How Disney Leaders Motivate Their Teams

Walt Disney once said, “The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with the things we do for the people we love and esteem, and whose respect we need.”

Recently, I was reading an article entitled “4 Rare (and Brilliant) Things Smart Leaders Do to Get Respect,” and it made me recall that poignant quote by Walt Disney. It has always been a great reminder for me, as a leader, to make sure I’m actively and authentically listening to my Cast Members.

To be effective as leaders, according to this article, we should be “passionately curious” while encouraging our employees to share ideas; something we can do by asking questions to better understand the current concerns and opportunities on our teams. This simple practice can help leaders gain the respect of the team, while also creating a collaborative environment that can help solve new or previously unsolved problems.

At Disney Institute, we teach business professionals all over the world that a key component of effective leadership is not allowing themselves to become separated from what happens on the front line.Beginning with Walt, we have learned that Cast Members on the front line typically know the processes and procedures for delivering the Disney experience better than anyone else. So, in order to help the organization grow and succeed, we listen intentionally to their feedback.

One Disney best practice that can help leaders stay actively involved is “leader walks,” which are opportunities for leaders to be immersed with their team in the midst of the operation and to get to know their Cast Members on a more personal level.

Some leaders take this a step farther, opting to periodically work a front-line shift alongside their teams in full costume. Through this type of direct experience, leaders develop a healthy respect for the work of the team, along with a greater understanding and empathy for the myriad challenges sometimes faced by the individuals in these roles.

When this type of “management by wandering around” becomes common practice in the work environment, leaders tend to stay more engaged with the people they work with. It also provides leaders with ample opportunities to intentionally listen to what their employees are really saying, which can provide invaluable insight into both the employee and customer experience.

If you would like to learn more about ways leaders can motivate their employees and stay actively involved within their teams, check out Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence our professional development training course for individuals. Or, consider a private initiative for your entire organization.

Think about it: Does your organization encourage leaders to stay actively involved with those working the front line? How can you more intentionally practice “management by wandering around?”

For more information, visit