead?

A: I told my team when they joined me that I wanted each one of them to become a better shooter, better director and better editor than me – as soon as they possibly can. It took a while though, a couple of years, for me to let go. At times it felt like they were redundant because I would ask them to do something, but I wouldn’t trust that it would get done right so I’d end up doing it myself. Looking back I realized that this investment had to happen for them to exceed where I was at the time. I believe that to own a company where people become better producers than you is every business owners dream.

Q: As you build your team what qualities are you looking for in potential members?

A: A strong work ethic and a respect for other people. I’ve hired people with a very strong work ethic, but they don’t have the same outlook or the same way of interacting with other people that we do at HHP. That doesn’t work here. People have to fit our culture. Our team designed the culture together. We not only like each other; we like working with each other and we’re into the same things. Over the years we’ve hired people that didn’t fit that our culture and it just didn’t work. But those who fit the culture seem to quickly learn the necessary skills because they love working in this environment.

Q: If you were to use a few words to define the HHP culture, what would they be?

A: We’re passionate. If you’re passionate about something, you will have fun doing it. We’re respectful. Respectful of people, respecting ethical boundaries and respecting the people who are helping us grow our business. All of this is so important. So, we have passion and respect. The other part I should mention is love … love for life, loving people, loving what you do, loving your environment and loving the world.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com. His column appears every other Thursday. To read past columns go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca

Published August 26, 2010 in the Telegraph Journal

Photo: Sherry Hinkley/Telegraph-Journal