Disney’s Triple Threat of Leadership

A year ago today I was ending my 3 day adventure attending Disney Institute’s Customer Experience Summit. The overarching thought going through attendees mind was “Is there a way to raise the bar in my organization to be more like Disney?” Though the real question was “How do I take what I’m learning from Disney to now see and think differently to help my organization thrive?”

I thought it would be fitting to take some time to look through my notes and reflect on my learning experience. One of my favorite moments was listening and learning from Thomas Mazloum, Senior Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World and now President of Disney Signature Experiences. He started off his keynote with what everyone wonders – What is done differently at Disney? His answer was simple… “We know how to tell great stories and create memories that make people happy!”

So how to do you create a culture that is embraced by your people? One of Disney’s guiding principles is a quote by Walt Disney himself (and one that I’ve used many times as well) – “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”

An example Thomas shared to start the conversation that touched our hearts (and mine especially since its about a child) was a story about a special needs child and Winnie the Pooh that a mother posted on Facebook. Take a look here:

Jessie Barber: For those of you who have disabled children know the feel when people look but aren’t sure how to interact with your kiddo. This Winnie the Pooh melted my heart and knew exactly what to do! He spent 10+ minutes with our little guy and he loved every second of it.😍 Thank you Pooh!

In many organizations, an employee spending 10 minutes with a customer would be seen as a lot of time for one person where they could have instead seen many more customers in the same timeframe. This cast member (employee) instantly knew the right thing to do when he met this child. Not only did they create a special moment for the child, but they also created a special moment for the mother and family. Thomas said “We don’t always get it 100% right, but we create memories that make people happy. We wake up every day wanting to make everything right.”

So what does this have to do with leadership? It’s about creating an environment of leadership. At Disney, it’s simple. It is their “Triple Threat of Leadership” – Get the leadership right, get the people right, get the culture right.

Thomas Mazloum shares Disney’s Triple Threat of Leadership at the Disney Institute Customer Experience Summit 2019.

Get the LEADERSHIP right:

  • Lead by example is the only way to influence people
  • You can’t influence someone else unless you lead by example. Young people especially don’t need critics, they need role models.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of why. Explain the why – they want to know.
  • Embrace vulnerability – It’s a sign of strength.

Get the PEOPLE right:

  • Hire right. Don’t underestimate attitude, aptitude and talent (Example: a restaurant server when visiting a restaurant – it’s about how they make you feel as a customer, not where they worked before)
  • Evaluate accurately, not kindly. Be honest, fair and sincere.
  • Create a feedback rich environment. Create where employees come and ask you how they are doing. The goal – know what is expected of you and then go and exceed it.

Get the CULTURE right:

  • Trust in the truth and create a learning culture. (Sometimes things go wrong. Change the reaction from “who did it?” to “What is the environment we created to allow this to happen?” Understand and learn from mistakes instead of reprimanding)
  • Create a speak up culture. (example: How easy is it to be in a meeting in which an individual in a lower grade authority is exceptionally comfortable to challenge the view of the most senior person in the room?” It is the responsibility to make the environment of respectful candor)
  • Diversity and inclusion. (Leadership that embraces diversity. Diverse teams always outperform other teams)

“As leaders its our responsibility to get it right so our Cast Members have an environment that allows them to do things, not by the book, but because its about creating memories that make people happy. You cannot create and have a workforce that makes people happy if you don’t give them this complete environment between leadership, people and culture”

Thomas ended his keynote talking about Disney transportation system and as Disney does best, the element of happiness with a keepsake of the new Disney Skyliner right before it opened.

This keepsake sits on my desk at home. I see it every day when I grab my keys and leave for the day. It reminds me of that simple goal – “create memories that make people happy.” Now more than ever we need to create moments for others that create happiness… from saying hello when passing by, to sharing something positive, to going out of your way to do something nice for others. Thank you Thomas for this powerful daily reminder.

What do I think is a simple way to summarize great leadership at Disney and other organizations? How supportive leaders are as they create the culture and lead the way, but not “from the front.” If I had to say it simply – “Follow me, I’m right behind you.” Thank you Disney Institute and Thomas Mazloum for sharing and creating this inspirational experience.

** If you want to learn more about Disney Institute, visit www.disneyinstitute.com or send me a message and I’d be happy to share more!**

1 Comment

  1. Get the leadership right; get the people right; get the culture right. Tell great stories. I love this!!!


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