4 Simple Tips to Creating Magic…

creating magic

Hey there!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Lee Cockerell, author of Creating Magic and former head of operations at Walt Disney Resorts. Creating Magic touts indispensable leadership advice from a man who went from Oklahoma dairy farmer to army cook to head of operations at Disney World! Quite an inspiring man, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to pick his brain. If you are looking to build a company that inspires, team members (i.e. cast members) who excel, and customers (i.e. guests) who rave about you, read below. I asked Lee the questions you want answered most and his tips and tactics on running your own small business, hiring the right people and sprinkling a little Disney Magic into everything you do :)

1.     Can you please tell the readers a little about yourself (for those that don’t already know you)?

The short story on me is I grew up on a dairy farm in Oklahoma, went to college for two years and flunked out. I went into the US Army and became a cook. My first job was at Hilton Hotels as a banquet waiter, and got into a management training program at Hilton. I stayed at Hilton for 7 years and then joined Marriott and worked for them for 17 years. In 1990, I joined Disney to open Disneyland Paris. Three years later, I moved to Walt Disney World in Orlando and became the head of operations for ten years. I retired in 2006 and wrote my book Creating Magic to inspire others to create a workplace that inspires people. I am married to Priscilla Cockerell, and we have been married for 43 years. We have one son, Daniel who is a VP at Disney. He is married to Valerie the mother of our three perfect grandchildren, Jullian (16), Margot (13), and Tristan (10).

2.     I spend the majority of my day educating artists and designers how to make their product retail ready. But as solo-designers, many of them don’t even think how to create a great working environment and bring employees into their company. I loved the 7 guest service guidelines from the Disney Institute that you shared in your book. What are some of the most important strategies you can share with everyone and how they can incorporate those tactics in their workplace?

The Seven Service Guidelines are really the basics for customers. Make sure every employee understands these guidelines and you, as the owner, is a great role-model for these guidelines. Your employees are watching you.The most important thing for creating a great culture and environment for employees in the workplace is this: Remember everyone is important.  The job of the manager/owner/leader is to create a great culture and environment where their employees wake up in the morning and want to come to work vs having to come to work for the paycheck. Do the following fours things and you will have committed employees who will go all the way for the customer and the business.
      1) Make every employee feel special…….We all want this. They want what you want. We all want to know we matter.
      2) Treat everyone as an individual…..Help employees with their business and personal problems. Treat them the way you would want to be treated or how you would want your children treated if they worked for someone like you.
      3) Show total and complete respect to every employee no matter what color they are, where they are from, what language they speak or don’t speak, their sexual orientation, their religion, their disability, gender or anything else. We all want to be respected.
      4) Train and develop your people. Make them better every day and teach them how to get better so they will have more opportunities. Be as creative in leading your team as you are in creating products. You can’t do it alone. Your people are your reputation and your brand.

3.     A lot of creative entrepreneurs want to do everything themselves. How can they start to delegate in a way that inspiring? One of the comments that you made in the book really resonated with me – Leaders are always in learning mode. This has always been my philosophy and continue to find new ways to become better both professionally and personally. Can you share with us your top strategies in becoming better leaders?

First hire people to do things you are not good at and then let them do it. Be careful who you hire. If you hire great people, clarify your expectations and train them. They will need to do a great job for you so you can have time to do what you are great at. Most people hire the wrong people because they don’t take their time. Also, they don’t spend the time to train them and they are not crystal clear about what the employees responsibilities. If you are micro-managing your employees, you hired the wrong people. As the saying goes, “You need to hire slowly and fire quickly!”

4.     I love that you worked for Disney for sixteen years! When I was in college, I really enjoyed interning for Disney and loved the company philosophy in how they treat “cast members.” What was your biggest lesson learned having worked at Disney?

Hire great people, train them, clarify exactly what your expect from them and then hold them
accountable. It takes all 60K cast members to create the magic. It is not magic that makes Disney World work. It’s the way we work that makes it magic.

5.     Your brand is your people. If there is one thing that you can advise emerging entrepreneurs on how to “keep” their employees from not leaving, what would it be?

Focus on hiring the right people. Make them feel special and treat them as an individual. Show them respect and continually train and develop them. Turnover will go down drastically!

6. I wanted to thank Lee for doing this interview and sharing your strategies with us. Is there anything else you’d like to share before we wrap things up? And where can people find you online (website, twitter, etc)?

Last thoughts…..Wake up every morning thinking about these things. What you think about is who you become. Think about which habits you have which are not very good and change them. Think about how you spend your time. Most people do not understand the value of how they spend their time. Use it wisely. The only person that can control the events in your life is YOU.

My website is: www.leecockerell.com. I am on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. My blog might be very helpful to everyone….Lee

“Creating Magic” is a MUST-read for any entrepreneur. I was lucky enough to get my hands on this book by my mentor and it has been an eye-opening experience.

Lee has a special gift for you all – his Disney recipe book for
“Why we do what we do and how we do what we do.” Enjoy!

Download your copy here!

If you want to get your hands on his book and start creating magic with your team in 2012, I would HIGHLY recommend it :)


Grace Kang
Your Retail Product Mentor