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Santa Claus and the Elf

Monday, July 30, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 12:49 PM

I had a one-on-one meeting with Lee over the holidays when I was at Epcot.  I asked if we could meet at the American Adventure pavilion.  Lee arrived right on time and promptly walked right past me with a cheery greeting of “Hi, Santa!”  Somehow he didn’t recognize me under my white beard, hair and eyebrows, with a large Santa belly and bright red costume, all provided by our Entertainment team.  We had been shooting the holiday video for our Cast Members, and we had fun dressing me as Santa to tell our Cast that they were the greatest gift our Guests could ever have.

As a leader, you have the power to make your workplace fun.  High-performing teams have fun leaders. Have some fun today!

Santa Claus and The Elf

I think we’re having fun. I think our customers really like our products.
And we’re always trying to do better.
Steve Jobs
 If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.
Dr. Seuss

As part of the preparation for the Naval Nuclear Power Program Engineer’s Exam, candidates meet with different submarine commanding officers to be quizzed and learn about the most unique situation the CO had ever faced. After a few questions and stories, one of the Captains told me about his leadership style. He said, “If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right!” I was somewhat taken aback by his comment in the middle of a very serious discussion. But, as I thought about it, I realized that his boat was the top performer in our squadron, and his crew had high morale.

In my leadership roles, I have always tried to make work fun. We spend far too many of our waking hours at work for it to be so serious. Some leaders believe that work should always be serious, and any “fun” should take place after hours. The facts prove otherwise, with happier employees boosting returns. Based on a study by Alex Edmans of the Wharton School, companies listed in Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” had 3.5% higher equity returns per year than those of their peers over a 25 year period. One of the key determinants of employee satisfaction is having fun at work—fun does equate to financial success.

There are many ways to inject fun into work, but I have found one of the best is to have the leader dress up in an unusual costume. I have been Elvis, an elf, Santa Claus, a surfer dude, a Roman statesman (in a toga, of course), a pirate, and countless other characters.

When I led one of the major finance teams at Disney, I was responsible for the monthly Cast Member recognition program. Turnout had been sparse, and interest in the program was dwindling. The recognition team asked me if I would be willing to dress in a costume if they came up with a theme for each month. I agreed, and we soon had a packed crowd, eager to find out if Brad was really going to deliver as promised, such as dressing up as a ladybug for the Spring Fling. (I was a pretty good looking ladybug, if I do say so myself!) Each time was immense fun for the team, and created a lasting memory. Many years later, I have had employees reminisce about these events; “I remember when you dressed up like Elvis for the awards ceremony.”

While some leaders might refuse this approach and say it is “undignified,” I have found people have greater respect for a leader who has the confidence to serve his or her team by putting on an outlandish costume. Surpassing leaders of the best-performing companies make having fun a high priority, and create a fun working environment.

Action Points

• Make your work environment fun

• The more intense the pressure, the more important it is to inject fun

• Dress up in a costume, especially for recognition programs and holiday videos


Improved morale, more satisfied employees, a reputation as a confident, respected leader

This excerpt is from Chapter 41 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  To find out more about the book and sign up for a free weekly tip for life and leadership excellence, go to

If you want to see a world class team have fun, watch our U.S. Olympic swimming team performing in this video,      U.S.A.! U.S.A!



A Cup of Hot Chocolate

Thursday, July 26, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 3:43 PM

As the Olympics start Friday night, we will see many athletes in their glory.  Win or lose, they made it to London and can always call themselves Olympians.  What we won’t see is all the sacrifices it took to get there. Leadership in sports or business requires sacrifice. Today’s posting describes these sacrifices and some ways to prepare for them.

A Cup of Hot Chocolate

 The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

Charles Du Bos

Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.

H. L. Hunt

In this life we get only those things for which we hunt, for which we strive, and for which we are willing to sacrifice.

George Matthew Adams

I had just spoken at a Disney Leadership Conference when a young manager walked up to me. He introduced himself and said, “I don’t expect that you remember me, but I worked at Epcot. I am a manager today because you gave me a cup of hot chocolate.” My puzzled look encouraged him to continue with his story. “It was Christmas Eve and I had completed my night shift as the park closed. You were in the Cast hallway handing out cookies and cups of hot chocolate to the Cast Members as they were leaving. I knew you had young children, and that you had given up Christmas Eve with your kids to serve your Cast Members that night. I decided then that if that is what Disney leaders do, I wanted to be a Disney leader.”

When many people look at leaders, they see the rewards of leadership—status, power, money, and privileges. Those rewards often motivate people to pursue leadership roles and “climb the corporate ladder.” However, many don’t recognize the sacrifices required in leadership. As I talk with aspiring leaders, I challenge them to ask the hard question of “Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to be a great leader?”

These sacrifices are immense. If you want to be a successful leader, you better be prepared to sacrifice. Oftentimes, your day will start when others are going home. You will be on call for customers, bosses, and your subordinates. Weekends become reserved for completing the work that was not finished during the week. You may need to move across the country or around the world. You will miss your children’s games and other events. You will endure extreme stress, frustrating days and sleepless nights. As much as you might try to manage “work/life balance,” you will face prolonged periods of imbalance when work is all consuming.

If you want to keep moving up, the choices become more and more difficult, as the increasing needs of your organization conflict with the increasing needs of your family. Oftentimes, these conflicting needs cause leaders to make poor choices that impact their companies and their families unnecessarily.

There are steps you can take as a leader to confront the issue of sacrifice. You need to recognize and commit to the sacrifice involved to attain great leadership, similar to the sacrifice required to become a great athlete. Professional athletes and Olympic champions know that the work is intense and long, while glory is fleeting. They commit, usually early in life, to excel in their sport, knowing that many other areas of life will have a lower priority. They also recognize that, despite their best efforts, they may not make the team, or could get injured before rising to prominence. Their families—parents, spouses, children—understand and accept the requirements and also commit to support them in their efforts.

Leaders in other areas need to make these same commitments and have the same understandings with their families. There should also be open discussions about limits. For the first thirteen years of my career, my wife and I were willing to move almost anywhere and at any time. We ended up moving eleven times in those thirteen years. Shortly after I started to work for Disney in Orlando, I was asked if I would move to California, for our twelfth move in fourteen years. With a three-year-old son and twin one-year-old daughters, my wife (justifiably) said no, and I agreed. During my twelve years at Disney, I was asked to move to France, California (several times), Tokyo and Hong Kong. The timing was not right from either a family standpoint (especially when my children were in high school) or due to community activities that I was leading. As I look back, it is clear that my career would have benefited from some of these moves. However, my family would have been impacted negatively. Leaders who don’t set limits often make decisions they later regret, especially with regard to their spouses and families.

Leadership is a noble calling, with high rewards, but also high demands. If you aspire to lead, be prepared to sacrifice.

Action Points

• Recognize that leadership requires sacrifice, and the higher you wish to lead, the more you will have to sacrifice.

• Ensure you are committed to make leadership a priority, and that your family will support you.

• Be willing to set limits, especially as they relate to your family.


A full commitment to excel as a leader, open communication, and no regrets later in life


This posting comes from Chapter Forty in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  To find out more about the book and get a 20% discount, go to


A $23 Cup of Coffee

Monday, July 23, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 3:14 PM

I remember Lee’s frugality when he worked at Disney.  Rather than buy lunch, he would bring his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  He saved time and money, two of the things that many people say they lack in life. Good move!

Summer tends to be a little slower at work and home, and that makes it a good time to do an annual review of your expenses.  Today’s post may give you some good motivation, and also a few ideas to save money.

Speaking of summer and money, there is a summer reading discount of 20% on my book.  Just go to and enter the discount code on the website.

A $23 Cup of Coffee

If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.

Benjamin Franklin

Forbes has come out with its list of the richest people in America. One of them is the CEO of Starbucks. His secret is that he doesn’t buy coffee at Starbucks.

Conan O’Brien

$23 for a cup of coffee. Most people would say this is a ludicrous price to pay for a jolt of java. Yet millions of people spend $4 for a Starbucks daily. What they don’t realize is that if they saved that $4 and invested it for 30 years at 6% interest, they would receive $23. The compounding effect of money multiplies the benefit of saving a dollar today, for much greater return in the future.

Companies spend billions of dollars in marketing and advertising to create dissatisfaction and fear and cause you to spend your money, often on unnecessary things. As an example, take bottled water. The United States has the safest public water system in the world. Yet, we also have the largest bottled water sales. In 1976, the average American consumed a gallon and a half of bottled water each year. By 2008, the number had grown to about 30 gallons of bottled water per person in the U.S. This equates to 320 12-ounce plastic bottles. At $1 apiece, the average spending of $320 a year on water would be worth over $1,800 in 30 years, just for not drinking bottled water for one year. If you cut out bottled water for thirty years and saved the difference, it would equal $27,000! By using a refillable water bottle and filling it from the tap, you can add $27,000 to your retirement account.

Ongoing expenses provide the greatest opportunity for reduction and savings. A few years ago, I calculated how much I was spending for various types of insurance—car, home, life, health—and was astounded at the result.I had stayed with the same company for my car and homeowners insurance for 30 years, without comparing rates. With teenage drivers and living in hurricane-prone Florida, my costs were exorbitant. By shopping around, I reduced my auto insurance by 50%. I then found out that I could cut my homeowners insurance by the same amount by having an inspection and removing unnecessary coverage. New term life insurance gave me more protection at lower cost. And, by switching to high-deductible health insurance and dropping my vision and dental plans, I lowered my costs and saved on taxes. The net effect was savings of over $10,000 per year, equating to over $700,000 for my retirement account in thirty years. While I’m thrilled with this result, I am also chagrined to think about overpaying for all those years, and my lost savings that benefited the insurance companies. Learn from my mistake and do an annual review of all of your insurance, comparison shop your rates, take the minimal coverage and save the difference.

Similarly, you should review all your monthly expenses at least once a year. Do you really watch all those premium cable channels? If you call your cell phone company, will they give you a better rate? Did you sign up for recurring services that you no longer use, like computer service agreements or online games? You may be surprised at how much you can save, and remember that for every dollar you save this year and for the next thirty, you will be adding $73 to your retirement account. That is a surpassing return!

Finally, as leaders, we need to carefully review the company expenses under our control.  Where can you save money for  your company (without impacting the customer experience, of course!)?  There are always ways to do things better and less expensively, and, as a leader, you make that happen.

Action Points

• Recognize the compounding value of money and the benefit of savings in creating great wealth.

• Make your own coffee and bank the savings.

• Don’t buy bottled water.

• Shop for cheaper insurance and reduce your coverage.

• Review and reduce all your monthly expenses.

• Be a leader in finding new ways to get work done at less cost.


Financial freedom, leadership recognition, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in your retirement account!


Playing Favorites

Thursday, July 19, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 2:47 PM

I hope everyone enjoyed the last post, and thanks for your great comments.

As leaders, we have to fight the tendency to believe we are more important than others in our organizations.  Lee taught me the importance of ensuring every person feels important and validated in their role.  As one example, he led a Great Leader’s Strategy training program for third shift (middle of the night) Custodial leaders at Walt Disney World.  Executives gave the sessions starting at 1 a.m.  These leaders were thrilled that the company would schedule training for them on their schedule.  They felt respected, appreciated and valued.

This posting is one of my “favorites,” and I hope it helps you in your leadership.

Playing Favorites

Rejoice in your special talents, and recognize others.

C. S. Lewis

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.

Bible, 1 Corinthians 12: 19

Diversity and inclusion is a significant theme at Disney parks and resorts. The rallying cry used by Disney is R.A.V.E.—Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone. I really like this message, as it captures the idea that every person is important and makes a difference. As you live out the idea of respecting, appreciating and valuing everyone that you meet, you will develop strong relationships of mutual admiration. It pains me to watch a person smile and greet a fellow traveler at the airport, but ignore the custodian, as if he was not there. We all have a tendency to judge a person’s value and only interact with people who have an equal or greater “value” than us. And some actually demean people who are perceived as having less value.

I wasn’t supposed to play favorites as the leader of Epcot. But, I have to admit that I did have a favorite group of Cast Members—the Custodial team. This team was very proud of the work that they did every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, keeping Epcot spotless. I tried to attend many Custodial pre-shift meetings. When I did, you could hear a buzz around the room that the VP was there. I would often start the meetings by asking the group, “Who is more important—me or you?” I would go on to say that, if I were gone for a month, very few Epcot Guests would notice. It might impact our longer-range plans and there may be a few small hits, but, overall, the park would keep running well. However, if the Custodial team was gone for a day, imagine what would happen—trash bins overflowing, restrooms filthy, kitchens unsanitary. So, who is more important?

In 2004, Richard Branson, the billionaire leader of the Virgin companies, had a reality television show entitled The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best. Through a series of business and physical challenges, Branson eliminated contestants, with the final contestant winning the opportunity to lead one of Branson’s companies, Virgin Worldwide. One episode featured a business presentation that the team had to create and then present to Branson. The team worked on the presentation and was told to go across town by limousine. One member of the team was the clear leader, and was a favored candidate to win the ultimate prize. When the group arrived at the building exit, the limousine was not there. Finally it arrived. Words were exchanged with the limousine driver, everyone got it, and they arrived at their destination. Richard Branson was not in the presentation room, and the group was told to present to some of his executives. The favored candidate did a brilliant job presenting and answering questions. At the end, the door to the conference room opened and Richard Branson walked in, dressed in a chauffeur’s uniform. He stared directly at the favored candidate and told him he would never run one of his companies. The picture then went to video of the interaction with the limousine driver, and showed the candidate berating the chauffeur, who was Richard Branson in disguise, for being late and stupid. “If this is how you treat someone who is serving you, you will not serve as a leader in the Virgin organization,” said Branson. Branson saw that this young leader did not respect, appreciate and value everyone, and his relationships would suffer because of it.

I used to put on a Custodial costume and walk around Epcot, panning and brooming. It was as if I was invisible. I could talk to Guests, watch how managers interacted with Cast Members, and gauge the service of the operation much better than when people knew the VP was in the park. And, it sent a clear message to the Cast at Epcot that I believed every job and every person was important.

Are you known as a person who respects, appreciates and values everyone? If so, you will find people will want to know you and build relationships with you. On the other hand, if you tend to demean and belittle others, you’ll lead a lonely and often bitter life. The Bible tells us that we should “in humility, consider others better than yourself.” If you approach people this way and express genuine interest in them, you can create strong relationships and a wonderful, surpassing life.

Action Points

• Respect, appreciate and value everyone, especially those who serve you.

• Get “in costume” and do other people’s roles, to understand their life.

• Consider others better than yourself.


Deeper relationships, greater respect and appreciation of others, a diverse and inclusive work and personal life


1,000 Emails

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 AM

As Lee mentioned in his last post, my name is Brad Rex and I will be a guest blogger on Lee’s site for the next few weeks.  I’ve had the privilege of working for and being mentored by Lee for more than ten years, so I’ve got some great Lee stories!  I led Epcot theme park for five years after 9/11 under Lee’s supervision.  I have also been a nuclear submarine officer and the Chief Customer Officer for Hilton Grand Vacations. I am a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Harvard Business School.

Similar to Lee, my posts will have stories and practical ideas to help you in your life and leadership.  Most of the posts will be the most popular sections from my book, The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence (  Lee was a key inspiration for the book, as he challenged me to write down the leadership lessons I’ve learned over time to share with others, just as he has done.

One of the best things about Lee and a key to his leadership excellence is his responsiveness.  If I send Lee an e-mail, I know he will respond quickly.  This week’s tip will give you some hints at how you can manage your response time and become a great leader like Lee.

1,000 Emails

The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.

Lee Iacocca

 But you, Timothy, man of God: . . . Run hard and fast in the faith.

Bible, 1 Timothy 6:11

It bugs me when I call or e-mail someone and don’t get a response. My mind considers the possibilities: Is their voicemail or e-mail not working? Is the person on vacation? Have I offended them and they are refusing to reply because of the offense? Then, a few days later, I’m forced into new decisions: Do I contact them again? If I called last time, should I use e-mail this time? Should I check with someone else to find out if they are on vacation?

All of this would be unnecessary if people responded within 24 hours to their messages. I have set this as a personal goal, and find that it benefits me and the people who are contacting me, in numerous ways:

• It strengthens my personal and business reputation. People know if they send me an e-mail, I will respond, and respond quickly.

• It requires me to manage my schedule effectively, building in adequate time to reply expediently.

• It forces me to delegate in order to effectively manage the number of messages I receive.

• It prevents issues from escalating, as they are resolved swiftly.

• It reduces stress, as I don’t have e-mails and calls building up over time.

• It is efficient, as I handle the issue immediately rather than putting it off and having to familiarize myself with it again later.

• It keeps me on top of rapidly changing situations, rather than being several days behind others.

When I discuss 24 hour response, the usual retort is “Sounds like a great idea, but there is no way I could ever do that with all the e-mails I get. I must get 1,000 e-mails a day!” I reply, “If you are getting 1,000 e-mails a day, you are either a significant micro-manager or on every spammers’ address list.”

If the quantity of e-mails you receive is overwhelming, you need to reduce it. You should critically review every e-mail that you receive and decide:

• Do I absolutely have to handle this, or can I delegate it to someone else?

• Do I need this information on an on-going basis?

• Am I being “over-informed” by a person on my team, with many e-mails telling me everything they are doing in unnecessary detail?

• Is this junk e-mail that I can stop by unsubscribing to it?

With a goal of responding in 24 hours, you can easily monitor your success, and ruthlessly reduce your e-mail to meet the target. You may find your e-mails significantly reduced, as people don’t have to send you multiple follow-up messages, since you are now responding quickly!

Action Points

• Commit to reply to your e-mails and messages within 24 hours.

• Put in place a process to ensure you meet your commitment.

• Reduce the number of e-mails that you get by critically reviewing each one.


Less stress, a strong professional reputation, greater productivity


Lee Cockerell Update On A Few Things

Thursday, July 12, 2012
posted by Lee Cockerell 3:43 PM

Hello Everyone

Update #1

I just returned from Turkey and France. Istanbul is a fantastic place. The Turkish people are wonderful. We will go back.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012
posted by Lee Cockerell 10:32 AM
Hello Everyone
Today is the 4th of July.