The Leadership of Walt Disney
This biographical study attempts to demonstrate the ways in which Walt Disney’s leadership influenced his followers through his method of leadership and the extent to which his followers influenced his leadership style. This will be demonstrated with reference to relevant leadership theories, whereby section I shall relate the leadership style of Walt Disney with reference to ‘Transformational Leadership’, and more specifically: ‘Idealised Influence’, ‘Inspirational Motivation’, ‘Intellectual Stimulation’ and ‘Individualised Consideration’. Section II considers ‘Path-Goal Theory’ and section III ‘Contingency Theory’. Section IV deals with ‘Team Leadership’ with reference to ‘Leader-Member Exchange Theory’ and, lastly, section V regards the importance of ‘Authentic Leadership’ style to the effectiveness of Walt Disney’s organisational culture. It does not intend to give an in depth commentary on the life of Walt Disney, nor does it anticipate to outline the modus operandi of the Disney Company today. However, it does seek to understand the leadership styles of Walt Disney with reference to theories primarily referenced in extant leadership theory and practice.
I. Transformation Leadership
Walt Disney saw his subordinates as a means not an end. Working beyond traditional leadership, he notoriously took risks and motivated followers to produce a more innovative enterprise. During his leadership, team members were treated as decision makers instead of mere executors of managerial requisition (Flower 1991) and mutually aligned with individual ethos, ethics, values and standards to a long term prospectus of company goals. Germane to the theory of Transformational leadership, one could assimilate his leadership principles through methods of Idealised Influence, Inspirational Motivation, Intellectual Stimulation and Individualised Consideration (Bass & Avolio 1990 in Northouse 2010, p. 180). His method of ‘Idealised Influence’ is evidenced in the clear principles Walt laid out from the beginning, a philosophy which enabled him and his peers to work ‘on the same page’. In this way, when Disney strove to push barriers and take risks, his peers would follow with bidding confidence (Schein 2004, Ingelsson, Eriksson and Lilja 2012). As an ‘Inspirational Motivator’, Walt functioned as an agent for change. He immersed himself in the culture of Disney to co-create symbolic activity with his colleagues and facilitate successful change processes (Brownell 2008). This is evidenced in the intellection incitation for his employees. According to Northouse (2010, p. 179), ‘Intellectual Stimulation’ includes “leadership that stimulates followers to be creative and innovative”. And pertinent to his contemporaries, Walt’s communicative style of leadership enabled the conceptual foundation of Disney to be strengthened through others’ congruousness. Moreover, this provided others the mental stimulation to think creatively and to develop a myriad of possible solutions (Taylor and Wheatley- Lovoy 1998). In this way, Walt yielded the possibility for people to think in a similar way yet, interpretatively, create progressive and innovative solutions (Ward 2003). His leadership vision comprised a strategic vision, of which one could relate and, consequently, assimilate. Frances and Mintzberg (1989) articulation of his visionary leadership deemed it a development of intimacy to one’s subject and implementation strategy as his ‘craft’. His ‘Individualised Consideration’ for team members cultivated them as ‘team leaders’ and provided a basis for the production of Disneyland today. Furthermore, each member is referred to as ‘Cast Members’ whence cooperative responsibility is given for the maintenance of the Disney vision. This constitutes, primarily, the assurance of customer satisfaction and, subsequent, consumer loyalty (Taylor and Wheatley-Lovoy 1998). Moreover, all of these...
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