Sunday, February 22, 2009

Qualities of Leadership

As a result of the research I have done on Walt Disney, I believe that he would be best characterized as a promoter. Promoters are imaginative, creative, and persuasive. They are also persuasive and insightful. All of these characteristics served Walt well as he was starting out in the field of animation. There were many times in the early years of his career where people doubted his ideas and told him that his dreams would never find success. These qualities enabled him to persevere with optimism and a firm belief in himself and his ideas. He was enthusiastic about his ideas, and always believed that he would find a way to make them a reality. Walt Disney was always thinking about the next innovation in his field. Walt was the first in the world to create a synchronized sound cartoon, which featured Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie (Richardson, 2004). He created the first color cartoon in 1932 entitled Flowers and Trees which won Walt the first of his studio’s academy awards (Thomas, 1966). Disney also created the first full-length animated musical feature when he created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in 1937 (Thomas, 1966). I strongly believe that none of these ‘firsts’ would have occurred if it weren’t for his imaginative, persuasive, and enthusiastic personality.

There were several turning points in Walt Disney’s life. During the fall of 1918, Walt attempted to enlist in the military. Because he was only sixteen years old, he was rejected. Instead he joined the Red Cross and spent a year driving an ambulance in France. The time spent in France was the first that Walt realized he was mature enough to be independent and was ready to start pursuing a career in commercial art. Upon returning from France, Walt went into business with Ub Iwerks, making animated advertisement films. When a film distributor cheated the young producers of their earnings, Disney was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1923. Undiscouraged, Walt moved to California and partnered with his brother, Roy. This was the beginning of Walt Disney Productions. In 1927, Walt created his first cartoon star when he drew “Oswald the Rabbit.” This creation established Disney as a leading cartoon maker in the film industry (Thomas, 1966). At the end of the first year’s contract for Oswald, Walt attempted to get more money to improve his animation, but the distributor wanted to pay less. While trying to negotiate a deal in New York, the distributor informed Walt that they owned the rights to Oswald and his services were no longer needed. In addition to losing the rights to Oswald, most of the Disney animators had left California to work for the New York distributor. Determined to overcome yet another obstacle, Walt began working on a new idea. On the train ride back to California, Mickey Mouse was born.

Failure has been a major factor in Walt Disney’s life. There were many times in Walt’s career when he was in serious financial trouble due to the rising costs of animation. Many of Disney’s most successful undertakings were initially thought to be crazy ideas that would never succeed. Although he suffered many setbacks in his career, Walt learned from each setback, and continued to take even bigger risks. These risks combined with the wisdom gained from experiencing failure led Walt Disney to find success that was beyond what anyone expected from him. Walt never saw failure as a reason to give up. Instead, he found strength and determination in his failures. One of his most famous quotations explains this best. He said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you” (Thomas, 1966).


Richardson, A. (2004). The story of Disney. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media.

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


  1. Jolene,
    Although I would not classify Sam Walton to be primarily a promoter like you did Walt Disney, they do share the qualities of innovativeness and insightfulness. These qualities helped Walt develop the first synchronized sound cartoon, color cartoon, and first full-length animated musical feature. They also helped Sam to buy more than $5 billion in American-made goods that would have previously been purchased overseas. Insights like those of Walt and Sam’s don’t usually become a success without some form of resistance. As leaders and “pioneers” in their respective fields, they used their innovativeness to be one step ahead of the competition. When their competition and critics came around, both of these leaders were onto their next idea.

  2. It is obvious that Walt Disney was so successful as a leader because he was not afraid of failure. He failed many times before getting his big break but always bounced back. He risked everything several times in his life but fortunately always came out on top. A leader must be resilient.

    According to the information you’ve provided, it truly seems like he had a unique ability to see the entire picture. Walt certainly was and used many of his creative intelligences in producing his animation, including the linguistic and musical expertise in producing his varied types of works.

    He was also extremely intelligent in the visual/spatial realm, but he was just as strong interpersonally. He needed and was able to communicate with the public to please them and determine what they needed and wanted. Like Spielberg, he had the ability to take something that exists in his imagination only and forge it into a physical existence that directly influences the experience of others.

  3. It seems that both our leaders demonstrated a unique determination to succeed. You had wrote that failure has been a major factor in Walt Disney’s life. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first visit to America was a huge disappointment. He had made a low budget movie that was a flop. However, he did not focus on the negative. His determination to succeed overcame his first movie bust. Due to this determination, he went on to become one of the biggest names in movie history.

  4. Hi Jolene,

    I would certainly agree with your assertion that Walt Disney is a promoter. As you have stated and many of us have had the great pleasure of viewing ourselves; he embodies the ideas and qualities that make a promoter. In many ways he is what leaders strive to be. He had a vision and through hard work, determination and perseverance he made his dream, his vision, a reality. Because of this many, many people have jobs, have careers and have had the opportunity to pursue their own dreams.

    As I read through the turning points in his life it became apparent that throguh his struggles he became stronger and more dedicated. This is typically true of leaders. Those who do not overcome are not leaders and thus would be included in this conversation. This was very interesting reading; thank you!