In doing research for a 1955 article for Woman’s Day magazine to correspond with the opening of Disneyland, writer Don Eddy spent time with Walt at the Disney studio and the park. He summed up Walt’s “special secret” to making dreams come true with “four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy.” Eddy wrote:
“From his insatiable curiosity, as persistent and all-embracing as a child’s, he gets his ideas. When he settles on one idea, his confidence takes supreme command; nothing can shake it. His courage keeps it alive and active against all obstacles, and he has plenty of obstacles. And he is constant to it until it becomes reality. Then he drops it abruptly and rarely mentions it again.”
While Eddy identified these four attributes of leadership, Walt seemed to emphasize that the most integral component of successful leadership is courage: “Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially for new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going….”
Courage, said Walt, was foundational to having a “pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.” It is what’s needed to try new things and to make dreams come true, he said.
Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr recalled, “Walt never wavered in his courage. He was always interested in what could be…always curious and optimistic.” Gurr was asked what he had learned from working with Walt: “Always know you’re going to figure things out. He always had upbeat ideas for something new and he always followed each project almost daily.”
Walt Disney’s message was that to be courageous, you must know what you value and have confidence in your own ability to attain the outcome you desire.
Courage As Integrity in Action
It is true for all values that action must be taken to make them efficacious. For example, if a person values honesty, they must be honest and act in ways consistent with their convictions. If a CEO values the work of their employees, they must act in ways that demonstrate those values.
To profess a value for which there is no corresponding action demonstrates a breech in integrity, integrity being loyalty to one’s values. A professed value cannot be held or achieved without appropriate action being taken. Action and effort in pursuit of value is what distinguishes a value from a mere wish. You can discern what a person values by the seriousness they give to pursuing it. It was through curiosity, confidence, courage and commitment that Walt Disney was able to make wishes and dreams come true. He could not have succeeded by merely wishing upon a star.
Many executives and managers fail to stand up for their professed values when faced with resistance or challenged by circumstances. To stand one’s ground requires a clear understanding of the importance of the values one holds in relation to one’s larger purposes, and the courage of one’s convictions to act to gain and keeps one’s values. The larger the vision, the greater the courage required, because it requires a wider integration of diverse values into a comprehensive value-web or world-view that forms the basis for an organization’s purpose, strategic aspirations, corporate culture, and effective managerial leadership practices.
We have seen many examples where Walt demonstrates his independent judgment and courage of his convictions, such as the creation of Snow White and Disneyland. In the eyes of many, such fiercely independent and bold initiatives were admirable and inspirational because they portrayed real-life examples of heroic confidence, courage, commitment, and success against the opinions of influential entrenched experts and established naysayers.
Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group, and author of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017). This article is an adapted excerpt from the book, available in print and Kindle editions from amazon.
© 2017, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.