Writing Who's The Leader of the Club?

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Just released last week was my latest book, Who's the Leader of the Club? Walt Disney's Leadership Lessons.

Previously, I've written here about Walt's leadership. In this new book, there is a Walt quote (sometimes several) and a Walt story on every page, so it should be appealing to the Disney fan who wants a different perspective of Walt and the Disney business.

However, just by the title alone, it should be apparent that I am also providing material for a different demographic. Whether you are the leader of a hospital staff, a Little League baseball team, a restaurant crew, a church group, an animation studio or any other type of business or organization, the skills consistently practiced by Walt Disney can help you to become a better, more effective leader.

While there are several books available about how the Disney business is run decades after Walt's death, there was not one about how Walt ran the company with his older brother, Roy. In the book, I discuss Roy's managerial skills and why they were important, but also how a manager is not a leader. They are different skill sets.

Nearly 50 years after his death, Walt's leadership continues to inspire those who worked directly with him.

Regular readers of this column know "The Secret Origin of Jim Korkis, Disney Historian."

I grew up in the city of Glendale, California, which was immediately adjacent to Burbank, the home of the Disney Studios.

At the age of 12, having a fascination with animation, I eagerly watched the weekly Disney television series. I scribbled down the names I saw in the end credits of each episode.

I found many of those names in the Glendale-Burbank telephone book and called them up to ask about Disney animation. Some of these people were gracious enough to invite me to their homes where I spent hours being enthralled by their stories and art demonstrations.

They often recommended me to their friends, and so I got the unique opportunity to talk with many animators, Imagineers and others who had personally known Walt Disney. I was lucky enough to write down this information or record it on my small tape recorder so that I was able to share some of those stories in local newspapers, magazines, websites like this one and books.

However, I didn't just ask questions about animation, the parks, Imagineering and more. I asked questions about Walt and how they saw him behave and their opinions of how he ran Disney Productions (as it was called in those early days). Many of those personal responses from Disney staff who are no longer with us are included in the book.

Over the years, I even developed a friendship with Walt's oldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller, who was supportive of my work as well as sharing with me personal insights about her father and gently correcting wrong assumptions. Those insights are in the book, as well.

In 1995, I relocated to Orlando, to take care of my parents who had both developed some health issues and have since died. I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys "R" Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

One of those programs I developed was called "Animation Leadership," a hands-on team bonding experience where the premise was that the participants had just been hired at the Disney Studio in the 1930s.

They had three tasks to perform, two as a team and one by themselves. Afterward, those tasks were shown to be examples of how Walt led a "mom and pop" company filled with diverse talents into an entertainment empire.

In addition, the facilitator showed how those three concepts of Vision, Accountability and Involvement could be transferred to their own businesses.

When I moved to Florida, I had the opportunity to continue to expand my knowledge about how Walt ran the Disney business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt's "original cast." I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories from people like Bob Matheison, Ron Heminger, Bill "Sully" Sullivan, Dave Venables, and others about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Did you know that Venables was the very first male manager of Disney Guest Relations?

Unfortunately, Walt's approach to leadership has not been officially taught at Disney University to new leaders for far more than two decades. Leadership had become more a game about numbers and quotas.

I felt it was time to share Walt's way again, because I think it is a better way to lead. It took much longer to write than anticipated and I constantly found new information so I am glad I waited to write this book until now.

I made every effort to use Walt Disney's own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

Walt was pretty consistent as a leader so I didn't have to wrestle with contradictory material. He didn't just talk the talk but walked the walk. If keeping Disneyland clean was a priority, then Walt was in the front lines doing it himself. I have a photo of Walt outside the Disneyland Main Street City Hall at the age of 64 bending down to pick up a piece of trash to put in a trash can, without him being aware he was being photographed.

The famous theme song of the original television series The Mickey Mouse Club was titled "The Mickey Mouse March" and was composed by the show's affable host, Jimmie Dodd.

The first sentence of the song asks the question "Who's the Leader of the Club?"

While the response in the song lyrics is "Mickey Mouse," everyone who worked for Disney Productions while Walt was alive knew the real answer was Mickey's well-known alter ego, Walt Disney himself.

Even after his death, his influence was so strong that he continued to lead as those who had observed him modeled their leadership after Walt. They really did ask themselves "What would Walt do in this situation?" and acted accordingly.

I wanted the book to be credible and usefu,l but without the business jargon so common in other books. I wanted the book to be accessible to everyone.

After all, that was Walt's philosophy that things should be simple, fun and available for everyone regardless of physical dimensions, age, education, status or a host of other factors.

For those who are more curious about the chapters in the book, here is the Table of Contents:

Section One: Disney And Leadership

  • Who Was Walt Disney?
  • What Type of Leader was Walt?
  • Leaders and Managers: Walt and Roy
  • Roy O. Disney and Manager Skills
  • Walt Disney and Leadership Skills

Section Two: Leadership Lessons

  • Lesson One: Know The Story
  • Lesson Two: Share The Story
  • Lesson Three: Take a (Calculated) Risk
  • Lesson Four: Make 'Em Laugh
  • Lesson Five: Eager To Learn
  • Lesson Six: Understand People
  • Lesson Seven: Live The Story (Integrity)

Section Three: Additional Guidance

  • Walt's Bad Leadership Traits
  • Walt's Advice to Leaders
  • Create Leaders
  • Letting People Go
  • Walt and Money
  • Do You Know Your Story?
  • Remembering Walt's Leadership (Quotes from those who worked for Walt)
  • Final Words from Walt (Quotes from Walt not previously used in the book)
  • Recommended Reading
  • Quotation Sources (which runs 10 pages of teeny type so I had no room for a planned index)

Each of the lesson chapters ends with a one page checklist called "What Would Walt Do?" summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

This was one of the hardest books I have ever written but it is also one that I am proudest to say I have written.

Here are some comments from business-oriented folks who also happen to be Disney fans.

Mark David Jones, president of Small World Alliance, Inc. and co-author of Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand Into World-Class Excellence:

"As a former Disney leader whose career there spanned 26 years, I am very fortunate to have worked with Jim Korkis. His unrivaled knowledge of Disney history was a consistent highlight of our projects with Fortune 500 companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers. Jim's transformational insights of Disney history and leadership are brilliantly captured within the pages of this intriguing book. I'm buying copies for everyone on my team. And if you want to optimize your leadership potential, I highly recommend you doing the same."

Henry Hardt, Professor of Business Law and Professor of Finance, Harold Walter Siebens School of Business, Buena Vista University, Storm Lake, Iowa:

"Jim weaves an entertaining story of Walt's leadership principles into seven lessons. Although each lesson merits the attention of any serious business or organizational leader, I would highlight Lesson Seven, 'Live the Story.' In this lesson, Jim reaches deep into his seemingly never-ending bag of Disney information to set forth Walt's approach to ethics and integrity.

"Until you have the great pleasure to hear Jim speak in person (Jim's passion about Disney and his oratorical skills spellbind all audiences including our students at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa as well as business and organizational leaders.), I am confident the readers of Jim's book will likewise be entertained by the story narrative that only Jim can tell. At the same time, they will be able to immediately apply Walt's 'best practices' to their businesses or organizations to help achieve their goals—with integrity."

Lou J. Repassy, former senior sales manager, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts:

"Our department called on the services of Jim Korkis for specialized client seminars. With his vast knowledge of Disney heritage and tradition, Jim was always able to effectively include those elements to complement the business needs of the programs. In the pages of this book are the same passion, insight and good humor that made Jim a very valuable internal business partner."

Kaye Bundey, Disney Institute manager of Disney Adult Discoveries Programs and Convention Workshops:

"Jim's knowledge and insight of Walt and all things Disney enhanced and enriched all our offerings at the Disney Institute including introducing elements of Disney history into the business programs. This book captures Jim's skill on how to make something both entertaining and informative and should be on your bookshelf."

David Zanolla, senior associate faculty, Western Illinois University:

"Jim Korkis' expertise in the field of Disney studies is beyond compare and I am thrilled that he continues to share his knowledge in books like Who's the Leader of the Club? My students thoroughly enjoyed their time with him and it greatly enhanced their understanding of both Walt himself and the Disney Company."

William Dixon, adjunct professor, Rosen College of Hospitality Management

"Over the years that Jim Korkis lectured to my classes at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, he was always an engaging and informative speaker. He understood not only Disney history but the Disney business. My students always rated his presentations as one of the highpoints of the class."

I hope that this book will prove to be an informative workbook of Walt's leadership philosoph, as well as an entertaining glimpse into a different perspective of his life. I hope that Walt's words and actions will inspire a new generation just as he inspired so many others in the past. I hope you will consider adding this new, but very different, Disney book to your collection and letting others know that it exists.

I always tell people the hardest thing is not writing the book, but letting people know the book is available for purchase. I am constantly running across Disney-related books that I would have added to my library if I had only known they existed.

For those not excited about the world of Disney business when Walt was alive, I am on track to finish Vault of Walt Volume 3 for release this coming fall, so make sure you put it on your Christmas shopping list.

Many thanks to those readers who have purchased my previous books and, as long as the books keep selling, I will keep writing so that this information will be available for others now and in the future.



  1. By DwarfPlanet

    After about the half dozenth "I" I gave up.

  2. By Jim Korkis

    Quote Originally Posted by DwarfPlanet View Post
    After about the half dozenth "I" I gave up.

    Sorry you were bored and offended. "I" was just trying to explain why "I" wrote this particular book and explain why "I" had the qualifications to do so which many people would not immediately realize. "I" didn't think there was anyone better able to do so since the topic and the approach of the book is different than my past books and wanted to let folks who bought those books know that this is a little different so they could either avoid it or buy it. "I" tried to keep my apology and explanation to you at a half dozen "I"s so you would read it. Thanks for attempting to read the column.

  3. By Belgarion42

    This sounds like a great book, Jim, and I can certainly see why you were excited about it and how unique it is during our podcast interview recently. I'm looking forward to reading it!

  4. By 528toI4

    Quote Originally Posted by MousePlanet AutoPoster View Post
    Writing Who's The Leader of the Club? by Jim Korkis

    Jim's newest book takes a look at Walt as businessman and leader.

    Read it here!

    After reading the pages viewable on Amazon I ordered the book and decided to investigate attending the Disney Institute. Jim, I look forwarding to reading the book and applying some of the insights to my business.

  5. By fifthrider

    "I" just ordered this book based on this column. There's no shame in plugging one's hard work, "I" defy anyone else to put forth such effort and then just sit back quietly and expect money to magically roll in. "I" am glad Jim took a moment to write this up and let us know it existed.

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