Lee Cockerell is the CEO of his own management, leadership, and customer service consultancy which leverages his forty-plus years in the hospitality industry to train managers on how to provide world-class customer service. We had a chance to sit down with Lee to hear his thoughts on topics ranging from workforce diversity and time management to the secret of Disney’s success and the future of corporate leadership.
Why did your long tenure with the Walt Disney Company steer you toward a career in leadership development?
After working for Hilton Hotels for eight years, Marriott Corporation for 17 years, and Disney World as the senior operations executive for 10 years, I became more and more interested in leadership. I was already a good manager and understood customer service, but I lacked understanding of the power of being a great leader versus just a great manager. There is a huge difference between the two, and how they contribute to world-class results is significant.
What aspects of effective Disney-developed leaders are the most important and valuable for today’s leaders of other corporations?
Disney leaders are very carefully selected and then receive extensive training and development to ensure they have competence in four areas: technical, management, technology, and leadership. Our leaders are experts who are highly disciplined and trusted.
If you heard someone say, “Lee’s approach to leadership works great for the hospitality industry, but my industry operates much differently,” what would your response be?
My approach to leadership is that it works in any organization. Leadership is about how to “be” – how to be there for your people, be able to make tough decisions, be able to have difficult conversations, be honest, be ethical, and be a person who cares. Management is how to do; leadership is how to “be!”
Can you elaborate a bit about the link between strong corporate leadership and superior customer service?
The link between strong leadership and great customer service is clear. Leadership and customer service follow the law of gravity. It starts at the top.
One of your seminars is entitled “Forget About Diversity,” which might sound controversial to some people. But what is the actual message you’re trying to convey in this seminar?
When I say “Forget About Diversity,” I am pointing out that diversity is thought of as the law or a government program or quotas. In other words, forget about diversity and focus on inclusiveness. Create a place where everyone matters and they know they matter, and you won’t have to worry about having a diverse workforce. The word will be out, and everyone will want to be there. Don’t stand for any bigotry in your organization. Silence it and drive it out.
Another one of your seminar topics is “Time/Life Management.” Can you name one relatively simple change that an executive or corporate leader can make today that will help him or her or manage time better?
The best way to think about time management (or as I like to say life management) is that the real goal is to keep your whole life under control. You don’t have two lives. You have one life, and that one is hard enough to keep under control. The best thing anybody can do is to sit and think every morning about the priorities in their whole life, and to ensure that they are putting those things in their calendars, phones, and day planners.
Think deeply about where you spend your time, where you don’t spend your time, where you should spend your time, and why are you not spending it in those areas that will bring you the most value. Many people are not dealing with the hard things. When you take the easy route, life gets harder. When you do the hard things, life gets easier. So schedule the priorities in your life right into your calendar.
When you are giving webinars, seminars, or talks, what part of your message are your viewers or attendees most receptive to?
Attendees at my speeches and seminars are most attentive and appreciative of my candor and clarity around getting organized and dealing with difficult issues. They also like being reminded of the basics that are the keys to a great organization: great people, great training, and a great inclusive culture.
Is the role of corporate leadership going to change or evolve at all in the next ten to twenty years? Or will it remain basically the same?
I believe that management skills and focus will always be changing. I believe leadership has always been the same and will always be the same. Leadership is about people; and people want to be made to feel special, treated as individuals, respected, and trained and developed so they can have a better life for themselves and their children. Your people will not be committed to you unless they are sure you are committed to them.
Disney is the perfect example of how this plays out. The chances of you running into a cast member at Disney who is not excellent is very low; and that is because we pick better, we train better, and we lead better. It’s not magic that makes Disney World work. It is the way we work that makes it magic. Your organization can create Disney magic too!
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