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Humble Success

Thursday, August 30, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

This is my last post on Lee’s blog, as he will be returning next week. Thank you for your readership and your kind notes and comments. I hope these postings have been helpful in your life and leadership journey.  For the final post, I will share with you one of the surprising secrets for world class leadership.

Humble Success

Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth.
Bible, Numbers 12:3 

Humble success sounds like an oxymoron. Usually, success results in pride, not humility. We often associate humility with lowliness and failure. The word humility is translated tapeinophrosune in Greek, meaning “to think or judge with lowliness.” Yet, long-term surpassing success only comes from humility.

Jim Collins makes the business case for humility in describing the highest level of leader, the Level 5 leader in his book, Good to Great: Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work—not themselves—and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition. A Level 5 leader displays a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

The prideful person often falls prey to one of the following “derailers”:

1. “My hard work got me here.” I struggled with this until the day I worked at a homeless shelter. I sat down to lunch with one of the men and heard his story. As he described growing up fatherless, with a drug addicted mother, in a crime-infested neighborhood, I realized that I would have likely been homeless if I had the same experience. We don’t choose the family we are born into and, as you look back, you will probably see some key times when you got a “break” that determined your future. Hard work is important, but so is intelligence, ambition, appearance, upbringing and family—all things that are outside your control.

2. Personal competitiveness. I’m a very competitive person, which is a blessing and a curse. Competitive-ness can motivate you to take risks and excel, but it can also drive you to make poor choices. Before the recession, the Wall Street Journal used to have a section highlighting job promotions. I always read it with interest, looking first for the person’s name to see if I knew them, then the new position and company, and finally their age. I would compare their age to mine to see if I was “on-track.” If the person was younger than me and at a higher level, my competitiveness would kick in, and it would be time to call the recruiters. C.S. Lewis, famous for his treatises on pride, wrote: Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more than the next man. If you are never satisfied, you will do anything to get more, and your success will be short-lived.

3. Flattery and infallibility. When I took over at Epcot, all of a sudden my jokes became much funnier. This is a form of flattery. Many who succeed believe “success breeds success,” and their decisions cannot fail. Successful people often start “smoking their own exhaust” and believe their flatterers, until a misjudgment derails them.

4. “I am irreplaceable.” Successful leaders sometimes delude themselves into believing their organizations will fail if they leave. In their mind, this delusion means they must do anything possible to remain in their role, to “save the company.” They fire potential successors, create organizational turmoil, and engage in bitter proxy fights. Often, they put the company at risk, and the only way to save it is to fire them.

5. Temptation. Successful people can believe that they are less prone to temptation or, if they succumb, their fame or money will protect them. Ancient wisdom is as pertinent today as 2,000 years ago: If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin. But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. A good example is former Governor and Attorney General for the State of New York, Elliot Spitzer. He had money, power and fame. He thought he was above temptation (or at least getting caught) and succumbed to the temptation of engaging prostitutes, derailing his success.

Humble success is possible in today’s business world. The finest leader I ever had the pleasure to work for is Judson Green. Judson is an incredible “Renaissance Man” who was Chairman of Disney’s Parks and Resorts division. He transformed the culture of the division, and led the company through five years of double-digit revenue and income growth, achieving $6 billion in revenue. He then went on to become Chief Executive Officer of NAVTEQ, a preeminent mapping software company, taking the company public and then selling it to Nokia. Beyond his substantial business success, Judson is a concert-level jazz pianist and composer.

Judson epitomizes the Level 5 leader who cares about the people who work for him, and builds strong trust and loyalty. At Disney, Judson always made himself available to help any Cast Member who came to him, despite his very demanding schedule. He taught leadership through a fascinating Leadership Jazz seminar. He was a major cheerleader for the team, and fought hard to get the resources and rewards necessary to build a world-class culture. He was very focused on business success, but when that success occurred, he gave the credit to his team rather than highlighting himself. He did not fall prey to the pride derailers, and succeeded in life and leadership through humility and service. He has a fruitful legacy in leaders who follow his example and impact the lives of thousands.

Is this the type of leader and person you would like to become? Recognizing the pride derailers and taking steps to foster humility will promote a lifetime of humble success.

Action Points

• Recognize that humility is a key requirement for long-term success.

• Understand your “pride derailers” and take steps to prevent your misperceptions and temptations from destroying you.

• Ask a good friend to help you know when your pride is harmful to you and others, and remedy the situation.

• Look for and follow role models of humble success.


Continued success, exceptional performance, a lasting legacy


Thanks for reading my postings.  If you would like to contact me, my email address is  You can also sign up for my weekly newsletter at

May you always live a Surpassing! life.



Uniform Races

Monday, August 27, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

Lee is the master of time management, so I’m a little hesitant to talk about the subject in his blog.  His time management course is phenomenal and was instrumental in taking me to a new level of time efficiency. Today’s post has some good stories and ideas that may be useful to you–you can never be too organized when it comes to using your minutes well!

Uniform Races

There is never enough time, unless you’re serving it.
Malcolm Forbes
He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.
Victor Hugo
All my possessions for a moment of time.
Elizabeth I
How does a project get to be a year behind schedule?
One day at a time.
Fred Brooks


Besides active listening, the second most important skill for successful leaders is time management. A common refrain heard when talking about great leaders is “how do they manage to do it all?” The secret is effectively using every minute of every day. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. How well do you use each one?

I learned the value of a minute at the Naval Academy during my first year (Plebe) summer. Plebe summer is an intense training period when you are indoctrinated into the military way of life. During the two months, you are purposefully required to do much more than can be physically done in the time allotted. One of the favorite exercises during the summer is “uniform races.” All the plebes are lined up in the hall. An upperclassman yells out a uniform and a time (“Dress Whites. Two minutes. Go.”). You are required to race back to your room, change into that uniform, and return within the specified time. Sometimes, you are required to take a shower or shave in between changing. Other times, you will be given instructions to put on different combinations of uniforms. For the first few uniform races, very few plebes make it back in time. But, as the summer progresses, you learn how to optimize and shave seconds off each step in the process. You start off thinking that you could never change in two minutes, and end up finding out that you can do it with time to spare. You find out just how much you can do in two minutes. I learned the value of uniform races when the academic year started, and I had to change clothes quickly during the day. I also saw the value when I entered the business world, and often had to race from a late business meeting or flight and change clothes for dinner.

A few of my learnings regarding time management are:

• Write down your tasks. The strongest mind is no match for the weakest pen and paper. My to-do lists when I led Epcot often had over 150 items. There is no way I could ever remember that many things. By writing them down, I could ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks.

• Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Some people use an “A, B, C” system, while others use different symbols or time periods. No matter what you use, you have to make decisions about what needs to be done first.

• Review your items first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. This gives you a plan for the day, and then feedback about how well you executed on your plan.

• Delegate and “automate.” For delegation ideas, see my prior post entitled Hitting the Beach. For “automate,” I am referring to creating habits for the things you do daily. For example, you shouldn’t have to think about working out or where you fit it in your calendar. You should have a daily habit of exercising at a particular time and just do it then. Your exercise time might be 6:30-7:30 a.m. every day. It is in your calendar that way, and you know that is when you work out. Morning and evening routines are not boring—they are a great way to simplify your life.

• Schedule time for the “important” as well as the “urgent.” Oftentimes, urgent items crowd out important items, when the important items are more critical to your long-term career. You should classify tasks into Urgent-Important; Not Urgent-Important; Urgent-Not Important; and, Not Urgent-Not Important. Clearly, the Urgent-Important tasks should have a high priority, while Not Urgent-Not Important tasks can most likely be delegated or not even done.

• Schedule thought and “blank” time. Leaders need thought time to develop strategies and process plans. You also need blank time to take care of the urgent items. One of my leaders, Eddie Carpenter, who was the Chief Financial Officer for Disney Parks and Resorts, would typically schedule the day before and the day after his vacations without any meetings. This allowed him to get everything accomplished before he left, and have a day to catch up when he returned, greatly reducing his stress and increasing his productivity.

• Be ruthless about getting rid of non-productive time. Always have something to read or do with you. With smartphones, you can answer e-mails, read newspapers and make calls using your handheld device. Time is money, and work time is time that you could be spending with your family. Imagine that you are a lawyer that bills $500 per hour—over $8 per minute. Spending twenty minutes in an examining room waiting for a doctor would cost you $160. Don’t read old magazines—spend your time on your smartphone doing productive work.

• One of the best pieces of advice from Lee’s course is to “do something today that will benefit you in five years.” Many people get so caught up in the moment that they don’t do anything that will help them in the future. This might include taking care of your health, rebalancing your investment portfolio or contacting someone you haven’t talked to in awhile.

John Lithgow said, “Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug.” His statement is both humorous and accurate. You need to take control of your time, or risk getting squashed by life.

Action Items

• Recognize the value of time. A minute is a long time if you use it well.

• Take Lee’s time management course and use either a paper planner or smartphone software to plan your day.

• Prioritize and review.

• Delegate and automate.

• Use waiting time effectively.

• Do something today that will not benefit you for 5-10 years.


A full, rich, rewarding life with accomplishments beyond measure

This is the last week to get a summer reading discount on The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  Get it today and you can read it over the Labor Day holiday.  Go to


Good morning everyone

Wally Harper our good friend and former fellow Cast Member at Walt Disney World passed away suddenly last week.

Behind Closed Doors

Thursday, August 23, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 5:00 PM

Are you an approachable leader?  If you walked the park with Lee, it would seem like every Cast Member knew him and had no hesitation to talk to him.  He was very approachable.  Here are some tips on how to raise your “approachability quotient.”

Behind Closed Doors

The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
Colin Powell
 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Bible, 1 John 5:14


My assistant came into my office and closed the door. I knew that was not a good sign. “You have a problem,” she started. “I have many problems!” I replied, but noticed that she didn’t smile at my weak humor. “People are interrupting you all the time while you are trying to work. Any Cast Member who walks by your office thinks they can just drop in and talk to you.” I listened as she continued, “From now on, I’m going to tell people they need an appointment to see you. I’ll only schedule Cast Members during certain times of the day, so you can get your work done without anyone interrupting you.”

From a time management standpoint, her plan made sense. You are more productive when you can focus on the task at hand without interruption. However, from a leadership standpoint, being approachable and accessible is far more valuable than uninterrupted paperwork time. I told her, “Thank you for being concerned about me and coming up with a solution. However, these interruptions are my work—not the paperwork. Because Cast Members can freely come to me, I have a much better sense of what is happening in the park. They bring me small problems before they become big problems. I get suggestions, compliments, and complaints directly, without any filtering. If you tell people they need appointments, many won’t come back. I’ll lose my ‘listening posts’ and very valuable information. And, I’ll gain a reputation for being unapproachable.”

While I could have eaten at my desk or with other executives in a Disney restaurant, I chose to eat in the Cast Member cafeteria. This gave me a great opportunity to informally chat with the Cast. I got to know many Cast Members, and they became comfortable being around me. They would tell me about an issue and I would update them the next time I saw them at lunch. I would also often buy the lunch of the person in line ahead of me, as a way to “surprise and delight” our Cast, as we expected them to surprise and delight our Guests. One day, I bought lunch for an International Program Cast Member. It was apparent she had no idea who I was or why in the world I would be buying her lunch. I think she thought it was a unique American custom to buy a stranger’s meal. She later found out who I was and sent me a note of thanks. She said it was her first day at Epcot and she left that lunch thinking about the wonderful place where she would be working.

Surpassing leaders need to spend the time and effort to reach all their people. Epcot had Guests or Cast Members in the park 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many Custodial and Engineering Cast Members worked the third shift, in the middle of the night. I would show up unannounced to get to know them and see how they were doing. The usual response was, “What are you doing here?” with a quizzical look. It made for a long day afterwards, but was invaluable in building trust and open communication.

Are you approachable as a leader? Do you purposely spend time out with your people, or do you stay behind closed doors? Do your employees come to you with problems, or are you assuming everything is great because you never hear any complaints? Leaders who exceed beyond all expectations are highly approachable, trusted and connected to their organizations.

Action Points

• How frequently are you contacted with issues? If you aren’t receiving much feedback, don’t assume you have no problem.

• Is it easy for people to meet with you? If not, remove the barriers.

• Do you frequently eat lunch at your desk or do you use lunchtime as the opportunity to meet with others in your organization?

• If your organization has employees who come in earlier or later, how often do you see them?


An “early warning system” for problems, a better idea of what is truly happening at your company, great relationships with your employees


Only one more week to get the Summer Reading Discount on The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.


The Yes Man

Monday, August 20, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 5:00 PM

One thing that I loved about Lee was his support for new ideas.  When I would meet with him and discuss a new idea that my team had created, he encouraged me to do it.  Lee was a “Yes Man,” and that was one reason for his great leadership.

The Yes Man

Those who agree with us may not be right, but
we admire their astuteness.
Cullen Hightower


Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly,
and they will show themselves great.
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Captain John Butterworth was Chairman of the Political Science Department at the Naval Academy. He was a phenomenal, high energy leader who received 21 air medals plus the Distinguished Flying Cross, and was rumored to have a “secret life.” Fluent in Farsi and having served as Naval Attache in Iran, he was noticeably absent during the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue attempt. When he returned, his white hair was dyed jet black. Many years later, it was confirmed that he was a member of the Delta Force for the rescue attempt.

I remember going to Captain Butterfield with a proposal when I attended the Academy. He responded, “Yes, absolutely do it!” and then said, “I always try to figure out how to say ‘Yes’!”

Later in life, I realized that this was a secret of Captain Butterfield’s success. Far too many leaders default to an answer of “No”. They focus on all the potential downsides rather than the potential positives. New ideas take effort, money and time, all of which are often in short supply. The easiest answer is “No.”

Reward systems typically favor a negative response. If a project is never approved, who will know if it would have been successful? But, if it is approved and fails, everyone will point fingers at the approving leader. Because of this, some leaders believe every “Yes” answer is high risk, and thus offer them very sparingly.

Surpassing leaders, on the other hand, perceive high value in every “Yes”, and potential failure in every “No”. Affirmative answers encourage new ideas and generate energy that often provides the time, money and resources to do the project. The best people gravitate toward leaders who try to find a way to say “Yes,” and those people are the ones most likely to ensure a project is successful. With each success, more ideas flow, along with more great people and resources, and a greater probability of more successes.

I’m so glad for the many “yes” answers I have given in my career. One example is Epcot’s Party for the Senses. Epcot hosts the International Food and Wine Festival for 45 days in the fall. It is the world’s largest and longest food and wine festival, amazingly held in a Disney theme park. Post 9/11, there were serious questions about whether the Festival would continue, and significant pressure to reduce the number of events during the Festival.

My team came to me with the idea of having a party during each Saturday night of the Festival. The party would have food stations with celebrity and Disney chefs, and wine stations featuring wineries that came to the Festival. The party would have a separate admission price on top of the cost for admission to Epcot. It was a great idea, but also risky, since we had no idea how many people would be willing to pay. The easy and safe answer would be to just say “No.” But, remembering Captain Butterfield, I told the team to “Go for it!” and fought for the resources to make it happen. This unleashed amazing energy and creativity, and the Party for the Senses ultimately ended up with over 20 food stations, 50 wines, Cirque du Soleil entertainment and a reputation as the finest food and wine event in the world.

As you consider your leadership, do you tend to say “Yes” to new ideas, and challenge yourself and your team to make them happen? Take an affirmative approach, and watch your leadership soar.

Action Points

• Figure out how to say “Yes” to new ideas and proposals.

• Ensure your reward systems affirm taking risks, and don’t just punish failures.

• Recognize that “Yes” answers can lead to the resources necessary to accomplish a project.


An exciting, fun, profitable workplace and life

This excerpt is from Chapter 36 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  To get the book at a special discounted price, go to


Sick of Your Own Voice

Thursday, August 16, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 5:00 PM

I was with a business leader the other day who was very frustrated. “Why don’t my people get this?” he exclaimed in exasperation.  I was consulting for him and reported back that his executives had widely ranging definitions of one of the company’s key initiatives. Just about every company I meet with has problems with “communication.”  This post helps explain the issue and gives some ways to fix it.

Sick of Your Own Voice

 Any idea, plan or purpose may be placed in the mind
through repetition of thought.
Napoleon Hill


Sent does not mean received.
Tom Sachs


“I sent out a memo. Why didn’t anyone respond?” “We had a town hall and shared the new strategy, but, when I ask someone about it, they acted like they never heard it.” “We posted our monthly focus, but no one seems to have changed their behavior.” Many leaders have had these and similar experiences, as I did early in my career. You think you have communicated an important idea, but no one seems to be listening.

Amidst this frustration, I had an “aha” moment when I read an article on human behavior. The article stated that a person has to hear or see a message seven times before taking action on it, and then the message has to be repeated every 28 days to keep the behavior going. Did you ever wonder why you hear the same ads over and over again? It is because marketers know you won’t respond if you hear it just once. There is some debate over the number of times you need to hear a message (some researchers claim as high as 20 times), but there is a consensus around the concept of effective frequency—the optimal number of times that you need to be exposed before you act.

As a leader, you need to plan to share your messages multiple times in multiple ways if you want a response. You must take every opportunity to communicate your vision, strategy and specific tactics. When you reach the point that you are sick and tired of the repetition and believe that everyone has the message, your people will just be starting to get it. This is not because they are unintelligent or apathetic—it is the nature of human behavior and brain chemistry.

The need for repetition has significant implications:

1. Your message has to be simple. When I led our diversity and inclusion efforts at Epcot, our rallying cries were to build a “Home for Diversity” and to be “Radically Inclusive.” These short phrases were easy to remember, emotionally satisfying and highly repeatable. Similarly, when I went to Hilton Grand Vacations, I told our Team Members that we wanted to create “Hilton Grand Lifetime Fans.” Contrast these phrases with the lengthy diversity statements or customer satisfaction goals presented at some companies that no one remembers or acts upon.

2. You must create a communication plan that provides constant repetition in multiple formats. Some people learn best by reading, others with pictures, audio or video. Short, funny videos are very effective. Think about television commercials that are designed to be memorable and cause an action. Your internal marketing messages should be similar.

3. You must plan to keep your message for a long time. Leaders are taught that “change is good,” and so they change visions and strategies frequently—often when they are bored with the current plan. Unfortunately, because of the repetition required to create change, the frontline is often just starting to get it and change behavior when the strategy is changed. This causes the familiar “flavor of the month” lament and disengaged Team Members. The larger the organization, the longer you need to keep a consistent message, so think about it carefully before you roll it out.

4. Leaders throughout the organization should share the script. The CEO and executive team need to lead the way, but cannot be the sole source. Team Members want to hear directly from their leaders, and see that their leaders have embraced and acted upon the message.

5. Creativity is key, and the best creations come from the frontline. Engage your employees in sharing ways to get the message across. The best way to do this is through competitions. We had a flag competition around diversity with our teams at Epcot, and then displayed the flags at our annual picnic so everyone could vote. The flags were incredibly creative, the teams had fun doing them, and the message about diversity was embraced.

When you get frustrated about the lack of response, remember that it is not due to your lack of communication skills, but rather the need to repeat the same message multiple times in multiple ways.

Action Items

• Expect that you will need to repeat your message many, many times before it becomes part of the culture.

• Keep it short.

• Use multiple formats.

• Plan to keep the same message for multiple years if you want it to sink in.

• Employees want to hear the message from their direct leader.

• Leverage your employees’ creativity to get a message across.


Effective communication, desired behavior, organizational success


Speaking of repetition, just a reminder to check out The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  The 20% Summer Reading Discount ends on August 31, so take a moment to get the book and save some money.


Thirteen Years

Monday, August 13, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

Now that the Olympics are over, we can all get our evenings back without being glued to the tube.  This week’s posting is one of my favorite topics.  Over the years, I have received numerous e-mails and comments that following this advice has had a profound effect on leaders and their families.  It is pretty radical, but you can do it!

Thirteen Years

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room
and read a book.
Groucho Marx


Many people tell me that they are stressed due to lack of time. “I don’t have any time to read books.” “I’d like to spend more time on relationships and keeping in touch with people, but I’m so busy.” “I know I should spend more time with my kids, but I have too much else going on.” My response to these concerns is always the same question, “Do you watch TV?”

The average American watches 4-6 hours of television per day. Assuming you are better than the average, let’s say you watch 3 hours of television per day, or 21 hours in a week. If you do the math, you’ll find out that, in a six-year period, you will have spent one year of your waking life watching TV! In an 80-year lifespan, you will have spent 13 years watching television, the equivalent of going to college, law school and medical school.

Think about getting back all those years of your life just by turning off the tube—all the books you could have read, the people you could have contacted, the value to your children of having their parent for additional years, and the physical benefits of having extra years of exercise.

My children also did not watch television when they were growing up. When he was in elementary school, my son came to me one day and asked, “If I don’t watch TV, will you pay me?” I looked at him quizzically, and he pointed to a newspaper article about a boy who asked his dad the same question. The dad agreed to pay him, but only if he went for an entire year without watching any television. The boy did it, and both father and son were happy with the result. I thought it was a great idea, and immediately said “Yes.”

We drew up a contract that specified the payment and any exceptions (such as watching pre-approved coverage like historical events and the Superbowl; watching TV on vacation or a friend’s house if they are watching it, etc.). My son and twin daughters all agreed and signed the contract.

During that year, instead of watching TV, the kids read, played outside, put on shows and participated in sports. There were a few times when they missed television, especially when friends were talking about specific shows. But, they quickly got into new habits that didn’t center on the tube.

At the end of the year, we congratulated them for going an entire year without watching television, and paid them as we had agreed. I asked them if they wanted to do it again, got a resounding “No,” and the TV returned.

About two weeks later, the kids came back to Nancy and me, wanting to do TV-free again. When I asked them why they had changed their mind, they said: “We fight over what to watch.” “The programs are really stupid.” “We’d rather get the money.” One of my daughters, Monica, had a classic statement: “If you don’t watch it, you don’t miss it.” As you watch television, you realize that many of the ads are designed to get you to keep watching: “Don’t miss the next episode of ______.” “The new season starts next week. Be sure to see the amazing premiere.” If you aren’t exposed to these teasers, you are much less motivated to “tune in next week.”

They signed their new contracts and peace reigned in the house once more. We also noticed another phenomenon. When we asked the kids what they wanted for birthdays or Christmas, they had a hard time coming up with ideas. When they had watched TV, they usually wanted the “hot toy” that was heavily marketed. Without this influence, marketers no longer manipulated their desires. They were also not exposed to the violence, sexuality, negativity and addictive behaviors frequently portrayed in television shows.

My children are all exceptional students and thoughtful adults. When I asked them what they believe made a difference, they responded that refusing to watch television was the best decision they had made while growing up. For a surpassing life, go cold turkey and turn off the tube. It may be the best decision of your life.

Action Points

• Go cold turkey and turn off the tube!

• If you have children, do a TV-free contract.

• Use your new time to read books, renew relations, write, exercise or do volunteer work.


A healthier, smarter, and more satisfying life


This posting is from Chapter 26 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  There are only a few weeks left to receive a 20% Summer Reading Discount. Go to for more details.


Put Family First

Thursday, August 9, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

Most of you will be receiving this post on my birthday, August 10. I am in San Francisco with my family on vacation and so I thought it appropriate to talk about families and leadership in my posting. I made some poor choices when it came to prioritizing my family early in my leadership journey, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Put Family First

If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going, ‘you know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty.’
Jeff Foxworthy
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Bible, Exodus 20: 12, The Fifth Commandment
Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Bible, Proverbs 17:6


When we moved to Florida and I had my first role with Disney, I worked long hours in an effort to get ahead. My career had always been a driving force. We had three children, a son and twin daughters, who were all under three years of age (“three under three”). We were active in our church. With all of our busyness, my wife and I were moving apart in our marriage. We weren’t fighting—we just weren’t engaging.

I went to hear the Chairman of a major banking system in Florida speak at an Lifework Leadership event. He was everything I wanted to be—very successful financially, well regarded in the community, powerful and influential. I was hoping his talk would be about how to achieve a life like his. Instead, he talked about the failure of his marriage due to his neglect. He said he would give anything to go back and restore that relationship. His words echoed in my mind as I drove home: “If you fail with your family, you fail in life.”

At that point, I recognized the importance of people and my interactions with them, and put more emphasis on my wife and family. Yet, I soon fell back to old habits and started to miss dinners and events with my children. Then, I read a Wall Street Journal article in which the author interviewed very successful CEOs. He asked them what they would do differently if they could do it all over again. One CEO said he had missed many family events because of work requirements. His quote greatly impacted me: “You will never remember the business emergency, but you will always remember the missed ball game and piano recital.”

From that day on, I looked at my commitments to my family in the same way as if I had an important business meeting with my boss. It often meant that I had to work late into the night after the ball game or awards ceremony, but being true to commitments to my family was the right choice. You have a job for years, but you have your family for life.

It takes effort and sacrifice to keep a family together. Those who want to really excel and succeed in life take on this challenge, and reap lifetime benefits.

Action Points

• Treat commitments to your family with the same priority as work and other commitments.

• Recognize the importance of being present for your children, especially in their teenage years.

• Honor your parents so your children can learn from your example.


Strong family relationships, successful children, a worthy legacy


This posting comes from Chapter 49 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  To get a 20% Summer Reading Discount or sign up for the free weekly tip, go to


Hitting the Beach

Monday, August 6, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

Lee is a huge advocate of the military, and his father-in-law was an Admiral and Naval Academy graduate.  One of my Naval Academy classmates, Captain David Marquet,  just published an excellent book entitled Turn The Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level.  He describes the unique leadership approach he used to take a nuclear submarine, USS Santa Fe, from “worst to first.” Put this book on your reading list.

This week’s post has one of my submarine stories, as well as a Disney story about a very traumatic event at Epcot.

Hitting the Beach

I learned about delegation early in my career. I had been assigned as the officer in charge of Auxiliary Division. A-Div was responsible for all the non-nuclear engineering on the submarine, such as the hydraulics, compressed air, sanitary, and diesel engine components. The ship was in refit period, which is thirty days between patrols to repair and replenish the ship. We were in the last few days of refit, which was the busiest time. Being a new division officer, I wanted to impress my men by actively participating in the work. We were repairing the diesel generator and I was up to my elbows in grease. I looked up and saw my Chief Petty Officer in civilian clothes with some of the other Chiefs. In disbelief, I asked him, “Where do you think you are going?” He stared at me and said, “I’m going to the beach, sir. I figure if you are going to do my job for me, we don’t need both of us on the boat.”

My chief had given me an early and important lesson about delegating authority and trusting the people who worked for me. From that point on, he was the hands-on leader, and I ended up primarily doing the paperwork.

The key to successful delegation is to ask the question, “Do I absolutely have to do this task, or can someone else do it?” Any time a piece of paper, e-mail, phone call or task crosses my desk, I ask this question. Many leaders rationalize doing tasks themselves with justifications like, “I could give this to someone else, but I can do it faster myself” or “It would take much longer to train someone to do this, so I’ll do it this time.” These statements are true—in the short run. But, once you do a task yourself, you are destined to continue doing the task from then on. If you add up all the times you might end up doing the task, it is almost always better to spend upfront time delegating, training and following up.

Delegation doesn’t stop with tasks. Whenever I was on vacation, I would delegate my authority to one of my direct reports, rotating through my executives. The Food & Beverage General Manager at Epcot “became” the VP in my absence, with full authority to make decisions. I learned this from assignment to London with British Petroleum. Executives, even at very senior levels, would take long vacations of three to five weeks, going to locales without phones or faxes, leaving a subordinate in charge. When I asked the Treasurer of BP about this as he was preparing to go on vacation, he told me he did this on purpose. “If I left for a week, my people could put off all the decisions until I came back. When it gets to two weeks or more without phone contact, they have to make decisions themselves. This builds their confidence and develops stronger leaders.”

This delegation strategy was tested when Nancy and I went to the mountains of North Carolina during one summer when I led Epcot. Cell phone coverage was non-existent. We were having a relaxing, wonderful trip, when we returned to our room after dinner and the message light was blinking. As I picked up the receiver, I hoped the message was from the front desk and not from work. Unfortunately, it was the leader that I had left in charge of Epcot, with the terrible news that a four year old boy had died on our Mission: SPACE attraction. As I called him for all the details, my immediate thought was to call off the vacation and return to Epcot. However, he gave me the confidence that he had the situation under control. I also thought that being in charge in a crisis could be a major boost to his development as a leader. I had significant crisis leadership experience from the Navy, 9/11 and other events, and he could benefit from this much more than me. The other leaders on the team would also have to step up and support him in my absence. Primarily for his benefit, I decided to stay on vacation, even though it was incredibly hard to be at the fitness center watching Epcot all over the TV screens wishing I was there. When I returned, he thanked me for the trust I had shown him, and I was very gratified a few years later to see him promoted to a major Vice President position.

Successful delegation frees you and your organization to do far more than you could imagine, and exceed beyond expectations.

Action Points

• For every task, ask yourself “Do I absolutely have to do this or can someone else do it?”

• Don’t rationalize doing everything yourself.

• Create a follow-up system to ensure delegated work is completed.

• Give your people the opportunity to do your role while you are gone, and give them the freedom to make decisions.


Personal success, high morale, strong and capable successors

This excerpt is from Chapter 32 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence. To purchase the book with a 20% Summer Reading Discount or sign up for the free weekly tip, go to


Ten Cents and a Handkerchief

Thursday, August 2, 2012
posted by Brad Rex 6:00 PM

There was a wonderful article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal about the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scout rank (Michael Malone: A Century of Eagle Scouts).  It reminded me of my days as a Boy Scout and the many early leadership lessons I learned in my troop.  Today’s posting reflects one of those lessons and the Scout motto of “Be Prepared.”

10 Cents and a Handkerchief

 I will prepare and some day my chance will come.
Abraham Lincoln
 The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
John F. Kennedy
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Bible, Ephesians 2:10


As a Boy Scout, I was taught early in life to “Be Prepared.” At our weekly meetings, we were required to present 10 cents and a handkerchief. The dime was so that we could make an emergency phone call at a phone booth (yes, it only cost 10 cents to make a call back then, and we still had pay phones). The handkerchief was for emergency first aid, to stop bleeding or use to tie a splint. More than forty years later, I still carry a handkerchief in my back pocket and my cell phone is never far away. Who knows when I might be a first responder at an accident, and save someone’s life with my compress and phone call?

A huge part of leadership is preparation. Sadly, many of today’s leaders are unprepared. Coaches and business executives frequently use the phrase “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Organizations fail because their leaders are inadequately prepared, and don’t prepare their employees for the future.

Surpassing leaders are constantly preparing themselves and their teams for new adventures and challenges. These leaders “do their homework,” making sure they are knowledgeable about people, companies and their industry. Oftentimes, this comes from reaching out to their friends to get the full story, illustrating the importance of strong relationships. They also manage their time well, preventing the frequent excuse of: “I can barely keep up with the present, much less prepare for the future.” They lead in the present, while preparing for the future.

Highly successful leaders are usually good negotiators because they are well prepared. Prior to any negotiation, a leader has to spend days and sometimes weeks to ensure he or she is fully prepared. I trained under one of the best negotiators at Disney, Frank Ioppolo. He took our team away for several all-day sessions where we role-played multiple scenarios of point and counterpoint. We thought about every negotiation item, anticipating what the counterparty would ask for and how we would respond. We determined our “walk away” position, and how we might reengage the negotiation if we did walk away. It was an extensive, exhausting process. But, when we finally went into the negotiation, we were fully prepared and got a great deal because of Frank’s leadership. Through great preparation, we won the battle before it was fought.

To excel beyond measure requires you to prepare beyond measure, or at least more than most good leaders. Your level of preparation determines the level of your leadership. What are you doing today to prepare for your next assignment?

Action Points

• Do your homework.

• Prepare for negotiations extensively, using role playing and multiple scenarios.

•  Set aside time in your week to prepare for the future.

• Carry a handkerchief and your cell phone!


Faster career advancement, financial success, greater confidence in all situations

This excerpt comes from Chapter 30 in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  Find out more about the book and sign up for the free weekly tip at

P.S.  I recently spoke to a group of Walt Disney World summer program students from Cru.  Here’s a great picture of these enthusiastic new Cast Members.

Brad Rex and 2012 Cru WDW College Program Cast Members