The 4 Leadership Villains of Fyre Festival (and their antidotes)

There have been two recently released documentaries about the failed music festival, Fyre. In the Netflix one that I watched, it had all the makings of a blockbuster movie. There were models, an exotic private island previously owned by drug lords, luxury accommodation and the young entrepreneur determined to shake up the music festival scene. Except, The Fyre Festival was not meant to be just a movie, it was meant to be an event attended by thousands.

The Fyre Festival was marketed as the hottest destination music festival. Better than Glastonbury and Coachella combined. The elite festival concept was designed for the rich, hip, young Millennials. The hype was as extreme as the cost of the tickets.

As the documentary reveals, it all turned out to be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. Watching the Netflix documentary, you can see the full scale of the f-up, but let’s just say you spend a lot of time with your head in your hands, going “WTF? Surely not, OMG you’re kidding, they can’t…they did!”.

The whole debacle provides a cautionary tale about flawed leadership. At the centre of this gargantuan botch up was the leader and founder of Fyre, Billy Mcfarland.

The list of what Mcfarland did wrong ranged from ineptitude to downright unethical and narcissistic. The documentary gives you a great idea of “what NOT to be or do” as a leader.

Leadership Villain number 1: Not listening. Mcfarland didn’t listen to his employers, advisors, or pretty much anyone. His employees risked their jobs and careers again and again to warn him of the risks of his unrealistic expectations. The avalanche of consistent feedback he received to pull the plug was like a tidal wave. Anyone, but the delusional, would have sat up and taken note.

Antidote: Listen.

Leadership Villain number 2: A lack of realistic planning. There’s nothing wrong for setting a stretch goal and trying things that haven’t been done before. But if you are going to take on something big, you had better have a detailed and realistic plan. Mcfarland and his team didn’t start serious logistical planning until two months out from the event. Anyone who is in the industry would laugh like a hyena to hear that absurdity.

Antidote: Have a plan. Be realistic when it comes to timeframes, listen to those who have done it before when they tell you the risks. Oh, and don’t blow all the money upfront on marketing and social media influencers. Keep the result as your focus.

Leadership Villain number 3: A lack of ethics. As you see in the doco, McFarland undertakes a staggering number of unethical moves such as: Fraud, lying, not paying suppliers, suggesting suppliers do unethical and immoral acts, just to name a few. As a result, he is the subject of at least eight lawsuits seeking more than $100 million in damages. Last year he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud to defraud investors and a second count to defraud a ticket vendor. He was also sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to forfeit US $26 million.

Antidote: Lead as if everything you do or say could end up on the front page of the newspaper, and you’d be able to hold your head up high if it was. Act with ethics, honesty and trust. It’s difficult to put a greater emphasis on how important this is.

Leadership Villain number 4: Not facing reality. Trying to take constraints and work with them is one thing. Blind ignorance is another. Right up until the last moment, he did not face the reality that the event should not go ahead.

Antidote: Regularly facing reality yourself and getting your team to face reality is as important in leadership as setting a vision.

We can all revel in a bit of schaduenfaude when it comes to the Fyre festival, but let’s also learn vicariously from the villains in this story.

If you want to see the documentary, click here.

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