28 April 2020

Episode 4 of: The Facts of Live – The Series: Do You Care? In this episode, we look at the key ingredient that keeps live events moving, extracts the most value and keeps them moving: leadership. Live events are about people, and it’s people, not processes that create them and get them over the line. As we look at in this episode, the pressures those working with, in and around live events can face means that leadership needs to start and end with empathy. You need to care. Like… actually care. Do you care?


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning. I’m a Producer, Writer, Designer, and Director.

In this fourth episode of The Facts Of Live, The Series, we’ll be looking at the key ingredient that keeps live events moving: leadership, and how it’s the difference between live events being either cumbersome or creative, having either excessive costs or being cost effective, and being either feats of endurance or enjoyable.

All of which have a direct effect on the impact of doing anything live.

Live events exist in a unique environment. You’ve got a myriad of issues, people, and organisations to glue together seamlessly against a backdrop and scope that’s constantly changing, and you won’t always be in complete control of. You’ve typically got a fixed deadline and everyone’s watching, you’re completely exposed.

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 networks and redundancy than most events do.

Egos, personalities and politics are also an intrinsic part of any live event too – given they’re essentially about showing off in some way, shape or form, making the unique set of circumstances even more volatile and unpredictable. The pressure this can cause means even the simplest, most mundane tasks can tip people over the edge. Which is why live event leadership starts and finishes with empathy. Real empathy that is, not just a random collection of words and actions strung together to create the illusion of empathy.

If you are in any leadership role at all, that is – you’ve got people reporting in to you or rely upon you, your primary role as a leader is one of support.

Take this example of a team structure, chart or organogram. We’ve all seen countless versions of these. These are supposed to show who’s in charge of what and who reports in to who. Someone is the client or owns the live event, then there’s someone leading the venture, and a bunch of managers perhaps reporting into them and beneath them staff, crew and subcontractors. From a leadership perspective though, these charts all have one fundamental flaw… they’re upside down.

Those on the ground, doing the work, are the people that are going to make you look good, without them, you have nothing. You want them to be enthused, happy, informed, and clear on what they need to do. They need to be supported. In turn, those managing them also need clear direction and need to know they have someone to fall back upon to. As does the person in charge, even if you’re the client or event owner, you need enough empathy and understanding to know what those you’ve brought on board are going to go through in the unique environment live events exist within.

After all, leadership starts at the top, the very top.

It still amazes me that anyone who’s worked with, in, or around live events for any longer than, maybe 5 minutes, is still amazed or surprised when things change.

Your easiest path to a successful live event is, of course, a straight line. You’re never going to have a straight line though. Change and not being fully in control is the only constant, and as it’s a constant, it’s perfectly manageable. Given your typically fixed deadline though, you cannot afford for change to delay things, it’s just not an option. If you’re in any leadership role one of your roles is to quarantine those relying on you from that chaos. Your role is to run into the chaos head-on, and on their behalf, separate fact from fiction and requirements from rumors. You then provide clear direction and support, leadership. If the chaos is quarantined you remain on track.

If anyone you are leading is doing the wrong thing, or doing the wrong work, or they’re confused, it’s down to you.

It’s on you, no one else.

Live events need a strategy or ethos in place that I call, “dictatorial leadership and democratic management.” Now I use the term dictatorial affectionately. I’m not suggesting you hire people who are going to start reigning aggression on all around them.

When you, your team, or your agencies are creating and producing a live event, you’re likely to have a team that need to work together collaboratively and in a fair, open, encouraging, and motivated environment. They need to feel safe airing their ideas and issues, knowing their opinions will be considered. This is how people in positive, modern environments are happy working.

A democracy is all well and good. But democracy has one major drawback. And that drawback is democracy’s inability to hit deadlines or move quickly. As I said earlier, live events typically have a fixed deadline. Everyone is watching, and it’s almost impossible to be in complete control of everything contributing towards success. When good and proper democratic working practices mean key milestones are being missed, or worse, your final event deadline is at risk, a democratic workplace overseen by well-intentioned and qualified managers is the exact opposite of what you need.

It is at this point, you need a friendly dictator. Someone able, willing, and empowered to make authoritative decisions without anywhere near enough information to do so, and armed, not with weapons of mass destruction, but with experience and a sixth sense to tell, lead, and guide everyone involved with whatever it is they deem necessary to get the job done or the problem solved.

Without dictatorial leadership, when it’s needed, time and effort will be being wasted as milestones arrive and then whizz past. And people then try and backtrack to catch up, causing more chaos that you can ill afford and that you’re supposed to be quarantining, protecting the people you’re leading, there in your care.

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 the 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 an 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 with just a couple of people working on them, through to events with over 20,000 working on them. And I can assure you, that empathetic leadership is, categorically, your best approach.

Once your team are supported, and importantly, actually feel supported rather than just hear words that sound supportive and once they freed up from the chaos and bureaucracy you’ve quarantined them from that might otherwise distract them and create unnecessary pressures. You watch how ideas, creativity and innovation flow more freely. Costs will reduce, creativity will flow, people will enjoy themselves, everyone will have the clarity and direction they need, and your live event will have way more impact.

You need to care about your people and they need to believe you care, and yes, that takes time and effort. But it’s surprisingly straightforward, yet so often overlooked.

Do you care?

In this series so far, we’ve looked over the value of live events, how live events are best structured, how to start them, and the leadership needed to keep them moving.

In the next episode, we start talking about money. And we’ll be starting with four words which are universally confused and the root cause of so much unnecessary financial angst.

Thanks for your time, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you in the next episode.