In May, the entire PHOS team took a day out of the studio to attend Leadercast, an all-day, immersive leadership development event. One of the biggest moments of the day was the opportunity to hear from John Walsh.
In a previous article, we shared the video of John’s full talk, sharing his story, and how it let him to develop a formula to find purpose. You can watch that video and read the transcript in Part 1.
After his talk, John sat down with our CEO, Brandon West, for a Q&A session driven by the audience. Below is the video of the Q&A, and a transcript of some of the big topics discussed.
Perform, Lead, Succeed
Brandon: I’ve known you for a while now and I’ve heard you speak about the words perform, lead, and succeed. Those are kind of your three big words. What do you mean by those words, and why are they so important to your own purpose?
John: Yeah, good question. For me, that’s what we do at Disney by the way, we perform, but we perform as our best self. So performance is your best self. Obviously lead is leadership. And then success, quite frankly, is holistic success, and one of those things is high-impact. So whether you call it perform-lead-succeed, or U-L-I, or whatever you want to call it, those are kind of the three pillars, in my opinion, or a great life.
Brandon: That’s one of the things I’ve loved about John since I’ve met him, this idea of holistic success. That success isn’t just about getting to the next level in your organization, but about something that affects your whole life and your family and your involvement in the community.
John: If I could just touch on that real quick, I love to sit down with students and actually do a holistic success picture. Health, mental, spiritual, your family, and there’s all those things, like 10 factors. You start by rating yourself against those factors, how are you doing? And then wherever those gaps are, that’s how you actually plan.
So you know where to go, how do you move the needle? So if you rate yourself 1-10, and for family it’s a 5, there’s something going on there. Maybe you’re too busy at work or whatever else, so you put together a plan to move the needle from a 5 to whatever else.
Because ultimately, if you fall down on one side, it’s gonna impact the others. That’s why I really love the concept of holistic success.
How Disney Serves
Brandon: Ultimately, you talked about this before and you’ve seen this in your own life, you’re here to serve other people, and help them to achieve their goals. It seems like that’s how Disney operates. What does Disney do that we see and we don’t see that’s in line with that initial Walt vision?
John: Wow, that’s a really good question. Ultimately what Disney does is provide experiences. It’s the escape from the real world, so to speak. Many of our guests save for years to come that one time. If we mess it up, that’s their one experience.
We can all think back to times with your families and friends, you always remember the time you connected with family and friends. That’s all that Disney’s really about. It’s about creating experiences.
That’s one reason why (I like to call them the “folks up the street”) at Universal build roller coasters and they do great things, but they cannot provide that experience.
When people ask me what is it like to work for Disney, I always tell them, “what you see onstage (in the parks) is the same thing that happens offstage.
If you drop an ice cream cone and you get 20 cast members running to pick it up and give you a new one, that’s what happens backstage too.
We care about each other, it’s not a cutthroat environment where you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, it’s a very helpful environment, and that transcends through everything.
And that’s important to do in your company. You can’t preach on one side, “this is what you do for the customer,” and then internally not do that for yourself.
A great story is unleashed when passion meets purpose.
Better Answers Through Better Questions
Brandon: We have a text-in question from Dante: has there been a time in your life when you’ve needed to ask a better question to get a better answer?
John: All the time. And I say that because I’ve learned, if you’ve heard of the five whys, the best answers come from the best questions. And generally the first question you ask is not the best. The second question you ask is not the best. So you keep asking why, it’s one of the mantras of consulting.
Ultimately from a personal perspective, if someone comes to you and there’s a problem and you’re trying to figure out what to do, if you keep asking why, you’ll get to the real purpose and the real root cause. So I approach things from the five whys.
Now some people hate it, they think, “if I talk to John he’s gonna say why why why why.” But I think asking those followup questions is helpful. I also think what’s really important is that we don’t ever truly listen.
We’re always ready to talk. And a lot of helping people get to the right answers is really trying to hear what they’re saying. Sometimes it’s not what they’re saying, it’s how they’re saying it.
By driving more towards the root cause of a symptom, we can spend time more efficiently than by only looking at immediate causes.
Staying Motivated as a Leader
Brandon: Leadership is really really hard. It can be exhausting putting your heart on a plate and serving it to your team every day. How do you stay motivated, how do you stay grounded being a leader?
John: It’s interesting, and my students can tell you, I don’t get very much sleep at all. I’m working, I have a family, trying to start a side business, I don’t get much sleep. But I’ll tell you – I never have to use my alarm clock. And the reason is, it doesn’t matter what time I go to bed, I am up.
There’s really two things. One is, I look around and I see people counting on me. I can’t let people down. And then two is, I deeply believe, and this goes to the power of purpose, I have a mission. And it gets me up. And so, it is hard.
There’s also the recognition of, I’ve been through a lot of difficult times in my life. But guess what? I’m gonna come out on the back end. And you gotta just plug away, what Tyler Perry talked about, one step in front of the other, you plug away, plug away.
My motivation is 1) there’s a reason, 2) there’s a purpose, 3) there’s gonna be an end result for someone else other than you.
The minute you start looking at yourself, you lose all motivation. When you get a new car, a new house, and it smells good, six months later you’re not even washing it.
There’s actually a scientific term, hedonic adaptation, your brain just kinda goes to the next thing. But having people counting on you and doing something for other people, if you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you stay motivated.
Sometimes, quite frankly, motivation is just motivation. One of my favorite words, and it’s a great book, is Grit. Sometimes you have to throw motivation to the side and you just gotta work with grit.
Your Own Jedi Council
Brandon: You talked about on the top of your formula, to the exponent, of your circle of influence. Who are the people who have been in your circle of influence? Or, as my creative team wanted to call it, the Jedi Council?
John: OOH, can I borrow that?
B: You can have it, credit us!
John: Sweet, Jedi Council, I love that! So the circle of influence changes. I have mentors, I have people who I look up to, and sometimes it’s like if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re hanging around people who are going to Friday’s and they’re getting chicken wings, well guess what’s going to happen, right? So it’s putting myself around people.
A cool thing from a leader perspective that I would suggest to you is, at Disney we rolled out a mentor program. You’re supposed to go and sign up as a mentor, and then other people can sign up as a mentee, and then we’re mentoring each other. I’m the only one who did this, my mentors are actually people below me. And so my circle of influence from that perspective is not folks who are looking up to me, but I’m looking up to them.
As I’m working on this business, I’ve surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs and other people who can provide me guidance and council along the way. So I think it changes, but based on your goals and the things you want to do.
The Best Way to Get Derailed
Brandon: What is one behavior, characteristic, or trait that you’ve seen derail leaders?
John: Lack of focus and lack of vision. A lot of people want to be leaders that I’ve seen, particularly at Disney, but they’re really managers. Leaders are the ones who can provide a vision, and everyone is behind that vision and can follow that vision, but also focus.
There is a ton of distraction out there. Phones are going off and everything else. And I think from a leader perspective it’s very easy to be distracted, so one of the things I think takes people off course is they’re not focused.
You see it all the time, right? Even if you’re a leader in your family how many times have you seen people in their phones? They’re not present, right? It happens all the time. I lead my recruiting and I go around to students and I always hear, “well I’m really good at multitasking.” You’ve told me what kind of leader you are. You’re not focused.
So I think a lack of focus and a lack of vision for that end result are the two really big things, and not having the right people around you. You can’t do it alone.
Confidence and Momentum
Brandon: You mentioned in your story before that law firm you worked for. One of the key phrases I wrote down there was that at one point you became the litigation assistant. You said, “they saw something in me.” I can only assume that at that moment it was a paradigm shift. What happened then, what impact did that have on you?
John: The paradigm shift for me was two things. It’s confidence and it’s momentum. That’s where, like Tyler talked about, if you’re doing something it’s one step after another. A lot of the times we’re so afraid to take that first step.
So I think what happened was, I’m just in the mailroom, right? Lots of times as a leader it’s giving the person you’re working with that thing that stretches them just a little bit, and they realize they can do it. Then they keep pushing.
We all see from our leader perspective the potential in others. So I think then it’s the self-realization of the confidence you get. And once you do it, you get this momentum.
I like to talk about, anyone gone and seen the space shuttle take off? You think about all the stuff that happens just to get that thing there. And then once it takes off there’s just so much force and everything pushing against it. But once you get that momentum, it expends as much energy taking off as it does circling, coming back, and everything.
So I think a lot is confidence, and we all sometimes struggle with that. Even now, I struggle with it myself. So I think confidence and momentum. But it takes someone else recognizing that there’s someone there.
Advice for New Leaders
Brandon:What advice would you give to somebody stepping into a leadership position for the first time?
John: Take time to figure out what leadership is for you in that role. I think one thing that leaders do, and I see this all the time at Disney, is people have this mindset of what leadership is, they might read a book, they might go to a seminar or whatever else, and they’re just going to apply that leadership blanket across everything.
Every situation, in my opinion, and every person, needs a different type of leadership.
Remember we talked about self first? It’s the same thing, it’s the people you’re leading first, and then you provide the leadership. You don’t just come in with the leadership.
So I think it’s taking the time to think what this situation, what these people, and what this vision is, and applying which type of leadership is needed in that situation. Instead of just charging right in.
B: Contextual leadership. Smart.
John: And I would also say from a leadership perspective, leadership never never ends. It is a constant struggle, learning, growing, developing. A lot of people think, “well I got my job” or “I got that title I wanted” and they stop. That’s when you fail to be a leader. So I think just that ongoing push from a leadership perspective is important.
Intern to Executive
Brandon: You come in as an intern. Eight or nine years later, you’re an executive. What leads to that level of accelerated success? Somebody asks, what’re your most effective tools to differentiate yourself as a professional? How does all that work together to help somebody grow?
John: It’s interesting, when I first started I had this mindset of like “these are the kind of things I’m gonna do,” and it just so happened that later I figured it out in that formula.
Think about my story, I was all about pushing myself through. Someone gave me this advice, probably the most important thing:
Make your boss look really really good.
So I always make sure my leaders do, we like to take credit for our work and everything else, but I really focused on making them look good, because then they help.
I pushed myself, I always recognized what that next level was. When I was a junior analyst, I knew exactly what an analyst did. And when I was an analyst, etc. And every day I showed up at that next level, you think about the formula and bringing your best self.
I was always trying to perform higher than what I was expected to do.
If the expectations were to deliver this, I gave you this plus plus. Same thing with the company, right? You want to always exceed expectations.
And then I just never stopped learning. I constantly was trying to learn about the business, bettering myself. And then wrapping the whole thing up is I spent a ridiculous amount of time on people. Meeting people, getting to know people. You know, there’s so many times where people like to network, and they’re like, “I had that meet-and-greet with you so when the job opens up I know you’re gonna hire me!” I spent so much time building relationships with people. That obviously works really well in a Disney culture.
Those were the four things. When you just focus on that, the other stuff just happens. Most people are going to focus on the promotion, but not the things that actually get you there. I focus on that, and it worked for me.