Leadership Lessons from Mardi Gras 2023


I know what you’re thinking – this is a joke right?  Can Mike really be serious?  How can you possibly get leadership lessons from Mardi Gras? 

I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  If you’ve never been, what comes to mind when the term is used?  Is your idea centered on the wildness on Bourbon Street, which has been the topic of many shows and films?  For me, those films and stories don’t reflect what Mardi Gras means.

Mardi Gras this year was February 21.  It’s been over four months since the last Mardi Gras parade rolled in New Orleans.  The two weeks prior to February 21 were quite hectic.  Ten out of those fourteen days had at least one parade.

For me and my family, this two-week period is a time for gatherings.  Our place is quite close to the parade route in a part of the city that is tame compared to the French Quarter or Bourbon Street.  It is a natural place to gather and watch the parades.

If you have never been to a Mardi Gras parade, it’s not like any other.  There are similarities – bands, marching groups, and floats.  But these aren’t just any floats.  They are quite large and incredibly decorated.  Each float holds numerous riders.  They don’t just wave to the spectators, they throw trinkets.  The music is very different also.  There is music from the bands (much better than your typical halftime marching band music), the marching groups (there’s nothing like a Mardi Gras dance group), and sometimes from the floats themselves.  This makes a Mardi Gras parade much more interactive than typical holiday parades in the U.S.

My wife and I open our home and host family and friends for ten days, serving food for all who come.  Our family gathers at our house before the parades start.  We have food, drinks, and a lot of conversation.  This time is an extended family reunion for me, except everyone goes home to sleep in their own beds, gathering again for the next day of parades.

For the most part, my wife and I prepare food for folks who attend.  The last couple of years, others have offered to bring entire meals or food to supplement.  This has been quite helpful, as the preparation of so many meals is a big task.  My wife and I start planning the schedule and menus early in January.  We spend a lot of time reviewing what has worked and what hasn’t in the past years, which allows us to continually improve and freshen our menus.

Spending time with relatives helps to get to know extended family members well.  In a relaxed setting, people are more open.  This allows you to get to know them better and understand more about them. 

You might wonder what leadership lessons I’ve learned from Mardi Gras.  They are important ones:

  1. Take time off for what’s truly important.  We started hosting at our house in 2016.  Before I retired, I usually took the two-week period off as vacation.  I learned the most important leadership lesson while I was working – a leader needs to make time for what matters most to them.  After my faith, family matters most for me.  I get recharged being around family.
  2. There is a lot of value in teamwork and planning.  For the past seven years, my wife and I have spent a lot of time planning and preparing meals to entertain.  We’ve had a lot of stress and poor communication also (but we’re still married!).  I’ve learned the value of spending time with your team planning for an event or project.  We’ve been able to improve our communication and teamwork through the planning process.
  3. Make sure you allow flexibility in your plan.  Once we’ve put together an entertainment plan for Mardi Gras, I tend to view it as locked in stone.  I’m learning that entertaining family is about having fun and enjoying each other.  It’s not about the plan.  Keep the goal in mind and realize that plans need to change sometimes.
  4. Get to know your team members individually.  As a leader, knowing your team members allows you to serve and support them better.  Spend time with them in a casual setting.  Find out their goals, dreams, and interests.  You’ll be a better leader.  As my favorite author John C. Maxwell says – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  I can’t tell you how many stories come from our family gatherings at Mardi Gras.  I made sure to share most of these with my teammates.  I wanted them to know that while I take my work seriously, I don’t take myself seriously.  (Of course, my family would strongly disagree with that last sentence.)

I really enjoy Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  It’s a great time.  Spending time with family and friends makes it a wonderful season every year.  It allows me to disconnect from other stresses in my life.  Do you take time off for what’s important to you?  What is your favorite get-away?

What’s your biggest logistical challenge?  For me, it’s that two-week window where we’re hosting and entertaining.  I have found that a flexible plan and a great team yields success.  How do you address challenges like that?

Do you take yourself too seriously?  I know I have that tendency, especially at home or around my family.  I’m working on that.  Break out and try something different. Can you find leadership lessons in extraordinary situations or circumstances?  I’d like to hear your thoughts about the lessons I have learned from Mardi Gras.