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.

VISION APPLICATION

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

A NEXT STEP

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<<

How to Be Like Walt, Part 1

Growing up in the 60’s, my earliest memories of Walt Disney came through his television shows and movies. Only decades later did I experience the magic of one of his theme parks. Looking back over all those experiences, I realize that in some sense, Walt Disney’s creative genius was equal, if not superior, to another genius of our time – Steve Jobs.

My curiosity led to ongoing research about the man called Walt Disney – and is producing some amazing lessons from his life that are powerful leadership lessons for today.

Walt Disney was more than a man. He is a symbol of the values he represents: imagination, honesty, perseverance, optimism, and vision. He was a creative genius who could visualize a future found only in his dreams – and then make those dreams come true.

Pat Williams

Walt Disney’s life provides powerful lessons that can be applied in any leadership position. Author Pat Williams recognized this, and went behind the legend to discover a man every bit as fascinating as the world he created.

How to Be Like Walt is the result of thousands of hours of interviews of the people who knew Walt best. In addition to being a fascinating life story of one of our nation’s most creative minds, the author has distilled Walt’s life into 17 lessons – lessons that we all could learn from.

Live the Adventure – Walt’s boyhood on a farm near Marceline MO inspired a sense of wonder and imagination that stayed with him throughout his life. He also experienced treatment from his father that by today’s standards would be abusive. Yet he didn’t let those memories dominate; instead, he shaped his life around the warm, nostalgic memories of his boyhood. It doesn’t matter where you came from, or who your parents are, or what happened when you were a child. All that matters is that you are willing to live the adventure and dream big dreams, them make those dreams come true.

Be a Salesman – A deeper look at Walt’s life reveals that from the beginning of his career, he was a salesman – one of the greatest salesman the world has ever known. He worked hard and sold his ideas from the earliest days of his career. Walt had the right idea and the right spirit, and he was willing to go out and sell his ideas, even when faced with huge challenges. A great salesman can’t be stopped. Be honest, enthusiastic, confident, courageous and persistent. Sell your dreams, and make them come true.

Dare to Do the Impossible – Walt returned from France after WWI and believed that anything was possible. He was audacious enough to believe that an 18-year old with one year of art school could go to a newspaper and get a job as a political cartoonist. He was brash enough to believe that he could teach animation to other artists – after learning to animate after reading two books checked out from the library. He was reckless enough that, after going bankrupt in Kansas City he went to Hollywood to start over in animated cartoons when all the animation studios were in New York City. Dare to do the impossible. Dream big dreams, and don’t be surprised when your impossible dreams come true.

Unleash Your Imagination – After losing the rights to his first cartoon creation (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), Walt responded with imagination. In effect, he said “I’ll solve this problem by creating something new, something the world has never seen before.” So Walt created Mickey Mouse. Walt had an astounding creative awareness. He not only stored up ideas and material in his mind, but he was alert to ideas from the world around him. He had the ability to expand a good idea into a spectacular idea.

Tomorrow: How to Be Like Walt, Part 2 

My favorite post from July, 2012

How to Be Like Walt, Part 2

Walt Disney had a burning desire for excellence in everything he did. He was always thinking, ‘We can do it better.’ That’s a common trait of all successful people.

Royal Clark, former treasurer of WED Enterprises

Walt Disney’s life provides powerful lessons that can be applied in any leadership position. Author Pat Williams recognized this, and went behind the legend to discover a man every bit as fascinating as the world he created.

How to Be Like Walt is the result of thousands of hours of interviews of the people who knew Walt best. In addition to being a fascinating life story of one of our nation’s most creative minds, the author has distilled Walt’s life into 17 lessons – lessons that we all could learn from. I introduced the topic yesterday; here are a few more:

Plus Every Experience: Sometime during the 1940s, Walt coined the term “plussing.” Normally, the word “plus” is a conjunction, as in “two plus two equals four.” But Walt used the word as a verb – an action word. To “plus” something is to improve it. “Plussing” means giving your guests more than they paid for, more than they expect, more than you have to give them. No matter what “business” you are in, your success depends on your commitment to excellence and attention to detail. If you deliver more than people expect, you will turn people into fans. Pursue excellence in everything you do.

Be a Person of Stick-to-it-ivity: Today we look at Disneyland and say, “Of course! Just what the world needed. How could it miss?” But in 1955, Disneyland was the biggest gamble in the history of American business. The risk paid off – not because Walt was lucky or favored or a genius. It paid off because Walt wouldn’t quit. The success of Disneyland is, first and foremost, the result of sheer dogged determination and persistence in the face of obstacles and opposition. In his own words, “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done, and done right.”

Become Like a Sponge for Ideas: Walt continually fed his mind with information and ideas. He absorbed inspiration wherever he went. If you want to be like Walt – more creative, more imaginative, and more successful – then keep your eyes and ears open. Read. Watch. Travel. Talk to people wherever you go. Ask questions. Invite opinions. Become a sponge for ideas.

Ask Yourself “How About Tomorrow?”: Walt embraced the future and put the stamp of his own personality on tomorrow. If we want to help shape a better tomorrow, then we need to continually ask ourselves the same question Walt asked Ray Bradbury: “How about tomorrow?” The difference between today and tomorrow is something called change. It takes courage to embrace the future, because the future is about change, and change brings uncertainty and anxiety. We fear change; we prefer the comfort of the familiar. But change is inevitable. If we do not become future-focused, we are doomed to obsolescence when tomorrow arrives. There are so many possible futures – which one will you choose?

Here are the rest of the author’s “How to Be Like Walt” lessons:

  • Become an Animated Leader
  • Take a Risk
  • Dealing with Loss
  • Live for the Next Generation
  • Build Complementary Partnerships
  • Stay Focused
  • Accept Your Mortality
  • Make Your Family Your Top Priority
  • Be the Person God Made You to Be

Each of the 17 lessons in the book are richly illustrated with stories by and about Walt Disney. I encourage you to get a copy and prepare to be delighted – and challenged.

Walt’s life challenges us to dream bigger, reach higher, work harder, risk more, and persevere as long as it takes. That is the rich legacy Walt Disney left us. That is the supreme lesson of his endlessly instructive life. The riches of an incredible, adventure-filled life are within our grasp – if we will dare to be like Walt.

Pat Williams

If you liked these two posts, here a few more select Disney-related posts:

The Secret of Disney World

Top Ten Takeaways from Our Disney World Adventure

Understanding Guests Like Disney