Leadership Lessons from Lee Cockrell

Lee Cockrell has long been someone I have admired. He was the Senior Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World, leading 40,000 cast members, across 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20 hotels, a massive shopping and entertainment district, and a massive sports complex. Those who know me know that my wife and I have been big fans of Disney for a long time but the actions of this gentleman is a major reason why.

One of the largest and most important feathers in his cap was the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies, which has been used to train over 7,000 managers and leaders at Disney World. He clearly knows his stuff. Recently, he was on a podcast that I follow where they had a fantastic interview with him in advance of the release of his newest book, Career Magic.

Between the fantastic interview on the podcast and through reading his books, here are some of the most important takeaways:

Focus on your People

People are what make your organization what it is so hire the best people you possibly can. You want to hire and keep the experts in whatever it is that you are hiring for. Once you have those experts, you want to train them as best you can.

However, once you have them trained, let them do their job. You shouldn’t be micromanaging them. However, your managers need to enforce the policies and training you have set forth because that is going to create consistency in your business.

Another place that leaders struggle is when they let their influence get in the way. As leaders advance through the ranks, they need to be aware that the messages they receive are likely to be highly filtered. Not only that, but your reputation will preceed you. Leaders are at risk of not trusting those they lead not because they think those people are bad people but because they have a desire for control.

Remember, everyone is important.

Let your Experts be Experts

This point feeds directly off focusing on your people. If you have hired the best people you can and then trained them as best you can, you need to let them do their job as best they can. Trust your team to achieve great things. Your goal shouldn’t be to be a “boss” but more of a parent.

This doesn’t mean that you need to change them or give them strict cerfews but it is more about modeling the behaviors you want to see. If you behave, the people around you behave.

You also need to be a good teacher, helping advance, grow, and train your people. If you help them get ahead, you will get ahead as well. This means practicing tough love some times. I would caution you here that people tend to increase just the tough part of tough love and not the love part as well- these should exist in tandem. But as a leader, you have to make the hard decisions and be the disciplinarian from time to time.

Finally, Lee Cockrell said something that really struck me. He said he didn’t really get involved in engineering because he had a great engineering guy. He didn’t get involved in security because he had a great security guy. Know where you have good people and know that you shouldn’t really have to spend your time there because they will be fine without you. Let them do their job.

Excellence is a State of Mind

There is no doubt that Disney is one of the best companies in the world in terms of customer experience. However, according to Lee, excellence is a state of mind. You really have to want it because it is so hard to achieve. You have to constantly be working hard at it and there will be times you are disappointed but you have to keep pushing.

He relates this to raising kids. Sometimes your kids disappoint you but you still love them and you keep pushing forward.

This is wildly similar to what we have talked about with happiness– your state of mind or how you frame things is wildly important to your experiences. You can be happy by looking at things with having the right frame of mind just like you can be excellent by having the right state of mind.


There are so many great takeaways from Lee Cockrell so I will be coming back to him in the future to bring you more great takeaways but I think it is important to put these lessons into practice. Remember to hire the best people you can, train them as well as you can, let your people do their jobs to the best of their abilities, be a parent and not a boss, and puruse excellence.

How do you plan on putting these into practice in your life? Have you seen times where these have not happend? What was the impact? Let me know in the comments section below!

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