The Secrets to Disney’s Leadership Success: The Disney Institute

The Disney Institute isn’t a building (although it used to be).  It isn’t a college or university.  But it is a place of learning.  If you are fortunate to be able to take a class with them, you’ll know that they offer a lot of useful and vital information you can use to implement some of their sound strategies in the workplace.  Each time I’ve gone, there were people from all different kinds of professions and all different kinds of fields.  We’ve had surgeons, educators, business managers, administrative assistants, owners, executives, and even pastors like me!

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This time around, I was fortunate enough to be able to take the Institute’s class on Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence.  The company firmly believes that good leadership is a vital key to their success and they invest a lot in their leaders as well as take the time to develop them into well-rounded generalists who are committed to the Disney brand.  Our instructors, Ryan and Bruce, shared with us many of the ways Disney is able to develop and groom future leaders.  They talked about finding the right fit for people and the importance of aligning a person’s values with the company’s values and the division they are working in.  They were also willing to talk about the times when Disney wasn’t doing as well in the leadership arena and the reasons behind those struggles.  It was a very honest look at the Disney company and how it has learned from its past to forge a stronger future.

Part of their success is also due to “overmanaging.”  As they shared in the class, “Disney’s consistent business results are driven by overmanaging certain things that most companies undermanage or ignore – and that is a key source of what differentiates us.  We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional.”   Overmanaging shouldn’t be confused with micromanaging but instead looked at as finding ways to consistently exceed the best practices of an organization.  One of my favorite examples was when Ryan told us about working for the hotels and how he realized that a leader is a leader all the time.  Whether they tell you or not, people are ALWAYS watching and talking.  When you don’t take the time to say something, you are giving tacit approval for whatever behavior those you are leading are doing.

The Disney Institute certainly makes you feel welcome - and gives you all the tools you'll need to succeed right down to the paper!
The Disney Institute certainly makes you feel welcome – and gives you all the tools you’ll need to succeed right down to the paper!

Bruce and Ryan also spent a great deal of time on values and vision and how those played out in leadership.  I don’t want to go in depth because not only do I want to encourage you to take one of these classes, but also want you to be surprised and immersed in the experience.  The core concepts they teach are ones that can be applied to businesses large and small, whether you are an executive or the leader of a committee or small group.  These are things that will help develop your own leadership skills and hopefully the skills of those working with you.  They asked us not to take pictures of the inside of the materials or the in-class sessions to preserve the nature of the learning experience.  Besides you’d want to go through it yourself, right?

Look! I graduated from the Disney Institute!
Look! I graduated from the Disney Institute!

The experience of a Disney Institute class is invaluable.  In the class for Leadership Excellence, we not only spent time in the conference room, but also out in Disney California Adventure.  We were able to go backstage to see how the magic onstage ties into what’s happening behind the scenes and how all of that relates to what we’ve been learning about.  Each class is somewhat different in the experiences you’ll share in the parks, but relevant to what you’re studying in the sessions.  You’ll also get the chance to network with others, to have fun, to earn some cute Disney prizes, and to eat some great food.  No continental breakfast here!  On top of that, you get a vastly discounted rate at the Disneyland Hotel where the class takes place and like some of my fellow classmates, they turned a learning experience into a mini-vacation!  I highly recommend the class on Leadership Excellence and say “hi” to Ryan and Bruce for me if you take it.

  • To find out more about the history of the Disney Institute and an overview of the organization read about it here.
  • If you’re interested in reading more of the Institute’s philosophies on guest service make sure to read Be Our Guest and our review of the book, too.
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