Authored by Raquel Guarino
It was the epic dumpster fire of 2017 that no one knew they wanted to watch. Fyre Festival was marketed on social media as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas for elite and beautiful millennials. Yet much of social media observed in shock and schadenfreude as the illusion of Billy McFarland and JaRule's "Burning Man in the Bahamas" burst into flames before their eyes. From bad food to unsafe accommodations, festival goers were left trapped with little security, guidance, or options to escape. While the attention garnered from the monstrous failure of the Fyre Festival eventually died down, two new documentaries based on the infamous calamity have drawn Fyre Festival back into the limelight. The Netflix documentary entitled Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened is the latest movie to detail how the festival's optimistic plans slowly--and catastrophically--unraveled.
The film's biggest takeaway is that Fyre's failures were due to bad leadership. Since leadership sets the tone for any company, it's important for others to be able to spot a bad apple before it's too late. Whether you're new to your company or looking to hire a C-suite executive, it's essential to know the telltale signs of a bad leader (and get out while you still can). Here are four major red flags to look out for when evaluating leadership.
🚩 Big Promises with No Details
Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland received a lot of praise from his staff initially. While some thought of him as a nerdy business bro-digy, others likened him to eccentric entrepreneurial greats like Steve Jobs. From the Netflix documentary, it was clear that McFarland's charismatic and carefree personality manipulated his entire team and investors into getting scammed.
As the days passed and plans became bigger and more outlandish, the logistics behind the lavish event were few and far between. Among a slew of grossly negligent and mishandled plans, one of the standout failures was the obvious lack of adequate lodging for festival goers. Just days before the festival was scheduled to take place, the advertised luxury villas had not been built and were instead replaced with tents used for hurricane disaster relief.
If you're part of a business that's been making a lot of big claims without backing them up, it's completely okay to ask questions and think critically. If you feel like you're continually being dismissed, gaslit, or misled, it might be time to evaluate the legitimacy of the company's future...and if necessary, leave.
🚩 Forcing Employees to Act Unethically, Illegally, or Degrade Themselves
One of the most viral moments of the Fyre documentary was also one of the most inappropriate. In a shocking confession, festival producer Andy King admits he was willing to give a sexual favor to a government employee in the Bahamas in exchange for receiving a shipment of Evian water. King explains that he was put in this unethical situation with pressure from McFarland, who claimed they couldn't afford to pay high fees to legally ship the water; the favor allegedly needed to be done or else attendees would have nothing to drink on the island.
Obviously this is grossly unethical and illegal. Sexual harassment or coercion of any kind is absolutely wrong in any environment. Yet because of the immense pressure King faced (and the possible danger a lack of potable water could spell for attendees), King felt pressured to oblige. No one should ever feel forced into this kind of situation. If you see that your company's leadership is forcing employees to commit crimes, act unethically, or humiliate themselves, it's time to reconsider whether this position is worth putting your reputation, career, and safety in jeopardy (hint: it's not).
🚩 No Concern for the Welfare of Clients or Customers
As the opening date for the luxury festival drew closer, there were a number of major gaps that showed an obvious lack of concern for the safety and welfare of attendees. Besides the aforementioned lack of water and accommodations, guests were also left to fend for themselves in a number of other situations. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the Fyre Festival, the "festival's lack of adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees--suddenly finding themselves stranded on a remote island without basic provisions."
Based on the Netflix documentary, concerns for all of these issues were continuously raised by staff and consultants throughout the planning process. With just days left before the event, the team was left scrambling for answers. Higher-ups ignored or dismissed all concerns.
At a certain point in any process, it's necessary for you to be critical of your business's practices. If you see that your leadership does not care for the well-being of its customers, you have to wonder what their endgame is. Once a company loses basic respect for its customers, there's no telling how low business practices are willing to sink. And that can only spell bad news for you and your company's future.
🚩 Never Admitting Mistakes or Failure
Everyone who was familiar with the planning of Fyre Festival knew failure was imminent. The entire internet bore witness to the catastrophic failures in real-time thanks to angry attendees who documented it on social media. Yet in spite of all of this, leadership still neglected to take the situation seriously. Organizers did not pay local Bahamians for the work they did in preparation for the festival. Festival goers were forced to fend for themselves. Festival staff went unpaid. And investors were defrauded for millions of dollars.
At the point where all of these glaring failures were on full display, company leadership still lacked enough humility to take accountability. At the end of the documentary, JaRule tried to reassure frustrated and despondent staff that the event wasn't fraud, just "false advertising." McFarland avoided addressing issues and even continued to commit fraud through other business scams.
If a company's leadership is not willing to take responsibility for what they have created, they are failing as leaders. If you notice a pattern of dishonesty or deception within your company's leadership, understand that eventually there will be consequences. They may not be immediate, but when they arrive, they will be disastrous.
Fyre Festival is now bankrupt. Billy McFarland was sentenced to prison for six years for defrauding investors and festival goers. JaRule claims he was hustled by McFarland too. Perhaps most unfortunately, dozens of innocent people were left jobless, penniless, and betrayed by leaders they trusted. That's no way to lead a company. It's certainly no way to lead a life, either.