The Power of Mutual Triumph

The April 2014 SUCCESS magazine cover story is a profile of Anne Sweeney President of Disney/ABC Television. The profile includes classic resume notations including her responsibility for 9000 employees, her regular appearance on power lists from Forbes to the Hollywood Reporter, which in 2013 named her the number one most powerful woman in entertainment — an honor she’s held for four consecutive years. So how does she get that power? And are any of her attributes in alignment with our attributes of TRUE North leadership?

The article defines her through a series of story episodes:

  • The article author notes that there are scribblings on the door jam of her office marking the growth of her staff’s children.
  • She asked her team if the WATCH ABC app could be ready a year early… No one said “No let us think about it”… Two weeks later they committed.
  • There is a regard on her part for the history and tradition of Disney:  “Here’s a company 90 years old that continues to create a technology for the kind of stories we want to tell” Sweeney says.
  • Shonda Rhimes ABC’s star TV series creator: “What I like most about her that she’s funny, spontaneous, smart and always in control… she’s very supportive of creative bold ideas which is rare in this business”.
  • Per Peter Roth who worked with Sweeney at FX Networks, she is:
    1. powerful with graciousness
    2. thoughtful
    3. professional yet caring
    4. tough, ambitious, aggressive, yet kind

Roth and Sweeney share the fact that each has a child with autism. Roth told the story that every year for two decades Sweeney organized a VIP Disneyland excursion for his daughter.

How do leaders inspire? They genuinely CARE.  And how do people… say 9,000 employees… KNOW that?  They KNOW from this story:  Sweeney’s son Chris, now 28, was diagnosed with autismat the age of 9 and shortly thereafter he participated in a Special Olympics event. Afterwards, on the way home she said to him, a relay race winner that day, “Chris you were quick today”. And from the back seat she heard “I’m a winner”. She recalled that that moment changed her life and for more than a decade she served on the board of Special Olympics.

Sweeney’s leadership tracks on the path to TRUE North.  One dimension of our TRUE North M-A-P is Meaning.  What sense of purpose do the employees at Disney/ABC television have and where do they get it? I think it’s because her life has meaning beyond the bottom line success of the organization or the trappings of her position. People KNOW her commitment to family and they KNOW of her caring because in almost every story of achievement under her watch was this practice of asking staff and others “what do you think”.

When work has meaning and you give people ownership by considering their ideas, you fulfill the human desire for purpose and belonging. People KNOW Sweeney from the story of her son and how the family had to organize itself to achieve shared responsibility for the purpose of mutual triumph. One of Anne Sweeny’s secrets, I think, has to be her conscious willingness to sustain a genuine spirit and culture, the traditions the Disney “cast members” provide where all roles are valued and acknowledged.  She has created a “one-ness”… in our M-A-P we call it AllOne… and that fulfills the human need for belonging.

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