Is Leadership A Role or Responsibility?

Leadership is a role, and leadership is a responsibility…but mainly it is a responsibility.

I have written about some of these strategies in the past. I used these leadership strategies as the basis for my book Creating Magic…10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From A Life At Disney.Go to my website to learn more:

Whether you are a manager or not has nothing to do with the value you can get from these leadership strategies.

We all have numerous roles and opportunities in our life to demonstrate great leadership, whether it is at home, at our place of worship, in the community, in our neighborhood, in our children’s schools, or anywhere else.

Everyone has an opportunity to practice great leadership behaviors. Leadership is simply defined as making the right things happen. With this definition, we all have many opportunities to practice great leadership.

I talked about and wrote about leadership a lot when I was at the Walt Disney World® Resort because I wanted every one of our leaders to be great.

Some people say that this is impossible and, to some extent, I might agree; but my goal for all Cast Members was to have great leadership. If we didn’t shoot for 100 percent, we had zero chance of getting there.

Everyone deserves great leadership so that he or she can work in an environment that is positive and in one that involves and respects everyone. Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home, so this should be a place that we look forward to coming to each day. The leader you work with has more to do with that than anyone else.

People often asked me, “How is the morale at the Walt Disney World® Resort?”; and I told them: “Well it depends on who the leader is. Some Cast Members are really happy, and some are really unhappy. Many times Cast Members work just a few feet away from one another, but they have different leaders.”

When I was starting my career, no one took the time to tell me the things you will learn by studying the leadership strategies in my book. Think about leadership strategies as a way for you to avoid all of the pitfalls that many “wanna-be” leaders fall into. Think of it as a way not to commit mistake after mistake when you are given the opportunity to be in a leadership role, whether it is at home or at work. Oh, how I wish I had had this kind of training when I started out so I would have not made all of those mistakes. I am sure that the people who worked for me wished I had had that training as well.

Some mistakes are fatal, and people never recover from them. Look at the front page of the newspaper for numerous examples of poor leadership from corporate executives to government officials, to church officials, to charitable organizations, to school teachers, to parents, and on and on. The examples are in the news every single day without fail. Look in the paper tomorrow, and you will find a news story about failed leadership and the terrible impact it had on someone or some organization.

The trail always leads back to leadership. Poor leadership or great leadership has a lot to do with everything that happens in the world in one way or another. It has been this way forever, and it will always be that way. Even when we are living in outer space some day, leadership will matter.

If you want to be a better leader, start by reading my book Creating Magic…10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From A Life At Disney and then referring to it often.  As you read the book try to figure out where you have opportunities so that you can begin the journey right now on your way to becoming great . . . for your family, friends, and fellow Cast Members. Many things can be improved with effort and focus, including negative behaviors.

I remember the great leaders I have had in my life. One was my mother, one was my grandmother, and three have been in the workplace.

Remember the quote…“In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” . . . Anonymous

The people in your life will remember as well whether YOU were a great leader or not! . . . Lee

Organizational structure is an important strategy to focus on. I believe that until you get the structure right, you can’t get the best results.

If you have great people and a bad structure, the results will suffer. Great people will become frustrated with a poorly organized organization.

I always tell the leaders out there to become familiar with organizational structure. Read about it and study it, and make sure that the structure you put in place is one that makes sense from the viewpoint of employees and our customers.

Be open-minded as a leader, and be willing to recreate the organizational structure and to change the whole approach if necessary.

Don’t worry about the way it has always been. The way it has always been can be good, or it can be bad. Current ways of doing things need to be continuously challenged.

One of the most important things in organizational structure thinking is to make sure that every individual clearly and completely understands what he or she is responsible for, what level of authority he or she has, and how he or she will be held accountable.

This one is just as important at home or in a volunteer role as it is in business. I can tell you one of the best ways to have a smooth marriage (or any other relationship) is to understand who has what responsibility and how much authority. The downside is that many marriages/relationships end in divorce/separation because of basic misunderstandings. As far as at my home, I have the authority to go out and buy new shoes without my wife’s involvement; but if I am buying a new car, I would involve her. I don’t have the authority to clean out her closet or to make any decor changes to the house without her approval. I know it is my responsibility to take out the trash, to change the light bulbs, and a few other things. I have full authority in this area; and I am held accountable in a simple way by being reminded if I forget to do it.

I have far less authority at home than I did at work. As I am reminded from time to time at home with those sweet words, “You are not an Executive Vice President around here.” I first heard those words long ago when I heard my mother-in-law tell her husband, who was a Rear Admiral in the Navy, “You are not an Admiral around here, so please get those dishes washed.” He followed orders very well . . . and so do I!

With children it is critical to have clarity around responsibility, authority, and accountability I assure you. If you have children older than the age of two, you already know this. If you want them to make their bed, brush their teeth, and put away their toys, then you better be clear about it . . . or you will be doing it.

As I write these, I will give some analogies like the one above to make simple points. More are coming later in this article.

We learned a lot about how to think about organizational structure after September 11. We learned that there is great value in being creative and in considering all kinds of structure changes. September 11 pushed us to try new ways and to eliminate certain positions and levels. We really were pushed to scrutinize the number of people that it takes to get a job done.

No one should be able to hide in the organization. This simply means that each position needs to have real value, and you need to consider the questions:

  • What would happen if we eliminated this position?
  • What would happen if we redistributed this position’s direct reports to others who can handle more responsibility?
  • What would happen if this position were a part- time position?
  • What would happen if we outsourced this position’s responsibilities?
  • What would happen if we changed our processes so that we would not need this position any longer?
  • What would happen if we automated this position so that it became self-service like the ATMs are for banks?

When thinking about organizational structure, evaluate how many meetings it takes to keep the operation running smoothly. One great meeting a month might be much more effective than one average or poorly planned meeting a week.

Scrutinize the number of layers in the organization, and get as flat as you can. The more layers that information goes through, the more inaccurate it is. Deal directly with as many people as you can.

When people tell you they are overworked and can not do more, try to figure out if they truly are overworked, or:

  • Are they disorganized?
  • Is the process getting in the way?
  • Are we doing work that should be stopped because it no longer has the value it once did?
  • Ask yourself if they could get the work done if you would give them more authority, which would save them time!

When people receive authority, they are getting a powerful thing. My point of view on authority is that if it is given to you and you don’t use it and use it in a responsible manner, then you are irresponsible. Remember that responsibility and authority go hand in hand. You cannot give someone responsibility without giving that individual authority.

Every one of us is paid part of our salary for our opinion. You don’t have to be in charge to have an influence on organizational structure. If you think you have a better way, write it up and present it to your leader.

The structure should expedite taking care of your customers, responding to employee needs, and making business decisions. A good structure will expedite the communication process. In a great structure, people will say that they feel informed and that they know what is going on.

The most important thing in organizational structure changes is to remember that most anything will work if you want it to work, give it a chance, and keep a positive attitude.

Have a great weekend and get those Easter Eggs ready to hide in just nine days….Lee

  1. These are two good roads of thought, Lee. Great leadership in a sound and logical structure is very powerful.

    I have been lucky to have as many (more) bad leadership examples in my life as good examples. I have almost learned more from the bad than the good. Learning what NOT to do can be very powerful.

    In addition, I have worked in organizational structures on sound and logical footing. I have also worked in a few crazy towns.

    Good leaders require time to build trust, build a solid foundation, and allow room for people to show what they can and cannot do. The good leader help people grow in their areas of strength. They also help their team members determine their areas of weakness that might not allow them to continue in their present role. In a sound organization structure, people can often find some other position that they can excel. And if that doesn’t work out, an organized structure knows what to do tell help that person move on.

    Bad leaders require little time to prove just how bad they are. Trust falls apart almost immediately and prevents any further growth on a team.

    Bad leaders in a poor structures lead to disastrous results. The poorly organized structure, in this case, allows for the dysfunctional leader to do damage for a long time. The result is high employee turnover, or even worse, miserable people doing a miserable job (and I think I stayed at that hotel recently).

    I can now see in my mind’s eye the quadrant graph that is the summation of your insightful posts. I think you just gave ME a blog post complete with a graph! Thanks for the homework.

    Finally, after reading this post, I reminded how I wish I could have met your mother…Her son is a pretty neat guy.

    Very best and Happy Easter!

  2. Lee,

    Another great and thought provoking post. This came at a good time while I transition out of my business. I will be sure to pass it along to my staff.

    Many thanks. Happy Easter to the Cockerell Family.


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