Lee Cockerell on Creating Magic Through Management

By Susan Jennnings

Posted: September 23rd, 2015

Category: Interviews

Expert Interview Series: Lee Cockerell on Creating Magic Through Management

Lee Cockerell knows a thing or two about creating a magical work environment. The retired executive vice president of operations for Walt Disney World Company spent 10 years overseeing 20 resort hotels (with over 24,000 guest rooms), four theme parks, two water parks, five golf courses, a shopping village and nighttime entertainment complex, a sports and recreation complex, and the ancillary operations support functions. 

Lee has written several books on leadership and management, including Creating Magic ... 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney. He also manages the Lessons in Leadership blog and produces the Creating Disney Magic podcast, which teaches readers and listeners how to move from good to great and from great to greater.

Lee recently answered a few questions for us about the keys to great leadership and great customer service. Here's what he had to say:

What are some of the biggest management lessons you learned during your tenure with Walt Disney World Resort?

Hire the best cast members; train, test and enforce training; and develop a world-class culture where everybody matters and they know they matter

What do you think sets Disney apart when it comes to management and customer service?

Leadership and committed cast members at every level. We hire better, we train better, and we have higher expectations for performance than any other organization.

What are the common mistakes made by business owners and managers in the hospitality industry?

  • They hire the wrong people
  • They don't fire the wrong ones
  • They don't set high standards
  • They don't train effectively
  • They are not clear about expectations for performance
  • They don't create a culture of excellence

  • What qualities do you think those hoping to get into the hospitality business should possess?

    A "can do" attitude and a passion for serving others.

    In your experience, where are the most common places within a business that management problems pop up? What are the most common types of challenges business owners run into?

    They hire managers who want to be the boss instead of managers who want to guide and teach. They make the mistake of hiring for technical skill and experience, and forget that attitude and passion is what drives excellence. 

    The front line customer-facing employees are your brand. Most employees I see today are not professional in grooming guidelines and not trained to be great in customer service and product knowledge.

    What advice can you offer business owners on minimizing the likelihood that these issues arise? 

    Don't get bored with the basics. Learn how to interview and hire better as well as what to listen for in an interview. Be 100 percent clear about expectations for performance, and enforce training and standards. Go to www.hireauthority.com if you want to learn how to interview and hire better. This is where I learned how to hire can-do, positive employees.

    What can other business owners and entrepreneurs learn from Disney's commitment to customer service? 

    Everything matters if you want to be great. Leadership comes first. Make sure your managers are great leaders so they can create an environment and culture for the front line employees. If successful, these employees will want to take care of the customers instead of having to just work for a paycheck; and then those front-line employees will provide great customer service and strong business results will follow. No other formula works.

    Where do you recommend small business owners and first-time entrepreneurs go in order to get advice and/or mentorship?

    They can go to my website for many free resources where they will find information on how to develop and lead an organization from poor to good, from good to great, and from great to greater. My site is www.LeeCockerell.com. On my site, I recommend many professional experts who might be able to help them as well.

    About the author:

    Susan Jennings blogs about a variety of topics including personal finance, travel and health.
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