In 1930 you could buy yourself good dinner in Los Angeles for about 35 cents. Walt Disney gathered up his “Imagineers” (his term) before they got to work on his epic animation, “Snow White,” and gave each one 50 cents. “Go out and really treat yourself boys,” he told them. It was a largesse unknown at the time for any firm, let alone a startup.
Today, through an energy and style of corporate leadership that has been groundbreaking and unique, Disney and his company’s heirs have erected a global entity with few rivals. Its style, very much its own, is studied in exquisite detail and may be profitably adapted by companies in any endeavor.
Disney Institute’s content specialist #b#Nicole Lauria#/b# will present “Disney Strategies of Leadership” at the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners annual conference, which begins on Monday, October 4, at 5 p.m. and runs all day Tuesday, October 5, beginning at 7:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency. Cost: $375. Visit www.njawbo.com.
Lauria will be joined by speakers #b#J.J. Ramberg#/b#, anchor of MSNBC’s “Your Business,” and Lieutenant Governor #b#Kim Guadagno#/b#.
Growing up in Tampa, Florida, a mere hour from Disney World in Orlando, Lauria recalls “Disney as very much part of my life as a young girl.” Meanwhile, her mother, a Ph.D. grammar school educator, passed onto to Lauria the need and methods of lifelong training that helped set her career path. Throughout the 1980s Lauria worked as director of sales for the Holiday Inn system in Chicago. “I saw immediately what kind of hospitality methods worked and what each employee could do to enhance customer experience,” she says.
In 1999 Lauria returned to her home state and joined the Disney team as a senior sales manager. Six years ago she moved into the Disney Institute, which imparts the Disney success methods to Fortune 100 companies. She also helped redesign the Institute’s specialty course, “Disney’s Approach to Brand loyalty.” To further arm herself as corporate trainer, Lauria earned her bachelor’s in organizational management from Warner Southern University in 2007.
“When we train people,” says Lauria, “we tell them stories — Disney’s own success stories. The practices may not be identically adaptable, but the basic principles strike home.”
#b#Gathering the vision#/b#. After Walt Disney had lavished his imagineers, and before sending them off to their ink pots, he called them together. Emotionally, sincerely, Disney explained to his team what the legend of Snow White meant to him. He related how the story had enchanted him as a child when he heard it from his parents. He detailed the dramatic and mythical elements. He described that this tale was part of our heritage and they would be passing on a legacy.
When he finished, every individual on the Disney team knew exactly what the film’s producer was seeking. He had pulled the team in, and built their excitement to a high pitch. They understood completely his vision of the project, and for the most part embraced it. He had given the team an elite name and an elite feeling. They weren’t just grinding out a kiddie cartoon. They were a select core, pursuing excellence. (The title “Imagineers,” by the way, still sticks in the Disney organization).
#b#Safety to suggest#/b#. It is a common enough belief that two-way communication is an essential part of effective leadership. The leader who walks into the room, arms waving and giving orders as if to orchestrate others to his will, is almost sure to meet resistance. Disney, as with most progressive organizations, believes that everyone holds a creative urge, and it is the leader’s job to establish an environment in which such individual creativity can flourish.
But the Disney method puts another check in this team-sharing system. Employees must feel that they can safely communicate their ideas. If any individual can float out a trial balloon without fear of being smacked down, a lot more good ideas will rise to the surface. “This is where the leader’s self reflection becomes vital,” says Lauria. “It is important that the leader know how to draw out his members, and have them see the benefits and payoffs for themselves.”
#b#Magic moments#/b#. A seven-year-old girl steps toward the gate of the Cinderella ride at Disney World. The ride operator beams, drops down on one knee and to the enchanted tot says, “Well hello, little princess. What brings you to our kingdom? Where do you come from?” The princess is smitten and walks away with a cherished memory that remains long after the thrill of the ride is forgotten.
Thus, Disney believes in the individual creative urge, but let’s get real here. The Disney way, established right down to the last detail, is tried, true, and profitable.
Within the age-old quandary of just how much individual creativity should one encourage, there are lots of justifiable positions. When the generals of ancient Rome were forming their armies, they studied the Greek phalanx — a wall of soldiers standing one foot apart with each man drilled in a specific routine, exhibited on command. Instead, the Romans placed their soldiers three feet apart, trained them exquisitely, and taught them to use their own heads.
The result was that the Roman army conquered the world. Not unlike Disney.