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This is the 3rd in a series of 4 blog posts about how Disney leaders go from good to great.

Last week we discussed the power of rewarding and recognizing our cast members (The Disney Leadership Difference: Reward and Recognize).  This week we’ll explore another one of the 4 good to great leadership attributes... This week we’ll take on how great Disney Leaders involve their cast members. 

I’m often asked about the Disney difference as it relates to leadership; what is it that takes Disney leaders from good to great? While at Disney, we did something that few organizations take the time or trouble to do... we ASKED.  Yep, we went out and simply talked to cast members and asked them, very specifically,

"What do great Disney leaders do that good Disney leaders don’t do?"  

Cast members were happy to tell us.  As a matter of fact, the simple act of asking our cast members was a bonus leadership win, and what they told us correlated beautifully with the simple act of asking.  

This is what they told us... 

Lets start our discussion with the “why” around why we don’t involve, then we’ll talk about the “why” in why we should.

Here’s the why we don’t involve As leaders, we’re often faced with efficiency issues...labor percentages, profit margins, cost of sales, etc.  The process of including our front line employees in decisions can seem, well... inefficient.  And inefficiencies are counterintuitive to our desire for efficiency and effectiveness.  

Here's the why we should involve:  What we have learned through our Disney leadership experience  is the opposite argument: that involving front line staff in decision making, (especially in decisions that effect their daily work) will make you more efficient as a leader. 

The good news is that increasing involvement doesn't have to be expensive, time consuming or even inefficient.  Your people crave involvement and you have the ability to be a seen as a great (not good) leader if you focus on making involvement happen in your organization.  

Here's a quick Disney example of inclusion, circa 1987:

Back in the day, as a Jungle Cruise skipper, Morocco Mike’s (that was my stage name) job was to take boat loads of guests on a 10 minute adventure through the jungle... over, and over, and over again. After finishing a long shift and wrapping up for the day, Rich, my supervisor let me know that the next morning our pre-shift meeting would occur on a Jungle Cruise boat and include our maintenance team.  

Sure enough, at 7:45 am the next day,  before the MAGIC KINGDOM opened, Rich opened our pre-shift meeting with an upbeat welcome, forecasted guest attendance, and a guest letter that he read to all of us.  The letter described a recent Jungle Cruise trip that was frustrating for the guests. They could not understand the skipper on the boat as he performed his “spiel” (scripted lines).  It was clear that the audio speakers on the boat needed to be replaced, because if you can’t hear your skippers’ corny jokes, then the ride is at best, a trench with water in it and plastic animals.  

Here’s the involvement part: Rich then says, "You guys are the pro’s, where do you  think we should place these new speakers so the guests can hear you best?” That was an amazing paradigm shift for us.  We had always been told what to do- not involved in the decision-making!  So, we took the opportunity and shared our best advice.  The maintenance team listened and subsequently installed the speakers just as we had requested.  

Now, that pre-shift meeting was 28 years ago. But I remember it to this day. WHY?  Because I was intentionally  involved and included in a decision that affected my daily work. You better believe that it affected my engagement and loyalty as well.  Here I am, 28 years later, still raving about Disney Leadership, and sharing the secrets to Disney’s leadership success. (And, every time I take my kids on the Jungle Cruise, I check the speaker locations on the boat- and smile.)

The true, and unspoken message that we send when we include our people sounds like this.

“I care about what you think,

I value your knowledge and experience

and I want to make your job better.” 

It seems like a small thing, but it’s really not. Involving your teams in decisions is a powerful leadership tool that you can use today to go from good to great. Take a cue from the Jungle Cruise and all of the thousands of Disney Leaders throughout the world- and maybe those in your organization- and involve your people in the decisions that affect them!

For more on how you can learn from Disney Leaders, check out these additional resources, or Contact Us:

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ABOUT DONNELLY EFFECT: With over 20 years of Disney leadership experience, Mike Donnelly, Chief Experience Officer (CEO) of Donnelly Effect shares his insights on Talent Selection and HiringEmployee OnboardingCustomer ExperienceService Culture and Leadership- among others. Donnelly Effect is home of the exclusive "World-Class Workshop" series and offers consulting services and keynote addresses to audiences of all sizes and industries. Since 2007, Mike Donnelly has been a contracted Disney Institute Facilitator, delivering Disney customer service training to audiences across the United States.  

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