When it comes to setting the industry standard, no one does it better than Disney. The magic that guests experience is what keeps them coming back time and time again. But what elements go into creating the atmosphere of The Most Magical Place On Earth? Former Executive Vice President of Operations of the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort, Lee Cockerell, sits down with Rita to discuss just that. 

In this episode, we discuss:

- Lee’s history and growth as a leader within the Walt Disney Company. 

- How the role of empathy, discipline, and trust in great leadership creates low employee turnover.

- How to keep your team aligned with the mission and vision of your organization.

- How, in this day and age, to handle leadership positions, especially with customer service in mind.

Lee’s history and growth as a leader within the Walt Disney Company

Lee Cockerell began working in the hospitality industry at the age of 20 for big company names such as Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, and Marriott. After several years of climbing the ladder within these companies, Lee was recruited by the Walt Disney Company in 1990 to become a part of the opening team for Disneyland Paris. After only 3 weeks of acclimating to the company in Orlando, he was off! 

Once Lee arrived in lovely Paris, he began to climb the magical ladder starting as the Director of Food and Beverage and Quality Assurance and transferring to the Vice President of Hotel Operations. When Lee finally made his way back to Orlando, he was placed in charge of hotel operations and then moved his way to the Executive Vice President of Operations for the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort, a position which he held for 10 years. 

His responsibilities encompassed a diverse mix of operations, which included 20 resort hotels with over 24,000 Guest rooms, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 5 golf courses, a shopping village & nighttime entertainment complex, the ESPN Sports Complex and the ancillary operations support functions. 

How the role of empathy, discipline, and trust in great leadership creates low employee turnover

When it came to putting leadership skills into action, Lee considered himself someone who was a teacher rather than a boss. He considered the fact that if you focus more on who you bring onto the team, train them right, and treat them better, you’ll have lower turnover and have a team that’s ultimately excited to be there.

Lee believes that most companies don’t take the time to properly onboard new employees. When this process moves too fast, things tend to fall through the cracks. Companies don’t train properly, set the proper expectations, and end up not treating their team with respect which in turn causes employees to go out and find someone who will do these things.

All in all, it’s the employees who are on the frontline and work hard for your bottom line. If you can’t work for them, they’re less inclined to work for you.

For those companies who do take that extra step, they create an environment where employees can grow and move up the corporate ladder. It will also create a deeper respect and trust in leadership which steers them away from looking for another job and help put out good word of mouth about the company. As long as you educate your team and worry about their safety, everything else will fall into place.

How to keep your team aligned with the mission and vision of your organization

Every company across the board has a mission or vision they use to grab our attention and make an impact. Whether it be knowing that it’s because you’re worth it, having a pleasure shopping, or even knowing America runs on you. When it comes to the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort, they’re known as “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” It’s a place where you can let yourself be swept up in the magic to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, and any victories, big and small. 

That was one thing Lee would remind people through company newsletters or even at the end of phone calls. Just like the great Circle of Life, everyone is connected. No matter where you are within the company, your job has an impact on someone else either in the company as a cast member or even a guest who walks by you making a Mickey on the ground out of flower pedals.

A great example of keeping with their vision happened on September 11th, 2001. When the attack on the World Trade Center happened, the parks were all shut down within 90 minutes and they had their guests safely transported back to their hotels. Cast members provided food, entertainment, and lodging free of charge for those who had run up their credit card charges.

In tough times like these and even during hurricanes, cast members and higher ups are trained and prepared to execute plans to protect guests while still maintaining the magic. It’s moments like these that make the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort stand out from all the rest.

How to handle leadership positions, especially with customer service in mind

To be good at what you do, you really have to have a good understanding of the work and its environment. As a person in a higher up position, you have many things thrown on your plate at once and how you deal with them can really affect the work environment. The way you can handle situations, with both guest and cast members, is what builds the guests trust but also the trust between you and your team. 

One big piece of advice that Lee tells those who want to develop into leadership positions is, after receiving a proper education, get out and experience things. Lee was a man who worked in hotels among people of many different backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc. When working amidst these differences, outlooks about people change.

Changes like these help create better results with customer service, something very important in the hospitality industry. Let’s be honest, not every person who goes on a vacation to Walt Disney World is going to have everything go according to plan. Life is unpredictable and it doesn’t stop just because you’re on vacation. A great leader knows the proper protocol to handle guests recovery. 

The biggest key to success in dealing with guest situations is listening to the problem, no matter how big or small. After letting them finish, you apologize and start the recovery process by telling them what can be done, which is usually something more than what they’re expecting. It may seem like a daunting task in some situations, but a great leader can make the difference between an ok experience or one that can completely change the tune of the guests day. It’s those small details that make magical moments and have the guests coming back for more. 

Want to learn more from Lee? Lee is the best-selling author of four books on leadership, management and world-class customer service.

- Creating Magic…10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney is now available in 21 languages.

- The Customer Rules...The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service is currently available in 15 languages.

- Time Management Magic…How to Get More Done Every Day

- Career Magic…How to Stay on Track to Achieve a Stellar Career

Do you wish to connect with our special guest?

Visit his website: www.leecockerell.com 

Connect with Lee Cockerell on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/leecockerell