It's a small world after all. At least on Twitter.

That's what the Walt Disney Co. realized recently after Shannon Sullivan, an intern working in Magic Kingdom restaurants, tweeted a photo of a sign instructing Disney World employees how to respond to inquiries about alligators in the area.

Both the public and Disney employees have been on increased alert regarding alligators since the death of 2-year-old Lane Graves, who was snatched by an alligator last month while playing in a lake at a Disney resort.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, soon after the tweet Disney removed the sign (which the company says was not authorized to be posted). Sullivan was then confronted by a manager and told her participation in the Disney College Program would end early, after which she was escorted out of the park.

The report continues:

The Orlando Sentinel inquired about Sullivan's termination Thursday evening. On Friday morning, Magic Kingdom Vice President Dan Cockerell paid a personal visit to Sullivan to offer her the job back. She will return to work until later this month, when her internship was originally scheduled to end.

...Sullivan said she knew sharing a picture of the sign on social media might get her in trouble. But she was bothered by the idea of misleading visitors. "At this point, it became my morals and my integrity and what I believe in," she said. "I thought if I lose my job because of that, it's worth it to me."

The Lessons

Addressing a tragedy like the recent alligator attack at Disney is both complex and challenging. However, Sullivan's tweet and the resulting actions by Disney bring to light some clear lessons that are worth pointing out:

1. We live in an age of transparency. Whether you like it or not.

We hear a lot nowadays about the value of companies remaining authentic, both with employees and customers. But Sullivan's experience emphasizes a major lesson:

There are no more workplace secrets.

In a world where information can be shared with millions in a short period of time, it's inevitable that details like these will eventually be made public. It's only a question of when.

This makes good training of management and leadership teams all the more important. In addition, special attention should be given to any directions that are publicly posted.

2. Encourage an open dialogue.

The younger generation has been encouraged to question everything, and that includes workplace leaders and managers. No doubt, this can become annoying. And there's definitely a right and wrong way to do it. (I'll be discussing this in a follow-up article later this week. Make sure to subscribe to make sure you don't miss it.)

Instead of looking at this mindset as a negative, why not find ways to use it to your advantage?

Doing so could have helped immensely in this case. Whoever put up the sign at Disney was clearly out of line; an open dialogue with employees about the direction to "deny everything" would have likely led to better decision making.

So let emotional intelligence guide your communication style. If you want to install a rule or policy that has potential for emotional reaction (and almost all of them will), seek out opportunities to discuss this with your team in advance.

Then, listen to what they have to say.

(Emotional intelligence is also the subject of my upcoming book. Sign up here for details about its launch.)

3. Real leaders take responsibility.

To Disney's credit, the company quickly realized it had made a mistake in dismissing Sullivan.

Further, Disney leaders demonstrated they recognized the seriousness of this error by arranging for a Senior Vice President to pay a personal visit to Sullivan and offer her the job back, an offer she accepted.

Business leaders aren't perfect. It takes time to find viable solutions to complex situations, like the recent events at Disney. There will be bumps in the road along the way.

Overcome those obstacles by admitting mistakes and taking action to correct them. Above all, treat everything as a learning experience.

Because the best minds know that the room for improvement is the biggest one in the world.

Published on: Jul 18, 2016
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