• nataliesavery

What can disney teach us about leadership?




Today, the 18th November is Mickey Mouse’s 91st Birthday – Penblwydd Hapus Mickey!


Mickey is the symbol of all things Disney and whilst we could just say a happy birthday and move on, it got us thinking about how much of an impact Disney films have had on the world since that little mouse first made an appearance. As children, and as adults, these films are etched into our minds and, since being leaderful is always at the heart of what we do, we can’t help but wonder what we might have learned from Disney that can help us in our leadership journeys.


So, we asked the Leaderful Action team members to tell us their favourite films and then we explored what that film has taught us about leadership. Let’s take a look at some of the leadership lessons from our favourite Disney Classics.


Inside Out – nominated by Jenny and Allison

Lesson: It’s important to embrace our whole selves as leaders


The core message of Inside Out is that every emotion has its place. They protect us, inspire us or drive us forward. Though we may feel like we should focus on Joy, Sadness is equally as important.

How many times as a leader have you thought that you needed to be strong, or tough, or perfect? How many times have you pushed down your feelings because you have a job to do? How many times have you avoiding showing your vulnerability because you didn’t want to burden your team or because you wanted them to continue to see you as a calm, capable manager?

As leaders, if we only tap into certain parts of ourselves, we miss the opportunity to really connect with our teams, and to bring those other emotions and experiences to the table. We may see these things as a weakness, but, just like in the film, we may be able to harness them to become a better leader.


If you want to think about embracing strengths, contact us about our Insights Discovery® profiling tool and workshops


Monsters Inc. – nominated by Hayley

Lesson: Team Work makes the Dream Work


As with most of the Disney films, there are multiple lessons to be learnt but the definite theme running through is around working as a team. Sully and Mike are the perfect team, each working to their strengths and supporting each other, things start to really go wrong when they are pulling in different directions and working to a different goal – Mike to get things back to normal and Sully to do what he thinks is morally right. Once they get back on track and start to work together, they are able to put everything right and make the world a better place!

Difference of opinion is healthy and necessary, but getting to a place of agreement on how to move forward is key, so the leadership lesson here is around taking the time to establish your shared vision within the team and everyone working to understand why it’s important. It’s also about understanding and utilizing each other’s strengths and supporting each other in our areas of weakness. Finally, just like Mike so bravely did towards the end of the film, it’s about recognizing when we make mistakes and seeing it as an opportunity to move forward.


To learn more about working as an effective team, contact us about our ‘Leading Teams’ eLearning module.


Hercules – Nominated by Cath

Lesson: Listen to the voices around you.


Until towards the end of the film, Hercules is more of an example how not to lead – he seeks out heroic acts purely for the purpose of regaining his own godly status; he acts without thinking, often making the situation worse and, whilst the viewer and his trainer, Phil, can clearly see that he is blindly following his love interest into a trap, Hercules is so intent on doing what he wants, that he almost loses everything.

Good leaders use the knowledge, skills, experiences and viewpoints of those around them to help make decisions. They communicate, they consult, they ask questions. Only by doing this can we shine a light on our blind spots, and make decisions that take multiple factors into consideration. When making big changes, it’s imperative that we involve others in the exploration and decision-making if we want to bring them along with us.


To learn more about involving your teams, contact us to find out about our ‘Taking Others With You’ workshop


Mary Poppins – nominated by Natalie

Lesson: There is more to life than work


Mary Poppins is a great example of a leader – warm and attentive, clear and focused on the job in hand and, she motivates others by appealing to their preferences and by altering her approach depending on who she is with. But the greatest lesson we think we can learn from her is that, while work can be fulfilling and interesting, it shouldn’t come at the expense of all other things.

This is an important lesson for leaders to understand both for themselves and for their teams. While we obviously want our team members to be passionate and dedicated to the work they do, expecting it to be the most important part of their lives is unrealistic and unhealthy. Encouraging our teams to have a healthy balance - to take breaks, to finish on time, to switch off their emails at the end of the day – is part of our duty of care to them and will help us to have a healthier, happier, more resilient team. Expecting them to consistently go ‘above and beyond’ will cause burnout and create a feeling of resentment.

This goes for the leader too. We set the tone for the culture in our teams, so be sure to take your breaks, don’t email at 2am in the morning and take your annual leave -even Mary Poppins has a day off!


If you want to learn more about supporting the wellbeing and resilience of your team, contact us about our Think Tough and Leading Teams workshops


The Aristocats - nominated by Nicola

Lesson: The importance of goals


Apart from the obvious lesson that ‘Everybody wants to Be a Cat’, the main leadership lesson that Duchess and her adorable kittens can teach us is that having an end goal in sight can help us to navigate the sometimes long and winding path towards what we are hoping to achieve. In their case, their goal is to get back to their home, and even though there are many wonderful, and dangerous, things that could have derailed those plans, Duchess never took her eyes off the end goal.

As leaders, it’s our job to lead on establishing that goal and helping the team to understand the goal, always coming back to it to make sure that we don’t find ourselves and the team going astray. We may need to break the goal down into iterative chunks, we may need to re-prioritise or adjust the goal, but we are never floating aimlessly, we are always able to bring the team back to what we are trying to achieve and why, no matter how many cool cats might try to tempt us to stay and jam with them!


If you want to learn more about establishing and sharing team objectives, contact us for information on our Outcomes and Results Workshop


Wreck It Ralph - nominated by Lauren

Lesson: Mistakes can be a route to success


Wreck It Ralph is another more recent classic that is rich in life and leadership lessons - ‘Just because you are a Bad Guy, doesn’t mean you are a bad guy’… but the leadership lesson we like most is the one taught to us by Vanellope or ‘the glitch’ as she is known to some. Everyone thinks that Vanellope shouldn’t exist, that she is a mistake in the system. They belittle her, don’t listen to her and certainly don’t learn about what she has to offer. And she believes them, she hates her glitch until she realizes that she can use it to her advantage – putting her in first place in the race and then, later on, using it to save her best friend.


Mistakes in the workplace can be a little bit like Vanellope’s glitch. We try our best to stop them from happening, and when they do happen, we might point the finger at that mistake and berate it. But as leaders, we need to understand that mistakes are unavoidable – not to say we should be trying to make them, but we should accept that our team members and ourselves are not infallible and we will take a wrong step somewhere along the way. The trick is to use those mistakes as tool in getting us to where we need to be. Instead of pointing the finger of blame, we can instead encourage our teams to have open discussions to understand what happened and how we might learn from it. Next time that issue comes up, we will have control on our ‘glitch’ and be able to move to where we want to be with ease.


If you want to learn more about encouraging your team to learn from mistakes, contact us about our Learning Cultures workshop

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