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This is the 1st in a series of 4 blog posts about how Disney leaders go from good to great.

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... 

  • Great Disney leaders listen
  • Great Disney leaders reward & recognize
  • Great Disney leaders involve 
  • Great Disney leaders coach

Our next 4 blog posts will explore each of these 4 attributes and give you some ways that your leadership team can go from good to great. This week we’ll take on the power of Listening.

Great Leaders Listen

When Disney cast members told us that great leaders are great listeners, we decided to look at what leadership listening does, what it creates in the mind of the hourly cast members.  Here’s what they told us...

When cast members felt understood by their leader, trust went up.  High trust relationships are simply more effective than low trust relationships.  Trust creates a stronger bond between the cast members and their leaders. In a nut shell, the higher the trust the stronger the relationship.  

So the cynic in me says, "Yeah, but, I’m so busy and I simply don’t have the time to start listening to my people more than I already do."  The good news is that effective listening doesn't have to take a long time.  As a matter of fact, your goal in listening is to make your people feel understood. Here are a few easy steps to make that happen on the fly...

1) Paraphrase what you’re hearing:

You: “So Bob, are you saying that during busy times you don’t have enough people to provide great service to every guest in the Emporium?” 

Bob will either say “Yes!  that’s it” or “No, that’s not what I’m saying at all” 

If the response is "yes" you win, Bob feels understood and trust is building. If the response is “no, that’s not what I am saying at all”  simply ask Bob to clarify his experience and then paraphrase what he said again. 

You: “Oh I see, you’re saying that the we need to shift cast members to different positions during busy times?” 

Bob: “Exactly!”

Bingo! Bob feels understood.  

2) Connect to emotions:

One last step toward effective leadership listening is to connect to the emotions Bob is displaying as a result of your conversation.  

You:  “Oh, I see, that seems like an exciting possibility Bob, how do you think we could make that happen?”

3) Remind your folks that you’ve heard them:

“You Said, We Listened” is the name of an internal Disney publication that does just that- it reminds the front line that leadership is listening.   It’s kind of a victory lap of actions taken (or not taken, and why)  that helps cast members remember that they were asked and listened to.  Something that great leaders do all the time.  

That was just 3 easy steps:

  1. Paraphrase the senders thoughts
  2. Connect to the corresponding emotion
  3. Remind people of the results of their feedback

Of course, you can’t get to the steps if you’re hanging out in your office all day.  You have to get out on the floor and actually ask people what they think.  Once you do, trust me, they’ll tell you;  maybe not the first time you ask, if you have’t asked before.  But don’t let that stop you.  Keep asking.  Soon enough, your team will realize that you really, genuinely want to know; and they will start responding.

 For more information on effective leadership, please check out these resources:

effective leadership exercise

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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