A Disney Lesson on Leadership

The cloud of Pixie Dust descended on South Florida last Saturday.

David and I were happily at lunch waiting for our salads to arrive, surfing our Facebook feeds like we always do. And yes, we do look like geeks in public quite often. But on this day my feed was lit up with friends heading to Orlando and the Magic Kingdom for Disney World’s 40th birthday. In addition, while we were sweltering in SoFL, apparently Orlando was getting one of its first fall days. Pixie Dust sparkled from my Facebook.

Within an hour we had picked up a good friend and headed north for an evening in the Magic Kingdom.

Great decision.

While we were wandering with the other 50,000+ crazy folk, we spent a good chunk of our time analyzing the Disney magic. I could spend years studying the best practices of Disney leadership and creativity, and this day was especially significant as all Disney employees were on high alert. The birthday celebration was proving far more popular than even the Disney prognosticators had anticipated. In response, the park moved into action. Alternate exits were opened to ease traffic flow — something I’ve never seen before. Guests walking through Cast Member Only areas? Wow! Ride lines were extended and re-worked. Entry to the Kingdom was restricted to resort guests only. This was Disney in full response mode, and it worked.

At one point we were spending a few moments with a friend of ours who works at Disney in their transportation department. On this night he was estimating guest flow and helping adjust the monorails accordingly. But he had a few moments to meet us and chat about the day. We were impressed that Brandon had gone out to buy a new shirt for the celebration day: an employee so excited about a company event that he wanted to “spruce up!” I loved it. That said a lot to me about Disney’s ability to inspire loyalty (which is legendary), as well as Brandon’s commitment to his company.

We also asked Brandon about his trash picking stick he was slinging over his arm. Remember, Brandon is a team leader in the transportation department, not assigned to the inside of the park or the sanitation department.

“Brandon, why are you carrying that?”

“We always carry them whenever we walk through the park. We don’t want trash to lie around.”

“Does everyone carry them? All employees?”

“Oh no…only the leaders. It’s actually one of the easiest ways to tell who is a team leader.”


Now that will preach.

The easiest way to spot a leader at Disney is to notice who is carrying a trash picker and is picking up the trash as they walk through the park.

Pretty great description of servant leadership, if you ask me.

The best symbol of leadership!

Main Street on Disney's 40th Birthday...look at the crowds!

By Marla Saunders

I am passionately devoted to living my life in the places God has given me. Over the years those places have changed: from homeschooler to businesswoman, from consumer to storyteller. These days I'm focusing on building a new business and figuring out what it means to do everything with integrity and informed by faith.