Modern Marketing Brand

Why Disney’s servant leadership will win out, despite DeSantis’ political ploy

By Aaron Kwittken | CEO

April 27, 2022 | 5 min read

The story of man versus mouse is going to be one for the ages, writes Aaron Kwittken, founder of KWT Global. While Governor Ron DeSantis’ motives may not be what they seem, Disney’s intentions are pure and will likely be rewarded in the future.

The Walt Disney Company has been a critical driver of our culture, morals and values for more than one hundred years. Disney stories are as profound as they are prolific. And as the world’s largest entertainment company with ownership over multiple media properties and theme parks worldwide and a market cap of more than $200bn, Disney is also a bellwether for global business.

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Disney

Like most companies, Disney isn’t perfect and has weathered its share of controversies over the years, from accusations of ethnic and racial stereotyping to plagiarism. Disney’s latest dust up is with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a brash, outspoken far-right Republican and Trump acolyte. It started with DeSantis’s push to pass what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Disney chief executive Bob Chapek eventually publicly opposed the bill, expressed support for the LGBQT community and paused Disney’s political donations in the state.

Disney is among the largest employers in Florida and DeSantis, in an effort to keep his name in the national headlines and prime his candidacy for a 2024 presidential run, stripped Disney of its special self-governing status. Channeling the role of Scar in Disney’s The Lion King, DeSantis used this fight as a Machiavellian PR opportunity to push GOP orthodoxy in the state by quietly passing racist re-districting laws behind the scenes while the rest of us have been hyper-focused on headlines from the DeSantis vs. Disney steel cage match.

For a company that’s more comfortable behind the curtain, taking center stage in the highly divisive culture wars of late – even if reluctantly and unintentionally – has catapulted Disney from business leader to servant leader almost overnight.

True servant leadership hinges on valuing people for who they are, fostering leadership in others and embracing a growth mindset grounded in humility, diversity and inclusivity. We witnessed Chapek shape-shift his own POV on Disney’s role in this drama. He went from saying “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” to reversing course and saying, “we need to use our influence to promote good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all." Chapek’s only mistake was in trying to first ride the partisan fence and in doing so he impaled himself by falling prey to reactive partisanship. But he didn’t flip-flop like some would suggest. He actually grew from his misstep, apologized, and did the right thing. That’s the twist in this plot line that we all need to embrace. We witnessed humility in the name of humanity. This is servant leadership.

Walt Disney once said, “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.” It’s my sincere hope that Disney has more corporate allies in its fight for what’s right, and not far right, and prove that its truly a small (and caring) world after all. We need to “just keep swimming” against the currents of hate in all states, starting with Florida.

Aaron Kwittken, founder and chairman, KWT Global and President of PRSA-New York.

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