How do these compare to YOUR challenges?

At the recent Florida Attractions Association Annual Conference, I asked participants to share their #1 Leadership Challenge for 2021. The answers may or may not surprise you.

I’m going to expand on these below and would love to hear your take on these topics and responses. Also feel free to let me know what you would add to the list.

Conflict with bad (underperforming) employees

I’m glad that they added underperforming to this entry. Underperforming indicates that there is potential for greater productivity. Bad indicates there is a character flaw or evil intentions behind what they do. Hate to say it, but underperforming employees is a reflection of leadership. Wait, I take that back – I don’t hate to say it – it needs to be said. If someone if underperforming, look at your training, your coaching, your reinforcement of policies, your ability to communicate with your staff, your ability to keep them safe BEFORE you label them as underperforming. Chances are, their lack of performance can be tied back to you. You may also not be setting the right example, but we’ll talk about that later.

Balancing surviving (daily operations) with thriving (future vision)

This is about balance. Right now for many leaders and operators, the balance is out of whack because of staffing issues. Why do we have staffing issues? Take a look at the answer to the first item on the list.

Even if things are out of whack now, that doesn’t mean they will be forever. If you used to devote 30% of your time to your future vision, and now you can only afford to spend 10%, make sure you are making the most of the 10%. Like any large, long-term project, you have to have others who are bought into your vision to help get you there. Do not go it alone.

Conflict between managers of other departments

I often see this occur for a few reasons. Lack of understanding (or empathy) for what the other departments are going through, competing priorities, or baggage left over from previous run-ins.

The solution? Talk to each other. Well, first you have to admit that you are part of the problem (which you are). Then consider, are we partners or opponents, and which one is better for the organization? Sometimes the exercise of listing the positive attributes of the OTHER department can be a good first step. Like Jim Timon, VP of Entertainment at Universal Orlando Resort used to say, “sometimes the hardest thing to do is to talk to people. But sometimes the easiest thing to do is to talk to people.”

Entitled Employees

Yes, they are entitled. Entitled to a respectful workplace. Entitled to a living wage for the work they are doing. Entitled to opportunities to grow and develop. Entitled to fair treatment. Entitled to work for someone who will support them and have their back.

I have a feeling that’s not what this person meant. I think they probably feel like employees seem entitled to things they haven’t earned yet. How long do they have to be on the job before they earn any of the things above? I am going to say they should be immediate and consistent. Why do we get so upset when employees want or ask for things that WE didn’t get when we first started out? Are we jealous? Maybe we’re mad at ourselves for not asking for those things? Or maybe, we think the world is exactly the same as it was when we started our job 20-30 years ago. It’s not.

Lack of affordable housing

This may be a new and growing problem based on where people live, and it’s not just about housing people for the summer. Dorms are a great answer to the employees who come to work for us from overseas or other parts of the country. But this particular comment was about the specific area she lives in where the majority of real estate is taken up by large homes, expensive condos or hotels. Very few options to offer if people are moving in from out of town. This is why it’s important to build relationships with community leaders so these bigger issues can be addressed.

Staying out of the way

Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and them tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Sometimes being bought-in and passionate and engaged actually means stepping back. You know you can do certain things, but it’s better in the long run to let others develop the skills to take that over. Will it be messy? Yes. Will people make mistakes? Yes. But if you play the role of micromanager too well, you’ll stifle the growth of your team AND the company.

Lead by example

People are watching you. They watch how you interact with the team, with your co-workers and your guests. Is that type of scrutiny fair? Doesn’t really matter because that’s the way it is. That’s what you signed up for as a leader. What does matter, is that you are human and the last 18 months or so have put us all through the wringer, so being the best example 100% of the time may take more bandwidth than you have to offer. So, lead by example for self care, for being human, for showing how to productively deal with stress and frustrating situations.

Ever wonder why your team doesn’t take time off? Are you taking time off? Want your team to know it’s okay to prioritize their mental health or time with their family? You have to do that, too.

I want to give a big shout out to the members of the Florida Attractions Association for creating this list. They really gave me a lot to think about – hope it did the same for you!

Thanks for reading!

Matt Heller

PS – If you are looking for a community that can help you with the above challenges, look no further than POC YOUniversity!

Lessons from the lake

Me, Chris, Pete, Dave

Is two times a tradition?  If so, getting together with 3 friends from high school for a relaxing weekend is now a tradition. 

What is also a tradition is for me to come away from the experience with a few lessons to share. This time I have three.

1. Riding a jet ski

This was my first experience riding a jet ski. I was nervous and probably looked pretty silly at first. After a few laps around the lake, I got more confident.  I started to go a little faster, made sharper turns and actually enjoyed it. Turns out skimming across the water at 60 mph without so much as a seatbelt is pretty fun.

As the lake got busier throughout the day, the waves that I had to battle became larger and more frequent. My initial instinct was to slow down, but I found that was actually more unsettling. So I leaned into the waves and actually sped up. I ended up gliding over them for the most part and getting through the rough patches much easier. 

The lesson: Often in leadership we have situations that, at first, seem to feel better if we slow down or change course, but actually the opposite is true. How often have we had a conversation with someone, they push back or deflect, and we end up giving up or giving in? Like the jet ski, those are times when you actually need lean into the conversation, stand your ground and make your point. When I slowed down on the jet ski, the waves treated the machine and I like a little cork and I could have capsized easily. How many of us have had a conversation capsize, leaving us reaching for something to keep us afloat? It may be a little scary at first, but leaning in and continuing to move forward will get you through the rough waters.

2. Stand-up paddle board

Another first on this trip was riding a stand-up paddle board. Full transparency, this was the result of a late-night bet from my friend, Pete. “I’ll bet you can’t do the stand-up paddle board”.  When I asked why he said, “because I can’t do it.”  And a wager was born.

The next morning, after watching a YouTube video, I strapped the paddle board to my ankle and gave it a go. It was tough. I felt it mostly in my calves. But I did it. Our friend Dave was deemed the judge and he said I went far enough to be able to say “I did it”. (For the graceful dismount, see the video below.)

The lesson: While there was a little money on the line, what ultimately drove my desire to succeed had more to do with a smidge of competitive spirit and the drive to be able to say “I did it”. Money as a motivator has gotten a lot of attention recently as sign-on bonuses and higher-than-ever wages have been needed to fill many positions. Despite this, I still contend that money is not the be-all-end-all motivator for peak performance. You have to provide a competitive wage and good working environment, but those are just entry stakes. Getting people to dig deep and perform at a level that they never thought possible takes more than just moolah. We must challenge them and give them reasons to succeed.

3. Wisdom from Dave 

Many of our conversations throughout the weekend centered around our families and how things have played out over the years. At one point, Dave said, “If you spoil your kids, you’ll raise your grandkids. If you raise your kids, you can spoil your grandkids.”  For the grandparents I know, they say that being able to spoil their grandkids is one of their greatest joys in life.

How does this relate to leadership?  For starters, parenting IS leadership. Second, I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you don’t take care of and lead your direct reports, you’ll have your hands full having to lead and manage their direct reports. To bring this full circle, if you avoid important conversations (slowing down on the jet ski) you will have a lack of accountability, trust, and willingness to even try to achieve peak performance. 

Likewise, if you are firm and fair with your direct reports, they will likely do the same with theirs, which fosters trust at all levels. 

So there you have it! A few observations and lessons that I hope you find helpful! If you have thoughts or questions on any of these lessons, I’d love to hear them! Call, text, email, or shout out on the socials.

Thanks for reading!

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Share the pain

How do you express to your boss that a situation is dire? That you and your team are running yourself ragged and may not last the week? Or, as someone in our POC YOUniversity Hot Seat Coaching Call said, “how do you tell them that ‘shit’s on fire!’?

I’ve heard this from so many people recently… talented, well-intentioned leaders are doing their best to keep as many fingers in the damn as possible. The problem, however, is that you do that SO well that your leaders and managers don’t see that there is something wrong.

Because you want to do your job well, and because you don’t want to let anyone down, you shield them from the pain – which is the natural human tendency.

However, if you are going to get their support, they need to feel the pain. Your pain.

Your boss needs to understand your struggle and the toll this situation is taking on you and your team. They need to understand that while the duck (you) may look calm above the surface, it’s paddling for it’s life below the surface.

But how do you tell them that without looking weak, or that you can’t do your job? Let’s start with this…

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

Say it with me: asking for help is not a sign of weakness!

One more time for the folks in the back: ASKING FOR HELP IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS!!!!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how do we ask for help? I’m glad you asked (for help!):

  • Tell the story that moves your boss. Some people like numbers, others like anecdotes, others respond to employee feedback. Whatever language speaks to your boss, frame your question and/or request in a way that draws them in and makes your point.
  • Have a plan. How many times have you gone to your boss with a problem and they said, “what do you think we should do about it?” What DO you think we should do about the current issues? Develop a thoughtful, cohesive plan (that speaks your boss’ language). Show that you have thought this through and it’s not just an emotional outburst.
  • Make sure you have their attention. Your boss is busy, and there is a good chance that you are not the only one making theses requests. This should not be an “oh, by-the-way, if you have time, could you maybe think about how to fix this mess, if it’s not too much trouble” conversation. Set a time on the calendar, get your paddling ducks in a row and make your case.
  • Help your boss make a case to their boss. Maybe your boss agrees with you but they won’t be making the final decision. Help them develop the story and plan to present to their boss.
  • Don’t give up! Be respectful, but keep after it. Remember, lots of people are counting on you – not just to get the job done, but to be their advocate. Giving up is really not an option.

So that was a few more bullet points than usual, but desperate times… amiright? Even with all that extra typing, it’s not an easy conversation to navigate. I’m happy to chat with you about your specific situation. All you have to do is ask (this one is super easy!).

Thanks for reading!



Doing more with less is not a long term operating strategy, right?

Let’s first acknowledge that the conditions that COVID-19 has thrust upon us have created situations we couldn’t have imagined, and we’re in survival mode.

We’ve got less staff, less time, less resources, and less patience.

So naturally, we’re going to bang the “do more with less” drum. I get it. For now.

My hope for our post-COVID world is that the “do more with less” mantra finally sees it’s way into the annuls of no-longer-useful corporate jargon like value-added, synergy, and paradigm.

Why? Because I don’t think we’re really doing more. We’re doing less.

For example, I’ve worked for a number of organizations who tried to make their staffing model more efficient. Two teams of ten under two different leaders became one team of 20 under one leader, and over the years that grew exponentially. Now that same leader that had 10 people now has 100 people and we wonder why they are barely keeping their head above water.

And because of this we see other problems creeping in… we can’t seem to get employees to show up. Service levels have gone down. We’re questioning our culture. Gotta be these younger generations, right? Don’t get me started.

The real problem is our doing more with less mantra has given us less leadership in the field, less time for training, less oversight of an individuals development, less time for the leader to show the employee that they care.

And I hate to say it, but that’s part of the perfect storm we are encountering with our current staffing issues. Our environments and employee experience were “good enough” in an employer driven market, but as tides have shifted and the employees now have the power, they are making choices that we don’t like.

So how do we get out of the downward spiral of always trying to do more with less?

  • Recognize that over time, you have actually been doing less with less. Our adherence to this flawed business model has hurt us more than it has helped. Stress, mental health issues, burnout and worker fatigue can all be linked back to the self-imposed condition of trying to do more with less.
  • Think ahead. WAY ahead (at least 5 years). Just like you would for a new attraction or business expansion, think critically and strategically about your employee experience. What does your pay look like? Your benefits? Your leadership? Your support of your employees? Go blue sky then work backwards on how to make it happen.
  • Make the best of today. Don’t do more than your staff can handle. We may want everything open, but what is the cost of doing that? Spreading your team too thin to make a few more bucks will likely cost you plenty down the road. You might not see it right away, but your attrition and turnover costs will far outweigh the few extra dollars you are making now. Not to mention the devastation this will do to your culture (which is really your best recruiting tool.)

No one has ever (to my knowledge) enthusiastically said, “we get to do more with less today!! Giddy up!” Fact is, more with less is a temporary fix to a temporary situation, and should have never become our operational norm. Once we kick COVID to the curb, let’s do the same with doing more with less.

Thanks for reading!

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The struggle (for talent) is real

Signing bonuses. Increased wages. Expanded perks. All of this to attract more employees to our businesses to handle the pent up demand we were hoping for.

The demand is here, so where are the employees?

Some people say that the unemployment benefits are keeping people away. I don’t doubt that’s true. Some employees say they want to return, but new circumstances such as at-home school or child care availability is standing in the way. Again, no argument from me.

Either way, our tactics to rebuild our talent pool are likely based on flawed reasoning. The reasoning that starts with the question, “What do they want?”

At best, that’s a moving target.

The question we should be asking is: “what do they NEED?”

They NEED emotional security. They NEED physical safety. They NEED to know that you’ve got their back. They NEED to know there is a good reason to come back.

A signing bonus won’t give them that.

Remember, you don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with a fire extinguisher. So we can’t fight money with money.

Your fire extinguisher is your story, your reputation, your ability to look at what you provide and how you interact with your employees in a new way. Same old, same old ain’t gonna cut it.

We talk all the time about how a good story will engage our guests. How we need to create immersive experiences for people to feel a part of our attractions so they’ll keep coming back. Why aren’t we applying that same logic to employees?

Because it’s harder and we don’t know how to do it? Oh, and we’ve never done that before? Time to change that.

How? I’m glad you asked.

First, look at what every human on the planet needs from an emotion standpoint. We all need three things: Attention, Connection and Purpose.

Attention – positive attention that tells people that they care about us.

Connection – interactions and relationships that make us feel whole and that we are part of something larger than ourselves

Purpose – a reason to get up, get out of bed and make the world a better place.

Related Video: Attention + Connection = Retention. Originally released March 31, 2020… hint… still valid today.

Those are building blocks of your story.

One way to put it together is to work with your marketing team (internal or external) to craft a story that can be told over many channels (most likely social media) that will touch and engage your current and potential employees. Work to create an emotional connection that ranks higher in someone’s mind than their unemployment bennies.

Maybe there is a partnership you can forge if you already work with an attraction design firm to help craft and create a story, and find a compelling way to bring that story to life. That’s what they do everyday for your guests.

Lastly, look at the services you provide your teams. If, for example, enough of your employees say they can’t come back because of child care issues, step up to the plate and help them find a solution. We find solutions to those kinds of things all the time. And if it helps bring back a significant part of your workforce, how can that NOT be good for business?

You don’t just WANT your employees to come back, you NEED them to. So think about what they NEED to make that happen.

Thanks for reading!


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A tale of two fortunes

Got this fortune with some Chinese food the other day:

At first reading I thought, YES!! Trust yourself! Be confident! Boldly go where no one has gone before! Pass the crab rangoon!!

But then I read it again. Now I think there is more to the story.

My first take was that this was really empowering. Trust in yourself… your abilities, your skills, your knowledge. Trust that you have more going right than going wrong. Trust that you have the confidence to surmount any challenge.

But those sneaky fortune writers, whether they planned to or not, got me thinking that it might be possible that we can trust ourselves TOO much. That if we trust ourselves with the wrong stuff, we could still THINK we’re right – even when we’re not.

For example, I LOVE peanut M&M’s. Can’t get enough of them. But when I trust myself to open up that bag and have just a few, I know that when half the bag is gone that that isn’t right.

So maybe I should trust myself a little less in those situations. Take 3 out of the bag, close the bag, put the bag back in the cupboard and walk away. THEN I think I would trust myself to do what’s right.

Personally, I think we need a balance of trust and distrust to make the right decisions. It’s a delicate balance, though, because when do you trust yourself to step outside of your comfort zone to grow versus distrusting yourself to not get involved with a situation you are destined to make worse?

This will take a little reflection.

Think of a time when you DID step out of your comfort zone and successfully learned something new or enhanced your skills/experience. What was your confidence level going into that situation? Was it over 50% that you would be successful? Was it 70%? 80%? I would bet it was not any LOWER than 50%. Otherwise your brain would have told you that this situation would bring more harm than benefit.

Now think about a time that you did NOT act. Where was your confidence level that this particular situation would turn out positively? I would hazard a guess that it was somewhere under the 50% mark.

Now think about the things in your world that you do on the regular, without hesitation and without fail. Confidence pretty high in those situations? Then you should TRUST yourself that in those situations, anything you do will be right.

Contrast that with lower confidence situations, and you should have a healthy DIS-TRUST of your behaviors under those circumstances. But do not despair – this is GOOD NEWS!!

Now you know exactly what you need to work on. You know what skills or knowledge you need to explore in the future so you can build your skills and confidence and start trusting yourself in those areas. Just like me with peanut M&M’s!

Now, who’s hungry?

Thanks for reading!!


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The beginning of the end

It was 2013. I was sitting in my publishers office in Sarasota, FL and my eyes were closed. My publisher, Julie Ann, told me to hold out my hands and I did.

She then handed me the first printed copy of The Myth of Employee Burnout. My first book. For a guy who hated English class in school, this was quite an accomplishment.

I really thought this was the beginning of the end. The beginning of my career as an author and the end of burnout.

I was right about one of those things.

I went on to write a second book, but have yet to completely eradicate burnout.

And that’s because I can’t do it alone. I so appreciate those who have read the book or attended a course and have applied these concepts. You know what a herculean effort this is.

But the fight is not over. So on March 24th, I’ll be leading a virtual workshop to help leaders understand their role and responsibilities when it comes eliminating burnout.

“If you apply what you will learn in this workshop, it will forever change you as a leader.” – Kristen Mulady

If you sign up but can’t attend on March 24th, you will get a link to watch the replay. This is not a webinar, but an interactive workshop that will give you lots of practical tools you can use right away.

We’ll be following the foundation originally laid out in the book by answering these three questions: What is burnout? Why does it happen? What do we do about it? (And we’ll spend most of our time on that last one.)

I hope to see you on the 24th, not only for the workshop, but also to continue the fight against burnout.

Together, we CAN do this!

Contact me with questions or just to chat!


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Happy New Year!

I know many of you have kicked 2020 to the curb, and I’m with you.

But amid the rubble that is 2020, there have been some bright spots. New opportunities, new partnerships, new ways of doing business. But that didn’t all come easy.

If you had any success in 2020, even if it was to NOT reveal your pajama bottoms on a Zoom call, it can be attributed to two things.

Your attitude and your actions.

But here’s the thing… we aren’t always self-aware enough to know when our attitudes or actions are actually holding us back.

No way! Not me!?! Yes, even you.

That’s why we need other voices in our lives.  The ones that say you’re doing great, or you missed the mark.

Last week for me, that voice belonged to EJ Randolph, who very eloquently pointed out that I had misspelled a word on a social media graphic that I had been using for months. Oddly enough, this graphic was for a “Share Your Win Wednesday” promo that we do in the ALL CLEAR Facebook Group

I quickly changed the graphic and thanked EJ. People like this need to be celebrated!

Who are the voices in your life that can point out when your attitude is on point or if you’ve missed the point?  Who are the people who can praise or correct an action when they see the need?

These are the folks who can truly help you calibrate your attitudes and actions for maximum positive impact.

So my challenge to you for 2021 is simple: embrace those who are giving you feedback, even if it stings to hear it a little bit, because ultimately they will help you become a better version of yourself than you ever thought possible.

And in 2021, we’re going to need you at the top of your game more than ever.

Be well, my friends.


They did what?

What do you notice about Omar?

What I noticed first was his mask. Clearly this ad was created in the last few months to show current safety procedures. Cool.

But what I also noticed was Omar’s tats and earlobe plugs (I think that’s what they are called). Why did this catch my eye?

Because for decades of working the in attractions industry, visible tats and ear piercings (on guys specifically) were not allowed. Now here is Fresh Market showing an employee with both IN AN AD!  

Why is this GOOD and IMPORTANT? It’s good because like many of you, Fresh Market has embraced recent personal appearance trends to increase, and in many cases improve, their pool of qualified applicants. It’s important because in this ad they are not just selling a salad (or whatever is in the plastic container), they are also selling the idea of an employee expressing themselves while also providing great service. Yes, it can be done. 

After seeing this ad, I looked at some websites from around our industry (yes, yours) and I found something interesting. I saw lots of smiling faces in perfect dress code, as you would expect.  I found diversity of gender and ethnic decent. But I didn’t see any tattoos, yet I know a lot of you allow them in your workforce. It sounds like a small thing, but what does this say to a potential employee?

If they don’t see someone like themselves, it might be hard for them to imagine working for you. Isn’t that why we show different genders and ethnic backgrounds? Should tats be any different?

In some ways, it feels like we have come full circle from when Walt Disney started enforcing the boy-and-girl-next-door appearance standards in 1955.  Well, it’s not 1955 anymore and it’s likely that the folks next door (including the parents) have more ink than Walt would have tolerated back in the day. 

So if you would hire Omar, tats and all, would you also put him front and center in an ad campaign?  Would it be his smiling face that not only sells the salad, but your jobs as well?  Food for thought.

Thanks for reading!

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I need your help

I need your help.

I have decided to launch a brand-new (for me) learning platform that will provide a pathway for leaders to grow, develop, and ultimately become more promotable.

It’s a year-long program (to start) where you will achieve personal and professional goals, become part of a supportive community and transform your leadership skills.

Because I have never done this before, I need 20 brave souls who are willing to join the inaugural class of POC YOUniversity – where we will build lasting skills for your leadership journey. Catchy, right?

If you already know you would like to be put on the short list for this opportunity, let me know by clicking the button below.

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Need more info?  No problem!  Join me for a 30 minute informational webinar on Monday, Oct. 26. We will describe the program in detail and leave plenty of time for Q&A. There is absolutely no obligation to join the program, but if you are interested in learning more or staying in the loop, I will be asking for you to indicate that at the end of the webinar.

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Please let me know if you have any questions! Hope to see you all on the 26th!