Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

Leadership Lessons from Walt Disney: Building Relationships

December 17, 2013 by Bruce Jones, Programming Director, Disney Institute


One of the key leadership lessons we have learned from Walt Disney is that optimism is critical for leadership excellence. After all, it was Walt’s optimism during a time of turbulence that led to his greatest innovation: Mickey Mouse. However, Walt’s leadership legacy spans far beyond this achievement in more subtle ways.  

To be a leader, one doesn’t need to build a physical monument attributed to their success. A successful leader builds relationships. Walt’s people management skills were essential to help achieve his vision. Walt once said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” Cultivating genuine relationships with your colleagues and employees is integral to the foundation of any successful organization.

However, a recent HBR article, Focused Leader, warns that personal relationships often suffer as individuals are placed in higher leadership positions. Goleman says that, "alarmingly, research suggests that as people rise through the ranks and gain power, their ability to perceive and maintain personal connections tends to suffer a sort of psychic attrition. This should be a warning to top executives, who need to respond to fast-moving competitive situations by tapping the full range of ideas and talents within an organization, when their inclination may be to ignore smart ideas from the lower ranks." 

Walt Disney intuitively understood this. One morning while visiting his first theme park, Disneyland, Walt invited some third-shift maintenance workers to drop what they were doing and join him for a chat. When their manager found them talking with Walt, he asked Walt if he could have them back to finish their work before the park opened. As they went back to their assignments, the manager felt compelled to ask Walt why he was spending his valuable time talking with third-shift workers. Walts philosophy was that good ideas come from everyone. His example set the tone for a culture that follows the premise that everyone is creative.  

Walt Disney serves as an example of a leader who genuinely cared for his people and intentionally found ways to strengthen his relationships with colleagues and Cast Members every day.

How do you strengthen your workplace relationships and stay connected with your colleagues?

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If you’d like to learn more about our approach and adapt it to strengthen your own personal leadership skills, consider enrolling in our Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence professional development training course.

For nearly three decades, Disney Institute has provided engaging and insightful learning opportunities for business professionals and organizations, teaching them the Disney approach to business….focusing on Service, Leadership, Culture, Brand Loyalty, Creativity and Innovation. To learn more about how you can attend an upcoming course at the Disneyland Resort in Southern California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, see our full Course Calendar. Not sure which course is best for you? Try our Course Recommender.


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Posted in Leadership Excellence | Tagged Leadership, Leadership Skills, Leadership Development, Leadership Lessons from Walt, Corporate Culture, Collaborative Culture, Walt Disney, Bruce Jones | 0 Comments

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