Learn the story of how Lee Cockerell was able to climb up the corporate ladder and to become the man who managed over 40,000 employees at Walt Disney World® Resort without a college degree.Sign Up to Watch
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-Now, this is a question I have for you. I think a lot of people here-- it's often said that fear has killed more dreams than failure ever will. So people who are afraid of maybe leaving that job or are afraid to go to Paris to take the job. Or afraid to-- how have you battled fear in your career?
-I'm probably-- I'm just stupid. [LAUGHING] I mean, I don't now. It just-- I just always know it's going to work out. I know that it's going to work out. I mean, I said to people after I left Hilton, I got out of the Army and it worked out. I left Hilton, there was life after Hilton. There was life after Marriott. There was life after Disney. Man, I hope there's life after life. [LAUGHING]
-Is that-- is that the idea that it would work out based off of just this optimism, or is it based off of maybe a religious faith you have? Or where does that come from?
-No, I think it's-- I think I just know that I can always get something going--
-And I always have. And the more you get things going, the more you know you can. And then all of a sudden, people start thinking I really knew something they didn't know. Actually, I tell people in my speeches. I said, I know things you don't know and I know things you should know. And the reason I know them, I've been through the trail. I've been down that path.
-So if I'm watching this right now and I'm saying, you know, I have this fear that it's not going to work out. Now, I agree. Every successful person I've ever interviewed, every successful person I've ever met-- whether it's the founder of Hobby Lobby or yourself. Or founders of big companies. It seems like all of them have that belief that you can't connect the dots moving forward but you just have to know that it's going to happen. How would you encourage somebody to get out of that if they're kind of in fear? How would you encourage them to get out of that mindset of fear?
-Yeah, they may need a psychiatrist. I don't know what's caused that. And a lot of that is caused by the way they were raised or they have insecurities and they're afraid. People who won't move to another state, they won't move to an international assignment, they won't leave their company.
You gotta be careful where you get stuck because if you get yourself stuck, sometimes it's too late to move. You get five kids and a big house and you hate what you're doing, it's hard to get out of that. So stay in an apartment and don't get-- And early on you've got to decide. Early on, are you happy doing what you're doing? I mean, do you like it?
And early on, I loved the hospitality business so I knew there's always a job. But people-- I hear this all the time-- my wife won't move. I can't move. We live near our parents. And then you end up with 40 years of waking up every morning, not enjoying what you're doing. It affects your health, it affects your relationship. You end up getting a divorce, your wife leaves you. I mean, it's-- a lot of bad things happen when you don't wake up excited about what you're doing every day because (SHRUGS) that's--
-Well, if you had to give somebody advice. I know in my career, since I've been in business, my son was born without the ability to see. We've had partners do weird, crazy things. We've had health issues. And I know everybody I've ever met who's a successful entrepreneur has adversity they deal with. What would be your advice for somebody who's having a hard time with adversity, to plunge through these setbacks and failures?
-Well, I think the biggest thing, people have got to quit underestimating what they can do. And if you need help, go find it. Maybe it's watching movies and these films and Thrive. Or maybe it's going and talking to somebody who can, kind of, redirect you. I redirect a lot of people who are in a position they don't like. And they ask for my help on how they can get in, what they can do, what should they do to prepare to get a job at Disney or the Hilton. And I know and they don't know. And so I just help them. And so, go get an expert.
It's like my computer. When it's down, I don't try to fix it. I go get an expert. I have a trainer. When I lift weights by myself I get hurt.
-He doesn't get me hurt because he knows what he's doing. I don't know what I'm doing. So don't try to do it by yourself and go find the help. And sometimes, you just need some encouragement. And somebody helping you open the doors, you know?
-So don't get stuck and reach out to some help from your advisors. It sounds like it's--
-And be careful. Who are your friends? Are these people that are positive and a positive influence? Are you in the wrong organization? Are you hanging out with positive people? Are you out meeting people so you can make those contacts? Because most people get a job through contacts.
And are you being positive? Are you going around, oh my god, this is terrible. My life is terrible and it's not fair. Let me tell you. At the end of the day, it's kind of like working at Disney. I do it anyway. But I said to people at Disney, you know, you don't have to be happy to work at Disney. You've got to act happy for eight
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-If you start acting positive, you get more positive. When people start telling you, Lee, you're always so positive. You never complain.
-I want to hit on that for a second. You're saying act before you feel.
-Like you act happy before you are happy?
-Yeah. Be professional, even if you-- don't be unprofessional when you're in a professional job. When I go to work in the morning, if I've had an argument with my wife or I'm not feeling well, my people never saw that. Never. Because if the boss is down--
-Oh, forget it. Nothing bothers me. 9/11, I was cool as cucumber. And I was upset.
-See, I love what you're saying, here, because I work with so many different small businesses. I know you see them, too, and you speak with them, too. But you'll see the owner who's going through a tough time, and they project that onto their employees, which then creates more failure and more negative feelings.
And so it sounds like a capstone thought you're saying, right now, if you're dealing with failure and adversity, one is just act before you feel. And then the second, is what? Reach out to a mentor or somebody who can help you or an expert to help you get out of it?
-Somebody told me once, act like what you want to be. And I think about that a lot. You just cannot go around being negative. Just go back. When you put on a Broadway show, I guarantee the lead actress and the actor, the main parts, they go up there some nights, her husband's been diagnosed with cancer, their mother fell and broke her hip, they're going through a divorce. But what happens when they go on the stage? You never see it. They are in role. They perform their part, because they got an audience. People paid for that ticket. That's what professionals do.
Professionals. What time do professionals quit thinking about their job? Never. Even when I wake up at 3:00 in the morning, Priscilla said to me one morning, she said, Lee, what are you thinking about, darling? I said, you. Now, that's the answer. That's not what I was thinking about. I was thinking about Disney, because it's a curse. And you've got to know that you have an audience, just like on Broadway. They've got an audience. And if you want people to come back to the show every night, you've got to have a good reputation.
-So at Disney, you call them cast members. And they're not employees. They're called cast members. When you clock in at work, you're supposed to be on stage. You're on. But you'd say for anybody out there who's serious about their career and getting ahead, the moment that you are working, your acting.
-I say, get out of your car, take a deep breath, and behave yourself. And be professional. Pay attention to people.
And by the way, what's in being in character? It's easy to understand that for Cinderella or Mickey Mouse. But managers need to stay in character. They got a performance, too. Everybody's watching the manager. How's their behavior? Just like Cinderella. There's no difference.
Professionalism. The way they interact with people. The way they're available for their people. The sensitivity they have when they deal with an employee that has an issue. The empathy. So everybody in the show's got to know their part, and then do it. If you don't know your part, we often misbehave.
If I don't know I'm there to inspire people and to be the leader, and I think I'm just Lee, old Lee from Oklahoma, and I go around using foul language and smoking a cigarette and telling inappropriate jokes, that's not what the executive vice president at Walt Disney World does. That might have been what Lee would do when he was in Oklahoma. But I'm not in Oklahoma. I've moved up. I moved into a profession. I'm a professional. You got to behave.
And is it hard? Sure. It's hard to when you're going through a problem. It's hard to put on a good face. It's hard. But then don't get into a leadership job. It's like being a parent. You've got to behave. Your kids are watching how you and your wife interact. They're watching everything you say.
-With our five kids, they repeat everything. It's unbelievable.
-And everything is right. And some bad word may come out of their mouth some day that they heard with somebody they rode to school with, the next-door neighbor. That's why I say, be careful who your kids hang out with. Because people will think you taught them that. They learned it next door from the other kids.
And we know kids want to please their parents, even when they don't seem like it when they're 13 or 14, 15. They do. They learn more from their parents. And at work, by the way, everybody learns more from the leader. Role modeling is the most important way people learn. Role modeling. Behave the way you want your people to behave. Care the way you want your people to care.
-I know that. And is it hard? Oh, man. There's days when I went in, and Priscilla was sick, and-- yeah. But I still have to bite my lip and get through it.
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