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Staff Health

The Myth of the Visionary

The Fyre Festival gives a great example of how not to lead an organization.


Lessons from the Fyre Festival

Earlier this week I watched the Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened. The story of the Fyre Festival is one that will leave you shaking your head for days... but is a helpful case study on poor leadership. At the core of this case study is what I like to think of as the Myth of the Visionary.

Our culture has developed an image of the great visionary leader as someone who has a big crazy dream, who refuses to take no for an answer, and who keeps focused on the big picture while letting others manage the details. They are confident, decisive, and always make the right decision. They seem as though they were born successful. They are the people that we all desire to be.

They are also a total sham.

We have bought into this myth of the visionary leader because we only get to see the highlight reels. We only get to see them on the other side of success. We never get to see the struggles, the doubts, or the failures. We see the polished, sanitized, and perfect version of a story that is anything but polished, sanitized, and perfect.

As the story unfolded, I found myself growing more and more frustrated... I also took away three reminders for my own leadership:

  • Vision isn't enough: Vision is important. Healthy organizations have a clear vision for what they are attempting to do and why they exist. But vision on its own isn't enough. The Fyre Festival was built around an aspirational vision about being a luxury experience where people could live their dream life for a weekend. The problem is that there was so much talk about lofty goals and idyllic dreams that there was little time left to talk about how to make that vision a reality. A visionary leader who can not implement their vision is nothing more than a daydreamer.

  • Execution trumps vision: Regardless of how grand a vision is, people will remember how we executed. There seems to be a belief in the church world that a leader can be a visionary, without being an implementer. They like to think that they can dream dreams and let others do the work of bringing them to life. A true leader gets their hands dirty bringing vision to life. They not only have a dream, but they also have a basic idea about how to make that happen and are willing to sweat and bleed to make it happen. A leader who is too busy developing a vision to do the menial tasks of implementing that vision will never see their vision come to pass.

  • Problems and Solutions: Early in the documentary, a former employee of the festival shared how he realized early on that it would be physically impossible to house the ticketed guests on the island. Even though this employee created a viable workaround, he was eventually let go because he was too negative. It was later shared that anyone who pointed out potential issues with the festival were removed from the team. A true leader knows that they have blind spots. One of the signs of a true leader is that they invite people into their inner circle whose job is to speak up when the team is missing something and protect the team from making catastrophic errors in judgement. Wise leaders cherish these people. Leaders who buy into the myth ignore them until they leave or fire them.

Don't get me wrong... vision is important. Without vision, a church will struggle to understand why it exists. But vision is not enough. Vision, along with significant amounts of prayer and leaders who are willing to put in the effort and hours required to implement that vision are what it truly takes to see a church thrive.




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Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

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