What do you do when you’re managing an event and something goes wrong? According to Frank Supovitz, founder of Fast Traffic Events and Entertainment, you need to accept the truth of the situation and work to overcome the problem. These realizations, which he calls “mega-truths,” will help you set your sights on what actually needs to be done.
For years, Supovitz served as Vice President of Events for the National Football League and before that, he led the National Hockey League’s Event and Entertainment Department. Over the course of his career, he’s produced Super Bowls, Stanley Cup Finals, NFL Drafts, and many international competitions. This week, Supovitz came to Providence to give the closing keynote address at Johnson & Wales University’s Annual SEEM Leadership Conference. During his remarks, he shared a story about a particular event in his career that tested his crisis-management skills.
It was 2013, and Supovitz was running the show behind the scenes of the most-watched television program of the year: Super Bowl XLVII. The game was being played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Beyoncé had just finished her halftime performance.
Minutes into the third quarter, half of the stadium lost power. A blackout during a Super Bowl? That’s really not something you want to be in charge of fixing — but Supovitz was in charge, and he did fix it.
Here are five of Supovitz’s mega-truths that he dealt with during the blackout and how they can translate into any management position.
1. Panic paralyzes decision-making.
When something goes wrong, our first instinct is to panic. But as an event manager, panicking clouds your judgment and makes it even more difficult to make decisions. When the lights went out, Supovitz said he maintained his composure (even though he was actually panicking on the inside) and focused on what needed to be done. If he hadn’t kept calm, who knows how long it would have taken for the game to resume.
2. In the heat of the moment, blame is not important.
When the lights went out, it didn’t really matter why, Supovitz said. It only mattered that they came back on. As a manager, you need to prioritize problems. First, the lights needed to come back on. Second, all systems necessary for the game to resume needed to be working properly. When all of that was done, management could then figure out exactly what happened and if anyone was specifically at fault.
3. You may not have done it, but you still need to fix it.
As a manager, you sometimes get stuck in a situation that really isn’t your fault. In Supovitz’s case, he really had nothing to do with the power going out—but that doesn’t mean he didn’t step in to fix it. In this situation, it was his name that was one the line. Therefore, he had to make sure the problem got resolved.
4. Lead your team… but let them do their jobs.
Micromanaging won’t help you get things done, Supovitz said. You’ll become a better leader if you learn that your team is invaluable and that you truly can’t do their jobs better than they can—even if you think you can. It would have been easy for Supovitz to start barking orders at those he was leading. Instead, he had faith that his team could do what needed to be done. By letting each crew do its job, the problem was resolved after 22 minutes.
5. Recovery requires response, not reaction.
When the lights turned back on, it would have been easy for Supovitz to give the OK to have the game resume immediately. After all, he had CBS on his case about getting the game back up and running, and he had athletes who were itching to get back on the field. Instead, he waited to make sure everything that needed to be functioning—like the instant replay system—was working. After 34 minutes, the game kicked off again.
Reactions, according to Supovitz, are spur of the moment fixes. A reaction is something you do right away to remedy a problem. But in a crisis as big as this, a reaction wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, Supovitz took extra time to respond to the issue, correct the problem, and make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
“If I didn’t double check that instant replay system and it went out during the game, the story would no longer be about the blackout at the Super Bowl,” he said. “It would have been about the guy who made the decision to restart the game before everything else was ready.”
And for Supovitz, that would not have been a good story.
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