What comes to your mind when you hear the name, “Walt Disney”?

Perhaps you are reminded of a childhood memory of you and your siblings watching your favorite Disney film over and over.

Maybe you are taken back to the first time you stepped foot in one of the Disney Theme Parks, and all the emotions that the moment evoked in you.

For me, the name Walt Disney means a great deal. His legacy has taught me countless lessons about everything from how to learn relentlessly, to how to think innovatively, to how to approach life with curiosity, to the importance of dreaming boldly.

Most of you know that we (The Distinguished Society of Fine Gentlemen) are based out of Orlando, FL…what many call “The Happiest Place on Earth”. No, that’s not because of our nice weather or nearby beaches. Orlando wears that title because it is home to Disney World, a creation born out of one man’s dream, but made possible by thousands of employees he brought along with him into that dream so that it could be realized and enjoyed today by millions of guests every year.

That man was none other than Walt Disney.

Mr Walt Disney sits at his drawing board in his studio, drawing a sketch of Mickey Mouse

Walt was many things, but of all the hats he wore in his life, I would venture to say that one of the most important was that of “visionary”. He was a master of communicating vision to those who worked for him. But possibly even more important than his ability to cast and communicate vision, was his ability to do it in a way that invited others alongside him into the execution of it.

Walt knew that above all else, it was critical he surround himself with people who believed in the Disney brand the way he did, and were committed to seeing it thrive in the way he envisioned it could.

Leaders often don’t know, or don’t care, about the importance of what takes place after their vision is communicated. What Walt understood was that people need to be believed in, inspired, and genuinely cared about if whatever cause they are working towards is to succeed.

We can learn a great deal from that approach to leadership.

I found an article on disneyinstitute.com that shares about Walt’s leadership, specifically about how he would motivate a group of people towards a common goal through his unique ability to tell a story. I love the picture of leadership that is painted through Walt’s example in this article.

disney-on-dreaming-walt-disney1

Walt, as any man, was far from perfect. He experienced failure, personally and professionally, many times in his life. But his ability to lead others is virtually universally praised. We have much we can learn from his example.

I’m going to leave the aforementioned article below for your reference. Take from it whatever you can given your unique circumstances and situations.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes of his. It reiterates his understanding of the importance of the people who worked for him, and the value he placed on believing in them.

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”


If letting go is the imperative, what makes a team or organization “able to be delegated to?”

It is the leader’s role of establishing, operationalizing, and sustaining the values and vision by which their organizations thrive. The clarity of those two things – vision and values – enables teams and individuals to function more autonomously and generate the additional benefit to which the author refers.

How do we know this? Walt was an entrepreneur and he understood that his ability to be successful and make his big dreams come true would be dependent on his ability to get work done through others. An outstanding example of how he was able to do this lives on in this story, as told by Ken Anderson, one of the animators assigned to work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As you read this brief story, think about what Walt did that enabled this team to spend three-plus years in production on what is probably still the benchmark animated feature film of all time:

“Walt gave us fifty cents each in the afternoon and he said, “Why don’t you go get yourself a dinner and come back and be back here at eight o’clock. Be back on the soundstage.” So we went and had this wonderful dinner—you could have a wonderful dinner for thirty-five cents. And came back to the confines of the studio and he walked in, still not knowing what the hell it was all about. Walked into this soundstage that was all dark so we could save money. Just the light on the floor right in front of the seats. And then behind us, as the tiers of seats, of these seats rose up, there was these, was this projection booth.

So we, about forty of us sat there, and we got all settled and Walt was talking to the guys in the front. And he came down the front of the thing and said, ‘I’m gonna tell you a story.’ He says, ‘Been with me all my life.’ He said, ‘I’ve lived it.’ He started in and told the story of Snow White better than we put it on the screen.

He spent from 8:00 to 11:30, and he portrayed all the parts. He had to go forward and back and forward and back and the cutting didn’t matter, in order to tell it all and get it all in. But he became even the Queen, he became the Huntsman, he became the dwarves, he became Snow White.

And the guy changed. He sat right in front of our eyes and here comes Walt Disney changing. Now there’s an enormous talent as an actor; he could really sell things. And he sold the story to us in such a way that we couldn’t believe our ears.”

Specifically, what did Walt do? He told stories rather than presented strategies; he invested a significant amount of time personally sharing his vision with his team; he bought the team dinner, knowing they were staying late that evening.

Now, ask yourself, “Is there anything Walt did, that I could not do as a leader?” Probably not. Walt was a role model, and demonstrated a leadership principle in which we believe: The more a vision can be expressed in a vivid, imaginative way, the more it will motivate people to action in the present.

This thought comes full circle from Walt to present-day Company CEO Bob Iger, who says, “Ninety-five percent of the decisions made at the company are made by other people.”

Now that is a huge opportunity for letting go…and for developing great leaders. Who is making all the decisions in your organization?

The original article can be found here at www.disneyinstitute.com

Mr. Reed

Mr. Reed

Founding Member at The Distinguished Society of Fine Gentlemen
"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy." - Norman Schwarzkopf
Mr. Reed

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