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86. Mastering Accountability with Dan Cockerell

by | Oct 17, 2022 | 0 comments

The Culture of Leadership
The Culture of Leadership
86. Mastering Accountability with Dan Cockerell



Are you holding yourself, your employees, and the company “accountable?” Are you “fair but firm?” 

My guest today is Dan Cockerell, former Vice-President of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Florida, and now a keynote speaker and executive coach. Join us for an intriguing discussion about the concept of accountability.  It takes courage to be clear and firm with your employees about what you expect of them, but in the long run, accountability is positive for all involved.  You probably won’t get much appreciation in the moment, but later, those people you were “fair and firm” with will thank you for making them a better employee, and possibly even opening them up for a better career and more earning potential because they have mastered the art of being accountable.

Dan’s 28-year career with Disney began in 1991 when Dan moved to Florida and worked as a parking attendant at Disney’s Epcot Center. Subsequently, he joined the Disneyland Paris Management Trainee Program as part of the opening team and moved to France in 1992. While working in Paris, Dan held various management positions in Parking, Ticketing, Guest Relations, Food & Beverages, and Human Resources. After spending 5 years in France, Dan relocated to Florida and held a variety of executive roles at the Walt Disney World Resort, both in theme parks and resort hotels. In his last 9 years with the company, he was successively Vice President of Epcot, Vice president of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and eventually Vice President of the Magic Kingdom where he led 12,000 cast members and entertained over 20 million guests annually. Dan attended Boston University, graduating in 1991, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. He earned his MBA in 2001 at the Crummer School of Business at Rollins College.

In addition to his operational responsibilities, Dan was a keynote speaker for the world-renowned Disney Institute for 18 years. He has addressed open-enrollment participants from all over the world as well as attendees in custom programs including the USAA Bank, General Motors, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Army, the Southern Methodist University Business School, Porsche A.G., and United Airlines.

After a fulfilling and exciting career with the Walt Disney Company, Dan and his wife Valerie made the decision to set out on a new venture and start their own consulting and speaking business. Dan provides customized, authentic presentations, insightful workshops and one on one coaching, focusing on leadership and management practices drawing upon his extensive Disney career with relevant examples and inspiring storytelling.

Discussion Points

  • The dictionary definition vs. Dan’s definition of accountability
  • Making accountability achievable – setting clear expectations/time/date
  • Poor accountability – use as an opportunity for coaching
  • Dan speaks so confidently about accountability and it seems so simple, but some people find it a challenge – people are uncomfortable or afraid to be “firm”
  • Micromanaging vs. Accountability – don’t confuse attention to detail with micromanaging
  • Set expectations for team members immediately 
  • Dan’s story of a long-term Disney exec who had to be fired because he could not send in a weekly report on time
  • Holding employees accountable is actually making them better at their jobs, and can open up possibilities for future promotions, making more money
  • Requiring accountability – you’ll only be thanked for it “later”
  • The accountability matrix at Disney – the evolution of thought from the late 80s through today 
  • How to coach accountability with leaders who are just “too nice” 
  • Explaining the graphs in the accountability matrix
  • Self-improvement and self-awareness are key ingredients to being great at accountability
  • Dan’s 19 roles at Disney, from parking cars to VP, played a part in his learning/mastering the accountability matrix
  • Dan scores himself in each of “3 buckets” for his day:
    1. Taking care of yourself first, being the best you can be
    2. Family
    3. Career
  • His family, wife Valerie, and hundreds of bosses, employees, and others have impacted Dan’s leadership journey
  • My key takeaways
    1. Leaders choose accountability over popularity
    2. Leaders do Gemba walks
    3. Leaders choose commitment over compliance
  • Let me know your thoughts about this interview on my socials 



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Instagram: Dan Cockerell (@dancockerell),

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If you have any questions for Brendan around this episode or generally around culture, leadership, or teamwork, feel free to contact him here.

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