Amusement Park Leadership

I’d say that there’s a lot of Michael Scott in this job. I’d say there’s a lot of Michael Scott in me, probably. I do silly things that everybody looks at me later and go, why did he do it? Why was it deemed necessary for Cole to dress up wearing a big beard and a raincoat, and tell everyone he lived downtown under the bridge and he was there to motivational speaker them today? “Hi everybody, I’m Phil Bridges.” You know, and then, like, go out and talk to people. What went through his thought process?

And I’ve run out with a squirt gun all the time. I’ve got my big super soaker, and on busy days, I’ll take the super soaker and I’ll fill it up with ice water, and I’ll sneak around the corner. And they’re all standing there, and I’ll just go, “Line them up!” and just like spray across the whole group. You know? That’s what makes it fun! They’re going to remember Phil Bridges more than, you know, like, anything else throughout the day.

And so if they’re talking about, “Did you guys see what Cole did at the shift meeting?” Even if they say, “that was stupid,” or “that was not funny,” they’re still going to be talking about it. And that’s still going to get them happy about this job.

(Cole Lindbergh, Manager, World of Fun Amusement Park)

I like to listen to storytelling podcasts on long car rides, and this weekends trip to/from upstate New York with my girlfriend was no different. We listened to an episode of This American Life called Amusement Park which was an unexpected lesson in leadership. The episode itself aired last August.

The employees at Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City are of a typical demographic — high schoolers and college students looking for some extra cash on weekends and during the summer. As anyone who’s been to an amusement park knows, it’s not the most dynamic or challenging job in the world and oftentimes the employees reflect that reality. But at WoF the employees are different. They’re enthusiastic, they go out of their way to attract park visitors to their stations, and they stick around summer after summer.

Cole Lindbergh, the 25 year old games manager, is the sole reason why many of the games employees return every year. He’s goofy, he’s energetic, he institutes bracket-style competitions between game vendors for prizes to make things interesting, he stars in whacky youtube videos to advertise the games at the park… the Michael Scott comparison is apt.

As Ira Glass follows him around, you can tell Cole loves his job. Glass notes that “games” isn’t even one of the top three moneymakers at the park, and that WoF is one of the smaller parks in the network. Cole mentions he dropped out of college to manage games, and that he doesn’t expect to be doing this forever. The extra efforts he put in, as far as big picture finances go, don’t even result in significant financial rewards for himself or management. When listening to the entire program you can’t help but think, “why in the world does this guy care this much about what he’s doing?”

But his story is really inspiring. Cole lives wholly in the moment in a way that positively impacts and energizes everyone he works with. The “big picture,” while always important, isn’t everything. If I was going to promote someone and they can do such a stellar job with a relatively low-significance department, wouldn’t someone like Cole be first on my list?

I mean, think about it. Take away the made-for-TV incompetence, and is the archetype of Michael Scott a good manager? Or, phrased a better way, would you want to work for him?

Absolutely.