Walt Wednesdays: Leadership Lessons From Mr. Disney



Too many organizations give lip service to professional development. While staff are encouraged to take classes to improve their skills, little time is actually devoted to such things. Employees find themselves in a situation much like that of Cinderella- they can pursue professional development IF they complete their regular assignments and IF they can find the time. The organization might say that it values professional development, but its actions show the opposite to be true. Even if an employee can fit such luxuries into their schedules, they are often not permitted to apply their new skills to anything practical. Management further demoralizes its staff by importing new talent from outside the organization rather than promoting from within. In more extreme environments, management demeans its existing staff by not even  considering them for open positions. As most people can attest, using the phrase “national recruitment” often means “existing staff need not apply.”

So what can Mr. Disney teach us about actually valuing professional development and searching for hidden talents throughout the organization? Just take a look around his Magic Kingdom of DISNEYLAND. Mr. Disney learned early on that the so-called experts were more inclined to summarily dismiss his ideas as impossible without really thinking about them. An outside architect had told Mr. Disney that the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Submarine Voyage were impossible to build. Not one to easily take no for an answer, Mr. Disney assigned some of the early model building and design to employees that hadn’t previously done such work. One such employee- Imagineer Harriet Burns- later recalled how much she had learned on the project. Not only did she learn the ins and outs of model building and scaling, she also learned that she could actually accomplish such tasks.  By identifying her hidden talents and showing confidence in her skills, Walt Disney made an already top notch employee even more motivated to succeed. Not only did he give her time to learn something new, he gave her a chance to apply those new skills to a real world project that is still enjoyed today.

This was not an isolated incident. Another example can be found inside Pirates of the Caribbean. The attraction needed a song to tie things together, but instead of asking his staff song writers to put something together, he asked Imagineer Xavier Atencio to write something. Despite never having written a song before, Mr. Atencio successfully penned the attraction’s signature ditty Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me). Mr. Atencio put it best when he marveled that:

“I didn’t even know I could write music, but somehow Walt did. He tapped my hidden talents.”

The song that he wrote is still heard around the world in the various Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disney parks.

By identifying hidden talents and finding practical uses for them, Mr. Disney built a loyal, talented and successful team that made the impossible possible. His staff accomplished great things because he believed they could do it and he encouraged them to step outside of their comfort zones. So many organizations could learn a thing or two from Walt Disney’s leadership. While it is very easy to talk about valuing professional development and nurturing hidden talents, it often seems to be a challenge for an organization to actually value these things in practice. Those that do can often accomplish great things and maintain a loyal, efficient workforce. Walt Disney truly valued these attributes and his team literally built mountains.

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Toontown Tuesdays: Disney Afternoon LIVE!

After DISNEYLAND’s successful 35th anniversary began winding down, the park wanted to keep the momentum going before its next big project. Eager to do something that could cross promote another Disney project and also test the waters for a future DISNEYLAND project, the park settled on theming the area around it’s a small world as Afternoon Avenue.

Afternoon Avenue would promote Disney’s afternoon strip of cartoons while also testing out the concept of a controlled character photo opportunity that would take place in the upcoming Mickey’s Toontown. A temporary soundstage was constructed behind it’s a small world where Mickey’s Toontown would be located a few years later. Guests could enter the soundstage and have a private audience with Baloo.

The Fantasyland Autopia was converted into Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers Raceway where music from the show and character theming were added to enhance the opportunity. The Motor Boat Cruise to Gummi Glen turned the normally themeless Motor Boat attraction into an adventure with the Gummi Bears.

The temporary attraction was a huge success and paved the way for the eventual construction of Mickey’s Toontown.


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Mickey Mondays: Mortimer Mouse

When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for his soon to be world famous Mouse, he had what he thought was the perfect name for him- Mortimer Mouse. Luckily for him, his wife Lillian came up with a more marketable name- Mickey Mouse.

Lillian had felt that the name Mortimer sounded too stuck up for a cute little mouse. So when his staff had an idea for a stuck up rival for Mickey, Walt thought back to Lillian’s warnings about using the name Mortimer- and realized that it would be the perfect name for Mickey’s rival.


The character has been used many times throughout the years.



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ANNOUNCEMENT: 20th Century Fox World Coming to the DISNEYLAND Resort!

ANAHEIM, CA- At a lively press conference that featured a cavalcade of Disney characters, the DISNEYLAND Resort announced that its third Anaheim theme park will be called 20th Century Fox World. The new park will be built on the last open space within the sprawling DISNEYLAND Resort, a parcel of land located at the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave.

“From the moment we announced our historic takeover of 20th Century Fox, our guests were wondering how we were going to take advantage of these valuable new assets,” noted DISNEYLAND Resort spokeswoman April F. Ewell, “Now they’ll know exactly what we have planned for them- 20th Century Fox World!”

The park will bring the various worlds of 20th Century Fox alive in a 100 acre theme park located just south of the existing DISNEYLAND Resort. “We’re still dreaming up new ideas, but we can share some of our plans with you today,” noted Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger. Among the announced plans:


Soarin’ over Fox will allow park guests to fly over iconic Fox landscapes like the final episode of M*A*S*H, The Simpsons’ Springfield and the garish sets of the notorious Elizabeth Taylor film Cleopatra. 


Guests looking for greater thrills can ride the WKRP In Cincinnati Turkey Drop, an exciting thrill ride that recreates the thrill of being helplessly dropped from an airplane while the ground rushes up to greet you. “Original WKRP cast member Richard Sanders has re-recorded his classic narration from the television series,” noted Ms. Ewell, “Guests will hear it all in clear Dolby Surround as they descend ‘Turkey Tower’!”


Roller coaster fans will find new thrills on what will become the fastest roller coaster at the DISNEYLAND Resort- Beverly Hills, 9021-WHOA! Based on the classic Fox television series Beverly Hills, 90210, The coaster will feature a gigantic Brandon Walsh graphic with onboard speakers playing the show’s iconic theme song.


Park guests of all ages will be able to help the Jeffersonian Institute solve the latest murder in the exciting play area The Bones Yard, based on the popular Fox series Bones. “Is a crime scene an appropriate setting for a theme park attraction? Maybe,” noted Mr. Iger.


The final attraction announced was Stewie’s Good Ship Lollipop, a ride featuring Stewie from Family Guy and an assortment of Shirley Temple animatronics.

“20th Century Fox World will enchant our guests and show Wall Street that we are ready to use the very expensive Fox properties that we have just acquired,” noted Mr. Iger, “That second thing is probably more important.” The Park is tentatively scheduled to open on February 29, 2025.

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