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Creating Disney Magic

Author: Lee Cockerell

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Lee Cockerell shares his wisdom and experience from his time as the Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World. Lee discusses how you can apply lessons in leadership, management, and customer service to create magic in your organization.
277 Episodes
Leadership is leadership no matter where you find it.  A podcast listener wrote in with a question about how leadership looks different in a school versus leadership in a business.  Good question with a simple answer. Leadership is leadership no matter where you find it. The words you use may be different, but leadership is the same in a school setting.  A Principal sets the standards and teachers carry out the standards and expectations.  Appreciation, recognition, and encouragement.  Hire the right people. Train them. And treat them right.  Management techniques may change over time, but leadership will always stay the same.  Leadership is about influence, attitude, making people feel respected and special.  A good leader in education would be a good leader in business. Leadership is leadership.  Whether you work in a school, a drug store, a movie theater, or a factory making widgets, it is never about the product. It is always about the people. 
"The biggest obstacle to thriving is arriving" - Dan Miller Once you accomplish something big, do you keep pushing to get better? Or do you settle in? You can do more than you are currently doing in your life. If you want to.  Don't try to be the best. Just try to be better every day.  The ability to push through obstacles and resistance is how you get ahead in life.  If you let something derail you, it will haunt you for the rest of your life.  Get better every day by learning something you did not know yesterday. Help someone you did not help yesterday.  If you know more, you can help other people now more.  If you are nicer, you can help someone have a better day.  Every day, I try to be better and do more than I did the day before. Can I serve someone better? Can I reach out to more people? Can my next podcast be better? Can I be a better role model? Most of your satisfaction will come from people appreciating you, not how much money you make. 
We often fall in love with our own ideas.  When we have time and money invested in an idea, it becomes hard to walk away.  But if you have been doing it for a while and it is not working, it is probably not going to work.  Rethink how you are doing things. What do you have going on that is not working right now? I admit, guys tend to be stubborn about hanging onto ideas, even if they are no longer working.  One of the best ways to examine your ideas is to get experts around you. Sit in a room with a mastermind group, talk to employees and customers, work with someone who knows more than you do. Make sure you are not sticking to an idea that no longer works. 
Strategic Planning does not mean creating a big complex plan.  The purpose of a strategic plan is simply to make business better. An effective strategic plan only has 3 elements: Customer, Employee, and the Bottom Line.  There are three questions you want to answer in your strategic plan; How can we make it better for guests?  How can we make it better for employees? How can we make more money? Sit down with employees and ask them about the business. What are they hearing from customers? What do they need to do their job better? What outstanding maintenance issues are you missing? Now Make a list of questions and ideas by department Here are a couple of examples: Food and beverage:  -How can we increase the average amount of a bill? -How can we get guests to buy a desert? Retail: -What shops should we consider opening? -What products should we carry to increase spending per guest? -Do we have any maintenance issues? Now go through your financial statements. Where can you do better? What can you eliminate altogether? Don't view your strategic plan as something you shape once a year. New ideas can show up at any time. Re-examine the strategic plan every quarter to see where you can improve and what new ideas you can insert into the plan. 
If employees are disorganized it can cause problems for you and other employees.  As a leader, you need to deal with it. Other people are watching and wondering why you are letting this problem continue.  Sit down with the disorganized and explain what you see and why what they are doing is disruptive. And figure out why it is happening.  Maybe they need more from you. Maybe you haven't said anything about it so they assume what they are doing is ok.  Good leaders are constantly repeating what they want to happen. You have to set expectations and constantly remind people.  By the way, if you have good employees leave them alone. Don't adopt a blanket policy that impacts everyone. Deal with the disorganized employees and let the organized employees keep getting work done. 
One of the quickest ways to get ahead in your career is to take on more work and do a great job. When the opportunity arises, you should volunteer to take on more responsibility.  The people who get ahead in life are the ones who raise their hands when the boss needs someone to take on a project.  And, usually, it is the busiest person in the room who raises their hand.  This is because they have a system and know what they can get done. They know how to delegate, follow up, track a project If you want to get noticed by your boss, volunteer to take on a project. By taking on more work and doing a great job, you are going to get noticed. You are going to get exposed to other high performers. You are going to get experience doing bigger work.  Most people will pass on the opportunity to take on more work. But you can't afford to miss the experience and exposure.  Even if you don't know what you're doing, take on the project anyway. You will figure it out. And the big secret in life is nobody else knows what they are doing either. Don't hold back because you don't know what to do.  Take the challenge this week. Find some more work to volunteer for. 
There are times when people of higher positions in an organization feel like they are above other positions.  Let me be blunt. Some people feel they are hot stuff and don't appreciate the employees who are really making the business operate.  During my career, I was treated as if I wasn't as good as others because I didn't have a college degree. But I know I am not unique. Women have dealt with treatment like this for a long time. So have older employees. And young employees.  It becomes a cultural thing. And once it is part of the culture, the only way it can change is through top leadership.  A nice suit doesn't make you special. An MBA doesn't make you special. Every employee should be respected. The message, behavior, and culture of appreciation and respect have to come from the top.  Making the change won't happen right away. It took time to get the culture you have and it is going to take time to turn it around.  If you don't get culture right, you are going to miss more opportunities than you realize. If you are a leader, make sure everyone who reports to you is appreciated and respected. If you have the courage to step up. you can try to push it further up. Pushing for change isn't easy. But you can make a difference.  Don't underestimate what you can do to help people.   
When a new year begins, the only shift I make is getting out my January insert for my DayTimer.  A new year has no more importance than a new day.  Many people make the mistake of having a philosophical approach to a new year.  Have you thought to yourself, "well, it's a new year, now is the time to focus on ..." and here is where you might insert losing weight, spending time with family, or finding a new job.  If so, you are taking the wrong approach.  The better approach is to think about it each day. How can you make today better? Get out of the habit of setting resolutions or goals for a new year. Instead, make today better. Then make tomorrow better.  Wake up 15 minutes earlier, sit down with the Morning Magic Planner and plan out your day.  Every day is a good day to get better.   
Your Boss Won't Change

Your Boss Won't Change


Many companies focus on results and don't care how you feel. You get a paycheck and they don't owe you anything else, they reason.  You don't have to put up with it.  If you have a job where you are not respected or appreciated, it is time to move on. Perform as good as you can at your current position while you look for a new job, but begin now looking for a new job. Don't stay in a job where you are not satisfied with what you are doing.  People who don't feel they matter tend to make drastic changes. It is why people leave relationships. And it is the number one reason why people leave jobs.  There really isn't anything you personally can do if you have a boss who doesn't appreciate people.  The odds of you being able to do anything to change the person as slim. Do not fool with fools. Get out of the situation.  Basically, there are only two options. Stay and put up with it or leave. Leaving is uncomfortable. But life is short, don't put up with a bad situation too long. Your boss won't change.  In a few years, what you are going through now will be a little detour.  Or, you can stay and put up with it.  Your problem is not your situation. Your problem is your decisions. If you stay in a bad work situation it is your decision. 
The Power of Persistence

The Power of Persistence


In your book, your phone number. What do you do with all the extra phone calls you get? Believe it or not, I don't get many phone calls. Sure, I get some spam calls. Even when I was the EVP of Disney World, I made myself available to any cast member. It wasn't often a cast member reached out. And today, not many people reach out. If someone calls me, I want to make sure they get in touch with me. That is how I am able to book presentations and other business.  If phone calls are taking away from your business, you still have to find a way to handle the calls. Most businesses make it hard to talk to a real person. Answering the phone is part of taking care of your customers.  If I have my own business but want to learn from someone in a different business, how can I ask them to be my mentor? Reach out and ask for advice. Find out more about the company, pick someone in the company, explain your situation and ask if you can spend a few minutes asking questions. Keep at it. Don't get discouraged.  Persistence is a big problem today. People give up too easily. The power of persistence will take you far in life.
Being a parent is the most important leadership job in the world.  If you can't have hard discussions and make tough choices, don't become a leader. And definitely don't have kids.  Parenting can be hard. Especially when you are the parent of a teenager.  As a leader in your home, you have to keep talking to your teenager constantly. Even when they don't want to talk to you. And you have to model the behavior at home you want to see from your teenager.  Kids are going to push back and test you.  But you have to stick with them and keep communicating.  Understand what kids are telling you may not include all of the truth. They will leave parts of the story out to keep out of trouble.  When I was a teenager, the biggest trouble we could get into was beer and cigarettes. By the time my son was a teenager, drugs had become a big problem. We talked about the potential of trouble and consequences often.  You have to pay attention to your teenager. Go into their room often to see what is happening. And keep talking.  Talk to your teenager about situations before they happen. Kids need to understand bad things are going to happen. They will face bullies and peer pressure. A kid will already have to know what they will do in situations before it happens.  Let them know peer pressure is the worst way to make a decision. Fill their brains with reality.  One of the best ways to have a talk with a teenager is to go for a drive. They can't escape and you can talk  You don't need to be best friends with your kids, but you have to respect them and they have to respect you. You build mutual respect by communicating and modeling behavior. 
In this episode of Creating Disney Magic, we answer listener questions about careers and promotions. How should I dress on my first day at a new job? Before your first day, you should already have an idea of the culture of the company and the way people dress for work. On your first day, dress slightly better than the usual work appearance. It is better to show up a little overdressed than underdressed.  People do judge you on how you look. Make sure you look professional.  What would you tell an employee who wants a raise beyond the usual annual raise? The simple answer is to tell them the truth. Often, people want a bigger raise because of the amount of time they have been in their job. But they are in a job that doesn't pay more than they are earning. Tell them the truth about what it would take to get a job that will pay them more.  During my entire career, I never asked for a raise. I just kept doing my best and kept getting promotions. With each promotion, I made more money. If you become the type of employee your company won't want to be without, you will always have a better chance for a raise.  What if I am so good at my current job my boss won't promote me? You have to have a candid conversation with your supervisor to find out what it will take to move up to the next level. If you are a great performer, having this conversation won't impact your job. If you are going to raise your performance, you need to know what your supervisor expects.  I used to ask my boss, "Are you telling your boss something about me you are not telling me?" I made it as easy as possible for my boss to tell me how I could do better.  Your job and career have to be good for you, not just for the company. If you want to read about my career and the lessons I learned along the way, check out my book, Career Magic.
When you have a big announcement to make, you know what people are going to ask. Go ahead and address the big issues upfront before they even have to bring it up.  If you want to be sure you cover all potential questions, get a team together. Talk about what questions, concerns, and issues people are going to have with the announcement. Come up with 5 or 6 questions you know people are going to have and include the information in your announcement.  Anticipating the problems and addressing the issues upfront will soften any pushback you might get.  As an example, At Disney, when we moved from paying people weekly to every other week and moved from paper checks to direct deposit only we knew this may cause concerns for some cast members.  Since we knew people would have some issues, in advance, we put together a process to help people set up a bank account if needed. Or help them set up direct deposit into their bank account. Offering the help upfront made adopting the new system easier for the people it would impact the most.  Working through this process will help you find ways you can help people.  Don't lay it out and tell people it is their problem. Problems caused to employees are your problems, too. Work with them to ease the concerns before they become problems.  Get it down to the basics. This will cover the biggest issues. One-off questions can be handled by individual managers. 
Is it possible to enforce rules and guidelines and still focus on delivering an excellent customer experience? At Disney, we are clear to cast members about the responsibility to enforce rules and be polite at the same time.  No matter what rule or policy you have, there will be someone who does not like it.  Always remain polite and courteous and explain why the policy is in place. And be consistent about enforcing the policy.  You probably already know the 5 or 6 policies you have in place a customer might complain about. Train employees on how to answer and handle those complaints. Don't wait for people to complain before you help employees. Be proactive.  You can also find ways to serve the customer while enforcing a policy. When you visit DisneyWorld, we provide lockers so a guest can put something away if they are not allowed to bring it into the park. 
At Disney, it doesn't matter what your job is. We all have the same purpose.  Take care of the guest. It doesn't matter if what you are doing for the guest is in your job description.  A culture of customer service doesn't happen by accident. It has to be part of your culture. It has to be repeated. People have to hear it over and over.  No matter what your job is, your purpose is to take care of the guests.  At Disney, our purpose was to make sure guests have the most fabulous time of their lives, no matter what your job title is.  When all 80,000 cast members at Disney World focuses on this purpose, a guest will have an unbelievable experience when they least expect it.  Imagine someone working in security being able to tell you what the specials are at the restaurant. Something like doesn't happen. Except it does at Disney. Taking care of the guest is baked into our culture.  Hire the right people. Train them. Explain expectations. Give them examples. And then let them take care of the customers. Hold them accountable. And role model what you want to see from employees.  Customer service is not a department. It is a way of doing business.  
Every organization has team members resign. Some of the people who leave are popular. Some of them fill an important role in the organization.  How you handle the resignation will have an impact on other employees.  Begin by telling the right people in the right order about the resignation. Doing so will eliminate the wrong story getting into the rumor mill. Within a couple of hours, everyone who needs to know should know. Then you can let other team members know.  Communicate quickly and keep it positive.  At Disney, I had senior executives leave the company for better opportunities. I didn't want them to leave, but people are going to do what is best for them and their careers.  Don't burn bridges. Always keep it positive whether you are the one leaving or someone left behind.  When I left Marriott, I told Bill Marriott first. Then I talked to my direct boss. I even helped them work on transitioning a new person into my role.  Marriott treated me well over the years. When I left, I wanted to treat them well, too. And I did not take any people with me to Disney, even though there were people who wanted the opportunity to join me at Euro Disney.  Remember, your career does not revolve around a single company. And you shouldn't expect anyone else to have their career revolve around your organization.
Own Your Attitude

Own Your Attitude


Your job is not to motivate employees. Your job is to hire the right employees. When you hire the right people they will motivate themselves.  Not everyone agrees with this idea. Some people feel the main responsibility of a leader is to motivate employees.  During my career, I have had obstacles, bad bosses, bad work situations, bad pay, lots of stress, bad work environments, and in all of those circumstances, I motivated myself.  You own your own motivation. You own your own development. And your attitude. No one else is responsible for your motivation.  At Disney, we hired people with the right attitude and gave them a professional, respectful environment to work in. Our job was to train them and development. But cast members owned their own motivation and outcome.  As a supervisor, if someone has a bad attitude, you will never motivate them.  As an employee, you will eventually run into a boss who doesn't like you and doesn't work well with you. You will still have to do a good job.  If you want to learn more about the ups and downs of my career, check out my book, Career Magic.  "Only you are responsible for your happiness and your health." - Sunshine Payne  
How you manage your time is how you manage your reputation.  Nobody is born disorganized. It is a learned thing.  With discipline, you can do the right things when you are supposed to do them.  Time Management Magic is not just a book, it is a way of thinking.  Most of my career success can be attributed to 3 things; organization, time management, and persistence.  But you can't just focus on work, you need to keep your whole life under control. If you don't take the time to plan the life you want, you will spend a lot of time living the life you don't want.  My book, Time Management Magic will help you understand the things in your life you should be working on. Your reputation is at stake.   
What if you are so busy you don't have room to fit in a new customer? It happens. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with our current workload it is difficult to fit in new customers.  But you should never leave it to someone else to get back to you. Put in a system where you get back to a potential customer without putting the burden on them.   If you leave it to a potential customer to get back to you, they will find someone else to do business with. Don't let a customer try a competitor before you even get the chance to serve them.  Make it easy to do business with you, and more people will do business with you.  If you put a system in place where you call back customers and keep communicating with them they will be willing to wait.  Don't string along a customer, but keep the contact alive.  Most people are so disorganized they will forget about you if you don't keep reminding them.  Don't just think about how busy you are right now and let them walk away. Consider the lifetime value of a customer.  Most customers, when they find someone great, will stay with you. Make sure people get the chance to experience how good you are.  If you keep these ideas in mind, people will be glad to wait for you: Make every customer feel special.  Treat people respectfully.  Be reliable and credible.  People will wait for quality.  Have the attitude that you are the giving one. Treat people special, even if they are not yet a customer.  If you can't serve someone, recommend someone else who can help them. Even if you don't make the immediate sale. People will remember how you treat them. Be the giving one. 
Is it better to get an education or the experience that comes with a promotion? Education pays off down the road. Take the opportunity to get an education over the chance for a promotion. Sometimes you have to make decisions that will pay off later. Passing up the temporary rewards of promotion in favor of getting an education is one of those times.  A promotion pays off now, with more money and responsibility. But you can get that and more if you get an education.   Promoting too fast can even take away the opportunity to get experience, exposure, and education to help you later in your career.  Do the hard things now so you can have a better life down the road. 
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