I recently completed the Walt Disney biography by Bob Thomas titled “An American Original”. You can buy the book on Amazon here.
I have always been a fan of Disney, and after reading this biography, I have a better understanding of why. He was a man of vision, an extraordinary leader, and one of the biggest risk takers of all time. Here are 7 principles of leadership from the life of Walt E. Disney.
Walt Disney was…
1) A Dreamer Disney coined the term “imagineers” to describe the creative element of his studio. Imagine + engineer = imagneer. Or, to spell it out: the team at Walt Disney Pictures dreamed big dreams and then went out and made them reality. Leaders should always take the time to stop and think. They should take time to dream about tomorrow and what they want to build.
2) A Worker If there was ever a company that was built from scratch, it was Walt Disney Productions. What we now know as one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world began in 1946. That year, Walt boarded a train for Kansas City. He wanted to try his hand at cartoons and he had $6 to his name.
3) Confident As Disney (the company) began to grow, no one could deter Walt from his intended vision for a particular product or process. He would not accept “no” from anyone trying to tell him that an idea wouldn’t work. If he had, the following would not exist as we know them today: cartoons with sound, color cartoons, full length cartoon features, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World.
4) Intentional This is perhaps the most amazing part of the story. On reading his biography, one can see that every invention, innovation, and idea not only broke new ground, but intentionally led to other areas of expanse. The intricacy of decisions laying ground for future decisions, on purpose, is literally mind boggling. This, I believe, was the true genius of Walt Disney. He was a visionary, always looking forward, always planning for the next step. What seemed to others as random, creative decisions were calculated moves as part of a grand vision.
5) Aware of his strengths and weaknesses Most people would never guess, but Walt Disney was never a good artist. He wanted to be. He even tried to be. But soon he realized that the other animators around him were better. So he delegated that task. What he was good at, great at in fact, was telling stories. He did not delegate that, but oversaw every story board that the studio created in the early days. The stories that Walt Disney crafted and oversaw are the same ones that engage children to this day.
6) Committed to excellence Everything that Walt Disney produced was excellent. “Why would you want to build a theme park? They are all so dirty”, his wife said to him. “Exactly”, Walt said, “mine won’t be.”
7) Family Oriented This one may seem out of place on this list, but it’s not. Walt was a family-man, always involved in his children’s activities and often taking his wife with him when he had to go away on business. He never sacrificed his family for success. His home life kept him grounded after he became the most influential entertainer in the world.
I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Bob Thomas biography. As a leadership exercise alone, the time spent would be invaluable. And with all of the Disney quotes and stories throughout, you are sure to be, well….entertained.
Question: Do the above seven characteristics describe you as a leader? What can you change to ensure they do?
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