Sunday, January 2, 2011

That Little Extra

Day 2 - What I learned today...

There's an old saying, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.  Anyone who's walked through the gates at Walt Disney World knows they know what that little extra is.  I'm currently reading Lee Cockerell's book Creating Magic. 

Lee is a former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort.  Lee led a team of over 40,000 cast members who daily made dreams come true.  The first story he tells in the book is about the summer of 2004 when three major hurricanes hit the park in just over a month.  Yes, they had to shut down during the storm.  I'm as big of a Disney nut as you'll find and even I wouldn't go out in 105 mile an hour winds.  What amazed me in the story, was how everyone worked together to secure the park for the coming storm.  (You should know that when I read this I picture Snow White and the Dwarves in full costume nailing plywood over the windows of the castle.)  After the storm hit, they were able to clean the park and open the next day on time.  He talks of cast members who had to have been stressed, exhausted, and quite frankly worried about their own homes and families working together to clean up behind the scenes while entertaining guests at the hotels.  In my head, I picture families who save and plan for a year or more to make that once in a lifetime trip to Walt Disney World only to get there just as a hurricane hits.  Kids so close to the magic they can taste it and would probably go out in the 105 mile an hour winds if their parents allowed.  What could end up as a nightmare vacation, saved because Mickey and Minnie made an extra round in the hotel during the rain and because the park opened on time the next day.  He goes on to tell how they also helped their community and cast members families recover from the storm and that is an even better story (check it out in his book!).

What struck me was that a man who held this amazing leadership position for so many years started his leadership book with one of the handful of days that the park had to close.  He quickly clarified that the point of the whole story was to show that, "[t]he real test [of your leadership principles] comes when a crisis hits..."  In good times, Mr. Cockerell had plenty of trends to track and letters to read from customers to know what was working and what could stand to be tweaked.  But at a time when nature took over and every single cast member had to make on-the-spot decisions they managed to work together and bring each other through the other side.  I am guessing that it is the absolute nightmare of leaders the world around and his team, his cast, performed beautifully.  Of course, it was the perfect story with which to start his book.  I am hooked and can't wait to keep reading. 

Today I learned many things, but most importantly, I learned that when you have the least control is when your true leadership style (and effectiveness) shines through.  Those who have good systems, good training, and people working towards a common mission in place in a crisis will pull through the quickest.  It is certainly a lofty standard, but obviously well worth the effort.