The power of conviction Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

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 classics.

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 your detractors.

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