You Can Be Nice and Tough

Creating Disney Magic Ep 477 You Can Be Nice and Tough

 “When you lead, be tough, not hard.” Lee Cockerell

A listener recently reached out with a question about my leadership style. They say that Disney employees describe me as a legendary leader, but also mention that working under me could be challenging due to my high standards. I have to say that I agree with this assessment. It comes down to having the courage to enforce rules.

Being tough doesn’t mean being mean or disrespectful. It’s about taking responsibility as a leader or manager and ensuring that policies, procedures, values, and ethics are upheld. It’s about creating a culture of excellence. Being an effective tough leader has similarities to a mother’s love. Mothers are nice but also tough when they see their children veering off course. Toughness is about caring and helping people grow, not about being harsh.

Finding the balance between hiring nice people and being tough when needed is key. I have always believed in hiring nice individuals, but that doesn’t mean compromising on standards. Enforcing rules leads to consistency and establishes a brand. If the standards aren’t being met, then tough conversations are crucial for growth. Involve everyone in the conversation, listen to different viewpoints, and find solutions together for the benefit of customers and the company.

Being tough also doesn’t mean knowing everything or always having to be right. There are times we must trust that the people above us have knowledge and insights we may not possess.  Leaders must be open to learning and changing their minds if convinced by a different perspective. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. To achieve excellence, you can never lose sight of the importance of high standards and enforcing. Education, training, and enforcement are the keys. It’s not about being mean, but about keeping things on track and ensuring quality and safety.

Time and experience make us better. Looking back, I may have made mistakes, but that’s part of the growth process. One thing I didn’t make a mistake on was consistently talk about the importance of enforcing rules. By making it an expectation, it becomes easier over time and less emotionally charged. Leaders who hold high standards create better, more resilient teams.

Make sure to listen to this episode for more about how you can be nice and tough as a leader. You can also sign up for the Cockrell Academy and our Community Calls by going to

A group that is very nice to work with is Magical Vacation Planners. Let them handle the tough stuff and plan your next vacation. You can reach them at 407-442-2694.


The Cockerell Academy

About Lee Cockerell

Mainstreet Leader

Episode Highlights

01:04 Gain a reputation of high standards.

05:32 Rules and values must be enforced to be effective.

07:36 Appearance impacts perception of leadership and quality.

10:33 High standards requires consistent education, training, and discipline.

13:16 Train managers to make tough decisions.