A New Way to Play Follow the Leader

Walt Disney’s unique definition of leadership:

The ability to establish and manage a creative climate in which individuals and teams are self-motivated to the successful achievement of long-term goals in an environment of mutual respect and trust.

Today’s post continues excerpts from Innovate the Pixar Way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson. The authors contend that Pixar has reawakened the innovative spirit of Walt Disney and set new standards for commercial and critical achievement. The book explores how Pixar has built an organization on the simple philosophy that quality is the best business plan. With a track record of 13 for 13 smash feature animation films, it’s hard to argue!

Walt Disney didn’t ascribe to the childhood playbook for “follow the leader” – instead, he created an environment of self-motivated creative thinkers who worked together to deliver a magical, magnetic, enchanting experience for his audience.

Pixar understands leadership the same way.


  • Establishment of a Clear Vision – Pixar has a clear vision and communicates that vision to its team. The best leaders are excellent communicators, engaging their teams by providing them with the tools and information needed for success – and then trusting them to do their jobs.
  • Creative Climate – Creative climates need leadership and a management style that helps them to develop and grow and allows them to have fun in the process. Pixar is in the people development business, going to great lengths to nourish and support its team members. They invest in people, creating a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners.
  • Individuals and Teams – Pixar thrives on teamwork, but each person on the team is given creative ownership of even the smallest task. This level of autonomy and accountability is practically unheard of in the movie business, where a top-down fear-driven culture is the norm.
  • Self-Motivated Personnel – great leaders know that self-motivated people are essential to developing a creative culture. Pixar is continually on the lookout for new talent that can blossom with their unique culture. The team at Pixar is 100 percent self-motivated to being as creative as they can be and to making movies the best they can. Period.
  • Long-Term Goals – It’s always been about creating for the long-term at Pixar. Their definition of “long-term” speaks volumes about its culture. They go to great lengths to ensure that its culture can support new ventures and still remains true to their values.
  • Mutual Respect and Trust – Pixar team members have embarked on a journey together, nurturing one another in an environment of mutual respect and trust. When leaders exhibit a high level of respect and trust, earned over time, that’s exactly what they will get in return.

There’s no “follow the leader” game at Pixar. Their playbook simply calls for an open playground where leadership serves as a catalyst in the pursuit of big dreams.

If you were to hold up the “magic mirror on the wall” to your leadership style, what would you see?


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