As a leader, you are often forced to
make decisions that aren’t necessarily popular. Some of the decisions are the “make or break the business” kind,
while others are less significant or so
you think until you make them.
For instance, take Walt Disney and how
sticking to his conviction created a whole
new segment of an industry.
Back in the early 1930s,
Disney’s studio had just produced the two most successful cartoon series in the
industry, but he was still dissatisfied with the returns.
He began plans for a full-length animated feature,
something that had never
been done before.
When the rest of the film
industry heard about his
plans to produce “Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs,” they started
referring to it as “Disney’s Folly” and were
certain it would destroy the studio.
Disney didn’t find much support at
home either. Both his wife and his brother
tried to talk him out of the project. Instead, he pushed forward, investing in
training and technology to take animation
to a new level of sophistication. He started experiments with realistic human animation, distinctive character animation,
special effects, and the use of specialized
processes and new camera equipment.
All of this innovation came at a price. At
one point during production, he ran out of
money and had to show a rough cut of the
film to a bank to get the money to finish it.
The film was released in 1938 and the
results were impressive. The film became
the most successful motion picture that
year and earned more than $8 million
which would be about $98 million today
in its original theatrical release. The
numbers are more impressive when you
realize that kids were only charged a dime
to see the film.
Disney ended up taking home an Oscar
and enough money to build a new campus
for his studio in Burbank, Calif., which
went on to produce many more animated
Had Disney listened to his detractors, he
would have abandoned the project and
kept making short cartoons, and Disney
as we know it today wouldn’t exist. But he had a vision of what could be done and
saw potential that no one else saw, so he
pressed forward, risking it all and, ultimately, scoring big.
Not every decision you make will be as
far-reaching as Disney’s, but if you stick to
your convictions and press forward, you
will be much closer to achieving your
vision than if you listened to
In my case, I made a decision back in the early ’90s to
allow some people in my
company to work on flex-time. Today, flextime is pretty
common, but back then, it
was a pretty radical idea and
there were a lot of detractors.
Other CEOs told me I was
crazy and that people wouldn’t be doing any work, and
I’d be paying people to sit at
home and watch television instead of
being productive. But I saw it as a way a
small company could keep key people
who wanted more time with their young
children and less time in the office, even if
it meant working at night.
I focused on the results I wanted from
the people instead of when they were
physically in the office.
The results have been great. I kept the
key people I needed to grow my company,
there’s a strong sense of loyalty for trusting them to work at home some of the
time, and everybody came out a winner.
Had I listened to my detractors, I may
have lost the very people I needed to
reach my growth goals.
Change is always difficult, regardless of
whether it’s changing office furniture or
changing your business plan, but sometimes you have to stick to your guns, even
in the face of opposition.
There are different types of leaders, but
effective ones all maintain their convictions. It doesn’t mean you don’t listen to
objections, but if after listening to them,
you still believe your decision is right,
then you stick to it. A lot of little decisions
can add up to a big success, and a handful
of big decisions can add up to a grand success and maybe even reinvent the way
people do business.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business
Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726
or [email protected].