Lee Cockerell – Author of “Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney”

Creating Magic with Lee Cockerell: Leadership Lessons from Disney

Mike interviews Lee Cockerell.

In this episode of the Million Dollar Stories podcast, Lee Cockerell, the former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort and the author of Creating Magic: 10 Common-Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, shared invaluable insights from his decades-long career at one of the world’s most iconic companies. This conversation is a treasure trove of wisdom for those looking to infuse a little Disney magic into their leadership style.


Lee Cockerell’s approach to leadership is refreshingly hands-on. He doesn’t just manage from the top; he believes in being in the trenches with his team. Lee talked about dedicating four to five hours every week to walking through Disney parks, chatting with staff, checking the bathrooms, and even attempting to buy coffee to see how smooth the process was. He stressed the importance of being available and approachable to everyone in the organization, from call center employees to hotel waitstaff. This practice keeps leaders grounded and helps them stay in tune with the real issues and challenges on the ground.

When asked about “magic” at Disney, Lee’s definition was profound and simple. “Magic is when you’re so good, nobody can figure out how you do it,” he explained. It’s about delivering experiences so exceptional that they leave people in awe. For Lee, this level of excellence is achieved through relentless attention to detail, a passion for continuous improvement, and a genuine connection with employees and customers.

Lee’s weekly newsletter to all 40,000 Disney cast members exemplifies this approach. He used it to recognize outstanding employees, discuss safety, and communicate key messages. Today, he would likely use a podcast, but back then, a newsletter ensured that every team member felt connected and appreciated.

One of the standout concepts from Lee’s book is “Burn the Free Fuel,” which stands for Appreciation, Recognition, and Encouragement (ARE). These are the simple yet powerful tools that drive human performance. Lee shared how these elements have been crucial not only in his professional life but also in his personal life, noting that they have been key to his 55-year marriage. Leaders can create an environment where people feel valued and motivated to perform their best by consistently showing appreciation, recognizing achievements, and encouraging growth.

Lee is a firm believer in accountability. “Every problem you have in your life is your fault,” he asserted, highlighting the importance of taking responsibility for one’s circumstances. This mindset empowers individuals to take control of their lives and make the necessary changes to achieve their goals. Lee’s own experiences, including dealing with his wife’s severe health issues and his own battle with anxiety and depression, have reinforced his belief in the power of a positive attitude and personal responsibility.

According to Lee, the character is not formed when things are going well but is revealed during challenging times. He recounted the tough times he faced during his career and personal life, emphasizing that pain and mistakes shape a formidable character. This perspective aligns with many successful leaders’ views who believe overcoming adversity is essential for personal and professional growth.

Mike Fallat and Lee Cockerell talk about the book Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney.

Another golden nugget from Lee’s conversation was his belief that leadership is akin to teaching. He advised against the traditional boss mentality, advocating for a teaching approach where leaders guide, support, and develop their team members. This method fosters trust and collaboration, crucial for navigating crises and achieving long-term success.

Among Lee’s advice, one stood out for its simplicity and universal applicability: the importance of a good night’s sleep. “Get a good night’s sleep,” he said. “That serves everything you do.” Adequate rest is fundamental to maintaining a positive attitude, high energy levels, and overall well-being, enhancing one’s ability to lead effectively.

Lee Cockerell’s insights are a testament to the power of common-sense leadership principles. His book, Creating Magic, is a must-read for anyone looking to elevate their leadership game. Whether running a small business or leading a large corporation, Lee’s strategies can help you create an environment where people feel valued, motivated, and inspired to achieve greatness.

Get his book here:

About Mike Fallat

Mike Fallat, aka The BookMan, is the owner of Dreamstarters Publishing and the Million Dollar Book Agency. They have helped 300+ entrepreneurs become bestselling authors. His goal is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs publish books and teach them how to use their books as a gateway to generating 7-figures.

Visit website for more information: https://www.milliondollarbookagency.com/

About Dreamstarters Publishing

Dreamstarters Publishing offers ghostwriting, cover design, and everything that is required to take an idea to a finished book (kindle, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook).

The Million Dollar Book Agency is the ultimate marketing CRM system for author-preneurs. Services include automated funnels, lead generation campaigns, book fulfillment, podcast management, press releases, virtual assistants, course development, and more.

Mike also hosts a podcast known as Million Dollar Stories and runs a membership-based site known as Million Dollar Circle. In addition to owning the book business, he invests in self storage real estate.


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