Episode 331: Jim MacPhee talks about navigating life, pushing a wet noodle, and emotional & relational intelligence

Leadership, Podcast

Jim MacPhee is a retired Disney legend and renowned author of the book Engage, Inspire, Lead. Starting in the watercraft department on the Seven Seas Lagoon, Jim started with an hourly position and grew with the company, and through mentorship and personal growth, became one of the greatest leaders in Disney history. Jim spent 43 years with the Walt Disney Company, serving the company on both coasts as a Vice President of several parks. Later in his career, Jim led the Next Generation Experience movement, leading to the birth of MyMagic+ and other technology that reshaped the attractions industry. In this interview, Jim talks about navigating life, pushing a wet noodle, and emotional and relational intelligence.

Navigating Life

“Define your destination and go. And be nimble and agile along the way.”

Jim took many lessons from his first position with Disney and used them throughout his entire career. Reflecting on his experiences in the watercraft department, Jim emphasizes the parallels between navigating watercraft and effective leadership, such as finding the fastest path of travel and working together to create forward momentum. 

The most profound lesson Jim learned from his time in watercraft was the skill of navigating life itself. With its various ties to leadership and great lessons in responsibility, Jim’s first position provided a strong foundation for the rest of his career. Watercraft provided a sense of community and allowed Jim to bond with guests and develop a real understanding of the scope and size of the new Disney property.

Pushing A Wet Noodle

“If you don’t have great relationships, you’ve got a tough battle ahead.”

Jim compares “horizontal work” to pushing a wet noodle, stating that you can’t get anywhere unless everybody is on the same page. The team dynamic and leadership system is critical to the success of a project, and it’s one of the biggest takeaways Jim found in his time with the Next Generation Experience team. 

One of the key elements of a successful project is top box sponsorship and great relationships. Jim compares poor leadership to the Liberty Bell, where a little crack in the top can lead to a massive fissure and disconnect in the rest of the team. Jim knows that with strong relationships and clear leadership, those fissures are avoidable.

Emotional and Relational Intelligence

“We had to lead with clarity, unity, and agility.”

Jim shares that great leaders are built on their emotional and relational intelligence. Being open and vulnerable to feedback contributes not only to the improvement of one’s self, but also to the improvement of the team. Jim also shares that leadership is everywhere, and that leadership can’t exist without the relationships that we build.

Jim shares that much of his success came from the fact that he would get to know people on a granular level, and not just when he needed them to put out fires. By investing in your team and providing an engaging and feedback-based environment, leaders won’t have to worry when they ring the fire bell. Jim boldly shares that good leaders engage and inspire, whereas bad leaders read off the pages and direct, and shares that the four cornerstones to great leadership are relationships, influence, knowledge, and credibility.

You can find Jim’s book Engage, Inspire, Lead on Amazon or at bookstores nationwide. To reach Jim directly, connect with him on LinkedIn.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our faaaaaantastic team:

  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • Summary written by Mason Nichols
  • Audio and video editing by Abby Giganan

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