What the tragedy at Astroworld can teach us about leadership
Astroworld was supposed to be a hell of a fun time. Instead, it just became hell by all accounts from those who attended. While I’m not going to go into the gruesome details, Seanna Faith — an attendee who is being lauded for trying to interfere with the livestream and get attention to those in need of serious help — did a fine enough job of sharing what it was like.
⚠️ The Instagram post does go into graphic detail and it might be difficult for some to read through it.
Instead, let’s talk about the failure of leadership we witnessed that sadly resulted in the deaths of 8 people.
How leadership failed at Astroworld
Being the geek I am, I can’t help but have Stan Lee’s words on repeat right now:
With great power comes great responsibility.
Despite whether you know it or not, you are a leader. If you have any amount of influence over the way someone might behave — whether that means they love your restaurant recommendations, relationship advice, or are a huge fan of the content you put out there — you are a leader.
You can be the leader of a handful of people or a leader of millions. But regardless of that number, it means you have a responsibility.
As a leader, you have a responsibility
You have a responsibility to keep those you have influence over safe. Not just physically safe but financially and mentally safe as well. For example, if you are a therapist, it probably isn’t a good idea to head over to TikTok and complain about clients “trauma dumping.” This could result in a client who looked up to you feeling mentally/emotionally unsafe around you. If you have a friend who is struggling with money, maybe you shouldn’t recommend a 3-starred Michelin restaurant that will potentially cost that friend their life savings.
And while I know some might have the thought that “people need to think critically for themselves” — that is directly ignoring the fact that humans evolved to rely on the village. It isn’t ads that are likely to get us to buy a certain product, it’s the word-of-mouth that is most likely to get us to open our wallets. Particularly, word-of-mouth from the people we trust.
And for many… they trust their favorite artists.
Travis Scott built a performer persona around “raging”
Travis Scott has a history of encouraging behaving like mosh pits and crowd surfing or stage diving. Which, while this can be somewhat scary to witness, can actually be a pretty safe environment when etiquette is followed.
So, I can’t fault Travis Scott for enjoying seeing the crowd moshing. Moshing is something that’s been done for ages in just about any punk or rock concert. You probably haven’t really heard of deaths or even serious injuries happening due to it, have you?
Because again: mosh pit etiquette.
That isn’t what happened this year at Astroworld.
This wasn’t some mosh pit gone wrong.
It was a crowd surge.
What happened was tens of thousands of people all rushed to one place at the same time.
And here’s the thing… this has happened before in the 2019 Astroworld! Then, hundreds of people broke down a barrier and rushed to get to the front of the stage. It was chaotic and it left people hurt.
And how’d Travis respond?
He bragged about the video of fans toppling down the barricade and rushing into the event. And he went as far as to use the footage to promote this year’s event. He also had a history of telling his fans to ignore security and or even sneak into the event. The latter obviously causes concerns of being over capacity for what’s deemed safe by fire marshals.
Travis Scott failed as a leader.
I don’t think that Travis Scott didn’t know the influence he had on people, especially men. I think he actually enjoyed seeing the lengths his fans would go to in order to get near him.
But while his ego was getting stroked, he forgot that being a leader means you have the responsibility to keep those you lead, safe.
Even in the most dangerous of jobs such as being in the military, great military leaders understand that the safety of their men is paramount.
Leave no soldier behind, right?
Plus they strategize and strategize to minimize any potential danger to those they are leading.
Lessons Astroworld can teach us about leadership
So, how could this have all been prevented? How can Travis Scott take the failures experienced at Astroworld and ensure it never happens again?
1. LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS
As of writing, the Houston police department has shared that the Police Chief met with Travis Scott before the event and expressed their concerns with safety to the artist.
Now, could this just be a police department or county trying to point fingers while a slew of lawsuits are being announced? Absolutely.
But nonetheless, them asking Travis to please be mindful of what he shares on social should have tipped him off to be extra vigilant of chaos.
This leads me to…
2. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOUR BRAND STANDS FOR
Travis Scott’s brand is closely tied to chaos and if chaos is your brand, chaos is what is going to surround you. It is incredibly difficult —if at all possible— to control chaos. So, there is no doubt in my mind that he likely will be going through a branding shift not only to save his career but also to save his reputation.
Insurers and sponsors are not going to want to be connected with someone whose brand is toxic.
3. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND STAY IN THE PRESENT
Astroworld was being live-streamed and two of the most impactful criticisms I’ve seen coming from attendees is that one, Travis Scott didn’t stop performing despite the screams, and two, the cameramen hired to work the event were more concerned with capturing the performance on livestream than they were about what was happening below them.
Folks: the people in front of you are more important than whoever is behind the screen.
This goes for while you’re out to dinner with a friend, you’re speaking at a conference, or you’re headlining your own concert.
If someone seems to be in distress in front of you, that needs to demand your attention. The people behind a screen can wait.
4. CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT ENCOURAGES EMPATHY
While it might sound counter-intuitive, you absolutely can create an environment that celebrates moshing while encouraging empathy. Don’t believe me?
Here is a fantastic video of Linkin’ Park in 2001 doing just that by quickly pausing their concert, reminding the audience that they are all there to have fun and to pick someone up once they fall.
But this principle doesn’t just apply to concerts. This can apply to a Facebook group you run in which if there is a heated topic that is brought up, most of your members remember to take a route of empathy than just throwing insults like proverbial tomatoes.
5. REWARD THE BEST BEHAVIOR
I’m not sure if you caught it or not but Mike Shinoda in the video I just shared actually presented a reward to the audience if they were to keep things safe. That reward? They’d play the whole thing over again.
Travis Scott could have “gamified” safety by taking a similar approach and influencing his audience to think of the well-being of the people around them.
By making taking care of one another cooler than just pure chaos (and along with practical measures like setting up barricades in a strategic way), this tragedy might have been prevented and everyone might have gone home safely after a fun night.
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