LEADERSHIP, MANAGEMENT, AND THE DISNEY BROTHERS

Walt-disneyWalt Disney is surely one of the most familiar names in the world. Roy Disney is not. Roy was Walt’s brother, and he played a vital but different role in the success of the Disney enterprises. In many ways you can think of the differences between them in terms of the distinction we’ve been making between leadership and management. In many ways Walt was the creative leader, Roy the manager or “financial guy”. The success of the Disney enterprises was due to the complementary contributions, and their story provides an interesting illustration of how leaders interact with their followers and situations differently than managers do (Snyder, Dowd, & Houghton, 1994). 

WALT DISNEY AND MICKEYOne of Walt’s distinctive qualities was his drive to experiment and find new ways to improve motion picture quality. He was an innovator himself, but even more importantly he encouraged his staff to be innovative. His studio was always “on the move”. He wanted it to be on the technological cutting edge of animation art and never fall prey to a cut-and-dried way of doing things. From the early days, Walt handled the creative side of Disney productions whereas Roy handled the job of securing financing for their cartoons. Walt was never interested in making money as an end itself, but rather as a means to producing ever-better films. He would not compromise his sense of film quality to increase profit. In fact, he was a gambler willing to risk all for an idea he believed in. Walt’s enthusiasm for the creative process was infectious and spread to his staff, who themselves were more dedicated to their art than to the bottom line staff, who themselves were more dedicated to their art than to the bottom line. Walt’s staff believed they were pioneers who were changing the very nature of mass media. He created an energetic and informal environment; he resisted rigid procedures and bureaucracy, yet his staff believed he ran the best studio in the world. One way Walt inspired such commitment among his followers was through his own commitment to their development and creative involvement in the studio’s work. He brought out the best in them, a quality of work beyond what they believed themselves capable of. He wanted all the people working for him to feel they were making indispensable contributions to the overall project. He encouraged his staff to use their own skills to devise original solutions to challenges rather than merely find out what he wanted them to do. 

WALT AND ROY O. DISNEYAn interesting case in point of the difference between a leader’s and manager’s orientation may be in the disagreement Walt and Roy Disney had over Walt’s idea of a new amusement park. What we now know as Disneyland, and may incorrectly assume looked like a surefire success as soon as Walt proposed it, was initially opposed by Roy. Roy thought it was just another one of Walt’s crazy ideas, and was only willing to risk $10,000 of studio money on what he thought was a harebrained project. Trusting his own vision more than his brother’s risk-averse conservatism, Walt scraped together the money needed to finance Disneyland – in part by borrowing on his own life insurance. Even after Walt’s death the differences between him and his brother illustrate what’s different between leadership and management. Without Walt’s creative leadership, the studio fell under the management of “Roy men” who produced moderately successful but uninspired formula pieces for two decades. Only under Michael Eisner, a “Walt man” who understands popular culture, has the studio regained a leading place in American business. 

SOURCE: Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy, LEADERSHIP – Enhancing The Lessons Of Experience”, New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Irwin, International Edition, 2002, pages  40-43. 

Jakarta, 12 February 2014

This entry was posted in GREAT BUSINESS LEADERS - IN ENGLISH, LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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