Foreword – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


I n my career I’ve been blessed to work for two highly regarded organizations: I spent 16 years on the for-profit side with Walt Disney World, and I’ve spent more than 20 years in the nonprofit sector with Give Kids The World.

For those who wonder what the two sectors have in common, I’m quick to point out that nonprofit is a tax status, not a leadership style.

Give Kids The World and Walt Disney World both strive to create the perfect guest experience—albeit for different reasons. While Disney wants its guests to return time and again, visiting families cannot return to the Give Kids The World Village. The critically ill children who come to the Village with their families are granted just a single wish trip, so it’s critical that we get it right the first time. At Give Kids The World, there are no do-overs. This has led us to embrace a culture of celebrated discontent—of never accepting that we cannot do better. In the words of the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

So much of what I learned at Disney prepared me for my role at Give Kids The World. Ever since the release of Tom Peters and Bob Waterman’s book In Search of Excellence, companies have clamored to find out just “how Disney does it.” Is it really “magic”? Are cast members sprinkled with pixie dust? In one of my roles at Disney I taught other organizations our approach to managing people, sharing Disney’s long-held belief that if you take care of your cast members, they will take care of your guests, and the bottom line will follow. That is at the heart of Mark and Jeff’s chain reaction of excellence.

The cornerstone of Disney’s success is leadership excellence, creating an authentic environment for cast members that is built on trust and respect. That doesn’t just happen. You can’t just repeat the mantra during the onboarding process and expect it to last a lifetime.

The lessons I learned at Disney shaped my perspectives on leadership, and Mark David Jones and Jeff Kober shared many of those same experiences. The insights they gained, coupled with their exhaustive research into other successful companies, are the basis for this transformational book.

Excellence in leadership is a choice, a conscious decision. Leaders must accept personal responsibility, demonstrating a passionate commitment to the organization’s mission and their role in fulfilling it. Leadership excellence inspires employee engagement, recognizing that individuals work not only with their hands, but also with their hearts and their minds. Excellence is also a process, not a program.

Through the concept of “Everything Speaks,” Lead With Your Customer focuses on the interdependence of the people, the place, the processes, and the product. Nowhere is that interdependence more on display than at our Give Kids The World Village. Fundamentally, we offer a resort stay (product). But the whimsical design of our storybook village provides a perfect setting (place) for our carefully orchestrated efforts (processes) to accommodate every wish child. The unconditional love showered on the families by staff and volunteers (people) create the perfect guest experience. We leave nothing to chance.

Lead With Your Customer shares a blueprint for success beginning with the chain reaction of excellence. This model describes a proven process that begins with leadership excellence and the positive ripple effect that it has throughout an organization. It creates a culture that leads to guest satisfaction, brand loyalty, and long-term success.

The strategies and tools presented in this book can help make you a great leader. They have led to success in countless world-class organizations, and they can do the same for yours.

Pamela Landwirth
President and CEO, Give Kids The World