Leading Forward by Looking Back to the Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow in recent years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club

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Favorite Books of 2014, Part 2

Yesterday I introduced my first 7 books on my favorite books published in 2014; you can read it here.

Here are the remaining 7 books:

Curious about these books? Read on!

InnovatorsThe Innovators, Walter Isaacson

The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens.

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

AMoreBeautifulQuestionA More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger

In this groundbreaking book, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger shows that one of the most powerful forces for igniting change in business and in our daily lives is a simple, under-appreciated tool—one that has been available to us since childhood. Questioning—deeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”—can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. So why are we often reluctant to ask “Why?”

Berger shows, the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners. They’ve mastered the art of inquiry, raising questions no one else is asking—and finding powerful answers.

WhosTheLeaderofTheClubWho’s the Leader of the Club, Jim Korkis

Acclaimed Disney expert Jim Korkis tells the stories of what Walt did right, what he did wrong, and how you can follow in his footsteps. Drawing upon his unparalleled knowledge of the Disney Company and its legacy, Korkis distills the essence of Walt Disney’s leadership principles into an exciting narrative of popular history and self-help.

You’ll read not just about what Walt did but why he did it, and how you can apply the lessons to your own life or your own enterprise.

DoodleRevolutionThe Doodle Revolution, Sunni Brown

What did Einstein, JFK, Edison, Marie Curie, and Henry Ford have in common? They were all inveterate doodlers. These powerhouse minds knew instinctively that doodling is deep thinking in disguise—a simple, accessible, and dynamite tool for innovating and solving even the stickiest problems.

Sunni Brown’s mission is to bring the power of the Doodle to the rest of us. She leads the Revolution defying all those parents, teachers, and bosses who say Stop doodling! Get serious! Grow up! She overturns misinformation about doodling, demystifies visual thinking, and shows us the power of applying our innate visual literacy.

Doodling has led to countless breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine, architecture, literature, and art. And as Brown proves in this inspiring, empowering book, it can help all of us think and do better in whatever fields we pursue.

With passion and wit, Brown guides you from the basic Doodle all the way to the formidable “Infodoodle”—the tight integration of words, numbers, images, and shapes that craft and display higher-level thinking.

MythsofCreativityThe Myths of Creativity, David Burkas

We tend to think of creativity in terms reminiscent of the ancient muses: divinely-inspired, unpredictable, and bestowed upon a lucky few. But when our jobs challenge us to be creative on demand, we must develop novel, useful ideas that will keep our organizations competitive. The Myths of Creativitydemystifies the processes that drive innovation. Based on the latest research into how creative individuals and firms succeed, David Burkus highlights the mistaken ideas that hold us back and shows us how anyone can embrace a practical approach, grounded in reality, to finding the best new ideas, projects, processes, and programs.

LifeAnimatedLife, Animated, Ron Suskind

Imagine being trapped inside a Disney movie and having to learn about life mostly from animated characters dancing across a screen of color. A fantasy? A nightmare? This is the real-life story of Owen Suskind, the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind and his wife, Cornelia. An autistic boy who couldn’t speak for years, Owen memorized dozens of Disney movies, turned them into a language to express love and loss, kinship, brotherhood.The family was forced to become animated characters, communicating with him in Disney dialogue and song; until they all emerge, together, revealing how, in darkness, we all literally need stories to survive.

HowStarWarsConqueredUniverseHow Star Wars Conquered the Universe

In How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, veteran journalist Chris Taylor traces the series from the difficult birth of the original film through its sequels, the franchise’s death and rebirth, the prequels, and the preparations for a new trilogy. Providing portraits of the friends, writers, artists, producers, and marketers who labored behind the scenes to turn Lucas’s idea into a legend, Taylor also jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how Star Wars has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long.

Since the first film’s release in 1977, Taylor shows, Star Wars has conquered our culture with a sense of lightness and exuberance, while remaining serious enough to influence politics in far-flung countries and spread a spirituality that appeals to religious groups and atheists alike. Controversial digital upgrades and poorly received prequels have actually made the franchise stronger than ever. Now, with a savvy new set of bosses holding the reins and Episode VII on the horizon, it looks like Star Wars is just getting started.

An energetic, fast-moving account of this creative and commercial phenomenon, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe explains how a young filmmaker’s fragile dream beat out a surprising number of rivals to gain a diehard, multigenerational fan base—and why it will be galvanizing our imaginations and minting money for generations to come.


That’s it for 2014. My reading list for 2015 is already underway – Amazon is making a delivery tomorrow, and I’ve just received an email from the library – a book I’ve got on hold just came in.

What will you be reading?

Summer Time is Reading Time!

What’s on your bookshelf for reading this summer?

Here’s a couple of new books for your consideration:

Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons, by Jim Korkis

Who's the Leader of the Club

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz, by J. Jeff Kober

DHS from Show Biz to Your Biz

Korkis and Kober are no strangers to the Disney organization – both are former Cast Members, and both have written extensively about various aspects of Disney.

Who’s the Leader of the Club is Korkis’ first venture into a business application of his vast knowledge of all things Disney, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. He provides a section on Disney and Leadership and then follows that with seven leadership lessons as exemplified by Walt Disney. The final section is a collection of quotes, bad leadership examples, and stories by and about Walt Disney’s leadership.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Kober’s second Disney-specific book with a business theme, and takes the reader “behind-the-camera” to understand and apply the Disney magic to any organization. The book contains over forty chapters of park history, Disney trivia, and business best practices designed to help your organization get ready for its closeup.

Remember: Leaders are Readers!