The recent stock plunge and the loss of over 20 billion dollars in shareholder value of Disney is a stark lesson in what happens when leadership fails. In 2020, Bob Chapek became just the 7th CEO of The Walt Disney Company. The entertainment giant houses some of the largest brands in the world including Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, ESPN and National Geographic. Chapek is no slouch as a leader and he assumed the role with decades of success under his belt. But his recent actions in the world of politics has already cost the corporation giant billions and the State of Florida has just ended the special privileges that Disney World has enjoyed for the last 50 years and that will cost the company far into the future.
As a quick recap, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. The legislation is not only popular in the state but the majority of residents on both sides of the political aisle also agree with it. At around just 500 words, the legislation is not hard to understand. Here are some excerpts:
The bill reinforces a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care and upbringing of his or her child in the public school setting. The bill requires each district school board to adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.
Makes a lot of sense but this is the section that the media, activists and Disney weighed in on, calling it the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill:
The bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.
You may have noticed something pretty strange in that sentence…The legislation actually never mentions “gay” and frankly, this is why the majority of people tend to agree with it. Why would any parent with a few brain cells want any classroom instruction on any type of sex to 3rd graders or below? As a parent myself, I tend to place much more emphasis on things like reading and writing and if I thought my kids needed to know about sex at 8 years old, I would discuss it with them.
If you haven’t paid attention up until now, this is a glimpse of what the media and their political allies do. Rather than tell their audience what the bill says, they simply call it “Don’t Say Gay” and label it anti-gay. It’s the same playbook used against law enforcement in recent years and frankly, it tends to work very well.
A decent percentage fo the population believes that a violent criminal in Ferguson had his hands up and thus “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was used to eviscerate the profession in the years that followed. It was all a lie and the Department of Justice under then President Obama proved that.
Many believe that Louisville police officers ran a “no knock” warrant on the wrong house and killed the homeowner while she slept in her bed. The Grand Jury testimony and excellent book by Sergeant John Mattingly revealed all of the lies in that story.
I could continue but you understand my point. Those with an agenda have been very successful in pushing a false narrative that then is used for countless demands. Those demands are called “reforms” for law enforcement and the leaders in that profession have failed miserably at countering the lies. In Disney’s case, the leadership at The Walt Disney Company were pushed by a few employees (one employee protested in Florida) and advocates to come out against the legislation and announce the addition of gay characters.
While I have come to expect the media to lie either through omission or misrepresentation, this is where Bob Chapek could have led rather than followed and while his missteps have been widely documented, I have a few suggestions for he and other leaders that may find themselves in a similar position.
Leaders Must Communicate The Truth
There is no question that the legislation in Florida has been engrossed in emotion and I understand that. But that emotion was created by a lie. The bill does not say anything about gay and the way it is written, teachers are also prohibited from talking about heterosexuality. Take the fancy slogan “Don’t Say Gay” away and tell the truth and much of the division is likely to be eliminated.
Leaders Must Stay In Their Lane
In 1990, Michael Jordan famously said that “republicans buy sneakers, too” when he was asked why he didn’t endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt for the United States Senate. Jordan donated to his campaign but he recognized that he was an athlete and diving into the political realm in public would do little to help him. The same is true for Disney. Their mission is entertainment and their involvement in what has been popular legislation in one state has brought on significant backlash on each side of the issue. One side believes that Disney hasn’t done enough in fighting the bill and the other side is mad that they are endorsing the teaching of sexual orientation to children that have barely learned to tie their shoes. Just like Jordan said, their involvement did nothing to help them and has only hurt them tremendously.
Courageous Leadership can be a blood sport. Decisions have to be made that will seemingly make one group upset and another group happy which is exactly why popularity cannot be in the mix. The job of any leader is to simply do what is right for their organization and their customer base. Law enforcement and the communities they serve have found this out the hard way. The failed social experiment of police reform, based on more lies than I can detail here, have created one of the most dangerous environments for both law enforcement and citizens that the country has ever seen.
Whether it is a corporation like Disney or a law enforcement agency, the foundation of the problem always points to leadership and an initial decision to try to “please” others while forgetting what the mission is really about. The truth matters and in leadership, the failure to stick to this principle will disable any real progress.