Say YES! Well… not so fast

I’ve recently discovered a new internet series starring Jerry Seinfeld called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee which is truly, and equivocally, a show about nothing.  And it’s also hilarious – especially this outtake, or “spare part”, with fellow comedian Brian Regan.

Click the picture to watch the video, then come right back.  You’ll come back, right?  Okay, go watch the clip…

Of course this was a goofy premise about the fact that just about anything is fair game at a Cirque du Soleil show.  How many leaders fall into this same trap by saying yes too often? Especially when they don’t know it.

Think about the last time you walked by an employee, saw them out of dress code but didn’t say anything.  You actually just said, “YES, it’s okay to not be in dress code.”

How about the time you saw an employee leaning on a pole staring off into space?  You’ve been short staffed lately, so you were just happy to have someone in that position.  When you walk by and say nothing, you say “YES, it’s okay to lean against the pole and stare off into space.”

What about the employee who refuses to go do a certain job (that is well within their job description)? They huff and they puff and you don’t want to make waves, so to appease them you allow them do a job they find more acceptable.  You just said “YES, the inmates are running the asylum and I have no authority what-so-ever.”

Unfortunately, your job is NOT to say YES all the time.  You have to know when to say no.

But here’s the interesting thing… I think you KNOW that you need to say no. I think you even know WHEN you need to say no. In fact, I’ll bet that each person reading this right now agrees that in the above scenarios, a more appropriate “no” response was needed (we can say YES to that!).  So why didn’t it happen?

On some level, it comes down to fear.  Fear that you’ll hurt their feelings, fear that they’ll point out your inconsistencies (because they did the exact same thing the day before, and you didn’t say anything then, either) or fear that they’ll tell you what they really think, walk out, and leave you short staffed.

Is the perceived fear worse than reality?  Perhaps, but that doesn’t stop us from being paralyzed by it.  If you have ever gotten over any other sort of fear in your life, you know that the best way to get over it, is to face it head on.

Here are a few things to help you get over the fears that might be driving the behaviors above:

  • Know the facts – There is nothing better than having the cold hard facts on your side.  If you approach someone about dress code without really knowing the policy yourself, you can’t really defend your position.  Knowing the facts gives you the confidence to say no, that’s not acceptable.
  • Plan for all the arguments – What do you think an employee will say when you approach them to discuss their posture and appearance?  “It’s hot”, “No one cares if I smile”, “Ryan’s leaning too, why don’t you talk to him?”  These types of comments can really catch you off guard, and that is not a comfortable position to be in.  Practice your responses with another leader before you have to have the conversation for real.
  • Remember that you have to start sometime – If you fear doing something, you have likely avoided it until now.  But, just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.  If that were the case, we wouldn’t have airplanes or iPhones. It may be painful and awkward at first, but it WILL get easier with practice and success.

Getting over these fears is all about having the confidence to take the first step, so you can take all of the other steps needed to be proficient.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always run away and join the circus… YES!

About the author: Matt Heller has a simple goal: Help the leaders of the attractions industry get the most out of themselves and their teams. Whether through large group training sessions, individual coaching or leadership effective audits, Matt dedicates himself to find the right solutions for each client.

4 thoughts on “Say YES! Well… not so fast

  1. Very well said – I plan on forwarding to some of the managers in our operation!

    Leanna Knoebel Muscato Games Manager Knoebels Amusement Resort PO Box 317 Elysburg, PA 17824 570-672-2572 x 128 cell 570-259-0969

  2. Hey Matt! So amazing that Leanna Knoebel Muscato added to this conversation above! I spent my childhood going to Knoebel’s Grove Amusement Park in PA, and my wife and I recently visited the park again this past weekend while visiting family and friends (and attending the opening Penn State game) in central Pennsylvania.

    Being a 14-year veteran of Universal here in Orlando, and my wife having consumed Disney Kool-Aid for the last 21 years of her career, we carry with us this expectation of how a theme park team member is “supposed to” perform. It was unsettling to see attendants behind counters sitting, slouching, not smiling, not actively greeting guests, and otherwise not demonstrating the service behaviors that you and I have embraced and espoused for so many years in a theme park environment.

    Nor did we recognize a strong presence of leadership in the park, as we have grown accustomed to seeing in Orlando theme parks, those in professional attire, a nametag, usually a set of keys and/or a radio headset, one that walks the property in search of ways to impact the experience for guests and team members alike.

    Now, this was a busy day on a holiday weekend, and there was easily (estimate) 5,000 guests in the park that day, even in a minor drizzle.

    So, this park is vintage in its experience, so charming, and obviously still attracting many day guests from the local area, despite the fact that it is largely in the middle of nowhere, central PA. So, business volume is not the challenge.

    As my wife and I pondered the root of the observed performance, it did come back to leadership and culture. And, let’s face it, the two are unable to be distanced from each other, as leadership creates the culture, and the culture defines the performance of leadership.

    Please do not accept this as an indictment on this wonderful park, as our experience was still meaningful and memorable in many ways (they are recognized annually for their unique theme park cuisine offerings and quality!).

    Still, we found ourselves thinking just how much more memorable and meaningful the experience would have been if our touchpoints with the employees of this enchanted place were anywhere near the same caliber as we have come to expect in our closed-minded, Orlando theme park outlook.

    A simple greeting, a smile, eye contact, expressed warmth, an open-ended question–these service gestures are so simple, yet are THE difference in a guest experience.

    And, memorable and meaningful from the guests’ perspective, as many of us know, equates to profitability from the business perspective. Some of the components of business performance success do require a great investment, yet do not cost a dime. After all, theme park business is people business, at its core.

    Matt, oddly enough, I did think of you while there in the mountains of central PA . . . exploring what impact guys like you and I could make on the culture and performance of such a wonderful place as Knoebel’s, given that their traditions are already so richly embedded, and their history in that region is so deep and illustrious.

    In the humble opinion of my wife and me, the warm service and personal touch was the one and only element missing in our experience from an otherwise special day. And, the leadership can make a difference, and possibly, THE difference.

    Barry Altland
    Winter Garden, FL
    (407) 765-0577

    • Hey Barry,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I visited Knoebels for the first time this summer, so I finally got to experience the charm and “unique culinary offerings” that everyone has been raving about.

      I’m curious about your comment about the “closed-minded, Orlando theme park outlook.” Is this about us (who live in Orlando) thinking that every park experience should be like Universal and Disney? If so, I can attest to that happening to me. (If not, please feel free to elaborate). I understand that Orlando has the mac-daddy of all theme parks, and that a majority of the rest of the industry looks up to the facilities here. After working at Universal and visiting Disney so often, you do come to expect and almost take for granted the level of sophistication that we have here. I love going to places like Knoebels or Kennywood that have such rich history and have a totally different feel than anything you might see Orlando. It’s great to see all facets of the industry thriving.

      I also agree that leadership and culture cannot be separated – nor should they. What’s funny is when you see a bad leader asking to change the culture without seeing that they themselves are creating the negative culture in the first place. Fascinating.



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