November 01, 2016 / By Zip Schedules / In Zip Schedules / Comments

Elon Musk & Walt Disney’s Secrets to Success: 10 Leadership Skills

Elon Reeve Musk is the 45-year-old South African innovator behind Tesla Motors and SolarCity. And yet, beyond these many accomplishments, Musk has his sights set on perhaps even loftier heights, with proposed innovations such as an electric plane that can take off and land vertically, multi-planetary living for human beings on Mars, and even more widely-utilized solar power – all inspired by his goal to change the world and the course of humanity. In June 2016, it was estimated that he was the 83rd wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of roughly 12.7 billion dollars.

Walt Disney revolutionized American animation with lovable characters like Mickey Mouse, synchronized sound, full color, feature length cartoons, and videography. With early roots in drawing and animation, Disney’s entrepreneurial spirit continued to grow. Beyond his timeless classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, and Cinderella, Disney later became interested in opening amusement parks, changing the world – and childhoods forever – with Disneyland and Walt Disney World. A hero of the animation industry, Disney’s approach made him an American icon known the world over.

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So, what is it that set these men apart? While planted in different industries, both Musk and Disney shared several leadership traits that empowered them to change not only their respective industries, but the world. Below, we discuss 10 leadership skills that represent transformation and lasting change.

  1. A constant pursuit of learning. Both Musk and Disney persistently pursued knowledge. While also formally educated up to the level of PhD, Musk is also self-taught in disciplines such as rocket science, programming, and physics. Likewise, while Disney took some art classes at night, much of his knowledge was attained on the job. He was always uncovering new things to learn about animation and movie making, as well as innovations he could bring to his amusement parks.
  2. A strong work ethic. It has been said of Musk that he regularly works over 100 hours per week, certainly setting some high standards for his teams. While this may seem like burnout pace, Musk loves what he does and is energized by his work. Disney never shirked a long either. He devoted much of his time to his creations and his teams.
  3. A laser focus on goals. Both Musk and Disney set lofty goals others may have balked at, and despite challenges, kept their focus honed in. For a time during his career, Disney was accused of racism and anti-Semitism, and yet he never allowed these accusations to stunt his company’s growth and his movement toward larger goals.
  4. High expectations. All influential leaders set high expectations for themselves and those around them, never expecting less than anyone’s very best. It’s clear that Musk and Disney also set high expectations for their lives. Rather than settling for a mediocre existence, these two leaders made their minds up to living powerful, impactful lives that would build legacies and promote lasting change.
  5. Desire to create lasting large-scale change. Rather than just build wealth for themselves and their families, strong leaders, like Musk and Disney, have higher hopes for reach. Disney imagined his EPCOT center at Walt Disney World to be a center for inspiration and innovation for years to come. Musk is really looking to change the world in the future with his innovative pursuits, such as his previously noted dream of multi-planetary living for the human race.
  6. A sacrificial spirit. Truly world-changing leaders have to be willing to sacrifice some of their own self-interest for loftier, long term goals. For instance, earlier in his career and with his first startup, Musk experimented with living on $1.00 per day, getting quite creative with his dinner options.
  7. Hands-on management style. Early in his career, Disney learned the importance of maintaining control over his creations. In order to achieve this, Disney took a very hands-on approach to managing his teams, giving them necessary independence yet with enough oversight that he could maintain legal and creative control.
  8. Humility, openness to guidance and feedback. It’s been said that no man is an island – this is also true of leaders. For one, Musk understands the important of regular reflection and realigning. In a recent interview Musk explains this critical element of his success, saying, “Accurate self-analysis – it is difficult to do so, since you’re too close to yourself by definition. People do not think critically enough.” Disney also understood the importance of humility, learning early in his career – from some minor setbacks – ways to rework his business model.
  9. Ability to choose and sustain a great team. Great leaders surround themselves with great teams. But, how do they choose? In a recent interview with Musk, he provided several of the questions he asks potential new hires, taking into account their career stories, challenges they’ve met and overcome, key decisions, and special abilities. While a formal education certainly has its place, Musk does not allow this to exclude candidates. Disney also only chose the very best, hiring animators that could adhere to his vision and yet also offer new insights to the team.
  10. Perseverance, never giving up on dreams. As Disney himself once said, “Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.” While many may have thought Walt Disney was crazy for building a career around a mouse, his constant commitment to his dreams helped him to build a world-changing empire. For example, when he was working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, experts in the industry predicted bankruptcy. And yet, he pursued his dream and the film became the most successful sound film of its day. Likewise – and especially early in his career – people could have easily thought Musk was crazy, talking about rockets and electric cars and planes and living on Mars. However, each of these leaders had an internal compass, pointing them towards their North Star.


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