Learning About Leadership - Disney Style

October 20, 2005
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ORLANDO, Fla. –– There has to be a reason why so many people continue to embrace and revisit the many Disney amusement parks, attractions, and hotels across the United States. It isn't just the love of Mickey Mouse and the other characters that bring people back time and time again; it is the business practices of Disney employees and management –– the "cast members."

Cast member David Mulvey, facilitator and content specialist for the Disney Institute, hosted a seminar for attendees of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) Network '05 Conference in Orlando. His topic was "Leadership Disney Style."

"Everything starts with great leadership," he said. "If that is excellent, we have high guest satisfaction." Keeping guests satisfied means keeping the profits high for Disney. According to Mulvey, a 1 percent difference in repeat visits can mean "tens of millions of dollars to our bottom line."

He compared the business practices of Disney with the HVAC trade, adding that each:

  • Is profit driven.

  • Deal with real business issues.

  • Face serious competition.

    "We actually compete with PHCC for consumer dollars," he added. "People may have to choose whether they put in a new bathroom or visit Walt Disney World."

    Disney “cast member” David Mulvey discusses great leadership styles with PHCC members.

    Telling A Story

    Mulvey believes that every leader needs to tell a story about his or her business. "Telling stories is one of the many ways we communicate," he said. "Every leader is telling a story about what he or she values. They lead by example. People make assumptions on what you value based on your behavior."

    He said that each leader contributes to a culture in their organization, either by design or default. He believes that businesses are judged on behaviors, which often start with the vision of the leader or owner.

    "There is a difference between vision and a vision statement," Mulvey said. "Vision statements are a collection of words. A vision is a picture that lives in the minds and inspires people."

    He added that HVAC contractors, like Disney management, have the opportunity to express the vision of their company as it pertains to them. Walt Disney did that through his vision for theme parks such as Epcot and The Magic Kingdom. He wanted people to believe that the vision, or journey, of the Disney company is never complete.

    Disney said that Epcot, a theme park based on technological wonders, would never be complete because technology keeps evolving. He deliberately left 22-carat gold leaf trim off one pillar of the Cinderella castle at The Magic Kingdom so that people would understand that Disneyworld would never be complete.

    Getting Everyone Involved

    Mulvey said that people face a lot of barriers to getting involved with their business. And ways to break the barriers can be resolved simply by asking questions.

    "If you [contractors] have questions about how to make things better and work better on the front line, why don't you go to the people on the front line and ask them?" he asked.

    In the same light, Mulvey said that contractors should ask their people to rate themselves and their leaders. "There is no avenue of communication that should go unused," he said.

    By getting people involved, changes can begin to take place –– even though change can be painful. "The only one happy with change is a wet baby," Mulvey joked. "We are afraid to change. It is easier to do the same thing every day even if it is painful."

    He added that change is necessary and the Disney company depends on feedback from employees and customers to initiate change. His company shares guest satisfaction measurements with employees and finds that the best responses are directly linked back to quality leadership.

    "We can numerically show that the best results come from groups with great leadership," he said.

    Publication date: 10/24/2005

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