Leaders Make Tough Decisions

Insights from our Flip The Switch podcast:

We had a great discussion this past week with Jim Cavale, the Founder of INFLCR. If you’re unfamiliar with INFLCR and how they’ve taken the sports world by storm in the last 3-4 years, go listen to the full conversation here. 

Originally an app equipping college student-athletes with licensed photos they could post to their own social media, Jim and his team have turned INFLCR into a behemoth, helping sports organizations and their athletes to become better storytellers. 

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about leadership, which Jim discusses at length during the podcast episode. It’s impossible to hear Jim talk and NOT think of the word leader. From how he carries himself physically, to the way he clearly phrases his words. His leadership isn’t all show, either, as he’s grown and scaled multiple companies from the ground up, INFLCR as his latest project. 

Jim specifically honed in on the topic of decision-making. In his final words of advice and calls to action, Jim told listeners, “ Leadership takes making hard decisions. Whatever market you’re in, making tough decisions is really important. That’s my call to action. Just make tough decisions. That’s what leaders do.”

We actually cut a segment from the podcast where Jim talked about a tough decision made by Greg Sankey, the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). While every other conference was canceling their Fall sports, Sankey made the unpopular decision to play. Without that against-the-grain decision, who knows what the sports & entertainment industry would have been like this past Fall? Just like Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID in the NBA set off a chain reaction of cancellations, Sankey’s unpopular decision did the opposite and set live events back on track.  

I believe God gives us the message we need to hear at the right time. Jim touched on this right when there were tough decisions I needed to make as a leader, as well as some tough decisions I was advising on. In one case, there was a situation where money was being offered for a project that didn’t align with specific core values. Had the project been accepted, there would have been an immediate influx of revenue, but a small tear in the fabric of company culture would have occurred. In another case, it took going to bat for an employee when it could have had negative financial implications. In both situations, tough decisions had to be made. That’s what leadership is. 

In one of my favorite books I read during quarantine, “The Hard Things about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, Ben hits on this topic of unpopular decision making. He wrote, “People always ask me, ‘what’s the secret to being a successful CEO?’ Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”    

Too often when it comes to making decisions, as Jim discusses, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “that’s out of our control,” or “that’s not my job,” without acknowledging the influence we can have on that outcome.

Too often, we leave tough decisions up to someone else. Another leader, perhaps, or another department. We may throw our hands up and wait until the league office gives us guidance, or in Jim’s case with Name, Image, and Likeness, the NCAA has passively chosen to let Congress decide what to do. 

Our daily lives are fraught with leaders who take the easy way out and let someone else make the tough, unpopular opinion. But at the end of the day, the leaders who stand for something and make tough decisions will be the ones who win out. They may end up with less quantity of followers due to those unpopular decisions, but the followers who remain will be more fervent and willing to go the distance.    

Each and every one of you is a leader in some type of way. Not because of your title, but because you influence change. Whether you’re the leader of a pro sports team or athletics department, the leader of a small team, the leader of your household, the leader of a group of fans, or just the leader of yourself. You’re going to be faced with a difficult decision at some point today or later this week. Avoid convenience, make the tough decision. 

And go listen to the full conversation with Jim.  

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Leadership Lessons from a Disney Legend

Our guest today is with Disney Parks & Resorts legend, Lee Cockerell. In this episode, we focus on leadership, customer service, and time management,

Lee Cockerell retired as the Executive Vice President of Operations for the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, a position he held for ten years. His responsibilities encompassed a diverse mix of operations, which included 20 resort hotels with over 24,000 Guest rooms, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 5 golf courses, a shopping village & nighttime entertainment complex (Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs), the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and the ancillary operations support functions. 

Leadership Lessons from Disney Legend Lee Cockerell

1:02 The legendary Main Street windows and the story behind Lee’s window 

5:35 The Main Street Diary – Lee’s consistent communication strategy with all Walt Disney World® cast members

9:13 The 8-minute podcast 

12:15 Disney’s Chain of Excellence & how you get results

17:39 Talent is the name of the game 

22:39 The behaviors and characteristics of successful leaders at Disney

24:05 The leadership test and building complementary teams

28:14 Lee’s Legacy – Disney Great Leader Strategies & Creating Magic 

30:50 From what to how – implementing Disney Great Leader Strategies

35:39 Leading through external pressures on the organization

40:33 Lee’s top three leadership strategies 

43:00 Balancing and managing your time

45:50 Deciding what to delegate

48:29 Rapid fire round



Lee’s Book Recommendations

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Having Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen

Learn from Lee 

Morning Time Magic time management planner

Cockerell Academy

Creating Disney Magic podcast

Lee’s Books – Creating Magic, The Customer Rules, Time Management Magic and Career Magic

Connect with Lee




Other References


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Flip the Switch

Finding Your SPARK w/ Simon T. Bailey

Join David and KG as they chat with guest Simon T. Bailey,  a motivational speaker, author, and life coach. Simon’s content revolves around purpose, leadership, and inspiration. David and KG get into Simon’s experiences through these lenses and how it ties into customer service.

Show Notes:

(5:26)  Making Organizations Sizzle: The Power of Leadership, Culture, and Consistency

(6:52)  Culture is not the Mission and Vision statement on the website; it’s what lives in the head and hearts of those doing the work 

(8:35)  How leaders can instill culture and care into an organization

(9:45)  Marrying top leaders’ goals with the goals of customer-facing employees

(12:21) From performance reviews to career investment discussions – Demonstrating genuine care for teams

(15:31) Eliminate the employee survey; Create pulse surveys instead

(19:31) Be the SPARK in your organization

(24:37) Infusing the SPARK in your organization – Identify a champion and chase consistency

(25:14) It’s not Kool-Aid, it’s Culture – Lessons learned from the Ritz-Carlton

(33:17) Say Yes, Now What’s the Question? Simon’s Journey from Days Inn to the Ritz-Carlton

(36:15) Adapting SPARK principles vs. adopting SPARK principles – build your own purpose

(41:21) Facts Tell, Stories Sell 

(44:38) Leading in the remote era – embrace gratitude and the at-home life

(47:31) Corporations don’t have ideas, people do.  Tap into the brilliance in your organization.

Additional Notes:

Connect with Simon T. Bailey and invite him to speak at your organization

Simon’s Books:

Success is an Inside Job

Release Your Brilliance

Shift Your Brilliance

Releasing Leadership Brilliance

Brilliant Living: 31 Insights to Creating an Awesome Life

Find Your Spark

Pulse Surveys:

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Future of Customer Experience w/ Steven Van Belleghem

Steven Van Bellegham is a best-selling author and an international keynote speaker, largely focused on the future customer experience. He’s given keynotes in over 40 countries, and he’s worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, from Google to Mercedes Benz.

Steven is the author of multiple international bestselling books including ‘The Conversation Manager’, ‘When Digital Becomes Human’, ‘Customers the Day after Tomorrow’, ‘The Offer You Can’t Refuse’ and a futuristic technology thriller called Eternal, which we discuss at the beginning of the episode.

To preview what this episode is about, I’m going to steal this from his website’s About page: “Steven believes in a bright future where companies play the long-term game with their customers. His passion is spreading ideas about the future of customer experience. Steven believes in the combination of common sense, new technologies, an empathic human touch, playing the long-term game and taking your social responsibility to win the hearts and business of customers over and over again.”  

If that’s up your alley, you’re gonna love this episode.

Show Notes

(5:30) Getting to know Steven Van Belleghem

(9:00) Reinventing a global business during the COVID-19 pandemic

(12:00) The balance of technology and in-person engagement on business

(17:45) How do you add value at the exact right moment without being intrusive?

(21:30) Taking a commodity and making it an ecosystem

(22:00) How subscription models change markets

(25:00) Building a sponsorship community with Club Brugge

(29:30) Creating ethical guidelines for dealing with emotions

(30:08) Your why should be where you are going, not where you’ve been

(38:15) Magical moments curated by Disney

(43:15) What would Joy do? (Lessons learned from Disney’s Inside Out)

(47:15) Setting policies that will serve the greatest number of fans

(52:30) The downsides of technology – removing the human element

(54:30) It’s not about knowing what customers want, but how they want it

Additional Resources
E-book “From CX to XC”

Where to Reach Steven:
Twitter: @StevenVBe
Youtube: Steven’s Channel

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Importance of Versatility and Vulnerability in Leadership

David Millay and Kevin Gober are back with another Jam Session as they discuss ways to create your own value and finding ways to bring that value to your organization. With Covid changing the working environment and structure, David and KG get into adapting your skillset to fit in any situation and learning universal ways to lead during the pandemic.

Time Stamps:

(2:00) What it’s like for sports to be back but not able to be in the building

(4:30) Worries of making an impact in your organization during Covid-19

(6:00) Find a way to bring value – the importance of acquiring new skill sets

(8:50) Kevin’s retail experience & demonstrating versatility

(11:00) Adapting the principles of sports business to other industries

(14:40) Different strategies of energizing your team as a leader 

(17:47) Speaking from the heart vs. speaking from a script 

(20:44) How should you be leading in these times?

(22:12) Inside the relaunch of events at State Farm Arena – Crawl, Walk, Run Mentality

(32:38) Recruiting and hiring in the midst of social distancing

(37:37) Enhancing your skill sets to be ready for the next opportunity

(40:06) Re-imagining the onboarding process – creating a mentoring buddy system

(42:49) Acknowledging and caring for the mental health of employees in this time

(47:59) How can we create better workplace cultures with hybrid work schedules?

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein, New Orleans 

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Flip the Switch

38: Modern Work and Digital Experiences w/ Jared Spataro

Our guest for this session is Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. Jared oversees Microsoft 365, including Microsoft Teams, as well as the company’s focus on Modern Work. 

Obviously, the different elements of Microsoft 365 are deeply embedded in all of our daily work, from Outlook to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, and more. His team has tremendous insight into the data behind how we’re using these tools, allowing his team to see trends before others see them. As a result, Jared and his team have been spending more and more time reimagining the future of work. And this is where we’ll spend the majority of our discussion.

Overseeing Microsoft Teams, Jared’s team played a huge role in the NBA bubble, as their Teams “Together Mode” allowed for the NBA to create virtual fans at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. We discuss Microsoft’s broader activities in the sports & entertainment and live events industries, where properties everywhere are having to place a more intentional focus on the digital experiences they provide their fans. It’s here that our group found some particularly interesting insights. 

Like many of our guests on this show, Jared’s experience is not limited to just sports & entertainment. He’s seeing trends from all industries around the world, and that insight can help us think differently than our peers, to better engage our fans and our employees. 

Time Stamps:

7:25 – Sporting leagues adapting to digital technology

8:15 – Digitization and the NFL

12:15 – Creating digital experiences for world fans

14:15 – Asynchronous and synchronous transformations

16:05 – Application of Microsoft Teams “together mode” to the NBA and NFL

18:52 – Trends of physical proximity oriented spending being reallocated to digital funds

24:40 – How to combat change-resistant people

28:45 – The role of humans in technology advancement

32:29 – The pandemic’s acceleration of technology

35:00 – Future of Work: Microsoft’s 7 principles

39:39 – What will the new “normal” be after Covid-19?

48:55 – How Microsoft runs meetings

53:24 – Blending digital and physical

Microsoft Teams Resources and Implementations:

Microsoft Teams

NBA Bubble virtual fans experience

Microsoft Teams Together Mode

Future of Work: Seven ways we’re empowering every person and every organization to thrive in a new world of work

Microsoft Teams Planner

Microsoft Power Automate


Where to Reach the Guest:

Connect on Twitter @jared_spataro

Connect on LinkedIn

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7 Remote Work Employee Benefits

Remote work in the sports & entertainment and live events industry will obviously look different in the future than it will for other industries. Many employees in the industry are starting to come back to the office, especially those in facility management or roles that require you to be in person for the live event. But many employees are still working from home, creating somewhat of a hybrid workplace. How might we rethink the benefits and perks we provide those employees? Can we provide perks and benefits that actually boost productivity and health?

If you look at massive tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, they used to pride themselves on their employee benefits in the war for talent. But those office perks like pool tables, free food, and free gym access are now obsolete. Your organization would never have been able to offer those types of Silicon Valley office perks due to the high costs. But as those companies go remote, the perks offered to remote workers become more affordable and reasonable to do at your scale.

This hybrid workplace allows you formalize a new set of benefits that you can use to win talent in the coming years. More than just free coffee in the office, or team lunches, you can use these benefits to truly boost employee well-being and productivity.

Here are seven remote work ideas I’d love to see sports & entertainment and live event companies offer in the future:

Mental Health Support

The Big Ten made a splash in May when they partnered with Calm app to provide mental health support for all Big Ten student-athletes, coaches and staff members. For a personal subscription, the app costs $59.99 for the year. With some negotiating power, I imagine you could bring that cost down and provide it for your staff.

Calm is just one of many mediation/mental health apps in the space. Apps like Headspace are competitors in the mindfulness and meditation space, but you could also provide a mental health stipend, allowing teammates to use it on alternative mental health support, with apps like Happify (for depression), Self-Help Anxiety Management SAM (for anxiety) or MoodKit (for general therapy).

Hopefully this pandemic has allowed senior leaders to take a step back and realize there are more important things in life than our work. Especially since our industry is primarily about entertainment, hopefully our leaders will come out of this pandemic with a greater focus on the well-being of their employees.

Individual Budgets for Outsourced Work

Think of all the time your team wastes on low value aspects of their job that has to get done. The employee hates those aspects of his/her job, and as a leader, it’s time that could be better spent, but someone has to complete the tasks. What if you could outsource those tasks to a lower cost per hour worker?

Enter platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. You can use it for help with creating decks for internal presentations, or for scheduling help, for something like research. Each employee might get a quarterly allowance, say $100- $250 to use on outsourced work on these platforms. Obviously, you’d primarily want to use this for internal work with non-proprietary information, but these platforms account for that with easy non-disclosure agreements integrated.

The best companies and leaders remove barriers for their employees and free up their time to do what they’re best at. This perk achieves that goal.

Access to learning platforms

One of the biggest skillsets need in a post-COVID world is the ability to continuously learn and reinvent. Unfortunately, that’s not been a strong suit in the sports & entertainment and live events industry. In large part, we’re so busy moving from one event to the next, putting out fires, so busy operating, that we don’t spend much time to reflect and seek out new information.

In recent years, platforms like Coursera, Linkedin Learning, Audible, have become more popular for professionals pursuing individual goals. But it’s up to the individual professional to pay for these courses, which can either present a barrier to skill growth or result in your employees developing skills that don’t necessarily move your business unit forward.

This is where I see learning platforms and senior leaders playing a significant role in shifting this paradigm. Imagine how much more innovative your organization would be if all of your employees had learning goals in their performance reviews, and a way for you to track the classes they were taking?

Instead of passing off professional development costs onto employees, senior leaders can drive direction of learning by providing access to different learning platforms. One platform we love that’s in beta right now is Sports Learning Online. The learning experience platform was designed specifically for sports & entertainment and live event companies to solve this very problem. They’re currently accepting emails to join their waitlist to access platform.

Workout classes and/or home gym equipment

It’s no surprise to this group the connection between physical and mental, so we’ll jump more into ideas than belabor the impact of why peak physical shape benefits the workplace.

Stipends here likely work best, as everyone has different fitness goals and preferences. Some people love yoga, some people want to powerlift. Even if your stipend doesn’t cover the full costs, it makes a difference.

There are options like Classpass, which has a freemium model giving users access to 4,000 on-demand workout videos. There are other apps like Aaptiv, where for $99 for the year, you can have access to their full library of audio based workouts and goal tracking. Many of these apps have programs now specifically tailored for employers for this very reason.

Bonus idea: can you create “office hours” in your own training facilities where employees can use the state-of-art equipment you’ve already got? Or when you upgrade to new equipment, what happens to the old equipment? Is that something employees might have access to?

Childcare benefits

We’ve all had the colleague whose kid has jumped on the Zoom call in the last six months. While many parents have enjoyed spending extra quality time with their children during this pandemic, parenting is clearly an additional full-time job. In a recent survey by TD Ameritrade, 57% of parents said homeschooling children and working a job is too much to manage. Especially in our industry of working nights and weekends for events, balancing work and child care can be quite difficult.

And it’s not just your employees feeling the pain. When your employees suffer, the organization suffers. Juggling child care and work can result in major productivity losses for the organization. According to a 2019 report from the Council for a Strong America, employers lose $13 billion in potential earnings, productivity and revenue every year due to inadequate child-care resources.

With this hybrid workplace and colleagues working at home, how might we support our colleagues with children?

Businesses of all sizes have begun incorporating childcare into their employee perks. Starbucks and Best Buy began offering this perk at the end of 2018, where they provided staff members with a free premium membership to, and $10 subsidized backup childcare days per year for when parents and caregivers unexpectedly find themselves without assistance. There are tons of alternatives to, like Urban Sitter, Bright Horizons or KinderCare.

Subsidizing child care isn’t just for the big guys though. Even if you’re a minor league baseball team or small event company, you can do this. You can deduct the subsidized amount of childcare for your employees, up to $150,000.

Meal kits or food & beverage delivery credits

Life in our industry often requires late nights. Which means you don’t always get time to grocery shop or even to cook at home. And that’s not changing. But what if we could acknowledge that with our employees, and help them out knowing that’s the reality? Enter meal kits like Freshly or Blue Apron, which solves the grocery dilemma. Or Postmates, Door Dash or GrubHub, which solves the problem of not getting home till 9 or 10pm. Or heck, what about Drizly, which can deliver alcohol after a big win?

One of my favorite ideas is the perk of choosing between a coffee, tea, wine or beer subscription. Each employee gets to personalize their subscription, but it you can arrange the deliveries to occur at roughly the same time, prompting the watercooler talk we all greatly miss. Some of the best companies for this are: Trade (coffee), Free Your Tea (tea), Winc (wine), Craft Beer Club (craft beer).

New types of vacation

In the world of sports & entertainment and live events, we often bounce from one event to the next without taking much time to rest and refuel. And when we do, it’s often in the form of weeklong vacations. But these “time-off” vacations can be stressful. The prep work leading up to the days off, making sure your backup is prepared, worrying during the vacation if your backup is doing the job correctly; and after all that, you still probably answer work texts or emails.

Instead of advocating for more vacation, which requires tons of red tape to clear and has $ attached to it, let’s look at some no cost/low cost solutions that allow your teammates to refuel.

Let’s start with the easy ones. Half-days after an event make all the sense in the world. Employees are usually working long hours the day before, so give them a chance to rest when they need it. Many organizations already do this informally, so why not just formalize it and use it as a recruiting tool?

What if we made Wednesdays meeting free? A day where you could actually get the work done that you need to. At EngageMint, we try to never have internal meetings before 12pm. This allows our team to actually complete the creative work or tasks they need to.

Speaking of creative tasks, hopefully leaders have seen a spark of new creative ideas since this pandemic began. And much of that was out of necessity in a fight for survival. We talked about this at length with Disney’s former Head of Innovation and Creativity, Duncan Wardle. To drive innovation, Google famously allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time on projects outside of their tasks and responsibilities. It’s not a formal process, but this type of mindset can break up the monotony of employees’ day-to-day, all while driving business innovation.


Spin on ergonomic equipment

If you’re like me, at the beginning of the pandemic you sat at your dining room table to work. After week or two, you and your back realized you needed a chair that was a more suited to long hours. So you went out and bought an actual office chair, designed for long stretches of sitting.

While an ergonomic office equipment stipend would work for most industries, we’re on our feet too much in our industry for that. But how might we use that idea and apply it to our world? When we get back to hosting live events, maybe instead of stiped on ergonomic office equipment, there’s a stipend for ergonomic clothing.

In my time working with athletic departments and pro teams all over the world, too often I’ve seen employees on event day logging long hours in dress shoes not designed for the mileage we put in, or running shoes that don’t look the part, but provide the support we need. Same situation goes for pants and other clothing.

It’s not for not existing; the barrier is usually price point. Brands like Wolf & Shepherd are built for this, dress shoes you can literally run a marathon in. But they usually run at $249 per pair. You wont find me working at an event in anything but Lululemon’s ABC pant, but they run $128 per pair. With some sort of stipend, you can help support your employees bodies on those long, brutal days.

Random thought as I’m typing: It’s not in this category, but even a massage stipend would go a long way. The gist of this category as a whole – think of things you know would be a good investment to help improve your employee’s health, but it’s something they likely wouldn’t spend the money on themselves.

No matter which strategies you employ, the basic principle remains the same; the extent to which you genuinely care for your employees is the extent to which they’ll care for your customers and fans. Times have changed, and just as you’ve had to adapt to serving your customers, you’ve got to do the same for your employees.

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34: From Patient Experience to Fan Experience w/ Quint Studer

We’re joined today by the legendary Quint Studer. Quint is a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and an expert in delivering quality experiences, for customers and employees. He’s the co-owner of the double-A baseball team, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and the founder of the healthcare consulting group, the Studer Group.

In Quint’s approach to patient experience and fan experience, it all starts with the employee experience. We’ll spend the episode discussing what you can do to better engage your employees so that they can better engage your customers. 

Time Stamps

0:20 – Intro
8:45 – 
Why does Quint live in Pensacola?
11:00 – 
Quint’s philosophy on driving great customer experience
17:45 – 
The most important people on your team to train
20:00 – 
Internal systems and processes that help drive CX
24:00 – 
Leadership is an inside job
27:00 – 
Leading metrics vs Lagging metrics
32:00 – 
Impact of retaining employees
36:30 – 
Strategies to engage your frontline employees
42:40 – 
Emotional bank accounts
44:30 –
 Re-purposing employees roles during the pandemic
47:20 – 
How the Blue Wahoo’s larger purpose drives real action

If you enjoy the episode and want to learn more from Quint, here are some great resources Quint has available

Books & Blog
Quint’s Leadership Blog
The Busy Leader’s Handbook
Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference
Results that Last
More books by Quint

Referenced in the Episode
HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems)
The Busy Leaders Handbook
The Kid is Hot Tonite by Loverboy
Baptist Healthcare
Pensacola Vibrant Community Blueprint
Mark Clement – hospital CEO
Press Ganey
E-Myth Revisited
SOG’s & SOP’s
Cleveland Clinic
Switch by Chip & Dan Heath
Net Promoter Score
Steven Covey

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