Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leadership Capacities

Walt Disney was a leader who exemplified many leadership capacities throughout his 43-year Hollywood career. He demonstrated a strong moral purpose and worked hard to make a difference in the lives of everyone who had interactions with Walt Disney Productions. His moral convictions were instilled in him by his parents at a young age. Walt was always striving to make people happy. His first priority was always to his family. Although he struggled to balance work and family at times, he was always there for his wife and daughters. Walt also had a strong commitment to his employees. He knew each person by name and insisted that everyone call him Walt. Throughout his life, and since his death, Walt Disney did more to touch the hearts and minds of millions of Americans than any other person in the past century.

Walt Disney understood and embraced the process of change. He knew that in order to continue to progress and find success, he needed to be one step ahead of change. This was evident through his willingness to take chances on innovative technologies as they developed in his field. When others expressed concern over perceived risks, Walt was always optimistic and had faith in his convictions.

Walt worked hard to build relationships, especially with his employees. He wanted his employees to be happy and he worked closely with everyone in his company. One of the best examples of his willingness to develop relationships is evidenced by his eagerness to help his employees learn more about animation. Walt offered the chance for his employees to attend art school, at his expense. Many of his animators took advantage of Walt’s offer, and as a result, their work improved greatly. They were enthusiastic about this opportunity and were grateful to Walt for taking an interest in their futures. Walt always shared his ideas and concerns with his employees. He believed that the company would work best in an environment where a company worked together in all aspects of the business.

Coherence making is possibly the strongest leadership capacity that Disney possessed. He was constantly able to bring things together to stimulate conversation. Walt knew how to prioritize and focus his work as a result of his moral purpose. He exemplified all of the capacities needed to be considered a true leader. Perhaps the best example of Walt’s leadership is the fact that over forty years after his death, his company has continued to be a pioneer in the field of animation. After Walt died at the age of 65, his brother Roy promised that all of the plans Walt had for the future would continue to move ahead. As stated by Thomas in 1966, Mickey Mouse will continue to endear himself to children everywhere with his lovable antics, Donald Duck will go on delighting them with his squawks and flurry of feathers; and millions of people the world over will, in Walt Disney’s own words, “know he has been alive.”


Thomas, B. (1966). Walt Disney: Magician of the movies. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.


  1. Jolene,
    Walt Disney and Sam Walton truly had a gift when it came to building relationships. They both cared about each and every one of their employees. Sam was similar to Walt in believing that all aspects of the business should be shared with everyone involved. Sam believed the more his associates understood, the more they would care and feel valued. Similar to Walt knowing his employees by name and wishing for them to call him by his first name, Sam traveled the country meeting and discussing ideas with his teams. Walt cared about each individual as a person and paid for them to better themselves through art school. Similarly, Sam Walton listed appreciation as number five in his list of “Running a Successful Company: Ten Rules That Worked for Me” (Walton, p. 247). Sam believed appreciation was more than a paycheck and stock options, but something as simple as a few kind words. As I read about both of these leaders kind words and actions to their employees, but also their humbleness.

  2. Walt Disney was an extraordinary leader. He possessed the character, integrity, honesty and trust that is vital to the development of authentic leadership. The fact that he was able to overcome the stigma that leadership was once about hard skills such as planning, finance and business analysis, is amazing to me! He was growing his empire when command and control ruled the corporate world. The leaders were heroic rationalists who moved people around like pawns and fought like stags. When they spoke, the company employees jumped.

    Walt’s leadership style was concerned however, with soft skills – teamwork, communication and motivation. The trouble with some of today’s working environments is that for many of the employees, the soft skills remain the hardest to understand, let alone master. Walt understood this and utilized his charismatic leadership to inspire others. He provided the motivation for personal loyalty and performance beyond the expectation.

  3. Nobody could ever disagree that Walt Disney was a great leader who cared about the children of America. His stories, movies, and characters always provided a lesson on morals. As you wrote, he demonstrated a strong moral purpose and worked hard to make a difference in the lives of everyone who had interactions with Walt Disney Productions. His moral convictions were instilled in him by his parents at a young age. His first priority was always to his family. The family was also Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest passion. As a child, he had a very strict father and was always trying to please him. Arnold was taught that family came first. Arnold has continued to live with this attitude. However, now, his family extends to the state of California as he proceeds to be the state's Governor.