FRED Friday…meet Ellen Ruel
FRED Friday…meet Ellen Ruel
This edition of FRED Friday is a look back…somewhat of a nostalgic FRED Friday. Ten years ago this summer I was a Management Intern at Disney’s Contemporary Resort; 21 years old, in my first job out of college, and scared to death. My management internship was a 6-month program in which I spent 3 months as a Housekeeping Manager and 3 months as a Front Desk Manager.
My program started in Housekeeping, and then I transitioned to the Front Desk…which was very intimidating – the systems, the processes, the many seasoned/experienced Disney Cast Members that could do their roles with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their back because they had been doing it for so long. Here I was coming in as one of their “managers”. This was my first shot at being a real life manager, my chance to see how good of a leader I really could be. I was nervous, scared, and intimidated.
Then I met Ellen Ruel…
I remember the first day I met her. It was my first day at the Front Desk, transitioning from Housekeeping…a whole new ballgame; a completely different dynamic. I had just gotten comfortable with my team, my peers, and leaders in Housekeeping; so the thought of having to start all over with folks at the Front Desk seemed daunting…and uncomfortable. I was a nervous wreck.
As I walked into the back office one of my first days at the Front Desk, thank God Ellen was one of the first people I met…I remember it like it was yesterday…she said, “Well hello, my new friend…Taylor, right?” She had heard I was rotating to her team…she was one of the other Front Desk Managers.
I’m generally a nervous wreck about most things…as a general rule. Needless to say, this particular day was certainly no different. Ellen’s warm welcome, a genuine smile, and HUG upon meeting me calmed me down. Yes, she gave this young, inexperienced, redheaded new guy whom she didn’t even know…a big HUG on day 1. I went from zero to feeling Welcome, Comfortable, and Important in seconds.
Ellen would greet me in similar fashion for the next three months, every single day I walked into work, as I rounded the corner in the back office, she would shoot me a genuine smile. It didn’t matter how stressed she was at the time, with undoubtedly 17 Guest situations/issues on her mind to deal with…she always smiled. I took note of that.
At times I wouldn’t completely understand how to go about solving a problem or resolving a Guest’s complaint. She would always be there in case I needed help. She wouldn’t necessarily micromanage because we were peers…the same role – both Front Desk Managers. However, she had a certain way about her…a presence. I was most comfortable in my role that summer when Ellen was also working alongside me; not because she did my work for me, nor because I took everything to her. She was present, in the moment from the time she walked in to the time she walked out for the night. So it was her presence and compassion for others that just made me feel like no matter what could and would ever happen…Ellen would help me make magic for whomever, whenever, and whatever.
I thought for the first several weeks that she was just helping me because I was so new. However, the coolest thing was that I wasn’t the only one. She treated everyone with this selfless compassion, and if you were to ask anyone on that Front Desk team at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in the summer of 2001, they would all tell you a similar story about how Ellen Ruel made them feel comfortable at work. To this day, I strive to make people feel as comfortable as Ellen made us feel.
She took advantage of teachable moments. I can remember her being so dynamic that she would have eight things on her own list, her own To Do’s…yet she seemed to always make time to show me what she was doing, how she was doing it, and why. She was careful not to do give you all the answers to the test, so to speak, but instead she would help us think about it so we would learn. She probably didn’t know it at the time, but I would watch and listen to how she handled things as often as possible. I knew my time with this wonderful person and team was limited, and I was a sponge, soaking up as much wisdom, knowledge, and magic as I possibly could. She never disappointed…and I always learned…everyday.
I can proudly say that ten years later, I now take ownership of Guest situations, staff issues, and make business decisions with confidence. Sure I’ve gotten plenty of reps in over the years which allow me to be confident and more comfortable, but to this day visions of Ellen’s charisma, compassion, and her way with people are still crystal clear. I remember how she made me feel. I remember how she was able to empathize with Guests and turn their frustration into a pure, old-fashioned Disney magical moment. So when I’m faced with similar issues today, ten years later…I think about Ellen and how she would do it. Her teachable moments ten years ago allow me to be successful to this day.
The tragic events of September 11th, 2001 occurred during my internship that summer. So unfortunately Disney couldn’t status me as a full-time manager upon the completion of my program. I was blessed, however, in that I landed a job on the opening team of a brand new 1,400-room resort across town as a Housekeeping Manager. It was tough being away from Ellen. However, we kept in touch. We remained close though we saw very little of one another. We kept in touch by phone and email. She knew my passion for Disney, and she knew I wasn’t ready to leave the company after my internship.
Ellen would always tell me, “who’s your biggest cheerleader?” Little did I know that as plans for the opening of Disney’s Pop Century Resort were materializing, Ellen was recommending me to the hiring leaders for the new r
So in September of 2003, with Ellen’s help once again, my dream of returning to the mothership, to the Walt Disney Company, came true. Ellen and I reunited once again, both as Front Desk Managers on one of the most talented leadership teams I’ve ever been a part of…we opened the 2,880-room Disney’s Pop Century Resort. We were back to our old tricks…and I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from her teachable moments as well as her actions.
Here we are…several years removed from our time together. I live thousands of miles away from her. I work in Las Vegas. She works at the magical world, at Walt Disney World in Orlando. However she still shows compassion. She still makes me feel comfortable. She still brightens my days with random, unsolicited text messages that say – Just thinking of you Sweetheart, hope you’re doing well…I love and miss you!
I get those texts as a 31 year old, about to turn 32…and I smile from ear to ear just like I did when I first met her when I was 21, about to turn 22. That’s legacy. That’s compassion. That’s leadership. That’s going OneMoreStep…and that’s being a FRED.
I love you, Ellen. Keep being you…it moves people, and you make us all better…and I can’t thank you enough for it.
“You just never know who’s watching and listening. Our lives, to paraphrase Shakespeare, play out on a stage…
Freds find satisfaction in their passion for significance. They distinguish themselves not by the results they’ve achieved, but by how they’ve affected and touched others.”– Mark Sanborn…The Fred Factor…page 69…Chapter 7
Happy FRED Friday.
What is FRED Friday?
Fred Friday is a series in which the OneMoreStepRevolution blog will showcase a real life “Fred” on select Fridays. Reading The Fred Factor definitely leaves us with a desire to to be more Fred-like ourselves, but I also love looking for Freds. Freds are everywhere. I love it when I experience a real life Fred. I’m inspired just as I am every time I re-read the book. I thought it would be fun to spread the magic of Fred to our OneMoreStepRevolution community.
Hopefully a few things will happen with the Fred Friday series:
1) Real Life Freds will be recognized when these stories make it back to them
2) Companies for which these Freds work will have some positive feedback
3) People will be inspired to go OneMoreStep just like the real life Freds