Walt Disney on Leadership- Full History

Walt Disney on Leadership

Introduction of the founder:

A visionary and the pioneer of the animation industry Walt Disney has left a legendary fantasy world behind him. Born in 1901, in the Chicago Hermosa neighborhood, Disney was the fourth child of Elias and Flora Disney. He was always intrigued by drawing. From the small town of Chicago to Hollywood, Walt Disney’s ride was quite bumpy. Let’s discuss the topic- Walt Disney on Leadership.

The early 19th century was a challenging phase for all across the globe. From changing, powers in politics to different inventions and development in various fields were on the rise. During this era, Disney started his career at the age of six by selling newspapers to becoming a cartoonist in the ad agency. 

A Journey from being a Cartoonist to building an empire:

An empire is never built overnight; it takes several sleepless nights, years of hard work, and an act of courage to surpass all the hurdles. Before introducing Mickey Mouse to the world, Walt Disney had faced a series of failures. In 1923, Laugh-O-grams Disney’s first studio faced bankruptcy, and then he faced a range of rejections in Hollywood. Indeed, his determination, hard work, and love for animation made him establish another cartoon studio that turned into a media powerhouse over the years. 

Leadership Style of Walt Disney:  Walt Disney was a leader of optimal behavior. What made him stand out from other leaders or storytellers in Hollywood was his vision and his ability to execute the vision. When we speak about Walt Disney, he was an institution in itself. Despite all the failures and mishaps that he faced in his personal and professional life, his personality always stood out from others. Often Walt Disney was termed an Autocratic Leader, but he was an Authentic Leader with all the projects that he imagined and executed.

Leadership Qualities of Walt Disney: Some of his extraordinary skills turned his tiny cartoon studio into a world of entertainment that included fairy tales, dreamy lands, TV shows, and completed amusement parks. 

  • Zealous of his dreams: If Walt Disney dreamt, then he even tested his dreams against his beliefs.” He was always zealous towards his art and their executions, but the others in the industry did not believe him. His ideas were constantly rejected, saying that they were meaningless and a sheer waste of time. Many moviemakers even turned down his famous and the most renowned animation of Mickey Mouse. Nonetheless, he continued to chase his dreams and stood by his vision throughout. Hence his vision and dream resulted in a world of cartoons & animators.
  • Mission-driven and Risk-taker: If he dared to dream, he dared to take a risk. Walt always took a risk for any of his projects. In order to produce some of the animated films, he had bet his entire studio and earnings. He was never aiming at earning money, power, or ego, but he was on a mission. A mission to make others happy, smile, and live their childhood at any age. Building amusement parks was his dream to enjoy those childhood days that he was unable to live. And with his vision and charismatic style, he always stood out of every problem. Leaders like Walt Disney are always able to put the mission and goal of the organization ahead of their interests.  
  • Relentless Enhancements: Walt Disney dedicated all his time towards enhancing talents, raising resources, and focusing on his goals. Every scene, every movie, and every animation were monitored by him closely. It didn’t mean that he did not trust his employees or animators, but he was emotionally & financially engrossed in his every project. Even the grandest project of his life, Disneyland, its operation, and every ride in it, was checked by him. These constant improvements in work and towards achieving your goals teach us how authentic leaders never settle on incomplete or average projects.
  • Fearless towards failures: Walt Disney was constantly lively, energetic, and enthusiastic towards his work. He neither celebrated his success nor was disheartened by any of the failures. He believed that every failure was a lesson, and it taught him something new every time. Every good and bad experience bought him one step closer to creativity and opened new possibilities for him. His confident attitude at studios passed positivity and enthusiasm in the employees. 
  • Partnerships: Usually, in such an enormous establishment, there is always a rivalry between family members. However, at Disney, the strongest asset in building the empire was the partnership between the Disney brothers. If one was the master of his creative abilities, the other was an educated financial advisor who managed the companies accounts & legal matters. Such bonds between the brothers show that Walt believed in collaborations, which resulted in nothing but success.
  • Relationship-oriented: A true leader is someone that not just motivates or gets the work done from his employees but someone who can guide, mentor, and upskills their talents. Walt Disney had built his Art school for his employees to get the desired animation. Decades have passed, but the company and the name Walt Disney is an iconic place for artists. The relationship with his viewers and animators is a benchmark for generations. His ideas, imaginations, his relations with his co-workers and other staff have left a mark in the history of leadership.    

Leadership Traits of Walt Disney: There are specific characteristics in a leader that are developed with several experiences, practices, and failures that one faces. And then, there are some traits that the leader is born with; these are some of Walt Disney’s inborn traits that are seen throughout his career.

  • Confidence: Walt Disney could inspire others; he could plant confidence in any of his employees or artist. At the same time, he was a confident leader. Walt Disney never showed hesitation or reluctance after taking the final decision. Even if he had to bet his entire earnings for his projects, he showed confidence and a positive attitude to his employees. In the end, what matters the most is to reach its goal with confidence and competence.
  • Curiosity: A curious mind explores behind the given or available possibilities. Walt Disney was known for taking risks and exploring beyond one’s capabilities. None of his failures demotivated him; he kept on innovating and experimenting with new things. Curiosity was one thing that kept him leading down to new paths. People discouraged him when he came up with the Mickey Mouse cartoon and even for his amusement parks ideas. But he followed his curious and risk-taker mind; and achieved the impossible.
  • Perseverance: Walt Disney was known as a finisher; no rejection or criticism could stop him. Patience and Perseverance were his biggest assets in his career. He was fired from his job, his first studio faced bankruptcy, witnessed rejections in Hollywood, and bet his entire earnings for animation productions. But he succeeded in all his ventures and raised his bar every time. All this happened because he was determined, patient, and he never stopped trying. By all means, Walt Disney was a self-motivated leader.     

Some more Characteristics of Walt Disney

  1. Integrity
  2. Humility
  3. Excellence
  4. Detail-oriented
  5. Passionate 
  6. Charismatic
  7. Ethical
  8. Consistency

Some principles that Walt Disney applied in his approach were

  • Walt Disney always said, “I hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing- that it was all started by a mouse.” He always taught his employees that one should never forget who they are and from where they started.  
  • Every success was a stepping stone towards his larger dreams, ideas, or rather a risk. He was never afraid to try anything new or experiment with his ideas. Disney always wanted to entertain families, and he did that for a good long 30 years. 
  • Walt Disney said to his employees, “either you go big, or you go home,” which meant either you execute an idea at a larger scale or you don’t do it at all. But for Disney, it was either big or biggest, and that’s what he built. The biggest Disneyland for generations to cherish and enjoy the place with their loved ones.
  • Walt never believed in copying others; he said, “I am not influenced by the techniques or fashion of any other motion picture company.” He meant that one should never allow any other businesses or ideas to influence our line of work. One is called an innovator only if he has original and unique ideas of his own.
  • Walt was an extraordinary leader. Once, he said, “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” His sharp communication skills helped him to coordinate with every other artist or employee at work effectively. Every leader or employee at a higher position should have these skills to get the desired results. 
  • The one quality that all leaders should possess is that they should preach less and act more. Walt said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” So, we should not just get motivated, but we should get moving.
  • Walt never forgot his roots, core beliefs, and values. He quoted, “I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous.” No matter how famous and lucrative one becomes, he needs to stay grounded and should hang out with the right people.   

Leadership Skills of Walt Disney: A true leader is possibly the best salesman too. A dream is incomplete if one cannot sell it to others. To turn a dream into a reality, one needs to have resources, manpower, and money. And Walt Disney was able to bag all his dreams with the skills that he had.

  • Good communication: Be it an autocratic or an authentic leader, he fails as a leader if he cannot communicate his ideas or messages to his employees. Nevertheless, Walt Disney had sharp communication skills; he delivered the message effectively to the employees and made sure that it was thoroughly explained and executed. Because of his communication skills, he was able to reach employees at all levels and could explain, guide them or fix their errors.
  • Creativity: A rare storyteller of his generation. Walt Disney was way ahead of his time to understand animation and the art behind making animated movies. Walt was famous for his ability to transform incredible creative ideas into profitable realities. He was not just a cartoonist, but he would perform with expression and give voiceovers for the characters. Disney said, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever. His creativity was never limited to the available techniques; he always ventured into new and upcoming technology for his movies. 
  • Convincing power: Once Disney historian Craig Hodgkin said, “Walt was completely focused on his products and his goals, not on himself.” Walt Disney was known for his persuasive ability to sell his ideas, products, or movies to customers, employees, and investors. As an innovator, he was able to get people to trust him and his dreams. Walt Disney- The world’s best and enthusiastic salesman, who never failed to convince others.


His visions and his dreams revolutionized the entertainment industry by creating characters that touched everyone’s hearts, movies that became popular across all generations, and a theme park that made everyone relive their childhood dreams. Walt Disney was a famous leader because he was focused on his visions and was constantly innovating in his field. Disney believed in motivating and inspiring his workforce in those days, where leadership only meant using one’s power to suppress others. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the CEO of Disney now?

Bob Chapek is the current CEO of Disney.

Who is the current creative director of Disney?

Tom Vazzana is the current Show Director with Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment-Show Development.

Does the Disney family still own the company?

No, now it is a publicly traded company.

Walt Disney on Leadership- Full History

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