The Walt Disney Way - President's Day

Published: 2/19/2007 7:46:21 AM

So far in this series about Walt Disney, I've presented things that Walt did well:  his obsession with quality, never being satisfied, not being afraid to take smart risks, always looking ahead.  I'm generally a big fan of his legacy.

One area that he apparently didn't do so well was being a steady and consistent leader of large numbers of people.  On this President's Day, it's worthwhile to note that by most accounts, Walt Disney was a poor leader outside of his personal area of interest, the creative side of animation and entertainment parks.  Even in the creative side, his leadership was fraught with emotion and difficulty.

There are numerous stories of his capricious, arbitrary and conflicting directions to various senior staff members.  He would hire senior executives, and when he felt they were becoming too powerful, fire or demote them.  Even on the creative side, it was said that people trembled at trying to decipher whether he would like their interpretation of his directions or yell at them for it.

His public image was of a genial middle-aged creator of Mickey Mouse and a cast of characters.  His employees knew him as a temperamental, sometimes spiteful and ruthless person who could cast off long-time employees on a whim.  Some of the success of the Disney company came from the steadying influence of his brother Roy, who managed the financial aspects of the company.  At times, Walt and Roy erupted into intense shouting matches, other times Walt would order Roy out of the meeting in anger.

While Walt Disney was a creative icon of modern American culture, he appeared to be most happy with small groups of people.  As a president and manager of large numbers of people, he simply lacked the ability to scale.

Don Jones


Don Jones
CEO, VentureDeal

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