How Disney Helped Shape My Character

ORCHID-B. Openness, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Integrity, Diversity, and Balance. These are the pillars of Disney leadership, and continue to be what I look for most in others for leadership, and possibly more importantly, my mentors. THIS is how Disney helped me to shape my Character. Understanding these principals didn’t happen overnight. It actually took quite a while to put them into practice and make them a part of my professional, AND personal life. When I was first introduced to this ideology, I saw what appeared to be a cool acronym that may have meant something to some, but seemed more a clever use of letters. I was young. Just 26 when I took on my first leadership role at Disney. I had an ego, and I thought I’d already had it pretty much figured out. Man was I wrong. Learning to be a great leader is an evolving process that never truly ends.

When I reflect back on the experience, I see most the amazing (and patient) leaders that took the time to lead me. I consider them mentors. People who took a genuine interest in modeling me to be the best, most involved leader (and more importantly mentor) to those I led. Mentor was a term used synonymously with leader. In some cases, mentor was a term that was used more, and meant more. After all, if a leader is trusted as a mentor, they have a potential to become truly great. Being a mentor means giving your own time to teach those reporting to you. They may, after all, one day fill your role. If not your role, it’s in your interest to get them involved with another role that exists within Disney (and there are many) whereupon they find success, happiness, and one day help build the success of the bigger picture – Disney itself. I took great pride in cross training my Cast. I developed relationships with just about every line of business at Disney, from Entertainment to Operations. I’d have Cast Members shadow other leaders to help them learn whether or not it was a career they’d like to pursue. There were many great moments of pride leading a team of people. Looking back on it, there was no greater moment of pride than seeing a Cast Member I helped to develop, get promoted or transferred into a role that they truly loved and worked hard for. Not to say I didn’t have great pride in those that stayed with me. I always took the angle; though, that everyone should test the waters with everything Disney had to offer. It’s pretty much a city, and all the roles you’d see in a typical city exist within it. Why not test the waters?

Is it obvious yet that Disney emphasized great leadership? I took off on that tangent even before discussing what I had intended to! ORCHID B. As I mentioned, putting it into practice takes time. Might even be best to break down each word’s definition specifically. Remember, these are my interpretations. This practice is just that, practice. Everyone takes a different course, or direction in their practice of things.

Openness. It’s not the same as Honesty (another pillar). Openness to me means having the ability to open your mind. Being open minded helps you see many sides of a situation. This is SO key at Disney. When I was a Duty Manager at Downtown Disney, I was called in to diffuse a whole gambit of situations. From Guest to Cast related, they were rarely black and white issues, but most times very gray. These were sometimes very serious situations, that involved a high level of emotion. Without first understanding each side of the situation (sometimes interviewing different perspectives), it was nearly impossible to arrive to a decision. Without being open minded I never would have had the capacity to care for people as individuals. This leads me to the next point, Respect.

Respect. Respect is closely related to openness, but (again to me) relates more to understanding a definitive point of view. You don’t have to agree to someone’s opinion; for instance, but it helps if you can respect it. If you shut someone off immediately, and consider from the start your opinion as the right one, you’ve closed yourself off to some possibly amazing insight. I immediately think of a situation that happened to me when I worked at Cirque du Soleil. Again, I was very young! We were about to open the show, and I had a Cast Member kneeling on the ground (where Guests were about to pass through) praying. At the time, I didn’t understand Muslim religious traditions. I only saw a person I led, kneeling on the ground when I really needed his help to open the show. I later, not only learned to accept these traditions, but learned to respect them. Even going so far as to later on learn the arabic alphabet! Again, if you can be open and respectful, you open yourself up to another side of things that you may not have already been aware of. When dealing directly with other people you don’t lead directly (remember these points apply to life in general), being respectful of their point of view helps you set up a platform for future communication.

Courage. This can be a difficult one to put into practice. People, in general, are not always interested in conflict. Conflict (again in my opinion) is part and parcel to Courage. Courage means confronting an unknown, or known difficult situation. This, by and large, puts your mind in a state of conflict. “Do I stay in comfort zone, or do I move forward?”. There so many situations I was confronted with at Disney that took courage. One that comes to mind immediately involves discipline. No one likes to reprimand anyone. Sometimes; though, it means the greatest good for the greatest number (when it relates to administering discipline to Cast). “Firing” a person is always a last resort. It’s incredibly damaging to to the person being “fired”. Be sure you’ve investigated every other option available to you before doing so. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to let someone go. It contradicts coaching; though, which should be your first mission in shaping negative behavior.

Honesty. This, to me, is the most important hallmark. Maybe it’s the capricorn in me. I absolutely HATE dis-honesty. It’s the plague of the earth, and though it’s a very human trait, it’s evil. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this issue. I will close it by simply saying that Lies don’t end. One leads to another (to cover the first), which leads to others. It’s a very vicious (sometimes endless) cycle, and stressful to the person being dis-honest. Honesty ends this evil cycle, and “the truth will set you free!” Always deal honestly in everything you do. You’ll appreciate yourself and others much more when you do.

Integrity. Quite simply, integrity means doing what you say you’ll do. If you have a reputation for this, people will learn to count on you for things. It’s impossible to be a great leader without great follow through. And this applies to all things. Whether it’s a simple return phone call, or something that will take research. You WILL NOT find success in life if you lack follow through. One of the things I do to put this into practice includes returning calls within 24 hours, and e-mails within 48. In addition, if I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll be clear about it and not try to coax myself and the person I’m dealing with through to a false outcome. I’ll let them know that I don’t know the answer, but will get back to them once I’ve had time to research it. Don’t be the person that no one can count on. You’ll live a lonely life.

Diversity. Diversity is so important. Especially in leadership. You will NEVER lead a team of people that are your exact carbon copies. Learning to appreciate diversity opens your doors to learning more, and allows you to be more sensitive to issues involving the people you lead. Diversity involves so much. Religion, race, gender, sexual orientation. The list can go on and on to include opinions on specific topics. Our company is comprised of a very diverse back ground. I am so proud of this, and it makes us so much more strong. I am often asked why we’re not making our product in the U.S. I understand their angle (respect) but I see the question as somewhat close-minded (opposing openness). Deciding on where to produce something doesn’t only boil down to production cost (which is important) but involves other factors such as location, infrastructure, and distribution footprint (especially important for international product placement). Being patriotic is important, and I am a very patriotic person. I understand; though, that we’re living in a world economy and I’ll develop the best business I can by celebrating diversity both within my own business and among those that purchase our products.

Balance. Balance can be a separate subject in and of itself. Whole books have been written on it, and Executives offer specific training courses to develop it in people. It is NOT easy to develop balance in life. Starting a new business; for instance, takes an incredible amount of time. Finding balance between family, business, and exercise takes effort. I think that, especially among Executives, it’s a very difficult concept to understand and put into practice. Without it; though, you can lose productivity while also losing important moments in life. Everything worthwhile in this world involves a level of sacrifice. Too much in one direction; though, can hurt other parts of your life. I put my family first. They are my number one responsibility. I place my business next, because there are people here that count on me. When I have time, I get in as much exercise as I can. And then there are friends to spend time with, spirituality to pursue. The list can go on and on. Until you get a handle on how to balance your time, you can spiral into a direction of absolute chaos, without accomplishing half of what you’ve set out to do.

In closing, I’ll suggest that everyone reading this take a moment to critically examine themselves. Try to put ORCHID B into practice, and look for them in others. Take the time to thank those that have helped you get where you are today, and go hug your family and friends!

Author:.

I'm an entrepreneur, recently releasing our product domestically, and overseas (via a licensing deal). My background is primarily leading teams in entertainment (at Disney and Cirque du Soleil), and while I've found that it's helped me quite a bit in launching my own business, I've still got quite a lot to learn.  New business development is an incredible, ever evolving, journey.

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