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Leading in a Work Hard, Play Hard Industry


By: Heidi Hughes | Feb 25, 2019

As event industry professionals, we have all worked 80-hour- weeks, 18- hour- days without a single meal break and several weeks straight without a day off… it’s what we do and we love it. We work long hard hours dedicated to making each event a huge success for our company or organization and for our stakeholders.

Most of us would like to hear our leadership style described in terms such as “tough but fair”,“flexible but consistent”, and for some we want to be seen as a role model or even a mentor. We also genuinely want to have a great relationship with our staff and team members. However, it can be challenging to lead a team through the development and execution of an event without avoiding some leadership pitfalls that are very common in our “work hard, play hard” industry.  Here are just a few tips that might help you keep the leadership teeter totter in its fine balance

Step back!

Think empowerment. You have handpicked your team, ensured they have the best possible training, exposed them to industry education and events to further their growth and development as event professionals… so why aren’t you stepping back and letting them do their jobs? Whether it is about your own need to be in control of every fine detail or that you are oblivious to the fact that you are a micro-manager it doesn’t matter. Stepping back and letting your staff do their jobs will help them achieve their full potential and enhance their satisfaction with the work they have been hired to do or the position they fill with your company or organization.

Stop hovering!

The cousin to the micro manager is helicopter manager. Sometimes when we are working on a high pressure deadline, a crazily complex event with lots of protocol or programming layers, or simply a huge workload, some of us tend to helicopter manage. When we helicopter manage, we hover. We hover and become invested in our staff’s feelings instead of checking-in occasionally to see how they are coping.  This kind of behavior, when overdone, can backfire.  As leaders we may feel that our hovering is demonstrating a “get-down-into-the-trenches kind of attitude” and empathy for their
stress levels and workload, but it can also be perceived as lack of confidence in your team’s ability and skill set.  Reduce hovering without real cause. Instead acknowledge tight deadline (s), large workloads in scheduled meetings or structured conversations.  Let them know you are available and that your door is always open should they need some support.

Don’t be Wishy Washy

This is about managing expectations with clear and concise communications.  Often times an under-current of dissatisfaction or disappointment can start to swell within a team or organization if there is a lack of clarity or mixed messages being received around some common things such as: lieu time, overtime accrual, vacation planning, start and finish times, coffee-breaks, cell phone usage, working weekends, and even things such as staff travel.  This is where the old saying “practice what you preach” is going to be most effective and impactful.  You make think that making decisions on the fly to send someone home early that has worked a long day or allowing someone to come in late after a long shift, may demonstrate your flexibility as a leader it can have a negative impact on your leadership.  You will find yourself making more and more decisions in the gray zone and eventually there may be a lack of clarity around expectations.

Instead role model expected behaviours.  Be on time for meetings, put your personal phone away in the office, discuss your planned vacation with your team. Present or consult with your team around how you will be managing lieu time and rewarding long hours.  Most of all you need to be clear and consistent with these guidelines.  Let your staff know that expectations to any guidelines can be reviewed on a case by case basis and that you are aware that there may be some gray areas.  When we lead only in the gray zone we risk being wishy washy and that will definitely throw off your balance as a leader.  Keeping the leadership teeter-totter in its fine balance can be as easy as refining and making a few adjustments to our leadership style or expectations and as difficult as reconditioning old habits.

Even if only subconsciously, we all work for the KUDOS that comes after an event goes off perfectly or a client rewards us with their repeat business. But sometimes our notion of work hard, play hard is different from organization to organization, leader to leader and can be interpreted differently from
leader to staff.   

With empowerment, the right amount of empathy and most of all clarity in our leadership style we should be able to avoid a nasty bump that comes when the teeter-totter drops!

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