What Mickey Mouse Taught Me About Leadership

imgresA few weeks ago my wife and I were in Orlando for a conference and since it was 0 degrees where we live and time away from our six kids is always a good thing, we decided to take a mini-vacation. And since it was Orlando, we went to Disney World. (Actually, they throw you in jail if you don’t visit Disney while in Orlando).

We ended up going to Hollywood Studios. So I’ll go ahead and turn in my “man card” now and admit… I am afraid of roller coasters! But my wife loves Disney and you got to keep the “Mrs.” happy. So my strategy was to go to every show possible so there wouldn’t be time to go on the dreaded Tower of Terror. I was so desperate; I even took her to the Beauty and the Beast musical show (I figured it had to be better than dying on the elevator that drops 200 feet to the ground).

Little did I know that my stall tactic would lead me to a presentation that profoundly challenged me as a leader. The presentation was Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, a museum that celebrated the life of the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disney World, Mr. Walter Disney. The show included a taped presentation of Walter Disney before his death in 1966.

Here are three leadership principles that emerged from Walter Disney’s presentation:

#1 FAILURE can be GOOD
We remember him for his successes but he had a number of failures as a cartoonist early on. He said in the presentation that failure early on could help build character for long-term leadership success. Let me put it another way… Failure doesn’t have to DEFINE us, it can be used to REFINE us. The world would never had known Mickey Mouse if Disney had given up after a few failures!

#2 Take BREAKS or You’ll BURN OUT
Disney admitted he had suffered a nervous breakdown in 1931 for working at an unsustainable pace. He took a good part of the year off and came back refreshed and rejuvenated. My guess is that his break saved his career. What a great reminder for us. If God took the seventh day off to “rest”, we should as well. Too busy? No, too busy NOT to!

#3 Never stop DREAMING
What impressed me most about Walter Disney was that he never rested on his past success, he kept dreaming ’til the end. In fact, he never actually saw Disney World completed but it was his dream that inspired it’s completion a few years after his death. His dreams outlived his life. May it be so with us as well, leaders. Keep dreaming. Keep moving forward (even if you have a few failures along the way). And take some breaks along the way.

And by the way, I did survive the Tower of Terror. And yes, I may have screamed like a 6 year old. And no, I will never go on it again!

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