Hey hey everyone, today we’ve got the Founder of Cockerell Academy, Lee Cockerell. His career has taken him all over the world, from working with men and women of Baghdad, to being the Executive VP of Walt Disney World.
In this episode, Lee talks about why asking for help is better than making up an answer. He explains why we need to build a culture around TRUST, and explains why it’s so important to learn to use your time to your advantage by leading with purpose over chance. Check it out!
Lee’s learning journey and Masterminds
The Mastermind Effect: 02:42
Let’s dive into it. The ability to have access to people and learn from them has really changed over the last 5 – 10 years. When you and I were younger, it was textbooks and teachers. Then, it was friends, family, and our coworkers. But that’s really a sliver of what’s possible. How has your learning changed from your early years versus today?
Lee Cockerell: 03:24
In my very early years, I didn’t have a lot of interest in learning., I grew up in a family where nobody went to college. When I broke loose from Oklahoma, I got out into the real world and found out how much I didn’t know. It was exciting to learn things. I started paying attention to it on purpose. I read more, went to seminars, and listened to those old cassette tapes about inspiration and leadership. I got hooked on how it’s a lot of fun to learn something. Then the internet and Google came along. If you don’t know something today, it’s your fault. All you got to do is look it up. It’s fun to learn and to know more. It helps you make decisions in your life when you know more. It is true history repeats itself. The more you know, the better decisions you make.
The Mastermind Effect: 04:58
Out of all the places you’ve worked before you started your academy, which one would you say you learned the most from per se and that you still utilize today?
Lee Cockerell: 05:19
When I first started out, I knew nothing. I worked at Hilton hotels as a waiter. I worked in smaller jobs, and I worked my way up to higher-level positions. I learned the technical part of the job. Then when I went to Marriott, I learned about management. Marriott teaches you how to manage your P&L and attention to detail. I went to Disney, the entertainment side. The attention to detail at Disney was shocking. Everything matters at Disney, which was a little intimidating to get used to. It’s just relentless, and I think that happens when you work for a good organization that the expectations are high and the demands are high. It’s when it’s hard that it teaches you how to get better yourself. Probably, I learned the most at Disney as I was older and more mature when I joined Disney. I went to Disneyland Paris and that was a nightmare. We were losing a million dollars a day when we opened, which gets you pretty focused.
Lee Cockerell: 06:56
I tell people there are only two ways you learn in life; crisis or education. You learn a lot from crisis and you learn a lot and in education. A crisis is not the most fun way to learn.
The Mastermind Effect: 07:15
I appreciate you sharing that with us. Staying in how we learn and who we’re learning from, you mentioned that there are more ways to learn than ever before. There are a lot of platforms but at the same time, that can make it confusing because there are so many sources out there. Some people choose to learn from a coach, accountability partner, mastermind, and online course. There are lots of ways that you can learn. Who are you currently learning from, and more importantly, how did you connect with them?
Lee Cockerell: 07:48
I thought I knew what was going on in the world, and about six years ago this guy calls me and says he wants me to be interviewed on his podcast. I didn’t even know what a podcast was. I interviewed him and three months later he called back and said, “Have you ever thought about having your own podcast?” I said I had no idea what a podcast was, and we’ve been doing it for six years now. We’ve done 325 episodes and never missed a Tuesday. I learned that I get people writing to me every week telling me how much they appreciate it and what they learned. I just learned that people are eager to learn, and they don’t want theory anymore. They want reality. I learned that you just couldn’t deal with the facts and people learn best by hearing stories and reality. Students today want reality and you got to do it in shorter strokes. Our podcast is 15 minutes. My courses on the Cockerell Academy, like our world class customer service course is 39 10-12-minute sections because people’s attention span today is pretty rough.
The Mastermind Effect: 09:33
You’ve made it bite-size to where it’s digestible and retainable and to where they can implement that pretty quickly.
Lee Cockerell: 09:39
Yes, people don’t read anymore, and it’s scary. I learn a lot in reading. I read every night for 20-30 minutes before I go to sleep and it helps me go to sleep. Stuff comes in and goes up in your brain, and hopefully, it’s good stuff up there. You got to be careful what you’re putting in your child’s brain.
The Mastermind Effect: 10:14
I learned more from him than he probably is learning from me. It is amazing what they retain and what they’re listening to. In a previous conversation, you had mentioned that when you’re in an airport, and someone comes over with his little girls and has a conversation. Would you mind describing that just a little bit?
Lee Cockerell: 10:35
I was in an airport and was getting ready to board the plane. A young lady, she’s probably 12, tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned. I said, “Yes?” She said, “Are you Lee Cockerell?” I said, “Yeah, I am. Why?”. Her dad was standing there with other sisters. He said, “Lee, the reason I know you is they’re required to listen to your podcast every Tuesday and discuss at dinner what they learned.” I said, “Now I’m responsible for your kids learning.” I thought that was interesting. It’s like you’re talking about what you’re learning with your son.
Instead of sitting there and having uncomfortable discussions, you have ones where he’s walking away learning and doing it with you. That builds a lot of trust, builds a lot of safety for him, and he’s getting smarter. People are learning how to do it together, and I think that’s what podcasts are great. A lot of companies will listen to my podcast or read one of my books. I have one called 39 Rules for Customer Service. Companies will tell me they buy the book, and then every person in the company that reads it has to get one idea on each rule on how they could implement it in their company. You can’t escape because your boss knows you read it and you have to submit an idea about how can we do this in our company. I thought you got to get people to go all the way and not just give them the book. People learned to educate themselves and not count on their boss or a company. Today with the kind of work you’re doing, people can get better, and people have to take responsibility. Companies cut down training right away when there’s a recession, or we’re in bad times, but you can’t use that as an excuse., You’ve got to keep going. After this pandemic, people need to be smarter because everything has changed. I think about that a lot, are people holding themselves responsible for their development?
The Mastermind Effect: 13:06
I think that’s a big one. People hold themselves responsible or surround themselves with the right people to help them and hold themselves accountable. We are human, and even the most efficient human being is fallible. It’s going to have a moment. If you surround your cup with the right people and you get rid of the wrong people, it’s incredible how much more you can accomplish.
Lee Cockerell: 13:28
It’s true. You become the culture you hang out in. If you’re in a great company that’s very ethical and honest then you will get better as a person. If you’re in one where everybody’s cheating and lying, you will probably fall into that to survive and be part of the gang and feel like you matter because so many people just go along to get along. That’s very dangerous if you’re in a bad place.
The Mastermind Effect: 14:06
Absolutely. You’re the average of the five people that you hang around,
The Mastermind Effect: 14:43
A lot of people get stuck and we don’t always know how to execute what’s inside of our head. We’re still going through a pandemic like you just mentioned, and thinking about going back to the old ways mindset isn’t going to work. How has self-education with masterminds and coaching helped you when you’re looking to get unstuck and execute something where you feel like you’re in the trenches? When you don’t know how to get out, but through coaching and mastermind and people around you, you’re able to move forward?
Lee Cockerell: 15:14
When I don’t know something, I had to learn that I shouldn’t be embarrassed. Go get help, go find an expert, go find a mastermind, go find a class, and ask somebody who knows what’s going on. I used to be insecure, and I would go around acting like I knew what I was doing when I didn’t. There are a lot of experts out there, including the internet. Take your time to think and have a little more patience before making a big decision. I have maybe asked two or three people to get a balance. Sometimes we’re too impulsive, and we end up making big mistakes. I would say, generally I found people are happy to help you. All you got to do is ask. Sometimes we just try to be too macho and know everything. I wrote in one of my books, “When you become a big deal, don’t.” It’s okay to say you don’t know. It’ll keep you out of a lot of trouble, and you’ll get smarter.
The Mastermind Effect: 16:32
It’s an easy answer, “I don’t know but I know someone who does”.
Lee Cockerell: 16:49
They say this old saying, “Go alone if you want to go fast and go slow if you want to go far.” That means getting people around you that help you get there in a better situation. Lots of people have totally isolated themselves, and nobody wants to approach them. The person who doesn’t want to approach is insecure or autocratic and doesn’t make you feel like you’re welcome to come in and asked them to open yourself up. We got a lot of work to do on ourselves to make ourselves approachable, so people that work with us and around us don’t mind coming. Saying, “Hey, Lee can you explain that. I don’t know what you’re talking about”, that was always hard for me to say that.
Lee Cockerell: 17:41
Somebody told me if you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.
The Mastermind Effect: 17:47
My favorite one is, “I understand the words that you’re using, I just don’t know what you mean.”
Self-Education and Lee’s reality
The Mastermind Effect: 18:35
Masterminds have been around for a long time. Probably the first one was the apostles, then Benjamin Franklin creates the Judo Club and Leather Apron Club. Then Napoleon Hill writes a book explaining what a mastermind which brings it full circle. As there continues to be a large boom in self-education, where do you see the parallels going between self-education versus standardized education?
Lee Cockerell: 19:06
I think we need to get more informal learning from each other in the classroom instead of the teacher standing up at the front of the room and kids fall in half asleep because they’re not making it exciting enough. They’re not telling the stories. I think mainly students are bored to death as learning lessons is interesting and to be excited about. I think around the world, a lot of people are doing a better job than we are by far. I’ve visited some schools in England, Sweden, China, and India. Their kids are, prepared for learning. It’s an expectation. I don’t know if we have enough high expectations from parents here about learning. My mother never talked about school, and we never discussed it like you’re doing with your son. Whoever sets expectations like you’re setting for your son; you’re setting high expectations for him to learn and to have fun learning to learn with you. If you live in a family where nobody talks about that kind of stuff and just sit there at dinner and don’t talk about education, you will have no interest.
The Mastermind Effect: 23:23
We’ve left it to the standardized schools to teach our children what they need to know instead of sitting there staying at home, like, “Hey, this is important to understand”.
Lee Cockerell: 23:36
My grandsons are addicted to being online and playing games, and it’s our fault, unless you do something like what you’re doing– making sure that they’re getting that break and learning. Hopefully, you have teachers that know you’re interested and come up to the school. They will pay attention to these kids and make it more interesting.
The Mastermind Effect: 24:23
I think being hands on is a key thing. Being hands on, getting outside and getting in the dirt. Understanding what that is and pulling yourself away from.
The Mastermind Effect: 25:05
Typically, when someone invests in their future, they have a better than vague idea of what they’re going to get out of it and they have an expectation. What should people expect when they come to the Cockerell Academy and work with you?
Lee Cockerell: 25:22
These are self-led courses with workbooks and quizzes. It’s all audio and video with me talking about it and short segments. A lot of people that are writing back said, “Man, I learned a lot about simple things.” We have a course on how to terminate somebody. We take them through how to coach somebody on their performance because it’s hard to sit down and talk to somebody about their performance. They learn these little things that they haven’t thought about yet, and they’re going to run into them in the workplace and not know how to deal with them. They’re going to let them go because they’ve never thought about it.
When I wrote book about customer rules, my granddaughter attended the courses and I asked her what’s the most important rule in customer service. She was 12 years old then, she said, “Pappy, the most important rule in customer service is be nice.” When you hire people, make sure they understand that they may not be nice, but they better be nice to the guest because they might get fired. And we say at Disney, “You don’t have to like your job, you just have to act like you do.” We’re putting on a show. This is a concept that people need to get in their brain. Nobody cares where you went to college eventually, or what you know. They care about who you are. They don’t care what you can do. They want to know who you are.
The Mastermind Effect: 27:23
A timepiece still tells the same time, and a person is still the person that they are.
Lee Cockerell: 27:30
Everything in your life will be a people problem. Every problem you have in your life will be people. I did some work for Tyson Chicken. I told the CEO, “Listen, it’s not about the chickens. We know what’s going to happen to the chickens. Every problem you’re going to have in this business is people.” Problems like giving them wrong food, cheating, you not being good leaders, and people not being committed to their work.
Lee Cockerell: 28:05
When you go to a restaurant, and the bathroom is dirty, don’t blame anybody except the restaurant owner because that’s his problem. Mr. Marriott told me if you have flies in your businesses, in your restaurants, because you like flies, that’s your problem. Don’t be blaming some other button. That’s what I had to learn. I kept wanting to blame somebody else. I know I own it. It’s my fault if I didn’t communicate properly, didn’t tell you what I expected, or that I didn’t read the contract properly. That’s not your fault. That’s my fault.
The Mastermind Effect: 29:07
When you’re pointing, there are fingers pointing right back at you.
Lee Cockerell: 29:11
We like to blame somebody else because we don’t want to be at fault.
The Mastermind Effect: 29:15
As soon as you become accountable, the ripple effect of making sure you don’t make that same mistake. It’s really interesting. I don’t know if it’s just human nature. You had talked about just working. You’ve worked with different companies and you’ve talked about anxiety and depression. There is a difference between the two, but dive a little bit deeper on why that was so important for you to build out and who you’ve become.
Lee Cockerell: 29:46
I was insecure because of the dysfunctional family I grew up in, and I didn’t have college degrees. I was always kind of seemed like I had, but I didn’t want people to learn that I was kind of faking it. However, I got a good job and I worked hard, and I think that got me through. I never had any serious problems until my wife got sick and almost died. I ended up with anxiety. Then, it led to depression because I was worried about it over and over. The psychiatrist told me that I have a fear of abandonment; because when I was little, my mother took me away from my grandmother who was my favorite person in my life. She said, when you thought your wife was going to die, that’s a form of abandonment. Your brain sent that message down 60 years later and said this is a problem, and you and I had to get treated for it. That was a big learning.
When I went to Baghdad and Iraq during the war, I did 13 seminars. One of the main subjects was anxiety and depression; how to deal with it, how to overcome it, and how to get treatment. Most men don’t go for help, but they try to get drink more, get a divorce, lay on the couch, sleep, or abuse. I had to learn to talk about it and tell people, “Hey, man, I’m going through some tough times, I don’t really want to see you.”
Trying to hide it makes it worse. When you talk about it, people help you. I have people who would come over and meet with me to talk. During that period, I didn’t have so much anxiety about talking and getting it out. I was late in life to learn it. I used to think depressed people have an attitude problem only. I got slapped upside the head out. I still take medication because I don’t want to go through that ever again. It’s the darkest place you can go, and it’s horrible. We see that, and you’re going to see a lot more suicides now. People are suffering from hopelessness and joblessness. I have a lot of empathy for that and I said, “I know what you’re talking about.
Mine wasn’t monetary. Mine was feeling like I was going to lose the most important thing.” I will probably last a week if my wife dies. It brought us closer together, too because she helped me when she noticed that I was being crazy. It’s real. You can go to a mastermind and get help. A lot of people who are cured with medication are getting better. They’re even saying a lot of these mushrooms out in the world are helping people with depression. They’re doing a lot of experiments about these different mushrooms. There’s a formula they can make to help people with depression. They’re going to keep learning what causes the brain to go there. People don’t realize that it’s chemical and a real-life thing. You can overcome it and you can be treated. Somebody in your life might be going through this now. Maybe you know about it, maybe you don’t but you got to pay attention.
A huge problem is bullying and it keeps kids getting into trouble mentally and then doing something. You have to pay attention on what’s going on. We all know how to put on a good face. It’s easy for me to put on a good face where you can’t see it. If you know your son well, you’ll know it. If you know an employee really well, you’ll sense it. But it’s hard because people really cover up well. In America, we all say everything’s great every day, and then next thing somebody kills themselves.
The Mastermind Effect: 34:23
It’s okay if you’re going through it, as a lot of people are. It’s okay to ask for help. Pay attention to the people that are around you. It’s not your fault if you don’t see those signs from what Lee is talking about, but pay attention to their mannerisms. If something seems off, all you got to do is ask them. You know, if you’re in a mastermind, you’re going to get that a lot. If you have a coach, you’re going to get that a lot. If you don’t have those things, look for those things.
Lee Cockerell: 34:56
We’ve got to help people feel safe to tell us how they’re really doing and then be there to help them. A teenager is not going to tell you how they are really feeling. You’ve got to have to dig into it., You have to pay attention, and watch their mannerisms, diet, how they’re eating, and how they’re sleeping. There are certain ages where it’s even tougher. Kids hide from all out of this stuff.
The Mastermind Effect: 36:23
The highest performing people in the world have coaches, and they have insecurities. It’s just because they’re sitting on what we see as a mountaintop doesn’t mean that mentally they’re on that mountaintop themselves. It’s absolutely okay to ask for help. They are staying in that area with people and stuff. People that have gone through your courses and that have worked with you, I feel they have a way of surprising us from time to time. Give us a success story of something that happened because someone went through the Cockerell Academy or worked with you one-on-one. What was the outcome when they worked with you?
Lee Cockerell: 36:57
I’ve worked with a lot of executives and managers where they were having problems in their business. I would spend a day with them, we’d get a hotel suite and go there. I would say to them, “Tell me about your problem. Tell me what’s going on. Tell me who you are. Tell me about your family”. Next thing you know, they’re saying, “I’m working with a guy, and I’m having problems with this person in my business. She’s been there eight years”. I would say, “Do you have persons who have problems with confrontation? Do you have problems telling people the truth?” “Yeah, I really do.” And I said, “Okay, let’s go down this path. You’re the head of this company. It’s your responsibility. You’re not living up to your responsibility. You’re being irresponsible. That person doesn’t even know they’re not doing their job, because you haven’t told them.”
Then, I said, “Let’s do this. From now on, when you have somebody who’s not performing, and you don’t have the courage, or you’re not responsible enough to tell them, you call me in for $2500, I’ll fire them for you.” I shaped this person into today. He pushed through it because he didn’t realize, “Hey, if I don’t, I’m hurting somebody.” It’s like your mother not correcting you when you’re growing up.
I met and talked to a guy yesterday. He does leadership training and specializes in working with top leaders and executives that have a problem wanting to be liked. They don’t deal with a lot of hard issues. They end up keeping people for 20 years that never did their job and get taken advantage of. I thought that was interesting because I had that problem in my career. I wanted to be liked because I was insecure. I wanted people to like me. Over time, I changed. The last 20 years of my career, I saw the difference. People really trust me now. When you’re doing a great job, he’s going to tell you and when you’re not, he’s going to tell you and he wants to help you. That’s an interesting concept.
The Mastermind Effect: 39:01
I’m going to definitely have to dive deeper in that because that is very true. You want to be liked but you don’t want the confrontation. In turn, you’re not doing yourself, your company, or that team member justice.
Lee Cockerell: 39:15
Today’s big problem is parents wanting to be friends with their kids and not wanting to be the adult. Your job is to train them, develop them and get them ready to be ethical, honest, and good citizens. Your job is to get them out of the house by the time they’re 20.
It’s hard to be a leader or to be a parent. If you can’t make hard decisions and can’t have hard conversations, don’t have children.
The Mastermind Effect: 40:02
Talking about leadership, on the solo shows, we talk a lot about success and what it takes to be successful. A few of the things we discuss are mentorship, coaching, experimentation, partnerships, willingness to fail. Then, on the flip side, willingness to define success, because when you define success, you, in essence, have defined failure. That’s why so many people don’t do it. What do you think is a key attribute to being successful?
Lee Cockerell: 40:29
I think the most important thing is building a culture around you of trust. When people trust you, they will learn more, they’ll allow you not to know everything, and they’ll respect you. I think that’s the one thing having mutual respect for other people. I always say, “I won’t be committed to you unless I’m sure you’re committed to me”. It takes a long time to get it and lose it in seconds. Somebody said, “How do you build trust?” I said, “You got to be trustworthy. You’ve got to be careful not to break your word and make sure you’re always building it.” We see that every day today, across the nation, people not having the courage to be. Recently, I posted that if you can’t be a leader, don’t have children, and resign from Congress. Let me tell you, leadership comes back to bite you and bite you hard if you’re irresponsible.
The Mastermind Effect: 42:09
Leadership is a heavy thing to hold on to and easy to lose if you aren’t a good person. Be honest and be good.
Lee Cockerell: 42:19
You and your wife have the most important leadership job in the world.
The Mastermind Effect: 42:22
Life’s not looking so good, if we fail on that one.
Lee Cockerell: 42:30
That’s the most important leadership job. You’ve got to think about it every day. The better you are, the better he’ll be.
The Mastermind Effect: 43:14
Got a few more questions as we’re rounding out here. I feel that during times of prosperity, when the world’s winning, it’s easier to be successful. But ingenuity and creativity come out of when we feel the squeeze, and the world’s still feeling the squeeze. What are you working on right now that’s going to take place over the next 12 months that excites you?
Lee Cockerell: 43:36
I’ve only been in this Cockerell Academy since last March. I’m getting it ready. I’m into marketing and making sure people know about it. We’re developing professor’s guides for my books, which are used in universities and colleges to get more exposure for people because a lot of colleges like using them. How to reach people is the hardest part of marketing and the hardest part in life. You can have the best product, but nobody knows about it. It’s really hard because there’s a lot of noise out there. There are a million people every day on the internet trying to sell something. I’m trying to think about how to do that better. I’ve got to learn how do you reach people and keyholder attention I just want to be a better teacher. I’ve now learned that teaching is far more powerful than anything I wanted. I tell people that if you know something, “learn it, do it, and teach it.” People will have a lot of respect and regard for you because teachers are held in high esteem.
The Mastermind Effect: 45:04
Last one for you. What’s one last tip tactic or actionable item that if someone implemented it right now over the next 30, 60, or 90 days, they would see a real impact on their personal or business life?
Lee Cockerell: 45:27
I think the major one is how they use their time. Most people have a Time Management course on Cockerell Academy and it’s really powerful. I took a course like that in 1980, then I developed my own in it. It is the major region I had success. I’m really organized. I think every day about what I should be doing on purpose this week and not by accident. I didn’t do three things I tended to do. I schedule the priorities in my life and my calendar. You’ve got to be organized. You cannot go through life just by winging it anymore. Those days are over. The problem is everybody wants things now. You have to learn to say no and learn to just focus on the three or four things that are most important to you.
Like at Disney, I focused on hiring, training, and culture. That’s it, not any of the technical stuff. Today, my wife gave me three new ones, she said your three new ones, essentially retire early or take care of yourself, take care of your family, and take care of your business. Stay out of all the nonsense that’s out there. You can play golf, if you’ve taken care of yourself, me, and your business. Don’t be going playing golf when your business is falling apart, the family’s not happy, and you’re sick. Now, get those three that you get in every day. Then do the crazy things like play Candy Crush for three days.
Lee Cockerell: 47:44
This whole concept about time is probably the most important thing you can. If you do things right with your time, you won’t have regrets when you get older; that you spent enough time with your son, you told your wife you loved her, you spend time with your business, you did the right things, and you learn to say no to all the things that didn’t matter that much. People are not going to be happy with you, but that’s their problem. You have to do the things that matter; you can’t do everything.
The Mastermind Effect: 48:11
It’s okay that you can do everything but know you’re unbreakable. Know what’s important and you’re unbreakable, then you never have to question the decision. If it goes against my own unbreakable, then you don’t have to make a decision, it’s already been made for you.
Lee Cockerell: 48:36
You got to do things now that pay off later. Teaching your son to read and to feel safe, that pays off later.
Lee Cockerell: 49:19
You’re going to be proud of your son. He’s going to graduate, do great things and make you proud. People are going to say good things about you and him. Instead of like, “Where’s your son? He’s in rehab right now. You said we’d sent him off for drugs”. If you were to spend time with him, making sure he knew he was loved and you were on top of that when he was having troubles, he would have come out fine.
The Mastermind Effect: 49:54
That’s a great way to end it right there. Know where you’re spending your time and know you are unbreakable. We’ve got the Founder of Cockerell Academy, Lee Cockerell. Thank you so much for your time today and the knowledge that you brought to us. Thank you.
Lee Cockerell: 50:11
You’re welcome. It’s fun. I love this subject. We all should talk about it more.
The Mastermind Effect: 50:15
Be open, be honest and be there. Thanks, Lee.
“If you surround yourself with the right people, and you get rid of the wrong people. It’s amazing how much more you can accomplish.” – Brandon Straza
“It’s never too late to learn, it’s never too late to get better.” – Lee Cockerell
“If you do things right with your time, you won’t have regrets when you’re older.” – Lee Cockerell
“With the internet and Google, if you don’t know something, it’s your fault. All you have to do is look it up.” – Lee Cockerell
“The more you know, the better decisions you make.” – Lee Cockerell
“There’s only two ways you learn in life: crisis or education.” – Lee Cockerell
You can connect with me, Brandon Straza, on LinkedIn, Instagram, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to get in touch and talk more about personal development and how you can move beyond your limits.