Greetings from 33,000 feet!
Niki and I are on a Southwest flight headed to Walt Disney World. Again….
This is our third visit in as many months, with three more planned and booked before the end of the year.
Sometimes it all looks so familiar.
When folks find out that we have been to Disneyland more than 500 times they often ask, “Wow, aren’t you bored with it already? I mean, haven’t you seen everything? Haven’t you done everything?”
Nope! 500 hundred visits and counting, Niki and are more impressed than ever before. Why?
For me, it goes back to Frontierland and the original Disneyland Stagecoach—the first attraction completed for the park. It was built at the Disney Studio in Burbank and shipped the 33 miles south to Anaheim in early 1955. As the Imagineers were finishing the fabrication, Disney Legend, John Hench, grew frustrated with his boss, Walt Disney. Hench was working on the final piece, the stagecoach straps, and no matter what he did he couldn’t get the straps to Walt’s liking.
“Why don’t we just leave the leather straps off, Walt? The people are never going to appreciate all this close up detail.” Walt’s response came to be reflected in every Disney attraction that followed: “John, you’re being a poor communicator. People are okay, don’t you ever forget that. They will respond to it. They will appreciate it. And they will keep coming back to the park again, and again, and again.”
The result? According to Hench, he ended up putting “the best darned leather straps on that stagecoach that you’ve ever seen.”
And just as Walt predicted, we keep coming back to the parks again, and again, and again.
One of the challenges of leadership is balancing the need for developing a grand, strategic vision and the demands of paying attention to the tiniest of details. These are very different skill sets and it is the rarest of individuals who can do both well. Let alone great.
But lacking a skill set doesn’t mean it isn’t important or that you get to ignore it. Quite the opposite. It is easy to pay attention to the things we do well. We are attracted to certain tasks for a reason—we do them well and let’s be honest, it might be “work” but we enjoy doing them.
But what about the tasks you hate doing? What about the jobs you can’t do—not just because you lack the willingness but you genuinely lack the time or the skill set. Maybe both. What then?
The temptation is to either ignore it altogether (never a good plan). Or better yet, hire someone else to take care of it for you. After all, it takes a team. Right? Even Walt Disney knew that “you can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
Yes, you can outsource some jobs. You can hire team members to take care of particular tasks. You cannot, however, outsource leadership. Or success. These are your responsibility.
I believe the key to finding the right balance is to focus not just on the what (vision) or the how (details). Instead, what if we paid more attention to the why. Why do you do what you do? Why does it matter? Why will anyone care? Why should anyone sit up and take notice?
I love teaching. But my full-time job as a professor and administrator in higher education requires me to do tasks that I detest. Between you and me, I don’t ever need to write another report or put together another proposal. I’m good. Really.
But when I remember that I do what I do because I want to see as many students as possible celebrate the success of graduation then suddenly those tasks don’t seem quite so terrible. If a report will help reallocate resources so that one more student makes it to commencement then I can’t write it fast enough. If yet another proposal has the prospect of increasing student success then let’s get on it. Today.
When Niki and I give tours at Disneyland one of my favorite stops is on Main Street at Coke Corner. Here I like to point out a red-and-white lightbulb known affectionately as “Walt’s Lightbulb.” Overhead is a series of alternating red and white light bulbs, but the odd shape of the space requires an odd number of bulbs. The story goes that breaking the alternating red-and-white pattern drove Walt nuts, so one night, he grabbed a paintbrush and personally painted the last bulb half-red and half-white.
Whew! And you thought your mom had issues?
Was Walt Disney a genius? Yes.
Was Walt Disney a visionary? Yes.
Was Walt Disney obsessive and compulsive? Absolutely!
But as a leader, if you aren’t obsessive about your vision and compulsive about the details who will be?
I want to encourage you to take a moment to think about your why. When was the last time you focused on why rather than what or how? How many conversations have you had with your team about why you do what you do? How can you communicate your why in such a way that it motivates you and inspires others?
At the end of the day, it is your why that will determine your destiny. Not your disdain. What distasteful task will you tackle because your why demands it?
The Disneyland Stagecoach may be long gone, but the lessons from those “best darn leather straps” remain. People are okay. Trust that your people will respond to your vision and appreciate your attention to detail. Do this and people will keep looking to you for leadership again, and again, and again.
Never Stop Dreaming!