13 December 2018

LEADERSHIP – Explaining what you want, telling people what needs doing and heading up a team isn’t leadership. That’s direction. Leadership is, in part, about supporting people so they can be the best they can to deliver the greatest version of whatever it is you’ve directed them to do. Live events exist in a unique environment of constant change against an often immovable deadline whilst everyone watches you. This can skew time and logic, creating unique pressures. Whether you produce your own events, are a client, run or work in an agency or are anywhere in the supply chain, if you have anyone reporting to you or working for you – you’re in a leadership role. As timescales shrink and expectations rise, direction alone isn’t enough. Empathetic leadership is paramount. 4 and a half minutes of video to help…


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning. I’m a live event producer, director and designer.

I’ve been having an increasing amount of conversations recently about leadership in events and exhibitions, and what that actually means. During a presentation I was giving recently, I was explaining that most of the time when I’m producing or leading a live event, much of my time isn’t spent on producing the event as such, but actually making sure that everyone’s happy. This flummoxed most of the room. So much so that one person actually stopped me and asked me to explain.

Live events exist in a unique environment. You’ve a myriad of issues, people and organisations to seamlessly glue together. Scope and specifications usually change rapidly. You’re rarely going to be in complete control of everything affecting your success. Typically, you’ve an immovable deadline and to top it all off, everyone is watching: you’re completely exposed.

This is also what makes live events exciting. There’s a reason we want to be there watching it live rather than watching it on a screen somewhere. Live events are the most raw, real experience it’s possible to create. They’re the most powerful medium you have to sell more of your stuff or to get people thinking differently or to entertain people.

The only other industries with a similar emotional dynamic, though more serious consequences, are perhaps the military and emergency services. Where, what’s happening here, right now, is the only thing that matters. The military and emergency services though have far greater support network and redundancy than most events do. Egos, personalities and politics are also an intrinsic part of any live event, given they’re essentially about showing off in some way, shape or form; making the unique set of circumstances even more volatile and unpredictable.

This emotionally charged, illogical and irrational perfect storm that producing live events creates is the reason so many typical project management approaches, no matter how lean or agile they are, only work to a point. And if you see anyone leading or producing a live event relying on such practices alone, it should ring alarm bells immediately.

A craving for certainty and a fear of failure can engulf a live event’s planning and development in process and paperwork. The resulting bureaucracy though can pose a far bigger risk to your event than the risks that you were trying to mitigate with that paperwork in the first place. Especially as that immovable deadline of your live event accelerates towards you.

You need some process and paperwork of course, but it’s about the right balance of process and competency. It is people, competent people, that make live events happen and who can make the snap and impulsive decisions necessary, often without anywhere near enough information, but using their sixth sense, to get a live event over the line. People are far more valuable and useful than any process or piece of paperwork will ever be, it stands to reason therefore, does it not, that they should be your number one priority?

I have led and been directly accountable for live events that have had just a couple of people working on them through to events with over 20,000 people working on them. And I can assure you, empathetic leadership is, categorically, the best approach.

Live events are produced and developed in an alternate reality of skewed time and logic. And this means that even the most mundane tasks can push people over the edge. This is why I spend so much of my time making sure people are happy, as I know, and have proven, that if people are happy, supported and valued they will not only do what they are supposed to be doing, but go that extra mile when the curve balls hit.

And they will hit. Whether you produce your own events, whether you’re a client, whether you run or work in an agency or if you’re anywhere in the supply chain, if you have anyone working for you or reporting to you, you’re in a leadership role. Leadership in events and exhibitions demands four things:

One, you need to care, about everyone working for you. Whether you like them or not.

Two, you need to find that extra minute to check your team, agency, supply chain or those working for you are happy. Ask them if they have what they need. Ask them if you can do anything to help. Ask them to be honest with you. And repeat, often. And then sort out, help with or fix whatever comes up. Don’t let it lie. You are responsible.

Three, if you’re angry or upset with someone, perhaps someone not performing as you expect them to, you take the higher ground and rather than snap, you pause, you consider what they could be going through given the unique environment live events exist within and then you suck it up, you don’t take your anger out on them. You calmly fix it, or you help them, or you do whatever you need to do, it’s your responsibility, they’re your team, your people.

And number four, be nice. Always be nice.

These four things are what empathy and leadership are about, it costs you nothing and you’ll be amazed with the results.

Anyway, thoughts and questions welcome.

And I’ll speak to you again soon.