Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney

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9780739370520: Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney

“It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.”

The secret for creating “magic” in our careers, our organizations, and our lives is simple: outstanding leadership—the kind that inspires employees, delights customers, and achieves extraordinary business results.

No one knows more about this kind of leadership than Lee Cockerell, the man who ran Walt Disney World® Resort operations for over a decade. And in Creating Magic, he shares the leadership principles that not only guided his own journey from a poor farm boy in Oklahoma to the head of operations for a multibillion dollar enterprise, but that also soon came to form the cultural bedrock of the world’s number one vacation destination. But as Lee demonstrates, great leadership isn’t about mastering impossibly complex management theories. We can all become outstanding leaders by following the ten practical, common sense strategies outlined in this remarkable book. As straightforward as they are profound, these leadership lessons include:
Everyone is important.
Make your people your brand.
Burn the free fuel: appreciation, recognition, and encouragement.
Give people a purpose, not just a job.

Combining surprising business wisdom with insightful and entertaining stories from Lee’s four decades on the front lines of some of the world’s best-run companies, Creating Magic shows all of us – from small business owners to managers at every level – how to become better leaders by infusing quality, character, courage, enthusiasm, and integrity into our workplace and into our lives.

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About the Author:

LEE COCKERELL was the Executive Vice President, Operations, for Walt Disney World for over ten years. He continues to speak and teach in leadership and professional development on behalf of the Disney Institute. A popular keynote speaker, he frequently addresses Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits across the country. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE
MAKING MAGIC
 It's not the magic that makes it work; it's the way we work that makes it magic." Everyone who works at Walt Disney World Resort learns that principle, and the result has been magic for the Guests and for the bottom line. Now you can create magic too--for your organization, your family, and your community--by following the leadership strategies in this book.

During my sixteen years as a senior Disney executive, I repeated that phrase about making magic hundreds of times. But its full magnitude hit me with hurricane force--literally--in the summer of 2004. That's when Disney World was hammered by three major hurricanes in a little more than a month. Normally, tropical storms do not cause heavy damage in Orlando, as it is about fifty miles from both coasts. In fact, the city had not suffered a direct hit in forty-four years. Then came 2004 and the one-two punch of Charley and Frances.

In August, Hurricane Charley swept through Orlando on Friday the thirteenth with gusts of up to 105 miles per hour, ripping down trees and power lines and tearing the roofs off buildings. The area had not yet fully recovered when Frances came roaring in two weeks later--on Labor Day weekend, no less, when Disney World was host to seventy-five thousand guests. We were forced to close the theme parks on both occasions, something we had done only twice before, once on 9/11 and once in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd, which fortunately veered away at the last minute. But this time we had to batten down the hatches, and when your hatches are spread over forty-seven square miles, it's a monumental task.

What I remember most about the ordeal is not the terrifying winds or the sleepless nights in the emergency operation center (EOC), where my team and I had gathered to make plans to ensure the safety of our Guests and fellow Cast Members. Instead, I remember the dedication of our staff, the precision of our communications, and the smooth way everyone did what he or she was supposed to do even though it'd never been done before. I remember teams of dedicated people tying down chandeliers, stacking tables and chairs and roping them together, and strapping vending carts to the ground. I remember Mickey and Minnie and Cinderella and Goofy cheering up frightened children in the hotel lobbies. Mostly, I remember the five-thousand-plus Cast Members who spent the stormy nights on the property so they could help at any hour and in any way they could, and the countless others who showed up with their sleeves rolled up the minute it was safe to leave their homes.

I also remember this: When Charley finally subsided, around midnight, exhausted Cast Members worked through the night, clearing debris, getting supplies to where they were needed, and hauling away thousands of damaged trees. It was a monumental effort, with everyone acting as one to get the parks ready for our Guests, some of whom had been stuck in their rooms for eighteen hours. The next morning, we opened on time. And the families who poured in were astonished to find the sunlit theme parks looking spotless and the operations running as if nothing had happened. What they could not see was the massive teamwork behind the scenes that made it all possible or the stress and fatigue behind the smiling faces that greeted them. While many other attractions and businesses in central Florida remained closed and local municipalities were struggling to restore power and clear the roads, Disney was making magic.

As the executive vice president in charge of operations at Disney World, I could not have been more proud. All the work that my colleagues and I had done to instill strong leadership values throughout the company had clearly paid off. We already knew that our basic principles worked, but it's easy to think you're doing well when times are good. The real test comes when a crisis hits, and our response to this one validated everything I had learned and tried diligently to teach others. Thanks to the solid structures and processes we had in place, everyone knew exactly where to go and what to do. More important, each Cast Member was prepared, mentally and emotionally, to let the vision of Disney World govern everything he or she did: treat the Guests as cherished friends, exceed their expectations, and give them the best vacation experience of their lives. Everyone from top executives to rookies pursued this vision with remarkable dedication.

Soon I would be even more proud. Our company immediately set out to help Cast Members and area residents who had suffered major losses because of the hurricanes. Cast Members at every level of pay came through, either with direct donations or by converting their accrued vacation time into cash. With those funds and the millions more contributed directly by the Walt Disney Company, we were able to provide substantial financial aid, along with supplies, lodging, child care, and other services, to those in need.

All in all, what we saw in that tumultuous period is the kind of strong commitment and exceptional performance that any organization can enjoy as long as its leaders treat people with respect and unite them all behind one common purpose. When things returned to normal and I read the hundreds of letters we'd received from grateful Guests, I made a personal decision: The minute I retired, I would write a book about Disney's leadership strategies, so that people in every industry and every walk of life could learn how to create the same kind of magic in their organizations and in their lives. This is that book, and I'm certain that no matter what position you now hold--whether you've just started your very first job or you're the CEO of a multinational corporation--you will be a better leader if you follow the ten common sense strategies that follow.
THE WORLD OF DISNEY WORLD

The enchanted realm called Walt Disney World is about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan. As the largest tourist destination and one of the biggest convention sites in the world, its 25,000 acres include 32 hotels with more than 31,000 rooms, hundreds of dining and retail locations, four major theme parks, a sports and recreation complex, a shopping and entertainment village, and 167 miles of roadway. With its 59,000 Cast Members, it is the largest single-site employer in the world. And my job was to know exactly what was going on in every nook and cranny of that vast domain.

For ten years I was responsible for making sure everything from the removal of trash to the operation of rides and attractions ran as smoothly and impeccably as a Swiss watch. In order to do my job, I had to know what our Guests felt about their time with us, and so I read their letters over the years, thousands of them, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's not just the great weather, fabulous shows, and thrilling attractions that bring millions of people a year to Disney World. Those all are extremely important, of course, but what really drives the magic is the extraordinary service. How does Disney maintain that high-quality service? Each of the fifty-nine thousand Cast Members is trained to treat each and every Guest with the utmost care and respect. And they do this consistently because they are treated exactly the same way by the Disney leadership: with the utmost care and respect.

If that sounds like a commercial for a fluffy feel-good Disney movie, let me assure you it's not. It's a rational, muscular, no-nonsense business strategy. And its results are reflected in Disney's robust bottom line, not to mention its astonishing 70 percent return rate among visitors and the lowest employee turnover rate of any major company in the hospitality industry. The formula is simple: Committed, responsible, inspiring leaders create a culture of care, which leads to quality service, which leads to Guest satisfaction, which leads to measurable business results and a strong competitive advantage.

Products and services can easily be replicated. So if your company's competitive advantage is based on products and services alone, you are at risk. But if it's based upon products, services, and quality service, then you'll have a competitive advantage that's very difficult to match. And you can get quality service only by creating a caring, respectful, people-centered culture within your company. Take care of your people, and they will take care of your business, not just because they have to but because they want to.
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGE

Walt Disney himself created the template for quality service when he first envisioned theme parks more than half a century ago. Later, in 1982, the company's reputation got a powerful boost when Tom Peters praised it in his mega-selling book In Search of Excellence. Because Peters singled out the Disney training procedures, managers and executives from other companies started asking how they could emulate those methods.

Throughout the 1980s, Disney World continued to thrive financially. But by the early 1990s, the times were a-changin'. Competitors were starting to catch up, and certain aspects of the company's management style began to seem outdated. The autocratic, top-down leadership approach of the past was less and less welcome in the changing social landscape; management experts predicted that the coming generation of workers and managers would thrive better in a more democratic, participatory environment. One visionary leader who saw the writing on the wall was Judson Green, who was then the president of Disney's Theme Parks and Resorts division. If Walt Disney World was going to adapt to an evolving society and maintain its industry dominance, he realized, the corporate culture had to change.

Intuitively, Judson knew that the key to continued financial success was to provide Guests with a wonderful experience so they'd come back again and again and recommend the place to their families and friends. He reasoned that the Guests' satisfaction depended on the quality of service they received. After all, studies in a variety o...

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