Over the holidays, I saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and his persistence in getting P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, to agree to make a movie. A few years back I read a biography of Walt Disney, one of the most visionary, imaginative and innovative people in the last century. In the book and in the movie, Disney displays a remarkable leadership style that we can all learn from:
- Provide the Vision – Disney was a true visionary, relentless in driving his team toward his dream. At different phases, he focused on Mickey Mouse and cartoons, then on making the “best” animated movies, then to his theme park that was truly unique in its time.
- Hire the Best – Walt Disney also worked hard to surround himself with the most talented people, artists and animators and marketing people to sell his inventions.
- Set and Keep High Standards – To this day, the Walt Disney Company is renowned for its quality. Walt himself was insistent, for example, that the theme park be perfectly clean. He was constantly setting the bar higher for his animators as his films advanced.
- Create an Environment that Lets People Excel – this is clear in the movie. He gave talented employees an environment to be creative and inventive, making a musical from the pages of the Mary Poppins book.
- Exhibit Humility – this is also on display in the movie. Walt was adamant that everyone be on a first name basis, which became a humorous ongoing battle with “Mrs. Travers,” the author who preferred the formality of last names. While he challenged his employees, he would also roll up his sleeves and work with his team. He was outgoing and down-to-earth with everyone he met and worked with.
Certainly a fascinating man and leader. He was not perfect, but did a whole lot of things right. So even if you are not a creative genius, you can learn some practical leadership tips from Walt Disney.
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