CNLP 282: Joel Manby on the Personal Cost of Leadership As CEO of SeaWorld, Saab USA and Herschend Entertainment

Joel Manby became the CEO of SeaWorld shortly after Blackfish was released – a documentary about the relationship between killer whales and their trainers at SeaWorld. Joel talks about the crucible of his time there trying to address the concerns of the documentary as attendance and share price dropped, and how he figured out how to address the concerns and position SeaWorld for the future.

Joel also talks about his early days in leadership, including becoming the youngest CEO in GM history when he was appointed to lead Saab USA at age 35, and so much more. In a remarkably candid and honest interview, Joel talks about the personal cost of leadership and how to transform culture according to the principles of love.

Welcome to Episode 282 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Guest Links

Joel Manby Carey Nieuwhof

Instagram | Love Works

Episode Links

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How Employee Engagement Drives Growth – Gallup

Undercover Boss: Herschend Family Entertainment (S1, E7)

3 Insights from Joel

1. Dealing with a board can be a top challenge for senior leaders

As a CEO at the top of the organization, one of your biggest frustrations will be working with your board. Some of Joel’s biggest career wins and losses as a CEO have been related to having an aligned or misaligned board and the consequences of that. He has worked with 13 or 14 different boards throughout his professional career, and he has learned how to build and work with a great board.

One of the biggest intentionalities he takes with his board members is he always “breaks bread” with his board. Whenever they have a major meeting, he will take them all out to dinner the night before and try to avoid work talk as much as possible. He also learned that you should be intentional about building a relationship with your board members on a 1-on-1 basis. To make this possible, he recommends you keep a board of 5 or 6 people at most. Carey agrees.

2. As a leader, the only voice you need to listen to is your internal set of values speaking into your life

Everyone will face a time in their life where some external voice will tempt them to work too much, have an inappropriate relationship, or worry about the opinion of those they work for or alongside. This line of thinking led to Joel losing his marriage and career. He was more concerned with the consequences of telling the truth than actually telling the truth.

Joel would beg you to “just tell the truth to those you love.” It’s worth getting fired and it’s work people looking down on you. If you avoid telling the truth, it eventually catches up to you. Don’t give it that opportunity. Your internal compass that is based on your personal values has to win and rule your decisions. Not what anybody in the world is thinking.

3. There is a direct link between your time with God and your personal success

When Joel reflects on his life, he sees that all of his failings and all of his shortcomings are correlated with a drop in his personal time with God. Whenever he wasn’t meeting that need, his life began a downslide that eventually stole some of the biggest blessings in his life. Looking at his life now, he has a plan to stay healthy for the rest of his life.

We all will go through struggles. When faced with new challenges, Joel will cling to his quiet time in the morning, his monthly calls with his accountability group, and listening to his internal value system without compromise. Joel views these 3 things as inarguable rhythms that will guide him for the rest of his life. You need something similar if you are going to avoid catastrophe.

Quotes from Episode 282

Whether it's personal or professional, whatever set of values you have, that internal compass has to win, not what anybody in the world is thinking. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

Some of the best ideas and best innovation comes through necessity. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

The only audience I should be pleasing is God. It's a very simple formula. It's just harder than heck to do. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

One of the greatest failings of senior leaders is getting isolated and feeling like they can't share what they're going through. It will go badly if they don't share, if they don't have a cohort to talk to. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

I can say at 60, I've learned a lot, but nothing compares to not living up to the vows, or allowing a marriage to unfold and break up. I plead to people to not let the world's demands hurt your relationships with your spouse. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

You'll go through down times, but you can always make your way back up. You can't do everything, but you can do the important things. -Joel Manby Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 282

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Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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Get Your Life Back

It’s clear from a conversation like this that managing the tension of life and leadership is hard.

I experienced burnout a decade into my leadership journey, and since then, crafted a very different way to live. A way that has helped me avoid burnout again and beat overwhelm. And I’ve showed thousands of leaders how to do the same.

Today, I still have bigger goals than ever before, but I’ve made fundamental changes that have led to a healthier, happier lifestyle without sacrificing my family and vastly increasing my productivity at work. I’ve taken what I’ve learned during this journey and put it into the High Impact Leader course.

You can complete the three-hour course at your own pace. It’s the most comprehensive content I’ve ever created for leaders to help you reclaim HOURS every day so you can become more effective at work and more present at home. When your time, energy, and priorities are all working together for you, it’ll impact everything you do.

  • You become a better leader, because you’re doing what you do best when you’re at your best
  • You become a better spouse, because you’re focused at home
  • You become a better parent, neighbor, and friend, because you actually have time off to relax and engage

These principles will free you to thrive in every area of your life.

You can learn more and gain instant access today.

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Next Episode: Lee Kricher & Jason Howard

Pastoral succession has emerged as one of the major issues facing the church in the next decade. Businesses are not that far behind in struggling with succession. Most senior pastors (especially founding pastors) hang on too long. The question is why. In a candid and disarmingly honest interview, Amplify Founding Pastor Lee Kricher and his successor, Jason Howard, talk about how they paved the way not just for the next generation of leader, but for the next generation of church, allowing the model to change while the leadership changed. In the midst of it, they both get very real.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 283.

CNLP 282: Joel Manby on the Personal Cost of Leadership As CEO of SeaWorld, Saab USA and Herschend Entertainment


  1. Meg on September 6, 2019 at 11:35 am

    I don’t generally love listening to podcasts of any sort, but thanks so much for this episode! I just loved this whole conversation and have gone back to what I’ve learned listening in several times in the past several days. My favorite note, that I’ve processed, thought through, and repeated to myself and just repeated to a friend today: “Do what makes you feel good about yourself, not what makes you feel good…The vice doesn’t help.” There was so much to glean throughout this whole episode.

    • Linda on June 25, 2020 at 8:11 pm

      What is the name of Joel’s book? Thank you

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