Genius Behind Walt Disney’s Leadership Style: Exposed

In the year 1923, Walt Disney Corporation was started by Walt Disney. It comprises Disney movies, Disney toys, Disney clothing lines, etc.

Disney World turns out to be the biggest vacation park on earth. The planning and details he put into his works were the single most trait that Disney went on to exhibit.

One of the main reasons why Disney was successful is that he carried his vision and mission over to other areas of the company.

Walt Disney And His Initial Days Of Leadership

Walt Disney, as a leader, was creative and innovative. His flair for creativity and art was his greatest trait.

With his innovative trait, he could keep up with the technology, and he became an innovator in this form of technology. He set up his school for his employees, and he wanted to carry on his mission since most of the art schools were not complying with the latest technologies.

At the same time, Walt Disney was a risk-taker. It was evident at the mere age of 20 years when he went on to start his own cartoon, Laughs and Grams,” and it was learning by the trial-and-error method.

Though he did not spend money on small projects, he blew up his entire budget on a single film. Halfway through the production of the movie, he was broken.

Walt Disney strived for excellence, and he decided that in order to be more successful than any other distributor, he would formulate a way to synchronize the animation part so that the sound effects and the music would run simultaneously.

Though he felt he required something revolutionary, in 1928, Mickey Mouse came onto the scene. The voice of Mickey Mouse came from Walt Disney, and he owned the rights to the Mickey Mouse character itself.

Walt Disney Leadership Traits

Helping others is a trait of an effective leader. To ensure that the best people did his work, he went around all over the country and offered the artists a choice in how they would pay their fees.

Walt Disney attracted people with his characteristic appeal and went on to develop a family-like work environment. He demanded excellence from his employees, who also went on to replicate the same.

His scalability, along with casual and personal relationships, built trust in the employees and fulfilled the vision of Disney. Eventually, the employees were happy to work long hours without extra pay as they believed in what they were doing.

Things took a drastic turn with the production of the first movie, Snow White, and Disney turned animation into a production line process similar to that of a factory.

How Things Turned Out On The Leadership Front

The move was not anticipated to be a great one for the employees, as they felt the work environment was very stressful. At this point, the leadership went on to become more authoritative than ever before.

Walt Disney went on to segregate men and women, and he believed that the hands of women became shaky after age 30 and that it was better for them to do menial jobs.

Walt Disney exercised an authoritative leadership style after he moved to a new studio, as he became controlling. He went off his old philosophy of treating his employees as family members and fired them at the slightest possible instance.

No form of conflict resolution was there, and it was simple if he did not like anyone, he fired them.

Walt Disney and his authoritative form of leadership

With the passage of time, he went on to become bigger and bigger. In a way, he was prejudiced and let it know that he did not like Jews or African Americans.

An instance was when the HR department went on to hire a Hindu male, and he was fired because his skin was dark.

There was another example of his autocratic form of leadership due to the lack of decision-making by the employees. He was known to fire people on the spot if he disagreed with their decision, but at the same time, he did take input from his employees occasionally.

Such a leadership style is referred to as a participative form of leadership, as the leader will involve a couple of people in the decision-making process.

Qualities Of An Ineffective Leader

Though Walt Disney had a lot of the qualities of an ineffective leader, apart from these skills, he went on to possess manipulative skills, which undermined his credibility as a leader.

Once upon a time, he was charismatic, friendly, and social with his employees, but things changed when he moved over to a new studio and made $8 million in sales from Snow White.
His attitude changed, and he went on to become a controlling person.

He no longer liked anyone to question him, and he directed everything; if someone did not comply with the same, he was fired. A few of his former employees went on to describe him as a taskmaster, though he was a strict person and did not praise anyone.

A good leader is defined by his success in his professional and personal life. The fact that he went on to show his family was different from that of the workers, as he would never go on to tell his employees what a good job was.

He would trust people to defend what they believed in. One thing was certain: the employees were never sure what kind of mood he would be in.

They would send someone to the office to check if he was wearing the bear suit, as it meant he was cranky.

Provide credit when people deserve it.

Walt Disney was responsible for taking credit for all his productions without acknowledging anyone.

This created a lot of resentment among the artists, who were unhappy with his leadership style as he was stealing credit for their works.

How Walt Disney Altered His Earlier Stance

The happy environment around Disney soured, and the employees did not consider him a father figure anymore. This led to a scenario where the employees protested being unionized.

Disney was not in favor of all this, as it would take control away from him. The union would determine how the workers would be treated. But Disney felt that he treated his workers fairly, which was more than enough.

Though the workers threatened to walk out, Disney did not budge. The workers felt that Disney would take care of their grievances.

Disney felt he was a fine father to his employees, but the employees felt their father betrayed them. These rational dynamics turned into a major conflict.

The interesting point is that from the beginning, Disney considered himself a father figure, as he believed it was an authoritative leadership style.


The strike continued for more than two months, and Disney was distraught. Obviously, he would not give in to higher wages, better union support, or quality working conditions.

But he resorted to another tactic, which was intimidation. An example is that he threatened to end the production of animation so that it would enable the production of more live pieces.

He went on to tell the animators that if he fired them, they would find no employment since he was the top dog in the industry.

The strike created animosity between the workers who remained loyal to Disney and those who participated in the strike.


The moment the second month of the strike approached, Disney turned over to organized crime. He went on to avail himself of the services of a member of the Capone family to neutralize the strike and keep the trade unions out.

On one end, Walt Disney was a powerful and successful film director, and on the other hand, he was a manipulative director who went on to destroy the lives of many by using his reputation and power.

There was a general belief that he used power and influence to seek revenge. At his initial level, Walt Disney started off with exemplary leadership skills that personified his style. Still, once he gained the power to influence, win admiration, and control, his leadership qualities changed for the worse.


He started by motivating his employees and considering them as part of a family as they kept returning. He was renowned for his silliness and acting out on the storyboards.

The employees found this entertaining, and by engaging with them, he gave them a feeling of mentorship, enabling them to perform to the best of their abilities.

Many of the leadership styles showcased by Disney were the epitome of their times. For example, men were only allowed to perform animations, and women undertook menial jobs that the Disney Corporation only accepted. Despite this, women were opposed and unable to perform tasks that men could.


Walt Disney was a master of his philosophy. One of the simple philosophies we have gone on to learn is that you do not build it for yourself; you want people to want and build it for themselves. The best way to know about a person is to treat them as guests and ask them face to face in person.

This does not mean we should stop using traditional research methods, as Disney, by all means, tries to understand what you can expect from Disney experiences.

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