What Does Mickey Mouse Know About Leadership?

As a kid, I was lucky enough to go to Disney World multiple times (I had grandparents who lived in the area), so I’ve always been a fan of the theme park.  When I got into PR and marketing, I became a fan of how Disney runs its business.  Talk about a company that knows how to promote brands!  When I heard the Disney Institute was bringing its “Disney Approach to Leadership Excellence” program to Atlanta, I signed up within minutes. You may be asking, “What do Mickey Mouse and company know about leadership?”  It turns out quite a lot, actually.

Disney has a model called the “Chain of Excellence” where Leadership Excellence correlates to Cast Excellence (their employees) which results in Guest Satisfaction and ultimately Financial Results and Repeat Business.  Just about any organization can use this model.  Great leaders shape good employees into great employees, making the client/customer/guest experience that much better and more memorable.  Those who have significantly positive experiences with a brand will either expand their exposure or relationship with that organization or recommend them to others, or both!

One of the case studies we looked at in the program is the very popular “Character Dining” offered at Disney World.  That’s where guests and their kids eat at one of the restaurants and meet their favorite Disney characters – from Mickey Mouse to Snow White to Cinderella.  The offering became so popular that it actually led to guest complaints and employee frustration.  Employees no longer wanted to work in the restaurants that offered character dining and guests were frustrated that they had to wait so long to meet the characters.  There wasn’t a plan in place to handle its overwhelming popularity.

So, in 2005 one of the Disney entertainment managers decided it was time to address the problem.  Instead of coming up with a solution in a vacuum, she asked for input from everyone involved from the employees who played the characters to servers to guests to hostesses to restaurant managers.  It resulted in a collaboration that now makes “Character Dining” a smooth-running operation where guest satisfaction is high.  Engaging the team members gave them ownership and they took responsibility for making the experience better. 

The best leaders don’t dictate, they allow their employees to make decisions and provide them opportunities to develop.  If your organization can take this Disney lesson to heart, you’ll have happier employees and more satisfied clients. 

At Jackson Spalding, we do our best to implement these leadership strategies.  At JS, if you have a new idea, you’re given free rein to see it through.  Employees are empowered to voice these ideas and then to turn them into strategies that make us a better place to work and a better firm to do business with.  Can we challenge Disney as the “happiest place on earth?”  Maybe not, but our team members will tell you there’s plenty of magic in the JS Kingdom.