YouLead Week: Culture

Another great feature of the YouLead curriculum is the Culture category. We take a person, organization, or story from current culture and draw applications from it that can be used in your own leadership and ministry. One of my favorites is about Walt Disney as a leader. Here are some excerpts, and then you can find the link to the full PDF at the end.



We all have the desire to be a part of a story. And no one understood the power of story better than Walt. He wanted his animations and theme parks to create experiences, that would leave a lasting impression. When Walt delved into nature documentaries, he added a storyline to these films, and they took off. He made “these stories familiar ones of loving family life, persevering in the face of hardships, or basic good versus evil.” (Walt Disney, A Biography p.112)

We want to be a part of a story. We want to be the rescuer or the one being rescued, and everyone wants to see good triumph over evil. Stories are powerful, and the story we have to tell is far bigger then the ones Walt told. Are you inviting people to be a part of the story?

Walt was always aware of the cultural changes that were occurring around him. In 1927, the movie The Jazz Singer, hit the theatres, and the most remarkable thing happened when Al Jolson opened his mouth—you could hear the song he sang. Up until then, all movies had been silent. This would change movie production forever.
And Walt was right there learning with the best of them. In 1928 he created the first sound Mickey cartoon, Steamboat Willie. “It is an ingenious piece of work with a good deal of fun. It growls, whines, squeaks and makes various other sounds that add to its mirthful quality.” (Walt Disney, A Biography p. 46) From that moment, he changed the world of animation.

Change happens. There will always be new technologies, new inventions, new gadgets and if we are going to remain relevant to this generation, then we have to be aware of these cultural changes. Walt never would have survived had he still been showing silent, black and white cartoons.

The Walt Disney Company is known for how well they care for their employees, given Walt’s style you can see where they get it. Walt was known for not only being able to delegate responsibilities but was known to give bonuses if ideas made it to film, and additional bonuses for getting work done on time.
Walt also set expectations that were achievable. He knew exactly what it took to be a good animator and when he asked his art director to hire several hundred artists, he had a comprehensive list of the characteristics of a good animator and his general philosophy.

Maybe the opposite of criticism isn’t compliments but setting clear expectations? How many times have you been dissatisfied with the results of a project, only to realize the fault lies with you and your unclear expectations. With every assignment, project or lesson, be clear about what you hope to accomplish. It can help define true success.

The Magic Kingdom was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It would have been easy for Walt to sit back and enjoy his creation. But he didn’t. He continued to evaluate what he was doing, to make improvements. He was a maximizer—he continued to add to the park, each addition “reflecting new technologies, new concepts in storytelling, replacements for failed rides, or new Disney movies and animations.” (Walt Disney, A Biography p. 131)
A press release on the first anniversary stated that “in keeping with Walt Disney’s policy, the Park will continue to expand and refine its operation to offer unparalleled entertainment to its millions of visitors each year.”’

If you are a maximizer, that means you are probably never quite satisfied with the results. You are always wanting to make things better. If you know a maximizer and you aren’t one, they probably really frustrate you. They never seem happy, and are always ready to make the next thing better. Maybe balance is the key—evaluate what is going well and what isn’t, and then make plans for change.

Walt was a great leader, but he “never did build an organization in the strictest sense of that word. What he built was a loosely unified group of talented people with particular abilities who could work together in continually changing patterns. They did this with a minimum of command and a maximum of dedication.” (Walt Disney, A Biography p. 78)

There is a difference between leading and controlling. Do you give your volunteers and staff room to be creative? Are you able to cast vision, and give direction without limiting the talents and abilities of the rest of your team? If you can do this, you will create a devoted team, committed to seeing your vision happen.


Click here to see the full PDF.

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