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10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney

Written by Lee CockerellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lee Cockerell


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: October 14, 2008
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-385-52828-3
Published by : Crown Business Religion/Business/Forum

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“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.



 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 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.


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 of industries have shown that it's not just the product that makes for satisfied customers; it's the way they are treated. Judson also knew what I too had learned over the course of my career: If you want your employees to deliver excellent service, you'd better provide them with excellent leadership. A few years later we tested this theory analytically, by conducting a research study. The results showed clearly that Guests were far more likely to return if they were satisfied with their previous visit, and their satisfaction level was highest when they had positive interactions with Cast Members. What was the key to producing that? Effective leadership. The study found that business units with the highest scores in Guest satisfaction were the same ones whose leaders received high ratings from their direct reports in qualities such as listening, coaching, recognizing people's efforts, and giving people decision-making authority. In short, great leadership leads to employee excellence, which leads to customer satisfaction and strong business results. In other words, the customer doesn't come first; leadership comes first.
So Judson Green and Al Weiss, the new executive vice president, set out to implement that formula by revamping the management style at Walt Disney World. That's where I came in.

In May 1993, I was vice president of resort operations at Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris). My wife, Priscilla, and I were living in France, preparing for our son Daniel's wedding to our wonderful daughter-in-law, Valerie, when I was offered the post of senior vice president of resort operations at Walt Disney World, reporting directly to Al Weiss. I'm sure there were many reasons for that promotion, and one of them was surely my passion for leadership excellence. Judson, with whom I'd worked in Paris, knew that I had been studying the subject for many years and had implemented key leadership principles during my time with the company, as well as earlier, when I had worked for Marriott.

So Priscilla and I picked up and moved to Florida. Pretty soon I was playing a key role in transforming the corporate culture at the world's most successful resort. The mandate was clear: In an era of rapid change, our management style had to be as creative as the movies produced by Disney's animators and as innovative as the attractions dreamed up by Disney's Imagineers (creative designers). We needed leaders who could both manage the business and inspire our Cast Members to adapt to twenty-first-century demands.


Disney was already renowned for its excellent training procedures at the time, but that training did not include leadership. This was about to change. Now we would make it our policy to promote leadership excellence among our Cast and follow through with clear expectations and ongoing education. And that meant everyone. The idea was to achieve leadership excellence by spreading responsibility and authority throughout the organization. We understood that anyone at any level--from the landscape and cleaning crews right on up to the CEO of the whole organization--can exert leadership and make a positive difference. We let it be known that managers and executives would be evaluated not only on their bottom line results but on how those results were obtained.

Everyone was now expected to live up to specific values and ideals. "My way or the highway" would be replaced by "What do you think?" as leaders were expected to encourage ongoing input and to show Cast Members that their ideas were valued and their needs were taken seriously.

The road to performance excellence was bumpy at first; change always meets with resistance, and this was no exception. Some of the old guard were set in their ways and were unwilling or unable to get on board. We heard many variations of "It ain't broke, so why fix it?" and we lost some competent managers along the way; some of our leaders left the company in the first eighteen months. But eventually the new direction paid off big-time.

Most leaders saw merit in what we were doing and learned to adapt, even though it wasn't easy at times. One prime example was Tom Nabbe. Tom had started working for Disneyland in Anaheim when he was in junior high, just after the park opened. Red-haired and freckled, he was the very first "Tom Sawyer" on Tom Sawyer's Island. He later moved into supervisory roles and relocated to Orlando in 1971. Eventually he became the manager of distribution services for warehousing. After more than thirty years at Disney, Tom was used to the old management style, in which the people in charge handed down directions and the staff were expected to execute them exactly as they were told. Now, like all the other managers, Tom was asked to step back, loosen the reins, and inspire his team to develop its own procedures and discover its own solutions. "It was a time of introspection for me," he recalls. "I was a little skeptical at first, but the philosophy behind the Performance Excellence campaign started to make sense. I learned how to develop real teamwork, where everything we did supported what we called the three-legged stool: the Guests, the Cast Members, and the business metrics. I became a better leader, and everything got done better, faster, and cheaper."
Lee Cockerell

About Lee Cockerell

Lee Cockerell - Creating Magic
LEE COCKERELL was the executive vice president of operations for Walt Disney World for more than ten years. As one of the public faces of the world-renowned Disney Institute, he continues to teach courses in leadership and professional development. A popular keynote speaker, he frequently addresses Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits across the country. He lives in Orlando, Florida.


“Shows the magic in leadership — and the leadership in magic! Read this book!”
-Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times best-selling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year.

“In Creating Magic, Lee Cockerell delivers his ideas about leadership in a common sense way that can really reach people and help them improve their effectiveness at work, at home, and in their communities. His valuable leadership strategies and remarkable Disney stories will ring true for everyone who reads this book.”
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and The One Minute Entrepreneur

"Elegant in its simplicity and practicality, Lee has distilled many powerful leadership strategies into the lessons many of us learned as children.  They are no less relevant to our working lives.  At its core, Creating Magic is a collection of stories that reminds us to demonstrate care and respect for every member of the team and to focus our efforts not our ourselves but on the people we lead."
-George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN, Inc and ABC Sports

“Lee's common sense principles and down to earth storytelling is refreshing. His book will help leaders and managers at all levels become better in all parts of their lives."
—Lee Huebner, Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, Georgetown University.

"… Creating Magic transcends the leadership business-speak so prevalent in modern day motivational tomes and offers a real approach to sensible and practical strategies culled from the experience of a lifetime spent in pursuit of leadership excellence.!"
-Ted J. Kleisner, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company

“Disney is one of the world’s prime exemplars of service having pioneered and implemented much of what is today seen as best practice in service management. Lee Cockerell has played a major role in this….For those wishing to learn how Disney has achieved its reputation for service, this will be a book to read."
-Chris Voss, Professor of Operations and Technology Management, London Business School

“In the hospitality industry, people are our most important asset. No one understands how to develop this asset better than Lee Cockerell who clearly articulates in Creating Magic how leadership environments that are committed to achieving excellence through lifelong  learning, continually honing our professional competence, maintaining personal control,  and rewarding behaviors that recognize the personal worth and reinforce the professional accomplishments of our fellow team members will create a culture of shared vision, trust and a “can do” sense of individual empowerment. The result: pure “Magic” …. Lee’s “10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies” will contribute much to the success of any endeavor.”
-Dieter Huckestein, past President - American Hotel & Lodging Association, Chairman of Conrad Hotels and President - Hotel Operations, Hilton Hotels Corporation (retired).

“Lee is a powerhouse when it comes to developing and inspiring leadership in front line employees and managers. During my years working with him at Disney and in all of my senior management positions since, I have used his leadership philosophies to successfully develop effective leaders and cultivate business environments focused on service excellence. Creating Disney Magic will be a must-read for anyone who wants to make a positive organizational difference built on highly engaged employees delivering exceptional service."
-Karl McDonnell, President& Chief Operating Officer, Strayer Education, Inc

“Lee Cockerell created a distinctly unique service culture at Disney World…Essential to fulfilling this strategy is a complete understanding of the nature of leadership which Lee spells out in his book. Managing is not enough. It takes leadership to create excellence. The formula is not limited to the hospitality industry. It works for healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and education. It applies to the government, military, and not-for-profit ventures, as well as private industry. Those who practice these lessons, and participate in such organizations, live in a better world."
- Martin K. Starr, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Operations Management, Crummer Graduate School of Business, Rollins College
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Please click on the PDF link below to download the Teacher's Guide.

When guests encounter the Disney experience, filled with warm and welcoming experiences from beginning to end, Disney makes it all look so easy. But, in fact, considerable behind-the-scenes leadership contributes to the overall consistency of quality products and services visible to guests.
The Disney brand is synonymous with magic, aligning with excellence in all its products and services. Lee Cockerell writes of this “magic” from firsthand experience, as he was the Executive Vice President of Operations of Walt Disney World Resort for over ten years. In Creating Magic, he demonstrates how students can become great leaders, regardless of background or occupational aspirations.
The recommended usage for this Teacher’s Guide for Creating Magic is to first assign students to read the particular chapters before class. Of course, you also should acquaint yourself by reading the chapter you’re assigning— and by familiarizing yourself with the Chapter Summary and Key Concepts at the beginning of each segment of the Teacher’s Guide. When beginning with Discussion Questions, decide first which will be most appropriate for your class. For example, several questions ask students to apply examples from the workplace, but not all students will have experience on which to draw. For those students who have yet to hold their first part-time job, odd jobs, babysitting, and even volunteer work may provide answer material. The questions are structured for students to discover the answers in Creating Magic, but at the same time, they encourage students to unearth their own applied examples to demonstrate authentic understanding of the concepts.
The Creating Magic Teacher’s Guide will help teachers encourage students in all subject disciplines to appreciate and harness leadership techniques. Students will learn that these invaluable life skills transcend far beyond the corporate world.
Chapter One: Making Magic (4)
Chapter Two: The Journey from the Farm to a Magic Kingdom (6)
Chapter Three: Strategy #1: Remember, Everyone Is Important (8)
Chapter Four: Strategy #2: Break the Mold (10)
Chapter Five: Strategy #3: Make Your People Your Brand (12)
Chapter Six: Strategy #4: Create Magic Through Training (15)
Chapter Seven: Strategy #5: Eliminate Hassles (17)
Chapter Eight: Strategy #6: Learn the Truth (19)
Chapter Nine: Strategy #7: Burn the Free Fuel (21)
Chapter Ten: Strategy #8: Stay Ahead of the Pack (23)
Chapter Eleven: Strategy #9: Be Careful What You Say and Do (25)
Chapter Twelve: Strategy #10: Develop Character (27)
Chapter Thirteen: Leading into the future (29)
Conclusion (31)
About the Guide Writer (32)
Chapter 1 (Making Magic) maintains that team building and group cohesion are major tenets of leadership, and bring about positive change through new ideas and fruitful productivity. These skills are applicable to all disciplines and functions relevant to leading people.
★ Students will realize that a leader who instills and nurtures effectual leadership structures and processes, including the leverage of team-synergy, will be rewarded even in times of disasters.
★ Students will understand that the highest customer satisfaction levels come from positive employee interactions.
★ Students will comprehend that adapting to current demands is a bona fide tool of effective leadership, whether those demands are technological, social, or economical.
1. In chapter 1, the author describes the generosity of many of the cast members (which is how Disney refers to its employees) in donating time and money to help those employees affected by hurricanes. Why did some employees do this, while others did not? How could a manager encourage generosity without coming on too strong or being thought of as pushy?
2. Disney maintains a 70 percent return rate among visitors. Why is repeat business so important to organizations? Discuss other examples of particular businesses that also have a very high rate of returning customers. How do they do that? What’s the draw?
3. Disney research shows that guest satisfaction levels are highest when they have positive interactions with cast members. Discuss examples of when you received excellent “guest satisfaction.” What exactly made it so good and memorable?
4. In chapter 1, the author states that these leadership strategies work not only in the corporate world, but also in religious organizations and community life. What are examples of teamwork in action in groups like these?
5. On pages 5 and 6, Lee Cockerell states, “Take care of your people and they will take care of your business, not just because they have to but because they want to.” Put yourself in the place of cast members at Disney. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
6. On pages 6 through 8, Cockerell encourages students to “keep up with change.” Recall a situation where a leader in an organization did not take the author’s advice. What negative repercussions might arise for that leader?
Chapter 2 (The Journey from the Farm to a Magic Kingdom) describes the author’s own life path. This chapter is applicable to all disciplines. Career development is a topic relevant to every professional path.
★ Students will behold that opportunities abound, even in an uncertain economy.
★ Students will observe that being prepared and performing consistently results in a smart working style that is appreciated by others.
★ Students will discover that respecting all individuals on the way up manifests in a potentially powerful network of people.
1. The author states that his mother was one of the greatest leaders he’s ever known. What do you think he meant by this? What effective leadership skills did your parents or other significant people from your childhood possess?
2. Lee Cockerell compares business issues to marriage, stating, “You can’t resolve conflicts or differences of opinion if your relationship isn’t grounded in mutual respect and trust.” How is this relationship advice applicable to a situation in your life?
3. Chapter 2 discusses continuous learning as a career tactic. Give an example of how you could utilize this in your future chosen career field.
4. One of Disney’s great leadership strategies is to always have respect for process and procedure. In this chapter, the author describes an error he once made while making hamburger buns as a cook in the U.S. Army. Compare the author’s incident to a similar personal one from your own life.
5. Lee Cockerell shares the difference between leading and managing. Give an example of each.
In chapter 3 (Remember, Everyone Is Important), the author introduces the concept of RAVE (Respect, Appreciate, and Value Everyone). He also discusses the importance of sincerely understanding the behaviors of individuals.
★ Students will ascertain how the people component (humbly and openly listening to employees’ ideas and opinions) of business directly affects profits.
★ Students will grasp the technique of listening to employees, for they are a rich flow of opinions and ideas. Whether suggestions or complaints, and whether it’s from the lowest-ranking employees, it’s all potentially useful information.
★ Students will sense that corporate culture is being redefined and nurtured continually, evolving regularly due to employee involvement and contributions.
1. Chapter 3 discusses how, when cast members are motivated to contemplate better ways to perform tasks, productive results occur. What is a change you might suggest at your job to improve your organization’s results? How could such a change make you feel more energetic at work? More loyal?
2. There is an adage in managing people that asserts, “Never let
’em see you sweat!” Lee Cockerell maintains that we should not hide our humanity, especially our flaws and weaknesses. Do you agree or disagree with this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a manager becoming too familiar with employees?
3. The author states, “Take your responsibility, not yourself, seriously.” What is a distinctive example of this mantra in action? What are potential downsides to using or living this motto?
4. The Disney Institute says that corporate culture is the “system of values and beliefs an organization holds that drives actions and behaviors and influences relationships.” What are some examples you’ve observed of company cultures?
5. Disney has the lowest turnover rate of any major company in the hospitality industry. Why do you think this is true?
6. Asking people’s opinions and ideas is one of the author’s recommendations. How would you answer this question: How can this classroom atmosphere be improved?
7. What do you think a good leader should say to an employee who says s/he is just bored with the job? How could the RAVE technique be used here?
Chapter 4 (Break the Mold) is useful for many courses, for it speaks to the risk and resistance in doing things differently. Leaders, as well as all employees, must question everything. This does not mean being contrary or argumentative. It means simply asking if there is another way to perform tasks, for the betterment of everyone involved.
★ Students will rethink the usefulness of holding regular meetings and utilizing other forms of communication.
★ Students will analyze and subsequently appreciate accountability as a major tool in successful leadership strategy.
★ Students will re-evaluate all methods of operations and systems. Questioning processes does not always mean changing them.
1. The author believes a leader must hold cast members responsible for specific tasks. This is referred to as accountability, and it’s achieved by measuring outcomes. What is an actual example of this process?
2. The author discusses minimizing the number of layers in an organization on pages 68 through 70. According to the author, why does a “flat” organizational structure generally work better than a “deep” or “tall” one? Can you site an example of a company that is deep or tall? Can you site an example of an organization that is flat?
3. The author reveals an anecdote of the origin of his Green Tabasco Award, presented to Disney cast members who “demonstrated the courage to try new ways of doing things.” What’s an example of a process—some task or habit that could use some changing—in your life, at school, or at your part-time job? Would the change work for everyone involved? Why or why not?
4. At school, if you don’t complete your assignments, you could fail.
At work, if you don’t clean the ice cream machine thoroughly to the manager’s standards, you will lose your job. If young kids at home don’t keep their rooms clean, they risk losing their weekly allowance. Think about some circumstance in your life that if you had been held more accountable for the successful completion of it, may have resulted in an improved leadership-learning experience for you.
Chapter 5 introduces the third strategy (Make Your People Your Brand). Here, Lee Cockerell delves into the recruiting, selecting, and hiring of cast members. The more objective a leader remains in finding the best employees possible, the better the resulting outcome.
★ Students will understand that finding and keeping great employees is step one in leading excellent companies.
★ Students will comprehend that patience and diligence are key factors in this process and that they’ll ultimately yield an excellent staff of employees.
★ Students will appreciate and successively follow this mantra from Lee Cockerell: “I knew I had mastered the art of hiring once every person who reported to me was someone I would gladly report to myself.”
★ Students will recognize the need for a strong and suitable approach to terminating employees. Be sure, and then be quick, kind, and professional. Individual dignity should always be maintained for all involved.
1. On pages 86 through 88, the author discusses four competencies managers look for when hiring employees: technical, technological, management, and leadership. Consider a particular job and describe the four competencies needed to be successful.
2. Why might present employees be involved in hiring decision making? Aside from being time-consuming, what are the disadvantages?
3. Disney surveys cast members annually by presenting statements (relating to their managers) to be rated on a seven-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Choose one of the statements listed below (from pages 106 and 107), and comment on whether this is a good question to ask employees and what should be done with the results.
§  I trust the people on my work team.
§  I receive the training I need to do my job well.
§  My work team values different points of view.
§  My immediate leader deals with me in a truthful manner.
§  My immediate leader makes the best use of my talents and skills to accomplish team goals.
§  My immediate leader accepts responsibility for failures as well as successes.
§  I trust my leader.
§  If given the choice, I would work with my immediate leader again.
4. Disney shows a video to new, promising hires before they are even interviewed. The author explains that this “film serves as a great orientation for eventual employees, but also saves the company the high cost of hiring, training, and replacing people who would ultimately prove to be wrong for the job.” Why do you imagine this technique results in more fruitful hiring? Can you name other organizations that use a similar method? Or consider an organization, which if it did use a similar method to what the author describes, would result in an improved recruiting and hiring program.
Chapter 6 (Create Magic Through Training) introduces the fourth leadership strategy. The author explains that the more an employee understands and appreciates his or her own mission and vision in the company, the more their individual “usefulness” factor will be enhanced.
★ Students will understand that coaching members of the employee team helps them focus on their individual development.
★ Beyond simply using verbal cues, students will discover the value of demonstrating good leadership acts and traits to employees. It’s important to realize that employees are watching.
★ Students will resolve to train and test. Don’t practice on customers.
★ Students will note how to communicate regularly with consistent feedback, good and bad.
1. The author’s son once said to his father, “Dad, you can’t fire your children; you have to develop them.” Lee Cockerell believes that leaders should apply that wisdom to their employees. Discuss your thoughts regarding this philosophy. Can a manager ever get too involved with his/her employees? Please share examples of this.
2. Disney teaches cast members to do “Take 5s,” small behaviors that delight the guests every time. What are some examples of Take 5s that might delight customers where you work? What are some examples of Take 5s you’ve experienced as a customer yourself? For both scenarios, why can they be costly to perform? How should more businesses implement Take 5s? What are the potential downsides?
3. What are some ways a leader can show employees how to perform certain tasks instead of just telling them?
4. The author discusses how he published a regular newsletter for employees. Why is it favorable to include items such as: new hires, new benefits, safety, community outreach, reminders of important dates, and customer comments/letters?
5. Select one of the “7 Guest Guidelines” from page 129 of Creating
Magic. If you were training an employee for a company, how would you “teach” this lesson by using an example?
In chapter 7 (Eliminate Hassles), the author describes what goes awry in running a business and how to minimize these occurrences. Students will learn how to directly utilize these principles, particularly through specific stories and examples.
★ Students will comprehend that following rules is essential for an organization to run well. However, they must ensure those rules make sense for all involved.
★ Students will become increasingly open to relishing and even welcoming problems; they are opportunities to make better policies, procedures, and processes.
★ Students will detect the value of listening to employees and customers because they provide the best insight into how to address problems and improve operations.
1. The author believes that leaders should “constantly query employees . . . to root out process problems.” What is a rule or process that makes sense at your job, if you have one? Why does it work? Why does the company need the rule?
2. What is (or what seems like) a rule at your school or perhaps at your part-time job that does not make sense anymore? How could it be changed for the better? What do you think would happen if the rule were eliminated?
3. “Listen to your customers” is stressed in this chapter. An example of this is how Disney addressed the number one complaint of guests: waiting in line. Disney introduced FastPass, a computerized reservation process to assure guests of shorter wait times for their favorite attractions. What is an example of another business addressing a major complaint?
4. There are no problems, just golden unresolved opportunities to make things better. The author offers an example of how cast members complained about having to go to the costuming department every day. Disney changed the policy to allow them to check out as many as five costumes, exchanging them all at the same time or washing them at home. Cast members saved time and the company saved money in cleaning costs. Please identify a similar scenario at a company with which you are familiar. What was the original problem? Why was it an opportunity to improve the situation for everyone involved?
Chapter 8 (Learn the Truth) defines truth as complete information and accurate, pertinent facts. Students will benefit from learning how to use feedback to access meaningful, necessary truths for aggregate decision making.
★ Students will discover that viewing a business through the eyes of customers provides insight and information that is beneficial when deciding which changes should be implemented.
★ Students will trust that encouraging employee honesty will yield true and valuable interactions. In turn, this will help employees make better managerial decisions.
★ Student will listen not only to words, but to nonverbal messages as well.
★ Students will increasingly rely on measuring everything possible.
1. Think of a way a manager could remain alert to what’s occurring where the employees are stationed (on the sales floor, in the field, at the warehouse, etc.)? Why is it valuable for leaders to maintain this awareness?
2. Meeting with and listening to entry-level employees (the ones in closest contact to the customers) helps leaders to change policies and procedures for the better. Why don’t more managers do this? Should they? Why or why not?
3. What advice does the author share for a manager who needs to convey sometimes critical, tough-to-receive information to an employee?
4. When students are asked the most important traits of a good leader, honesty appears very high on the list. Discuss why this is so.
5. The purest method of gathering true, accurate data from employees is observation. What is an example of a manager observing an employee?
Chapter 9 (Burn the Free Fuel) describes strategy number seven, which can be used in management classes in all industries and disciplines. Here, the author teaches how to use ARE (Appreciation, Recognition, Encouragement). It’s a cost-free and inexhaustible resource; one begins each day with a new “full tank.” And it helps employers and employees alike foster greater productivity, important in any industry or career.
★ Students will come to understand why (and how) appreciation, recognition, and encouragement are tools for productivity.
★ Students will develop a mindset of consistent leadership respect for employees.
★ Students will recognize and identify low-cost/no-cost methods of workplace motivation.
1. Please think of a past manager or teacher who used ARE. Did you consider him/her a good leader? Why or why not?
2. The author describes how he would hand out award pins that “cost a buck or two each, but if pride has a price, they’re worth millions.” What is an example of a similar program that could be implemented at your job?
3. Lee Cockerell describes a program at Disney called “You Said—We Listened” on pages 201 and 202, where cast members are rewarded for coming up with great ideas to better serve guests. What kinds of helpful, productive ideas could you conceive at your job? How do you think your manager will receive and appreciate your ideas? Why?
Strategy number eight is conveyed in chapter 10 (Stay Ahead of the Pack). Here, the author encourages students to be “knowledge sponges” by filling the gaps, keeping up with colleagues, and expanding horizons. Nowhere is this more important than within fields where change is rapid and new, and cutting-edge techniques appear almost daily. Examples include nursing, computer and informational technology, graphic design, and nearly all forms of business administration.
★ Students will discover the value of keeping current both culturally and technologically.
★ Students will come to appreciate the value of learning from sources that appear or seem unconventional.
★ Students will create and forge best practices always.
★ Students will become aware of and eventually practice “Guestology,” which is the study of what guests like and don’t like, as well as what they want and don’t want.
1. There is an old adage that states, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” On page 213 of Creating Magic, the author tells students not to shy away from challenges—for example, his was speaking in public. He comments, “I don’t know about old dogs, but I can tell you for sure that experienced leaders can learn new tricks, and those who create magic are constantly on the lookout for tricks that can give them an edge.” What “old dog” habits do you have? What would be some advantages of you trying new tricks?
2. “Guestology is the study of what guests like and don’t like, as well as what they want and don’t want,” says Cockerell on page 221. Why don’t more businesses practice guestology? Explore the advantages and disadvantages by discussing specific examples.
3. Disney executives, for example, likely read Funworld, the magazine
of IAPPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). What is an example of a trade journal that is read in the industry in which you are employed?
4. A mentor could be a distant relative a student sees twice a year at family holidays; a neighbor’s cousin with whom a student could spend a couple hours to tour a workplace; or a complete stranger (obviously until the student connects with him/her) with whom the student completes an internship. How could any of these mentor examples be a contact for you? How would a mentor help you stay ahead of the pack?
This chapter begins the part of the book discussion on professionalism. Passion, positive attitude, and humility (among other perennial, admirable traits) are discussed. Students in various disciplines will find rich veins of knowledge and self-improvement and should apply these integral life skills through their explorations of detailed curricula and related readings.
★ Students will discern that trust from the people you lead is paramount.
★ Students will grasp the value of perpetually being onstage. It’s always show time.
★ Students will continuously keep high their own standards; being professional but humble in all matters.
★ Students will search for opportunities to collaborate, maintaining a positive mindset with all people and situations.
1. What is the difference between being a professional and being professional? Without sharing specific names, which nonprofessionals do you know who act professionally? Why is this an important attribute for an emerging and aspiring leader?
2. Do you have a passion for your job? Why or why not? Think of someone you know who does. What does it feel like, look like, and sound like? Why don’t more working people have it?
3. Lee Cockerell says on page 231, “You have to protect your reputation because it’s the only one you have. When your reputation is tarnished, you lose your credibility, which is the one thing leaders need most: the trust of the people you lead.” Identify and reflect on something from your personal life that you would not want to appear in any media.
Finally, Cockerell urges employers to develop their team’s character. Just as mathematics classes rely heavily on “skill-building,” leadership skills also need to be built. Development of character—of the total person—is the culmination of all Cockerell’s leadership skills.
★ Students will deal honestly with everyone.
★ Students will act in a manner consistent with their beliefs. Behaviors should match values.
★ Students will teach others powerful, positive values. Spread the good word. People learn more when they pass the message on to others.
★ Students will be kinder. Hurt no one.
★ Students will allow themselves to have fun. Safe, healthy relaxation is productive to the total human being.
1. One of the Action Steps listed on page 258 is, “Know what you stand for, and live by those values every minute of every day.” What do you stand for? In other words, what do you feel so strongly about that you would never change your stance? How can you be so sure you won’t change your mind?
2. The author presents a challenging-to-answer question in the chapter on developing character. What would you do if you knew that a co-worker had a drug problem? When (if ever) would it be okay to tell a “white lie” to help him/her remain employed?
3. The author revisits RAVE from chapter 3. What makes you have a deeper appreciation for this acronym after reading Creating Magic? How will respecting, appreciating, and valuing everyone bring more money into a company? How do you know?
4. Lee Cockerell advises students to have fun. And he continues, “You’ll laugh your way to robust profits.” Do you agree? Please explain why or why not.
Chapter 13 (Leading into the Future) sums up the importance of perpetual, ongoing growth—in a world that is moving faster each day. Leaders in every type of business situation will relate to the information covered in this chapter and learn how to apply it in present and future situations, at work and at home.
★ Students will step up and take the lead in every situation—it will become part of the fabric of their daily routine.
★ Students will recognize that leaders lead at work, home, and play.
★ Students will know the value of keeping an eye on guests (customers), cast members, and business results (bottom-line profitability).
★ Students will see that leaders attract, develop, and keep great employees.
1. The author states on page 260 that even a part-time employee can be a leader, and adds that leaders are patient and persistent. How can you, as a student, be a good leader using these qualities at your part-time job? How about at home? How about in class?
2. Disney’s “three-legged stool” consists of decisions impacting guests, cast members, and business results. Which do you think is more important than the other two? Why? Please explain your reasoning.
3. Great leaders know that their people are always watching them. The author says, “Everything you say and do matters, perhaps more than you realize.” What is a subtle example of this in action?
4. The author reminds us (on pages 262 and 263) that “organizational cultures do not change overnight.” Who are the slow-to-change people and how does a leader help these individuals embrace change in the future?
5. What does a company culture need in order to find and keep smart, energetic, and creative employees?
We have learned that creating magic is possible for everyone. Leaders are indeed made, not born. Leaders come in all shapes, colors, ages, sizes, and positions on workplace hierarchies.
Students do not train and work up to some leadership pinnacle; that describes mere management. Leadership is intangible, and students can decide to become leaders now—immediately—by “stepping up” as Lee Cockerell says. When that decision is made, life changes both philosophically and attitudinally. Only then, when actions begin to match values, does behavior change. It’s ongoing. It’s also demanding.
The author shares numerous tools and techniques that are put into play by actively following the activities and assignments in this Teacher’s Guide. We can all increasingly create magic, and apply that magic in our work lives for the betterment of ourselves, our guests, our cast members, and our businesses. Lead with magic!
TIM McHEFFEY teaches marketing and management courses at various colleges and universities in the Long Island/New York City area. His thirty-year career has also been spent mostly in department store retailing as well as his own small businesses (gift/home, bakery chain). McHeffey also worked with Dun and Bradstreet in New York City, and presented seminars for D&B (and Skill Path) across the country.
McHeffey’s publications include books and programs on retail visual merchandising (used at Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma), balancing business and home life, and handling difficult customer service issues (used in high school and college marketing classes across the country). His most recent project is “Solving Sticky People Problems with Employees.”
McHeffey is an SME (Subject Matter Expert) for the National Retail Federation Foundation, and a frequent contributor to articles and media interviews. He resides in Center Moriches with his wife, Danielle, and has four grown children and two grandchildren. Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

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