Dan Cockerell – Disney Keynote Speaker | Author | 26-Year Veteran Vice President of Disney Magic Kingdom [Customer Experience]

Nick Glimsdahl 0:03
Welcome to the Press 1 for Nick podcast. My name is Nick Glimsdahl. My guest this week is Dan Cockrell. Dan is a Disney keynote speaker, author and a 26 year veteran at Walt Disney Company. He had 19 different jobs in the last one was the vice president of Disney Magic Kingdom for three years. Dan, welcome to the Press 1 for Nick podcast.

Dan Cockerell 0:24
I appreciate you having me, Nick. I always like being invited places. So thanks for thanks for reaching out.

Nick Glimsdahl 0:30
Yeah, it’s my pleasure. So I always try to think of pull a little bit of nuggets from every guest have, what’s one thing that people might not know about you?

Dan Cockerell 0:42

you know, growing up, I played sports, and I ended up being a walk on for the Boston University football team, and then found out that I was not good enough, fast enough, strong enough, etc. So a lot of people would say, well, you should hang in there. And I just said, You know what, I’m going to go do something that I maybe can be more successful at. So I went ahead and learn how to play rugby, and did that for the next five to 10 years in college. And then after I graduated, so I’ve always been a big fan of contact sports.

Nick Glimsdahl 1:15
That’s, that’s awesome. You know, I, there’s, it’s still a huge accomplishment of actually walking on for Boston University football, it’s just because you weren’t big enough, strong enough or fast enough. I, I played hockey when I was younger. And I realized that, you know, as a five foot 100 pound sophomore in high school, my body wasn’t prepped for that. So I learned a lot earlier than you did that. I wasn’t ready for the professional sports. So I actually leaned into a sport that was more keen to an aerodynamic frame. And that’s how I leaned into running. But that’s, I still love the story and how what what position specifically where you will walk on for?

Dan Cockerell 1:58
Well, in high school is a running back. And then at BU we had a it was a passing offense. So I was a slot back lot of short plays, and that kind of thing. But and it was great. You know, even I think, you know, my big. One of my big philosophies in life is every experience is great. And even the ones you don’t succeed at you learn a ton, and it propels you to the next thing. So I don’t think there’s really any bad experiences. They’re just the ones you may not enjoy them as much at the moment.

Nick Glimsdahl 2:28
Yeah, yeah. Well said. So I kind of mentioned at the very beginning, but you started your journey as the parking attendant. That was your first job at Epcot Center in Orlando. And then over that 26 years, you mentioned that you had 19 different jobs. And the most recent was the vice president of Magic Kingdom, which is the biggest theme park in the world. So what was your favorite job? And you can’t say the last one.

Dan Cockerell 2:57
All right, you’re putting rules on? That’s good. Okay. Yeah, parameters, I would say my favorite. My favorite job was being the general manager of the Wilderness Lodge and the fort wilderness campground. That was my first executive role. And so I was, you know, it was exciting to be a general manager. And it’s such a great property. If you’ve ever been there, I mean, you feel like you’re in the Pacific Northwest. There’s great restaurants, there’s a Disney Vacation Club, you have the lake patrol, and you have the whole camping for wilderness camp campground that’s been open since 1971. So lots of tradition there. The whoop dee doo review dinner show all the million dollar RVs and then all the campsites and it was just such a diverse business to get kind of learn how to be in my first executive role, and I have fond memories of that of that job.

Nick Glimsdahl 3:53
Yeah, it’s and to be honest, like I’ve never been but the guy who introduced me to you is my goldsby. And he is mentioned how he is a die hard and loves the the Wilderness Lodge. And he’s like, you know, I love it, how you can kind of just go out the back door if you can stay on the first floor and kind of go right to the trail. And he’s like, the way that you it’s all set up. It’s just amazing. He’s like, I if I would go one spot, I’d go to the Wilderness Lodge. So, you know, when it comes to your book, it’s the How is the culture in your kingdom? So what made you want to write the book to begin with?

Dan Cockerell 4:41
Disney a couple years ago. I one of the things I had to figure out is okay, I know I want to go out and consult and be an entrepreneur, but what do I know? You know what I know after being in the same organization for so long? You don’t actually know what you know. It’s just everything is just the way things are done. So I really had to sit back and think about that. And so I wrote out lots of things I thought I knew I know how to communicate, I know how to collaborate, I know how to build a strategy, and I just made a laundry list. And from there, that was sort of the beginning of the book, and I filled in each of those topics, I shared it with a friend of mine who put made made some order of it for me, sometimes you’re so close to the work, you don’t know how to organize it. And he said, You know, I clearly see three big themes here you have lead, self lead team lead organization. And so it’s very helpful to have something that sort of all my thoughts on on in one place to help guide my consistency is, you know, my wife, and I work with clients and different companies. It’s a great calling card, people say, Okay, what, What’s your deal, instead of giving a business card and give a book, and say, Hey, this is who I am. And here are my concepts. And so it was very helpful to do that. And it’s a, it’s something we’re very proud about. I mean, it’s I never imagined, I don’t think a lot of people imagine that we’re gonna write a book, but it is like, my dad likes to say, when you get old, you end up knowing a lot of stuff. And maybe it’s if you can share that with maybe some younger people and help them along the way too. Yeah,

Nick Glimsdahl 6:09
yeah, a lot of my mentors that I have are, you know, have the experience in different industries. And it’s amazing what, what insights I can pull from them, where I don’t have to fail, where they failed, or I can help catapult me in that in the right direction. But, you know, the, what surprised me and I, you know, I just assumed that it was going to be all about Disney, I thought it was going to be not just solid principles foundational about leading self actually really surprised me at the very beginning, I thought I was gonna be about all the Disney characters and all the cool rides and all the experiences on the backstage, but in there is some of that too. But, you know, it was refreshing to see that it was about the things you’ve learned along the way. And and the experience that you have. So you know, at the very first chapter, you you, you said it was leading self. So why was that the first chapter?

Dan Cockerell 7:07
Yeah, well, I’ve always been, you know, I figured this out many years ago. And I tell people you really have it’s a concept I call buckets. What are your buckets? What are your big buckets of areas that you think are important in your life? And how do you fill those buckets with behaviors and things you do and where you spend your time. And I always talked about the fact that I always had three buckets, and in order of priority, self, family and career, and every day, I had my sort of virtual scorecard to see how I did on that each day. And I concluded after reading, and I’ve read a lot about emotional intelligence, over the years, and mindset, and, you know, being an athlete, I really started to connect that to work. And you never hear athletes bragging that they never got enough sleep, or that they didn’t drink enough water, or they’re, you know, they’re always taking care of themselves, because they know when they take care of themselves, they perform better. And I think there’s a lot of connections back to work. When you feel better about yourself physically, mentally, when you’re organized. When you remove as much stress from your body in your life as you can. You’re much in a better shape, to interact with your family and take care of your job and do the things you need to do. You know, it’s the classic oxygen mask on an airplane, when it comes down, who do you put on at first, and they always remind you every single flight, you put it on yourself first before putting on others. Because if you’re able bodied and you don’t put it on yourself, now you go down the people around you who need help go down and now No, everyone is in trouble. So I think a lot of times people miss prioritize that and they think they’re supposed to be sacrificing themselves constantly. But I think that’s the mistake long term, you really got to take care of yourself. And the publisher, you know, talked about my wife and I and said, you know, are you sure you want to put this in the beginning of the book, because a lot of people are gonna expect a leadership management book, and they’re going to open it and they’re gonna start reading it, and they’re gonna think they accidentally bought a self help book. And I said, you know, what if and, and Valerie said that, she said, if we really believe that, then we got to leave it at the beginning. If we put it into the book, we’re gonna do exactly what most people do. They put their own self care at the end of everything else. And so that’s we wanted to make a point. And I’m really glad you called that out. Because that was a that was a big decision for us.

Nick Glimsdahl 9:25
Yeah, in Did you all always know that you need to take care of yourself first.

Dan Cockerell 9:31
I think Well, I think we all know it. I don’t think we all do it all the time. And I just realized when I was growing up, when I exercised. I just felt better. You know, everything else was good. My confidence was up. My endorphins were flowing, and I felt more confident. I felt better about myself. You know, everything was good. And then as I got older and less invincible, I started to realize that, you know, if you didn’t get enough sleep that would impact you if you didn’t eat the right thing. That would impact you. And because this is not only for performance, but it’s for I think, you know, quality of life. And as, as you get older, you want to, you know, you have these little pains and things from your life, we sports and things. And so you just have to do whatever you can, because people are living a long time today. And it’s, that’s not I think that’s great. What I’m concerned about is people’s quality of life. Did you take care of yourself early in your life to really is your body ready to go on that long journey with you? And you know, continue to be active. And that’s important. And it’s something to think about long term, it’s hard to do that when you’re younger. And if you can get ahead of the curve just a little bit and think about that. I think you’ll be you’ll be thanking yourself your 60 year old self and you know, one day

Nick Glimsdahl 10:44
Yeah, yeah.

Well said, so. You mentioned taking care of yourself. So why is your mindset so important with your mental fitness?

Dan Cockerell 10:54
Yeah, you know, mindset. It’s, it’s, it is how you decide to be it’s a it is a decision, and what you put your mind to, it’s incredible what the mind can do and what you put your mind to gets done. Even coming back to sports analogies. You know, most athletes, have psychologists that help them get a positive mindset and keep them positive, and visualize, right visualize victory. I know I’ve read some articles on various athletes that usually a lot of them have the same routine every day, every during a training or the gold medal race for the Olympics, they have the same routine, because they want to be in that right mindset and everything to be perfect. And there’s something to be said for positivity. There. We, when I was at Disney, we had I’m trying to remember her name. She was tower. Mina was her last name. And she was a she was I think one of the only women to win medals and three different Olympics. Anyway, she was a great swimmer. She was a triathlete. And a Sheila Taormina was her name. And she came to speak at Disney. And she talked about that. She never, as she grew up, she was never, she was a great swimmer, but she just couldn’t get to her full potential. And she said, she realized she feared pain. You know, when you’re when you’re competing. And you know, this is a runner, you get to a point where you either it starts to hurt or the fatigue comes, and you either step up or fall back, you have to make a decision. And a lot of times the mental piece is I’m going to slow down, fall back and not deal with this. And she finally learned how to break through and embrace pain and realize this is what victory is going to feel like it’s going to hurt. And you’re going to get there. And so once she switched that she started to really be much more successful. And she told us the last thing she thought about before the gold medal, swim in the Olympics, she said she looked around at all these incredible competitors from all these countries. And in the past that had intimidated her. And the worst thing to do is be intimidated right before you’re going to compete. But she looked around, and she looked down. And the last thing she thought before that gun went off was, you know what you look really good in this bathing suit was just a little extra, she needed to give her that confidence to go out there. Just have fun. So once again, you know what happens, you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control certainly control your reaction. And I think a lot of people think they’re prisoners of other people. But you decide you decide what your mindset is you decide how positive you’re going to be, you decide to see the silver lining and things, and just your attitude. And that’s what we hire for. Well, this new attitude, your attitude makes such a huge difference. When I meet people that have a exceptionally positive attitude. I want to be with people like that I want them on my team. And I want them working for me. And if they don’t have the skills to do the job, I really don’t care, I’m going to take the time to teach them because that attitude is going to get them through most difficult situations without any training. Yeah, just a big, big powerful thing that I would say physical fitness is much easier than mental fitness, because physical fitness, go out and run, you’re done. mental fitness, you’re never done. You’re always you know, having to re reshape how you see the world reshape how you’re taking on stress. And it takes work.

Nick Glimsdahl 14:16
Yeah, and it’s not easy. It sounds so simple, but it’s not easier. You know, there’s a there’s an equation A guy, I think his name is Tim kite, local guy in Ohio here. And his equation is E plus r equals o and as the event plus response equals the outcome. And I like it because it’s all comes down to how you respond to the event. And so it’s in the old like, the old saying is life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it. And so it all comes down to figuring out do we look good in this bathing suit or not?

Dan Cockerell 14:51
Yeah, there you go.

Nick Glimsdahl 14:54
So in chapter four, you write about planning for the input unpredictable. How do you do that? Yeah.

Dan Cockerell 15:03
When you’re, well, many leaders, and especially when I was working at Disney, when you when you have, you know, such a huge part of the public visiting your your property every day, you have to be ready for everything. It’s like running a small city, you have 10s of 1000s of people from all over the world there. And you have to be prepared. And so when I say the unpredictable, it’s not that it’s, you don’t know it couldn’t happen. It’s that it probably won’t happen, but you still have to be prepared for it. So, you know, that’s why we train people who choose to train for CPR. I’m probably never gonna give CPR. But if it happens, I’m prepared for that. There’s a good chance. Well, there’s a good chance now we will get them. But for many years, you know, we didn’t get a hurricane in Florida. But every season, we trained for it, and we talked to who’s on the right crew? And do we have all the sandbags we need? And does everyone have the procedures? And does engineering know what lampposts they need to take down? And how many hours do we need to secure everything? Practice it every year? active shooters, you know, we do simulations in the parks about an active shooter, no one wants to talk about that. But it’s a pot, it’s in the realm of possibility of something bad happening in a theme park, and we go through the training, if this happens, how are we going to respond to that? So these ones, when I say unpredictable, I think we can usually come up with a lot of scenarios. Once you it’s not that they’re not going to happen, but we have to plan for them. So training is a huge part of this. I was doing actually a workshop yesterday. And one of the gentlemen from Canada was in the Canadian military and served in Bosnia for a while. And we were talking about handling stress. And I asked him, I said, How do you train to be in those environments where you have very technical job, plus, you are, you know, you’re in harm’s way. And he said, a big part of it is repetition, and muscle memory, you get to a point where you just know how to handle things in those moments, you don’t have to think about them, so you can focus on what’s going on. So it’s just being prepared. And I think a lot of people, it’s kind of like taking out insurance, some people say I just hope this won’t happen, and I’m gonna save money, not buy insurance. And I think a lot of companies, if you’re going to run a quality company, you have to think about all the things that could happen. Could your system crash? Could your call center go down? And if that happen, what are you going to do about it? Are you just going to sit there and wait till the lights come back on? are you actually going to do you have a plan? And a lot of people just don’t have a plan. And they don’t think far enough ahead. They don’t take the time to do it. Things go fine. But when COVID-19 when a hurricane when something happens, it really defines the companies that are serious companies and the ones that really aren’t serious.

Nick Glimsdahl 17:52
Yeah, yeah, in some of the times, when there are times where things go bad or things that are very unpredictable in life in business. So what are the some of the unpredictable things that happened at Disney while you were there?

Dan Cockerell 18:07
Yeah, gosh, there’s every day there’s crazy stuff happening. Well, let me let me play on that unpredictable piece of the kind of how you train for things. You know, there was a after the tsunami, huge earthquake in Tokyo. And you know, the city was down for a few days, trains, you know, some of the train platforms cracked, the Tokyo Disney that day was full. I mean, 1000s of people are in that park. And no one was injured, no one was hurt, because they train in Japan, because when there’s an earthquake, you stop, you sit down, and you just you stay calm. And they actually had a bunch of guests spent the night in Tokyo, Disney’s The train was offline, they couldn’t get people back. So the cast members were trained, get food, put people in merchandise, shops, and theaters, feed them, comfort them, make sure you’re updating and communicating with them. And the next day, they got them all back, not one person. And you can see a lot of scenarios where people would panic and a lot of bad things would happen. When I was at one year, you know, I found out we all found out that there’s a huge gas line that comes in from Georgia into Florida, that brings most of the natural gas down. And we that gas line for whatever reason broke up in Gainesville or Jacksonville or somewhere. And all said it was our problem because we use gas at Walt Disney World. So for two days, we didn’t have any gas. So you think about the kitchens you think about that are designed that way. So you really can’t plan for that necessarily, but people thought on their feet and we let people you know, in those situations, you have to let go and let everyone start making decisions. You can’t start having meetings. And the chef said, You know what, we’re going to build some tents. We have some tents, we’re going to go to Sports Authority. We’ll get some covered tents. We’re going to put some boxes outside and we’re going to have a limited menu and we’re just going to cook With barbecues, just like the good old days, and we got through it, a frog got into electrical transformer and Epcot one day, and all the power went out, you know, because someone hadn’t quite close that one transformer the right way. And this little poor little frog got in there, and, and took down the park. And once again, you have people in those moments, you can’t train him for exactly what’s going to happen. But you give them a mindset that, okay, you need to be calm, you need to be talking to your your guests, and make sure they’re calm. And we will let you know what the what the plan is. We had people all kinds of people show up the main entrance, dressed all kinds of different ways. And you know, we always had to, one of our big things is we don’t want people to take away from the show at Disney. So you know, when someone dresses up like Mickey Mouse or Indiana Jones to come in the park, you kind of got to talk to them saying, look, we have no problem with how you’re dressed, but it’s going to be distracting to people. And we can’t have people thinking you work here and actually have a Disneyland Paris, there was a guy, he must have snuck in six different times. Once he got in the park and went to the bathroom. He dressed up like Indiana Jones, he went out to the Indiana Jones roller coaster and stuff and got a line started signing autographs. I mean, no one was, you know, he was fine. He was really nice guy. I guess he wanted to work at Disney. And he just decided to do this for free. And we had to escort him out and finally had to trespass on because but you can’t do this. You know, if something happens? They’re gonna ask us about Indiana Jones, we don’t have Indiana Jones.

Right. So

this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can imagine a place that welcomes 50 million people a year. You if you can imagine it, it’s happened.

Nick Glimsdahl 21:37
Yeah, yeah. And I encourage everybody to take a peek at the book, because there are other ones that have to do with helicopters and monkeys dressed up as clowns and all sorts of stuff. So yeah, I’m not gonna spoil the rest of them. But, you know, feel free to read those in chapter four. So how important is it to you to listen to the employees?

Dan Cockerell 22:01
Oh, extremely. I mean, yeah. But what I learned over time, and the good thing was starting as a frontline employee at Disney, you really get to see what that customer that that guest experience is like. And as I grew up through the company, I reminded myself that that’s where the magic happens. That’s where people decide if they’re having an excellent experience are not the tram driver, the ticket taker, the the front entrance of the park, the food and beverage, fast food server, all the different roles, people add up those experiences those interactions, and they decide whether they had an excellent experience or not, if they had an excellent experience, they’re highly likely to return and they’re highly likely to recommend Walt Disney World. And that is, that’s a business strategy. So because those are the people actually delivering the value. They know what they need, they know what the guest needs, they know what equipment they need, they know what training they need. And if you’re willing to listen to them, you can give them what they need, if you make it easy for them to ask, and you make it easy for you to get them the resources they need. And so it’s this idea this, you know, servant leadership, you are there to support the people who are actually creating the value. And a lot of companies forget about that. And they get caught up in lots of other things. And a great quote we used often at Disney was keep the main thing, the main thing. And that’s just a good, I think, good quote for life, don’t get distracted by things that aren’t important and aren’t adding value and aren’t going to be clear paths to create success for you keep those in the in the front and center. problem is people aren’t disciplined, and they get bored with the main thing. So they go start working on other stuff, and then they take their eye off the ball. And then eventually they you know, have this big program, they get back to basics. It’s like, well, just don’t get away from basics. If you can stay there and execute, you know, you’ll have a very successful business.

Nick Glimsdahl 23:54
If you take your eye off the ball, you might get hit. So stay stay focused. You know, I think you’re right. I think there’s so many people that have squirrel moments. And instead of saying, here’s my goal, here’s my marching orders, here’s how I’m going to get measured on that goal. And here’s my objective, like, let’s move forward. You take those first few steps and you’re like, yeah, this is easy. It’s kind of like the annual Hey, I’m going to lose 20 pounds, or Hey, I’m gonna, you know, go run a marathon. By March, everybody is pretty much well shot of their annual goal, but stay focused. And I think the old somebody had said that happy employees equal happy customers. So stay focused on your employees and they’ll do the same. So speaking of employees, why does Disney call their employees cast members?

Dan Cockerell 24:43
Yeah, that’s that’s a that’s a great question that goes way back. You know, Walt Disney. Originally, his first profession was an animator, that’s the business he was in. And so the his first, all his people, he hired people who basically To design Disneyland, where animators, they looked at it from an animators point of view and all those sight lines and how they thought about it. And he thought of in his mind is I want to create a place that’s just like a show, it’s gonna be a theater. And every morning, the curtains gonna open. And we’re gonna have cast members who are cast into roles, and everyone’s going to play a role in our show. And we’re going to tell them what to say, we’re going to put, we’re going to dress them up to be part of that show, we’re going to have the music to support the show the smells, we’re going to build the architecture to support that show. When you’re on stage, you are going to be in character. And when you go backstage, you can be out of character and go get lunch and do whatever you do. So everything is focused around putting on a show every day. And there’s a lot of great analogies to that. And it reminds people that we really are there for, for our guests, and we need to perform at a very high level. Cuz when you think about a theater show, you know, someone doesn’t stop in the middle and answer their cell phone in the middle of a scene, right? We treat that the same at Disney, you shouldn’t be on your cell phone in the middle of your scene, whether you’re selling cheeseburgers, or you’re dancing, or whatever you’re doing, you’re you’re part of that show, and you’re entertaining the guests. And it’s it’s a great philosophy, I think. And we really use it to its maximum to let people know how differentiated we are with other places, because we take that approach.

Nick Glimsdahl 26:26
So you ran Magic Kingdom for three years. And they had what 12,000 cast members, is that correct?

Dan Cockerell 26:33
Right. Yeah.

Nick Glimsdahl 26:35
So why is it so important to build relationships with your direct reports? I mean, 12,000 cast members, that is a whole lot of people. And, you know, tell me why it’s important to just have the relationship with the direct reports.

Dan Cockerell 26:48
Yeah, well, I think there’s there’s two things around hire. Well, first of all, hierarchy is very important. Because when you have higher hierarchy, you have organization, and you know how to deploy resources, and you know how to get things done. And also to have a certain lack of hierarchy when it comes to communication, and interaction with people. So the way I kind of broach with my group, my team was, you know, I could go out in the park every day, which I did, and try to tell 12,000 people what I thought they should be doing. But that’s impossible. I don’t have enough time be I don’t have enough expertise. I mean, I can go on and on and on. So that this just doesn’t work that way. So the the most, the most powerful thing I could do was influenced my, my direct reports, which were my general managers who ran food and beverage, ran merchandise, ran entertainment, ran operations, make sure they understood what our goals were, I translated the goals of the company and my, you know, personal goals, I thought for the Magic Kingdom were important. And then once I could influence them, then they could go influence their direct reports, which is a group and eventually it has to translate between all the levels to a point where you can actually execute this plan. A big part of that is clarity. just explaining to people what you’re looking for what success looks like, what is acceptable, you know, that’s what culture is what is acceptable, it’s thing, how things are done around here. And you got to make sure people understand that. And then, so once they knew that I could support them, I could hold them accountable, I could recognize them, we can have conversations about what what resources they need to do their job better. And then when it came to the relationships, I’d go walk in the park and talk to everybody. Because I didn’t want to have to go through this hierarchy to talk to frontline employees, I don’t want to go to employer and say, Hey, I’m going to talk to General Manager to pass this message to you and everyday, it’s Be careful, because you don’t want to short circuit make decisions on behalf of your team. Because that causes confusion. You don’t want to make it look like what the gyms that you’re out there walking around just trying to find out if they’re doing their jobs or not. So a lot of times, that’s what this ends up being it’s, there’s a penalty to it. So the way I positioned myself was, look, I’m the vice president here I have a lot of authority, people know who I am. And I can help you all get better at running your businesses. And that’s what my goal is gonna be. Because the better your businesses run, the better I’m doing. We’re all in this together. I’m not like the separate entity. I’m with you on this. And there’s times when we had great conversations and there’s times when I had to talk to them about maybe things they weren’t taking care of the right way. And there are many times where I had to get on board with them and help them out help them through situations they were dealing with. I mean, these are big businesses that they’re dealing with. And I had to be a support partner to make sure I was you know, making them successful and helping them learn along the way.

Nick Glimsdahl 29:38
Yeah, no, I love that because if you know that you don’t know everything. But even though you have the authority to tell everybody what to do and you rely on your your your direct reports for them to be inexperienced are experts in what they do, and help them drive the line but then you at the same time you you went out every day and when in the past And listen to what people had to say. And you also had the ability and, again, go read the book, but you had the ability to say, Hey, here’s here’s my cell phone number, get ahold of me, text me, call me anytime you want. And not that people would. But people had the ability to, to talk to you when they needed if something came up. And and I think that that honesty and openness as a leader is important. You know, when it comes to the 12,000 cast members, or maybe even just the direct reports, how did you set clear expectations?

Dan Cockerell 30:39
Yeah, well, one thing is, it’s very complicated process, you write it down. So I give them a memo. When I first started working with a team, I wrote down, it was called my operating practices and priorities. And basically what I told the team was, look, by no means do I know you all yet, when I don’t know this operation yet. But I want to accelerate the learning curve. So let me tell you how I think about leadership. Let’s see, let me tell you how I think about communication, performance feedback. And I’d give them as much of what I call my my operating my my owner’s manual, so they can know what I valued. And what, what my expectations were, that just because I gave them five pieces of paper didn’t mean we’re now trust each other. And you know, everything is good. Now we have to go through experiences together to build trust. And we have to go through experiences where they make mistakes, and they see how I react. And where I make mistakes, I see how they react. And that’s where you you build this bonding and you build trust with people. But at least I gave them an opportunity to not have to go through six to 12 months of sort of guessing about what was important to me, I put it on pen and paper. And it was things such as I expect you to just send me an update on informing me. Let me know what your you’re thinking about. And give me some updates on what you’re doing well, and give me a one page memo once a week. So I can just be up to speed on your business. And when my boss asks about your business, I know what’s going on. And so boom, there we go. So communication, I was able to define that because that’s such a confusing area, you don’t communicate well, you over communicate you under communicate, we never define it. So I wanted to define it. I told people, you know, the amount of hours you spend at work is not going to be a criteria I use to evaluate your performance. A lot of people think, well, if I’m here early in here late and if I leave before the boss leaves, it’s gonna make me look bad. That’s just such a, it doesn’t make any sense. get the job done. Do what you need to do be here when you need to be here. And if you’re not here, we need to be here, I’ll tell you. And otherwise, just let me know who’s in charge when you’re not here. And so when you give people this kind of leeway to run their lives and run their businesses, they tend to actually work a lot more than we’re much more comfortable. And then I take then I don’t have to worry about the person who spent 12 hours a day but still doing a bad job and give them credit for that. I’m like, if you’re working 12 hours a day, something’s wrong. Something’s wrong with your time management, something’s wrong with your delegation skills, something’s not working right. And so just giving them insight into all those pieces about what I believed it was a was good. It took me many years to come up with that. And every time I went to a new job, I made small changes based on things I’ve learned along the way. But it’s it’s a great way to it’s I think it’s a fair way with your team is just give them a chance to know who you are. Because there’s always that moment where the new boss comes and everyone stops doing everything and just says let’s wait and see. And you lose a lot of valuable time during that wait and see period.

Nick Glimsdahl 33:35
Yeah, that’s, that’s neat. And I love that and you have a you can actually go to Dan Cochrane comm slash expectations to take a peek at what that operating practice and priorities is so encourage you to do that. You know, one thing that I thought of, and I still need to make my way to the park. So wait till the kids get a little older. However, if you had a 24 hour period at Magic Kingdom, what would you do?

Dan Cockerell 34:09

I would, you know, this is linked to a question I get sometimes is what are you most proud of? have worked at Disney. And when projects are what and for me, it was about people. It was about the people I got to meet the incredibly talented and interesting people I interacted with and worked for and worked with. So if I had 24 hours in the park, I would reach out to my favorite people from all my career and invite them over and spend time walking around and telling stories. All the people that I worked with in the parking lot when I was just out of college, some of my colleagues at Disneyland Paris who a lot of we’re still working there and resorts and just tell stories and talk about hey, you remember the time right remember, Millennium we thought all the power was gonna go out and remember the time you called me and we Got to day notice the President was visiting. Remember how he handled that situation. So I would get the park and walk around and just share, share those stories and re acquaint myself with all those people, because that was really what left me when I left Disney. That was the biggest thing I think I got out of my career is just being exposed to these incredibly talented people who are so passionate.

Nick Glimsdahl 35:19
That’s cool. So I wrap up every podcast with two questions. The first question is, what book or person has influenced you the most in the past year? And then the second one is, if you could leave a note to all the customer service or customer experience professionals, and it’s gonna reach everybody’s desk Monday at 8am. What would it say?

Dan Cockerell 35:39
Yeah, I think the most influential people over the past year has by far been my wife. You know, we’ve been married for 27 years. But we didn’t imagine what it was gonna be like to work closely together, run our own company together. And that was not easy. And we’ve kind of come, I’m proud to say we’ve come to a professional respect for each other now, because we’re very different. You know, she worked for Disney for many years, and was a facilitator Disney Institute. And we have figured out how to partner now. And so she is very influential helping me think about things. She’s one of the one that gives me the tough love the tough feedback. After every keynote, you know, I get a Hey, good job here, three things maybe improve next time around. And that’s how we get better. So I’m very lucky to have someone like that, who has that courage. I think from you know, customer service professionals. The one thing you know, I would say is a, be everyone be more empathetic. Just be more thoughtful. I know everyone has problems, managers, executives, everyone’s got problems are dealing with. But when you put yourself in a leadership role, you’re taking on more responsibility, and you are taking on responsibility, not only to your job, but to create culture environment for all these other people who are coming into that environment every day. And you as the leader have the opportunity and the responsibility to create healthy environments where people spend most of their waking hours. And you can you have, that’s a big job. Because, you know, people say, well, it’s not life or death, I’d say Yeah, it is. Stress is a tough thing. And if you can be more empathetic, take more interest in your people. Just small things like just pay attention to your ego be more self aware about who do you just say hi to people in the morning, you say good morning, do you check in on people, these little things? I don’t think leaders, a lot of leaders, and I used to forget how big a deal it is. And when you do that, not only is the right thing to do, it is a great business strategy. Because when you do it for the people who are high performers, they’ll even perform but more when you do it. For the people who aren’t performing that, well. They’ll consider listening to you more. It doesn’t mean empathy doesn’t mean agreement. Empathy doesn’t always empathy means is I can put myself in your shoes and understand what the world looks like from your point of view. And when you start to when people know you understand them, you open up all these other opportunities to connect. And as you said earlier, when you connect with your employees, they feel respected, they feel trained, they feel like they’re being listened to and they matter. They are much more likely to be comfortable in their jobs and deliver over the top experiences for customers and you make more money. So once again, it’s not the right thing to do. I think it’s a it’s a key business strategy that we don’t always pay attention to.

Nick Glimsdahl 38:29
Yeah, so a few things that I got out of this this episode is tell yourself You look good in a bathing suit.

Dan Cockerell 38:40
There you go. I’m glad

Nick Glimsdahl 38:41
Don’t be the frog. Don’t be the frog. Right. Take care of your employees. And and by how is the culture in your kingdom book?

Yeah, well, that’s the most important one. Dan, what’s

the best way for people to get ahold of you?

Dan Cockerell 38:58
Yeah, if you just go to Cockrell consulting com one word, C OC ke r e Ll consulting, calm, valor and are both on there and we get some videos of speaking. We have our contact information. You can sign up for an article of the week I send out every Friday. There’s a link to my podcast come rain or shine. So everything you need to know about us is it Cockrell consulting calm.

Nick Glimsdahl 39:21
Very cool. Dan, thank you so much. I learned a ton from the book. Not just life principles, business principles, but how to lead people. So I appreciate your time and I look forward to what you’re doing in following you on on social and connecting with you in the future.

Dan Cockerell 39:40
Great. Thanks for having me, Nick. Take care.


The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.

Nickโ€™s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:

  • Customer service & customer experience leaders
  • A hostage negotiator
  • Award-winning authors
  • Home Depotโ€™s Senior Director of Customer Care
  • Former VP of Disneyโ€™s Magic Kingdom
  • Lyftโ€™s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
  • Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:

  1. What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
  2. If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?

You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.

If all you want is the guests’ book recommendations, you can go here.

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