Leadership lessons from Glastonbury

Jo Bristow

By Jo Bristow

12 Jul 2019

Firstly, I know it’s poor form to brag about your holidays on the company blog. But I went to Glastonbury and had a really, really great time.

Jo At Glasto 2

I’d been to the festival once before — way back in 2003 — and this year, I have to say I was really struck by a few things. Firstly, there was a real sense of ‘doing the right thing’. You’ll no doubt have seen on the news that there was a drive to keep the festival plastic free, and I have to say my experience was that it was embraced with extraordinary enthusiasm by almost everyone there.

On top of that, there was just a real sense of ‘niceness’ about Glasto this year. Everywhere I looked, I saw compassionate, caring behaviour. People were looking after each other in the heat, helping each other find water, shade, and the location of the next act — given that I walked about 17km on one day, that help will have saved more than a few people from giving their shoes several miles’ worth of wear!

It got me wondering just how Glastonbury had achieved this amazing response from festival-goers. It’s one thing to say that your festival is plastic free, but it’s another thing entirely to get people to calmly wait up to 30 minutes to refill their water bottles from a water station.

My conclusion was that it had a lot to do with inclusion. The whole ethos of Glastonbury is to come together and celebrate who we are as human beings. That’s why as around 200,000 of us weaved our way from all over the country and beyond to this ancient, spiritual site, we felt a huge sense of being part of something bigger. And ultimately, that’s all down to the leadership and vision of one English dairy farmer and his daughter. Given that we can’t clone them — more’s the pity — what lessons can organisations take away instead?

Lead your organisation like it’s Glastonbury

I know, I know – what could business possibly learn from a festival? Well, here’s my view:

1: Have a vision

If there’s one thing Glastonbury can definitely be said to have, it’s a vision. Ever since the festival began back in 1970, Glastonbury has always been about coming together and celebrating great music, dance, and theatre from any genre. It’s about celebration, peace, and shared joy, and the strength of that vision, I believe, is behind the kindness and compassion I saw among all the people I met at the festival.

  • So first up, organisations with a strong vision will inspire their employees to achieve greater things.

2: Live your values

I’ve already mentioned the plastic ban at Glastonbury, but there were other ways in which the festival organisers demonstrated that their values weren’t just for show. Compost toilets, which don’t use water and allow the farm to recycle all the waste, are right up there on the list. “ShePee” loos helped make having a wee as quick for the girls as the boys. There was even a project that turns festival-goers’ urine into electricity!

It wasn’t just about the toilets though: the festival also includes little touches such as the ‘mini pyramid stage’ at which any performer could turn up and share their talents with the festival. All these things help turn the festival’s vision into a reality, set it apart from purely commercial events and for many people, make it the music festival to go to.

  • Secondly then, live your values. Bring your vision to life, and your people will respond in kind.

3: Lead with your whole self

Michael Eavis and his daughter Emily have become synonymous with the festival. A quick glance at the history of Glastonbury shows you just how much of their spirit and energy goes into the festival each year – from successfully defending five prosecutions in one day to keep the festival running, to taking a personal interest in each of the acts they invite to the festival.

It’s plain that for both Michael and Emily, running the festival is a passion, and they never turn up with anything less than their A-game. That passion is something that resonates with festival-goers, and it will resonate with your employees too.

  • Our final take-away is to be sure to deliver the kind of passion and enthusiasm you expect from your employees.

Ready to make it happen?

Glastonbury is so much more than a muddy music festival. Just imagine if you could build an organisation — and inspirational space — that people are desperate to be a part of. I know loads of leaders out there – from CEOs to line managers – who are already nailing some, or even all of the necessary elements, but it’s not easy. To be truly successful as a leader takes the right mindset and no small amount of resilience — to help you stay positive when your metaphorical festival disappears under a foot of water as Glastonbury did in 2005!

Connor has had more than a quarter of a century’s experience helping organisations get their leaders into a position where they and their organisations can thrive. If you’d like help with this, find out more about our INSPIRED Performance programme or give us a call on +44 (0) 1491 4141010.

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