Deena Bibi-Lee of Nested VFX on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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Deena Bibi-Lee of Nested VFX on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Be kind to yourself. Not all decisions may feel like the right ones. Not all decisions will be. And that is okay.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Deena Bibi-Lee.

Deena Bibi-Lee is the Managing Patner at Nested VFX. Following the completion of her bachelor’s degree in Media Arts, Deena transitioned from her hometown in Texas, USA, to explore opportunities in the rapidly evolving film and media industry of Dubai. Her motivation and expertise allowed her to rapidly develop her career, mastering her understanding and love for the wide range of techniques and workflows in post-production. In 2020, along with her two partners, Deena founded Nested VFX, a post-production boutique based out of Dubai and with offices across the globe.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After graduating with a Media Arts degree in Texas, I took on an entry-level role in Dubai that solidified my love for the world of post-production — the subtle art of editing, the magic that comes with transforming a scene’s emotions, vision, and mood with visual effects and color grading, the precarious combination of both technical proficiency and creativity that made the world through a camera erupt beyond our real-life limitations. In Dubai — despite there being a vast multitude of production companies — there were an extremely limited number of companies that provided a complete, well-rounded, professional, and enjoyable experience for only post-production. I knew the idea was something special, and once I knew that, I knew there would be no stopping me from bringing it to fruition.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was on a very big, long-awaited and exciting introductory call with a massive, international streaming channel. In the middle of the meeting, I referenced a show from a competitor’s platform as a “great example” of new-age title sequences in shows. I remember our CEO’s face going gray as he mumbled that this is a show from a competitor. I quickly managed to guide us over to a new topic, but after having worked with brands and commercials and knowing how intense and strict it can be when it comes to anything affiliated with a competitor, I was horrified.

It didn’t blow up in my face as it could have, but I from that moment I began preparing for these introductions by bouncing ideas and talking points off with other team members to “check” each other before going into meetings.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are honestly a vast number of people who went above and beyond to offer their support along the way. But the one who stands out the most was Carole, an executive producer who was a colleague at my first job.

We worked together on a massive global campaign for an extremely popular soda brand. It was one of my biggest roles before opening my own company, and it involved clients in two different continents, visual effects artists in a third, and the production and post-production teams working from our base in Dubai. It spanned 4 time zones and an incredibly ambitious timeline over Christmas that we managed to pull off. I remember going to bed at 3 AM with a glass of Christmas punch in my hand and making sure my team in Spain was aligned, only to wake up again at 7 AM to share updates with clients in Philippines and New York. I didn’t think many were paying attention to the work and the pressure I was under, but she was.

When it was over, Carole came to me and said, “When I saw the way you handled that project, I knew I could go to war with you.” This is someone who had also run her own production company, who worked on large-scale productions such as Star Trek: Beyond and later on to Bridgerton. I remember sitting in a café as I was preparing to open Nested, and she told me outright that as I found success in life (which she never doubted in me), that people would change, that the world around me would change. And the only thing I could do through this is stay true to myself. And that’s what I strive to do as my career and the post-production world unfolds before my eyes.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When I started my business, our vision was to modernize and maximize the power and impact of post-production in the region. Production has come such a long way in Dubai and the surrounding regions, but post-production requires so many technical competencies between the massive varieties of software, knowing what hardware works best, and knowing what kinds of talent to look for.

There was still such a lapse in expertise, with limited artists and resources to change that. Our purpose was to change the landscape. And that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

We had an executive-level member of our team deal with a very sudden loss in the family. As a result, I was suddenly responsible for intake of all their roles and responsibility on top of my own workload and needed to delegate without any handover process. In a small team, these events cause a big rift in the workflow, and we had time-sensitive projects that needed to be managed. It became a matter of triaging with certain clients, keeping a level head so that the employees don’t feel the massive pressure, and finding creative solutions to keep things flowing. When you have a group that is reliable, these difficult times become a learning and bonding experience for the employees.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Sometimes, during the hardest of moments, it’s easier to create a story in my head in which I give it all up, so I don’t have to face the next crossroads. Every time, the motivation comes when I reminisce on where I started and how far I’ve come. Once I think about that, and I consider the alternate world in which I never began this journey, all doubt is erased. I know the only way out of the hard times is by going forward, not back.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Browsing through a book store, I one day stumbled across You Don’t Need to Be a Bitch to Be a Boss by Mindie Barnett, and it opened my eyes in so many ways to the world of leadership and femininity, and how they can not only co-exist, but also complement one another. It’s allowed me to embrace many aspects of my leadership style.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

To keep a level head. That’s it. Keep any extreme emotions in check, keep everything calm and balanced, and that makes all the difference in the world. It allows you to make effective decisions quickly, to find creative solutions where necessary, and to keep employees calm in order to maintain productivity.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Remember to have fun, even during dark days. Create light moments. When we need to put our heads down and power through, we do. But to be able to lift your head, in the most stressful of days, crack a joke, give a compliment, have a laugh…these are what keep everyone going.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Maintain as much transparency as you can, don’t beat around the bush, and maintain accountability where relevant. Keep a level head as you deal with the fallout of the difficult news.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

This falls under a very simple saying — hope for the best, and be prepared for the worst. Contingencies are key. Create a plan of action in which the worst case possible happens, and create a plan of action in which everything works out.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

I think it truly depends on the leaders guiding said company. For us, it’s to be as prepared as possible, with any and all possibilities laid out before us.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The first common mistakes I have seen is to act too soon; the second is to act too late. These are best avoided when you maintain a level head, make sure you surround yourself with trusted advisors, and create several contingency plans to manage what lies ahead.

The third most common mistake I see — and this does not necessarily need to be in a difficult time — is obstinacy. Many businesses refuse to be flexible, and this can be a massive detriment.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Maintain a level head. Even when the pressure gets to you, try not to let it show.

2. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Have contingency plans that keep you ready for whatever comes your way.

3. Remember to keep it light. Moments of levity will get you and your team through the tough ones.

4. Be flexible. With all the uncertainty, you may need to adjust your plans in order to keep up, and keep you relevant.

5. Be kind to yourself. Not all decisions may feel like the right ones. Not all decisions will be. And that is okay.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Softness is a superpower so many mistakenly suppress, but flaunting femininity at work and in life will lead you to higher peaks and bring in more allegiant masculinity every time” from You Don’t Need to Be a Bitch to Be a Boss by Mindie Barnett is one of my favorite life lessons quotes as this helped me embrace the traits of my leadership style and helped me understand how leadership and femininity complement each other!

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow my work on LinkedIn and through our company website

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Deena Bibi-Lee of Nested VFX on Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.