“Creating Magic” by Lee Cockerell Book Review

A few weeks back, Random House offered me the chance to review a new book by Lee Cockerell.   For those who are unfamiliar with Lee, he is a former Executive President of Operations at Walt Disney World.    Lee was also very popular with cast members – I was one during his tenure, and had a very positive experience dealing with him.


“Creating Magic, 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from A Life At Disney”
officially released yesterday.   When I received the book in the mail, my first thought was  “this isn’t War and Peace” and figured that it was no more than an afternoon of reading.   However, the thin paperback belies the fact that it is over 250 pages long.   While the text is a very easy read – it seems purposefully written in a manner that anyone could understand – I did spend a lot of time highlighting key points and areas of interest.

The paragraph that I think best describes the book lies between pages 14 and 15.   Lee says that the “ideas in the coming chapters…sound like good old fashioned common sense”.   He continues, “But, unfortunately, they are not  common practice”.

One doesn’t need to have his (or her) eyes set on management to benefit from “Creating Magic”.   And while it isn’t a “Disney” book per se’ – Lee’s leadership experience encompasses much more than his time at Walt Disney World – there will be many “I remember that!” moments for those of us who are freakish about Disney.   From the standardization of restaurant prices at the parks and resorts, to the hurricanes of 2004, to the introduction of Fast Pass, “Creating Magic” help give insight into events and decisions that have effected guests at the parks and resorts over the years.    It also accentuates the fact that one person can promote change (or reverse an unpopular decision).

There are so many ways that a review of “Creating Magic” could be tackled.   It could be about a simple farm boy who climbed the corporate ladder to one of the most prestigious companies and jobs in the world.    The review could focus on the word “respect”, a value which is threaded through the entire book (unfortunately, Lee required a few stitches from  employees who didn’t find him respectful enough earlier in his career).    Or it could focus on why Lee was such a popular figure among cast members – with an open door policy, and getting to know the cast as people, and not just as his employees.

In the end, I came away with even more respect for Lee and his leadership skills.    One of his main strengths is time management, and it amazed me to see how much he would do in a day.   On page 195 he says that each morning, “I read through all the letters we’d received from Guests, and whenever one of them singled out a Cast Member for exceptional service, I made a copy, wrote a note of thanks in the corner, attached an award pin, and sent it to the person’s manager”.    Not only did he read all Guest mail, but he sent out about seven hundred notes and pins per month to cast!  And that was just a small part of what he did each day.   It makes me think about how a time management course could benefit my life.

While it sounds like Lee is all about work, he also pencils personal time into his Day Timer.    Family and fitness are very important to him, and he makes time for both.   The latter I knew to be true, I used to be a member of a Disney resort fitness center.   More often than not, Lee would be a few machines down on the Stair Master while I worked up a sweat on a treadmill or elliptical machine.

My favorite chapter has to do with the acronym ARE.    Disney knows no limits to acronyms, the best known likely being RAVE (respect , appreciate, and value everyone).  ARE is one I was unfamiliar with – and stands for appreciation, recognition and encouragement.   The aforementioned letters that Lee wrote to cast is an example of ARE.   Remembering names, treating each employee as an individual, and recognizing achievements would also be considered ARE.  As Lee says, “When I ask people at my seminars if they feel over appreciated for their hard work and good results, I never fail to get a roomful of nervous laughs and head shakes”.

Creating Magic” is a book that I can recommend to anyone.   Whether you are a cast member, Disney park guest, or someone looking to broaden your leadership knowledge – there is something in “Creating Magic” for you.

Jillian from Random House has kindly offered 10 copies of "Creating Magic " for a giveaway to Mousesteps readers!   Please see my front page to enter.

For more information on Lee Cockerell and his Lessons in Leadership, you can visit his site here.