Leadership Lessons from the Vision of Walt Disney, Part One

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

In this first installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from select biography of Walt Disney, followed in the second installment by that of Jobs, giving you background on their excellent of use of “vision” and “communication” respectfully. Then, the third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts, with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is our intent that you will be inspired to begin 2021 with clarity.

A QUICK SUMMARYLead Like Walt by Pat Williams

Whether you are building a small business from the ground up or managing a multinational company, you can learn the 7 key traits for leadership success from one of the greatest business innovators and creative thinkers of the 20th century: Walt Disney. Whether you know him as the first to produce cartoons in Technicolor, the mastermind behind the theme park Disneyland, or the founder of the largest entertainment conglomerate, Walt’s story of creativity, perseverance in spite of obstacles, and achieving goals resonates and inspires as much today as it ever has.

Author Pat Williams began studying the life and leadership example of Walt Disney as he struggled to build an NBA franchise, the Orlando Magic. Since he was trying to accomplish a goal similar to so many of Walt’s—starting with nothing and building a dream from the ground up—he realized that Walt could teach him what he needed to know. And indeed he did.

Through Walt Disney’s leadership example, Pat found 7 key leadership traits that all great leaders must possess: Vision, Communication, People Skills, Character, Competence, Boldness, and A Serving Heart. Through never-before-heard Walt stories and pragmatic principles for exceeding business goals, you’ll learn how to build those skills and implement them to be effective in any leadership arena. As you discover the life of this great leader, you’ll realize that no goal is too great and no dream too daring for anyone who leads like Walt.


To many people today, Walt Disney is not seen as a man, but instead as a nameless, faceless entertainment giant which owns the intellectual properties of the Disney Studios, Pixar Studios, Marvel, LucasFilms, and Fox. While that is all true, the man named Walter Elias Disney rose from humble beginnings to found the studio that bears his name in 1923.

After several years of barely scraping by, and one disastrous setback, Disney put together a string of successes. By the early 1930s, Disney had reached what many industry leaders considered the pinnacle of success for an animated short features studio.

However, Walt Disney wasn’t at the top; he was just getting started.

I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true. – Walt Disney

In the spring of 1934, thirty-two-year-old Walt Disney decided to bet his studio on an idea everyone around him said was crazy. He was going to produce a full-length animated film.

Walt Disney’s wife Lily and older brother Roy tried to talk Walt out of his dream – but when they saw that he was totally committed to it, they gave up. Once Walt made a decision, no one could change his mind.

Within days, Walt gathered forty of his top animators. Opening his wallet, he handed each man some cash, then said, “I want you fellas to go have dinner and relax a little. Then come back to the studio. I have a story to tell you.”

The animators walked out of the studio, buzzing among themselves. After dinner, they gathered in a recording stage where Walt had set up folding chairs in a semicircle. The room was dark, like a movie theater, except at the very front. There stood Walt, under a single light bulb, bouncing on his heels, a secretive smile on his face. Once everyone was present, Walt began to tell the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Walt didn’t merely tell the story. He performed it, acting out every part. He became every character. His eyebrows arched, and his features twisted into those of the evil Queen. He tilted his face toward the bare light bulb, and its soft glow transformed his fact into that of Snow White. Each character had a distinct voice and personality.

Reach the end of the tale, Walt paused – then said, “That is going to be our first feature-length animated film.” If Walt had said those words at the beginning of his presentation, his artists would have thought he was crazy. Everybody knew there was no audience for an all-animated feature.

But after watching Walt act out the story before their eyes, they believed it was not only possible, but practically an accomplished fact! Walt had the whole picture in his head – all they had to do was animate it.

Pat Williams, Lead Like Walt


Not all visionaries are leaders, but all leaders are visionaries. You can’t lead people without a vision of where you are taking them.

What is your dream, your vision?

According to author Pat Williams, great leaders are people of vision. Without a vision, how will you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? Your vision is your definition of success.

Look at the quote by Walt Disney above: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”

Author Pat Williams breaks the quote down as follows:

  • “I dream.” Walt began with a vision, a dream of the future.
  • “I test my dreams against my beliefs.” Walt made sure his vision was consistent with his beliefs, his core values, and his integrity.
  • “I dare to take risks.” He acted boldly, betting on himself to win.
  • “I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” He focused all his energies, and those of his organization, on turning his dreams into reality.

At Auxano, we have developed some tools to help you assess your vision and make time to reflect, discern and articulateDownload the Vision Frame overview as a litmus test for your vision. If you cannot answer all five questions of the irreducible minimums of clarity, then schedule one day per month to work on your vision.

Learn more about the Vision Frame.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<


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