Leaders with Dan Cockerell

If you’re looking for best practices when it comes to leadership, then look no further than how Disney trains its staff. With over 50 million visitors per year their various theme parks as well as 74,000 employees, Disney provides the structure and training to build outstanding leaders.

And that’s why we are interviewing Dan Cockerell on episode #132 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

Dan work for Disney for 26 years and now he does high level presentations and training all around the world to help audiences benefit from his experience.

Dan is also a great story teller and the host of the Come Rain or Shine Podcast!

Dan Cockrell

Dan Cockerell - Meeting Leadership Podcast - Effective Meetings

Dan’s first experience working for Disney was as a participant in the Walt Disney World College Program in Orlando in the summer of 1989, when he worked as a front desk host at the Contemporary Resort.

Upon graduation from Boston University in 1991, Dan moved to Florida and participated in the Disneyland Paris Management Trainee Program.  In January of 1992, three months before the opening of Disneyland Paris, he was transferred to France, where he remained for five years in various management roles.

Dan has held various management and executive operations roles at the Walt Disney World Resort, both in the theme parks and resort hotels, and was the sixth executive to hold the position of Vice President, Magic Kingdom since the park opened in 1971.  He earned his MBA in 2001 at the Crummer School of Business at Rollins College.

After a fulfilling and exciting 26-year career with the Walt Disney Company, and upon becoming empty nesters, Dan and Valerie made the decision to set out on a new adventure, balancing their time between Orlando and Boulder, Colorado. Valerie continues to facilitate Disney Institute programs in Orlando, as well as programs in French-speaking Quebec.

Dan provides customized, authentic presentations, focusing on leadership and management practices, drawing upon his extensive Disney career with relevant examples and inspiring storytelling.

You can get in touch with Dan at https://dancockerell.com

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Gordon Sheppard: You know, when we look around the world for great leadership development, you don’t have to look any further than Disney. Now these folks, they’ve got it right down to the detail, and at their theme parks, they’re putting 50 million people a year through there, they’ve got 74,000 employees, they’ve got Disney College and that kind of place to actually groom and start leaders off. And today on the show, we are lucky enough to have Dan Cockerell as the guest. Dan actually spent 26 years at Disney and he’s going to share the best of his experience and observations about how Disney really helps build outstanding leaders.

Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for practical tips from the coach with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.

Gordon Sheppard: Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard. I want to say honestly, thank you for spending your time as a listener here. Thanks for being the type of professional who wants to build their leadership skills, who wants to really grow when it comes to getting their meetings to be significantly better because you understand that leadership and meeting effectiveness go hand in hand and you’re coming to this podcast to get those tips, those strategies and the inspiration to do just that. I’m honestly grateful that you’re here.

And today on the show we are going to learn about how one of the most productive companies on the planet builds great leaders. Today’s episode is actually titled How Disney Develops Outstanding Leaders and that’s with Dan Cockerell. Now Dan worked for Disney for 26 years. Dan is out now on his own. He is a professional speaker, a presenter, a great storyteller and he brings all of that good experience from those 26 years into today’s episode. And I can absolutely say that your pen better have a lot of ink in it because when you go to take notes today, you’ll be taking a lot of notes.

You’re going to learn about the level of detail that Disney really gets their leaders to pay attention to, the structure they put underneath that then allows for the creativity they can bring forward for every one of the 50 million guests that comes to visit their parks. And with that in mind, I’m not going to hold you back any longer. Here’s the fantastic interview with Dan Cockerell.

Dan, it is great to have you here on the show. Welcome.

Dan Cokerell: Thanks Gordon. I’m excited to join you today.

Gordon Sheppard: You know, it’s fun to get someone with such leadership depth on the show because I know we’re going to get a ton out of this interview here today, but there’s a lot of people that haven’t met you on the show and I wonder if you can take a second here to give us your elevator pitch on who’s Dan?

Dan Cokerell: Sure. My dad was in the hospitality industry, so we moved all over the United States as I grew up and when I graduated from high school, I ended up going to Boston University. I studied political science, which is what you study when you have no idea what you want to do with your life, and I waited tables the first summer in college, and my second summer I came down to Walt Disney World on the Walt Disney World College Program. At any given time, we have 6,000 students working at Walt Disney World, and it’s a great source of labor for us, it’s a great way to recruit future leaders and it’s a great way for the people to get Disney on their resume.

So I did that for a summer and I went back to college and two years later, I ended up back at Walt Disney World. I went to the casting center, we call it, the employment center, and I said, “I’d like to work here.” And they said, “What would you like to do?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know what do you have?” And they said, “What’s your background?” I said, “I studied political science.” They said, “You should be parking cars at Epcot.” I said, “That’s what I’m hoping you were going to say.” My story is not uncommon. Most people that worked at Disney, executives started on the front line and it’s important. It’s part of our culture.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and it’s funny. Did I hear you put in 26 years at Disney? Is that what you were saying?

Dan Cokerell: I did.

Gordon Sheppard: So there’s a moment there where you’re sitting there as a political science somebody who maybe didn’t know they were about to spend 26 years somewhere, there’s a beginning there. My guess is you hold Disney in high regard, you know what I mean? In terms of what they were able to do for you. And I’m fascinated now because obviously they’re such a well respected organization and they’ve been so successful. There’s a moment that connects leadership from that moment that we’ve got with you here where you’re sitting in those early classes or whatever, that early training, and then it’s 26 years later and I want to get a feel through the development through that time, working through their systems and your own leadership growth, but in early days, how were they helping you sort of as a young leader? What sort of tips were you picking up at that time that you were then starting to then be able to build your leadership ability?

Dan Cokerell: Sure. Well, I’m big on culture. I love culture. Disney’s all about culture, and I’m a strong believer and proponent. I talk about this all the time, that leaders are responsible to create the environments and set the expectations of what culture they want to have, what behaviors are acceptable, what behaviors are not acceptable, and what behaviors are valued. It’s funny, when I look back at Disney in the 19 different jobs I had and that first job I had, most of what I learned was just because of the culture. Disney’s very, we use a lot of standards. Nothing is set to chance. There’s a certain way you point, there’s a certain way that you stand in the parking lot, there’s a certain way you greet people.

Everything is done because when you’re handling over 50 million guests a year, you have to have a plan. You can’t have everyone come in every day and just decide how to do it today because you have to be extremely efficient in how you get things done. And so, this idea of my parents, if I was late getting home, I’d get in trouble. I told my kids, “If you did that at Disney a few times, you’re gone.”

Gordon Sheppard: You’re gone.

Dan Cokerell: Because you’re going to hold the show up. You have to be there and you have to be performing at your best level every single day. And so, if you don’t like structure and you don’t like process, a place like Disney or a big company like that is not a place to work. And once again, what we’ve found at Disney is it’s not for everybody and no company is for everybody, but if we can hire the people who naturally will fit into that environment and enjoy that environment where they’re held highly accountable, they realize they have a very important purpose.

Walt Disney was not a cheap place to visit and some people only get there once in their life, and so we really want people to understand whatever you’re doing, whether it’s parking cars or selling tickets or loading attractions or cleaning the ground, it’s really important what you do because the families that are here are spending a lot of their money, maybe their life savings for this one vacation that they’re going to talk about the rest of our lives, and we take that very seriously.

Gordon Sheppard: Wow. There’s so many things to unpack out of what you’ve just said because especially that thing of honoring those people that are coming to your place of business in that way, because you know what a big idea it is for them. I’m going to go back to that moment where you say, “Know how to point,” because I think as a leader, some folks that are kind of slinging it, do you know what I mean? Where they don’t have any structure, they don’t have that ability. If we can’t learn from a successful corporation like Disney and realize that if you get those little things right, that’s the kind of thing that can really help you be successful.

Dan Cokerell: Absolutely. First of all, it role models, it reinforces to everyone detail is important, and it also, there’s reasons we do everything. The pointing, for example: you don’t point with one finger because if you’re giving someone directions and you’re pointing and someone’s across the street and they think you’re pointing at them, pointing at somebody, it’s kind of an aggressive move. It’s kind of rude. And so, at Disney, you point with two fingers or you point with your whole hand and everyone at Disney knows that and that’s how it’s done. And when you meet somebody and they point with more than one finger, you’re like, “You must have been trained at Disney,” because that’s what we do.

And a lot of people say, “Wow, you guys are drinking the Koolaid. I mean you’re even teaching people how to point.” It’s like, no. If you’re going to entertain tens of millions of people every year, you have to have a strong culture and a strong expectation for the 74,000 people that work there of how they get things done. Now, once people understand what the standards are, then you let them be themselves. Then you let them start to create individual moments and make guests feel special and make the exceptions and break the rules and go outside the guidelines when it’s appropriate.

I would say it’s a dilemma because on one hand, you’re trying to do everything exactly the same way every time, and on the other hand, you’re trying to make every guest feel individually special and different. And if you can do both of those, it’s a magical thing because you need to give people the rules, but then let them use those in a way they’re going to, with the purpose of creating happiness for people.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and you’ve led so many people throughout that career. There’s that moment where you’ve got that dichotomy that you’re talking about. What are you doing as a leader in that moment to help someone in a specific moment? Maybe you could even take me to the first name of somebody without letting us know exactly who it is, but you’re leading them in a given moment. What can we learn from you in that moment? Tell us maybe a little story about how to do that, where you had a success story that someone that you’re actually proud of helping to kind of bridge that.

Dan Cokerell: Yeah, so for example, we start off with, and we talk about this at Walt Disney World all the time, our common purpose. Everyone has a role and everyone has a common purpose. Everybody has a different role. I was a vice president of a theme park. We had people, once again, that danced in the shows. We had people that sold merchandise. There are thousands of different roles at Walt Disney World. Everybody has the same purpose, it is to make our guests happy and find how to create that magical experience for them. And so, you take the custodial cast member, their job is to empty trash cans and sweep the ground. Now, when they see a guest that has a map open, that’s their cue to go talk to them because that means that guest is looking for something and now I have an opportunity to help them find where they’re going.

Or if they have an extra 10 minutes between shifts, our custodial cast members have learned how to get a little pan of water and they actually paint Mickey Mouse and Goofy and Pluto in water on the cement on the ground. And in Florida, that lasts for about five minutes with the heat, but it’s one of those only at Disney moments. “As a custodial cast member, I’m here to create magic and happiness and I can find a way to do that.” And so that’s kind of how we have everyone think about it.

Once you get your common purpose established, the quality standards that we use are extremely important. We use four quality standards at Walt Disney World in this priority order. Well, actually I’m going to quiz you, Gordon. What do you think the most important thing is? What’s the number one quality standard we have that’s the most important thing before we do anything?

Gordon Sheppard: I would say cleanliness.

Dan Cokerell: Okay, close. But what’s the most important? What do you have to have to do anything? To go anywhere?

Gordon Sheppard: Great people?

Dan Cokerell: Safety.

Gordon Sheppard: Nice.

Dan Cokerell: It has to be safe. So I’m going to very basic things. Maslow’s pyramid. If I don’t feel safe, I can’t move to any other levels. And so, and it’s funny because our guests never tell us that. When we ask them about their visit to Walt Disney World, they never say, “Well, we want to be safe.” They just assume that’s part of the deal. “I’m going to be safe when I come there. My kids are going to be safe. If my kid gets lost, we’re going to find him. Everything’s going to be fine. The attractions are safe,” because that’s the power of our brand. But we train everybody that safety is the number one key. If it’s unsafe, you’re empowered to make any decision you have to keep yourself and your guests safe.

Followed by courtesy, show and efficiency. We put efficiency at the bottom because everyone wants to go fast all the time. So we try to stuff it at the bottom so it doesn’t trump everything else. So the story is, I have a, maybe a college program cast member, they train at Big Thunder Mountain, one of our roller coasters, and we train them during the week of that they get checked out on that attraction, “If you ever hear a noise that doesn’t sound right, grinding metal or just something that sounds out of the ordinary, you hit that red button on that panel.” That red button is the emergency stop and that means when you hit that button, the attractions going to shut down, we’re going to evacuate it.

We’re going to clear a couple thousand people out of line because we would much rather go through all that than have that have been a moment where maybe someone was going to get hurt. Maybe the attraction was malfunctioning. And we empower and we give permission to the cast to do that. And that’s a scary moment, when you hear that and you’re like, “I smell smoke. What should I do?” And you hit that red button. And what we do is, when those moments happen, we celebrate that. We really celebrate the courage of those casts to have those moments. And most of the time it was a noise, but it wasn’t something that was dangerous, but it was out of the ordinary and that’s how we train people to make those decisions.

Gordon Sheppard: Boy, the empowerment that you’re talking about. So again, you’ve built this strong structure, the culture is allowing that to go forward. People are empowered to do the right thing at the right moment. And I’ve actually been in the front line at a big roller coaster attraction and had that moment happen and as a grumbly kind of guest, I was like, “Oh, whatever,” and then those people were running around doing their good work. And I remembered later saying that very, very thing of, “Well, you know, at least they went and took care of it and there wasn’t anybody at risk.” So I think that’s really interesting to find out in terms of standards. Then as a leader, what you’re able to do is make sure that those things in order are there for each person and so it would make leadership in fact, with that structure, a lot easier.

Dan Cokerell: Right, exactly. Because you’re creating an alignment. A brand new cast member knows generally what the vice president of the park who’s been there 26 years, they can make a very similar decision because they’re using the same criteria to apply against a problem. And so, if you tell someone a scenario, you’re much more likely to have most people make the same kind of decision. It won’t be the exact one, but we’re not telling people, “Look, just go out and use your common sense,” because that means something different for everybody.

So we say, “Here are the quality standards. You have to make a safe decision. And if it’s safe, then you have to be nice to people. And in addition to that, you have to put on a great show. People are coming here to escape reality and they want, so make sure you have your name tag on, make sure you have the right color shoes, make sure if you’re working Tomorrow Land, you’re not walking through Frontier Land because that ruins the show for people. We’re putting on a show. And lastly, do it efficiently because we have 50 million people visiting our parks and we have to get people from point A to point B as quickly as we can because no one wants to wait.”

And if you can give people those quality standards, you start building behaviors under each of those quality standards and then you start telling stories, and that’s how we teach at Disney. Most of the development we do is not in a classroom, it’s through storytelling. It’s, you made a decision, you came up with a fun new greeting. At Buzz Light Year when someone was boarding, you said, “Have a great flight, Space Rangers.” And everyone says, “Wow, that’s cool. Let’s use that greeting.” Because if you’re Buzz Light Year and you’re going to space, you’re a space ranger, but you don’t greet people that way in Frontier Land.

And so, you just keep telling these stories and you keep reinforcing through storytelling and recognition, and over time, people start to realize they can empower themselves to make these decisions because we’re not giving them a script. We’re giving them a sort of a framework to work within and then we let them use their own decision making of how they’re going to bring that to life.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, I can hear how powerful, again, that is, and Disney over these years, it takes a long time to build up that, I’m going to throw Southwest Airlines in there in terms of reputation, like these types of corporations. It takes a long time to weave it in. But what I can really hear is your tone of voice and your mindset. There is no variance in what you’re saying. You’re very clear of, “This is how it works. If you’re on this ship, this is the way we’re going to go forward,” and I love that. That really makes a lot of sense and I think people can pick as much up from your tone as much as the information that you’re actually conveying so that if they want to build their organizations or lead their teams with that same way.

And I mean to get back to these four standards that you’re talking about, and actually talk a little bit more about, then, another aspect of what we like people to listen to on this show, which is as a leader, how do you help people have an effective meeting? And I would think that safety or trust would be actually at the root of this very thing.

Dan Cokerell: Yeah, there’s certainly moments. And I was listening to the podcast that you did recently with a gentleman from the Netherlands and it was really interesting, the story he had about when he asked people in audiences to raise their hand if they’d been in one meeting that week, if five meetings and they get the people who’ve been in 15 meetings and some people start crying because they’re just so upset and so stressed about it. So there’s a certain degree, yeah, you have to make, meetings are places where you have to have a safe environment.

What I learned at Disney is the world goes way too fast, is way too complicated and no one can know everything. And so, I’ve realized over time, when I’m in a meeting, I’ll help facilitate that meeting, even though if I’m in charge of that group, I’m merely a participant and I have to facilitate and I have to make it a safe place for everyone to push back, for everyone to be very candid in what they’re thinking about. And generally, that just doesn’t happen in meetings.

It’s kind of like there’s a great video from the ’80s, I think it’s called the Road to Abilene, and it’s this idea that everyone in the group agrees with the boss and everyone says, “Yeah, let’s go do that,” but when the first person pushes back and says, “You know, maybe that’s not the best idea,” and you said, “Well, tell me more.” And all of the sudden, everyone agrees. “Yeah, we didn’t think it was a good idea either.” Well, how could the whole group have agreed with this idea and one person raises their hand and disagrees and now everyone feels comfortable to say, “Yeah, we didn’t think it was a good idea either.” “Well, why didn’t you speak up?” “Well, because why would I take that risk to push up against the authority figure and tell them what they’re saying is a bad idea.” There’s a dynamic that we just ignore a lot of times.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and it’s death by a million cuts in those meetings that are like what you just described for organizations. So when it’s not running well. But what I heard about what you were doing in the meetings when you were at Disney is that you said, you, very much with humility, said, “I’m a participant and I’m not the expert.” So again, what we’re hearing is leadership mindset going into that situation.

And I actually was in a situation where I was dealing with, I think it was 10 senior leaders for a municipality, and we were in there and sheep’s clothing, the senior leader was like, “I want everyone to be participating.” And then at one moment, that clothing just came off and command and control came out, and here we were spending time actually together for a full day to try and help their team to get better. And it was never going to get better, from that very moment. So here he was saying one thing but doing another as a leader and it was a disaster for his team. It chilled the entire team.

And what kills me about it was these were all senior leaders in and of their own right. I mean, these are the six figure earners and they’re all accomplished and whatever. And suddenly you’ve got some guy who just because of his title, could leverage up in that moment and I really, honestly believe, ruin it for his team for months. It would take a long time to recover. So to not have the self awareness that’s also included in what you’re talking about, to be able to lead a better meeting, it’s so critical to be able to have that bundle come together the way that you described.

Dan Cokerell: Yeah. You know what the biggest problem with people who don’t have self awareness is? They don’t know they don’t have self-awareness. That’s the problem. So, it’s this idea, you just got to know. I heard a quote yesterday that stuck with me and it said, which I thought was fantastic, “The greater your ability, the greater your humility, your humility always has to be greater than your ability. And the better you are at something, the more humility you have to practice to have.” And it’s just, I mean, this story goes back as old as time, right? This fact that you get a title, you’re good at what you do, or you start feeling comfortable and it’s easy just to start discounting people.

Maybe you don’t do it always openly, sometimes you do, but there’s a slippery slope of, “I kind of know everything that’s going on now.” It’s that idea of pride is just before the fall. So this idea, can you stay disciplined to have some truth tellers around you and to be able to whisper in your ear, “Hey, you need to shut up.” Or, “Hey, you’re not treating this right.” Or, “You totally missed an opportunity there.” And whether you need to have someone like that at work, and I think you need to have someone like that at home to keep you in check and keep you grounded because that’s one of the hardest things to do.

So, I think that was a big thing with meetings. The whole idea of how do you get out of meetings and have less meetings and cancel meetings and go get the work, you know what? I wish I figured that out at Disney, and I get that question when I do keynotes and workshops, they say, “Tell us a secret to meetings because you were at Disney.” I said, “You tell me the secret,” because man, we met as much or more as any other big bureaucracy and after I listened to your podcast the other day, I wrote down something that I sent to the person who does my social media. It’s a quote I had, and I’m not going to quote it exactly, but it was something along the lines of, “Meetings are catch-alls for lack of strategy, lack of empowerment, lack of communication, lack of clarity.”

When you have a lack of all that stuff, the meeting is the solution. We all think it is, and it’s not. It’s an illusion. You just get people in a room. Just because you’re in a room, doesn’t mean it’s going to get any better. So, my advice when I’m going to do my next podcast on meetings, this has helped me think about it, is if meetings are so bad and you hate them so much, you can’t always tell your boss, “I’m not coming to your meeting,” but you call meetings all the time. Take 30 days and try something new. Tell your team, “We are going to cut 20% of the meetings the next 30 days. Let’s figure it out.” And in that 30 days, let’s see what happened. I bet the you’re not going to go out of business by having less meetings.

Gordon Sheppard: I love that and I’ll tie that right in. I’ve got a book, a colleague of mine here where I live, project manager, read the book, got a little bit bold. So this is back to the mindset thing, so much of this is mindset, went to his boss and said, “Hey, why do we need to meet for an updates meeting for one hour every week?” And the boss is like, “Well, we’ve always done it that way.” And then he said, “Well, can we meet every second week instead?” And she said, reluctantly, she said, “Yes.” And then what happened was they started doing that.

Well, she did that with all of her direct reports and got a day a month back into her senior management life. A day. What’s a day worth in a senior manager’s life? You get to do all that other good stuff and you’ve just done something where you take it off autopilot and you go and you actually do it. Another one happens in the nonprofit settings is poor Robert’s Rules has just crushed us.

If the first thing in a meeting is, “Can I have a motion to approve the minutes from the last meeting?” But your vision is to make everybody happy 50 million times over, start with the vision. Start with who accomplished something. Don’t start a meeting ever, it’s not that you don’t need to approve the minutes, sure, it might be some fiduciary things and that’s fine, do them, but it’s never, ever the first moment in a meeting. But we’re on this real hangover from parliamentary rules, which works great if you’ve got like 50 people backing it all up, it can be awesome.

So, I can’t say enough, again, about where you’re going with just that thing of mindset, right? How do we help people give themselves permission to go, “Yeah, we’re going to cut the meeting.” Yes you are. Another one, if you want to throw it into your podcast as well, is this idea of can you uninvite somebody to a meeting, and just practicing the words out loud and find out what happens. A couple of things are going to happen. One, if they need a shiny object and they’re offended, go out and do a special project or you’re going to find out they’re going to be really relieved because they want to go do their other work.

Dan Cokerell: Right. And I’m an includer. I was the guiltiest of bringing more and more people to my meetings because I love different points of view, but the more people I brought, the less people would talk and the more people are there to listen in and the more people’s time I was taking and that idea. But then when you tell people, there’s a status symbol, I think unfortunately also is, “Are you in that meeting or not in that meeting?” And people look for these cues like, “Where’s your parking spot? What kind of key do you have and how many doors does it open? And what meetings do you get to go to?”

And it’s funny how on one hand, people hate the meetings, but then you say, “Okay, well you don’t have to come this next one.” “Well, why not?” “Well, because it has nothing to do with you. I’m sure you could add something, but we’re going to really just have the decision makers and the experts in that meeting,” and people feel like they’re being left out. They read into it.

Gordon Sheppard: I’ll jump in there with the business case and say, how many employees at Disney?

Dan Cokerell: 74,000.

Gordon Sheppard: So, very quickly, you can just do the rough math, in a 74,000 person organization, I’m going to just, I’ll throw out a number really quickly, the value of those meetings could be $1 billion a year.

Dan Cokerell: It could be.

Gordon Sheppard: Depending on what you do, we could go do hardcore math, but if it’s $1 billion and like you said, let’s cut 20%, is it possible that in re-allocatable resources from a senior leadership point of view, if you just did just that one meeting a week, cut a week or whatever it was, suddenly you’ve got that to re-allocate. Well, in down economies or whenever you get whacked, why not start there before the bodies start flying, is one of my big challenges to any senior leader anywhere.

Dan Cokerell: Yeah, and it’s so funny how it’s one of these things where we think we’re prisoners, we have no control over it, we’re victims. One of the stories I tell also, my wife worked for Disney for many years and back when we both worked at Disney Land Paris for awhile and she was a merchandise manager at one of the resort hotels, and every morning at 9:00 o’clock, which is one of the busiest times of the day in a hotel. Checkouts are happening, breakfast is going on, housekeeping is getting into rooms. The merchandise location is slammed because people are buying souvenirs before they leave. The general manager would have a briefing.

He said, “We’re going to have a 15 minute briefing at 9:00 o’clock every day, and everyone’s like, “Well, it’s not the best time,” but they showed up. And after a week or so, a week or two, they turned into one hour briefings and on the third day of the one hour briefing, Valerie, my wife said, “Excuse me.” And she walked out. Well, she got a call later in the afternoon by the GM, “Why’d you leave my briefing?” She said, “Well, I needed to get back to run my location.” He said, “Well, we need to meet everyday.” She said, “Well, you said it was going to be 15 minutes and we’d done 60 minutes for a few days in a row here and you told us running our business is the most important thing, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

He was not happy, he was not. But, the next day, they went back to 15 minute meetings. Someone has to have the courage to speak up. And of course, after she did that, everyone’s like, “We’re right behind you, Valerie. We were with you.” Yeah, right behind me. “You take the bullet, see what happens, and if you can get the win, we all agree with your point of view.”

Gordon Sheppard:    Oh my goodness. When I think about the price that people pay, I’ll just share another story that I was doing a strategy facilitation with a significant nonprofit board. So they’re all volunteers in this case, but we’re doing a strategy thing, and I’m a paid consultant in the room, right? So this nice man comes in, he’s about, I don’t know, 15 minutes late, starts talking about something nobody cares about and good consultant, what do you do? You sit there and you go, “Oh, okay, you’re ready to start now?”

And something happened for me that day where it was just like, “No, not anymore.” I stood up, I looked at this guy and I said, “Listen, you’re 15 minutes late. You’re talking about something nobody cares about and this meeting’s probably worth a couple thousand bucks an hour even though it’s volunteering. What do you want to do about it?” And then I went to reach for my briefcase because I figured I’m fired on the spot for doing that. And I tell this story because the guy to his right, the one that they’d worked hard to get on to do all the financials, just went like this, he went, “Oh, thank goodness somebody said something.”

And your wife would relate well to that because that’s exactly what everyone’s thinking in these situations. So where can we get, again, as I seek, how can I get the CEO of Disney? Impossible. But, how can I get someone at that level to understand this? Because what they’re trying to is eek out every possible opportunity to make the business run better. And if we’re allowing these things to occur throughout our industrial world and our nonprofit world, it’s either a loss of dollars on one hand, in the nonprofit world what’s happening is we are losing volunteers left, right and center because professionals are showing up to these nonprofit meetings where they wanted to volunteer, they’re over 60 and they’re ready to give back. They get in, the meeting is brutal and they’re gone. And so we lose capacities. It just affects so many different things.

Dan Cokerell: Yeah. I think the last point is if you think meetings, you have to have them because you need the human contact with everyone and you’re not going to have that, then you know what? Cancel the meeting and have the happy hour and have a whole different dynamic. Make it a social environment because that’s what we do. We want to have the meeting because we want the social interaction. Well, forget it. Find another time or place to do that and just send the emails and I know that turns into a whole other podcast on emails, but just get the work done.

Let the main thing be the main thing and if the main thing is being out with guests, helping cast members deliver magical experiences, then try to spend as much time as you can do in that. And every moment you spend in a meeting, not with people, not working on the business, is lost time. It’s lost time for you and you have to have a sense of urgency to combat it like you do everything else in your business.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, I totally agree and it’s so nice to have such an experienced leader from a great entity that allowed you to sort of grow yourself into this and now you’re out in the world, I know, doing your good work, helping others to learn these systems, gain from your confidence and all that kind of thing. And I mentioned before we got on the interview, the other day, was that the last piece that we want to get into, it starts with a very simple question and it goes like this: what inspires you?

Dan Cokerell: What inspires me is being with people. I’m a big fan of the Gallup Organization and StrengthsFinder. It’s a great tool that people can, you can get a book, StrengthsFinder 2.0. They’ve been, for years, they’ve been doing assessments on personalities and strengths and if you take that assessment online, they’ll send you back a report and they’ll tell you what your strengths are. And if you’ve answered it, you can’t game it, the questions are not intuitive. But if you answer it honestly, they’ll tell you out of 34 strengths, what your top five are.

And if you answered it truthfully, you won’t be surprised by what you see. But the key is, once you know what those are, try to align them with what you do every day. And so, when I did my StrengthsFinder, everything on my StrengthsFinder strengths aligned with being with people. I realized in order to exercise these strengths I have to be with people. So every moment I’m doing emails, every moment I’m not with people, I’m less creative, I’m less inspirational, I’m less energetic, I’m less influential. And so, I held myself accountable to be out of my office as much as I could, and when I was within my office, to have someone there I was interacting with.

And that’s when I get my inspiration out. So now that I left Disney and, once again, had an incredible education in a really great company, I’ve put my thoughts together now and first of all, traveling inspires me. So I get to do that now. People say, “Well, Disney’s great.” I said, “It is, except that I didn’t spend one New Year’s Eve in 26 years with my wife,” and I had my vacation time, but now my work is wherever I am. I have my laptop, I have my iPad, I can write articles, I can do podcasts, I can do whatever I’m going to do. I couldn’t do this now if I hadn’t worked for Disney, but the fact is now, I’m starting over again.

I feel like I’m a year and a half into this and I’m learning a whole new career and we’re learning how to do marketing, we’re learning how to do our accounting, we’re learning how to build presentations, we’re learning how to do pricing. So this has been a really exciting venture. It’s the scariest thing I ever did, is leaving Disney. It took me a year to make the decision. My wife and I talked about it for a year before I got the courage to think I could actually do anything else besides work at Walt Disney World. And I read something that said the first 25 years of your life you learn, the next 25 you do, and hopefully the next 25 you teach.

And I just turned 50 back in February, and so my wife and I decided now all the kids are out of the house, off in college. And as long as they have our phone number to text us for Venmo transfers if they’re broke, that’s all they need and we can help them from anywhere in the world at this point. So, it was a calculated risk for us. But if I still worked at Disney, I couldn’t be talking to you. I wouldn’t be going up to Toronto this week. I wouldn’t be going to Bangkok to do speeches. And we’re just getting to meet people from all over the world and it is so energizing, it’s so exciting.

Gordon Sheppard: What a great gift because you know, it’s just so authentic in the way that you’re saying that right now. You know, we could keep talking on and on and on. I just want to make sure that people, if they need to get in touch with you, know how to do that. What’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Dan Cokerell: Yeah. My website is dancockerell.com. My cell phone number’s on there. People call me sometimes and they say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was trying to get your assistant.” I’m like, “This is it. We’ve got no overhead. It’s my wife and I and the dog and this is our company.” And so, we’re a kind of nice and mean and lean, and that you can email me at dan@dancockerell.com, and what I tried to do at Disney was being accessible and approachable. I found over time, that’s what really led to my success, to be accessible and approachable to people. I’m continuing that today. So I just love chatting with people. If anyone has a question or any follow-ups, they can email me or call me and I’d be glad to talk to them.

Gordon Sheppard: And the name of the podcast?

Dan Cokerell: Come Rain Or Shine.

Gordon Sheppard: How’d you pick the title?

Dan Cokerell: Well, gosh, my logo. When I left Disney, I wanted a logo. I’m a big fan of rugby. My wife’s from France, so the rooster is the international symbol for France. So I went out and I sent a graphic designer a bunch of different roosters and we designed my own rooster. And so, it kind of refers to my last name is Cockerell. So it’s a Cockerell, and it’s a from France. And as I talk to people they said, “Well, it looks like a weather vane,” and I said, “Yeah, a weather vane. Your culture’s like the weather. And as a leader you impact the culture and influence the culture of your organization.” And so when we started thinking about the podcast, my wife said, “Come Rain Or Shine,” because you’ve got to be a great leader, come rain or shine. Good days, bad days. You have to be there and lead your team and be a positive influence. And so, Come Rain Or Shine’s the name of the podcast.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, I hope people reach out and make sure on their favorite app they pick up Come Rain Or Shine. I have to draw in one other comment. There’s a wonderful leadership coach here, Eleanor Beaton, who was on the show. She said, “Leaders play hurt,” and that’s the sport analogy and I’m hearing this come rain or shine aspect in here. Again, we could go on and on and on. Dan, thank you so much for being on the show.

Dan Cokerell: Thanks for having me, Gordon, and good luck to everybody.

Gordon Sheppard: You know there were so many great takeaways in that interview. One of my favorites, though, is this idea of you don’t point with one finger if you work here, you point with sort of multiple fingers or your whole hand because we know that that could actually offend somebody. When you set up that level of detail, that level of, “This is how we all act when we work at this place,” that’s the kind of thing that you can actually use as a structural piece to move your own organization forward.

And of course we’re going to leave the contact information for Dan in the show notes, for dancockerell.com, and also a link to the Come Rain Or Shine Podcast. And if you’re also looking for a link to StrengthsFinder, we’ll put that in the show notes as well. And, Dan mentioned episode 106 from the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It’s called A Meeting Productivity App To Improve Team Communications and that’s with Christiaan Zeirleyn from Yabu and you can get that episode by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/106.

And I am also really proud to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, because so often in the live setting I’m the instructor in there working with engineers, bureaucrats, doctors and all kinds of professionals and people and young people and volunteers, people who know they want to go the extra mile, learn those things they need to know to make their next meeting better because they understand that when you build a better meeting, you actually impact your entire organization. And when you can do that, you can actually then serve your customers and your clients and your community at the highest possible level.

And if you want to learn more about the live training and great online training options as well, then visit meetingleadershipinc.com/academy. And I really appreciate all the great feedback you’ve been sending about the format change. Two episodes a week. We just heard the long interview for this week and coming up in a couple of days you’ll be able to get the short format interview where you can take something out and take action right away. And as always, thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

Thanks for listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast. Be sure to subscribe for more strategies to help you become an outstanding leader, and don’t forget to rate and review so we can bring you even more great content. We’ll see you next time, right here on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

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Gordon Sheppard

Gord is on a mission to change the world, one meeting at a time. Over his 25+ years in business Gord has run or participated in more than 2000 meetings! Not only is Gord the CEO of Business Expert Solutions Inc. (owner/operator of Meeting Leadership Inc), but he is also a Facilitator, Trainer, Business Consultant, Author, Speaker and Podcaster who helps leaders learn how to have great meetings, so they can build outstanding organizations and serve their clients at the highest possible level.

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