Those who worked with Walt Disney would always remember how Walt would conduct a meeting. It was agreed that with Walt…there was no wasted motion in a meeting. If there was a gathering scheduled it was known that Walt would rarely engage in any kind of small talk. The meeting was designed to get to the task at hand, whatever that might be.
The door would open and he would stride in. Discussion began immediately. When the meeting was over, his departure was very similar to his entrance…he would glide right back out the door and on to the next part of his day. Since Walt was such a creative guy, some of the instruction he would give in meetings would come rapidly and at times the animators would be scrambling to make notes and they would have to read between the lines to figure out exactly what Walt was thinking.
In the Bob Thomas bio of Walt’s life, he quotes Wilfred Jackson. “In a conference he’d make a passing remark about something and I’d forget about it. Later when we looked at the material in the sweatbox (the area where rough cuts of the films and scenes would be viewed by Walt sitting with his animators), he’d complain….‘Why wasn’t that in? We discussed that didn’t we?” The big part of my career was to decide when Walt meant it and when he didn’t mean it. I could never tell when he was just trying to get me to think. ‘Don’t do something just because I told you to do it,‘ he’d say.”
When you read a quote like that it reminds you that working with Walt wasn’t always easy.
Life tends to be that way. (You already know that of course, but from time to time reading -Life Isn’t Easy – reminds us that we aren’t alone when we feel that way!)
Working with others, trying to communicate, and trying to get things done right can often be difficult. But when you go back and look at the library of work produced by the Disney Studio you are reminded that the way Walt did it and the way his great animators responded to him…did indeed work.
I often teach in leadership seminars that in order to be a great leader you have to be a great follower. If you can’t follow, you will never lead. In the quote above you catch a glimpse of that kind of thinking. You find animators trying to make sure they understand what Walt wanted…at the same time, you catch a glimpse of Walt being willing to have his idea changed, an open door to introduce something better, the invitation not to do something just because he said to…but at the same time…the strong challenge if you didn’t you need to have a better idea or concept. It is that kind of intense give and take. That kind of creative tension that will often spark some of the most innovative, lasting ideas and concepts. That was so much a part of the creativity and the genius of Walt Disney.
Our culture has tried somehow to tell us that life should be fair. It is a nice idea but not a reality. There are some who are just smarter, have more drive, have more talent, and have more gifts than you do. The goal is to take what we have, take our strengths, and bring our abilities to the table and connect them with others who are willing to do the same…and then end result is something greater because we are part of a team.
The Disney Studios recognized who the leader was and what his strengths were. As a leader, Walt recognized the strengths of his team and constantly worked at ways to bring out the best in them. The end result is a lasting enduring legacy.
Each one of us have something to offer the world. We maximize what we have to offer when we learn to follow and lead effectively. The end result can be a legacy to be proud of.