What Mickey Mouse can teach us about leadership

Mickey Mouse, the ever-optimistic icon of the Disney universe, has much to teach us about leadership. As the Steamboat Willie version of the famous character enters the public domain, let’s revisit some classic chestnuts that embody the “house of mouse”.
  1. Optimism in the Face of Challenges:
    There are many junctures in Walt’s life story where optimism in the face of adversity was the only thing he held on to. Mickey Mouse embodies optimism. No matter what challenges come his way, he always believes in a happy ending.
  2. Inclusivity and Diversity:
    While a few of Walt’s early characterizations may make some uncomfortable today, by and large, Disney’s cast represents a diverse array of personalities, backgrounds, and cultures. If you’ve ever watched Descendants with your grandkids, you’ve seen how the Disney company mines classic characters across generations to reinforce the competitive advantage of inclusiveness.
  3. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work:
    Mickey Mouse rarely faces challenges alone. He works closely with his friends. Together they overcome obstacles. This echoes Walt’s belief in collaboration and respect for the individual. “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world,” he said. “But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
  4. Adaptability and Innovation:
    Over the years, Mickey Mouse and his cast have evolved and adapted to changing times, while remaining steadfast to core values. Things change. Walt never lost his curiosity nor his desire to “keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things,” even if it means imagineering something that has yet to exist.
  5. Putting Others First:
    Mickey Mouse is known for his selflessness. It’s sometimes used as a plot point to get him into trouble. Even in the spotlight of stardom, Mickey puts others first. Walt correlates this to the definition of a superlative guest experience. “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”
  6. Maintaining a Strong Brand Image:
    Mickey Mouse is a global brand, reflecting the corporate priorities of safety, courtesy, customer focus and their positive impact on shareholder value within a well-run enterprise. “Your brand is a story,” Walt noted, “unfolding across all customer touchpoints.”
  7. Learning from Failures:
    Every hero’s journey is replete with failures and setbacks. Mickey embraces failure as a learning opportunity. One of my favorite Walt quotes touches on the value of failing. “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young. I learned a lot out of that. Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it, I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”

“It all started with a Mouse.” What’s the mouse at the center of your story? How is it evolving to take advantage of today’s opportunities, while peering over the horizon to prepare for what tomorrow may bring?

Three quotes to carry with you this week:
“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein
“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Program your subconscious with the thoughts and habits of the person you hope to become, and you will become that person.” – Terry Shepherd