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Why All the Bosses in Disney Movies Are Terrible

Why All the Bosses in Disney Movies Are Terrible
By Leigh Buchanan
Published: March 12, 2018

Condemnations of toxic leadership have poured from the business and academic press for more than a century. Meanwhile a subtler, no-less scathing critique has subconsciously shaped our perceptions of workplace authority.

We're talking about Disney movies.

The world of work is ubiquitous in Disney films, from the grueling glitter of diamond mines in Snow White to Krei Tech in Big Hero 6 with its innovate-at-all costs ethos and ethically challenged CEO. In the last quarter century, denouncements by feminists and social critics prodded the transformation of Disney heroines from damsels needing rescue into strong, independent women. Disney bosses, by contrast, have remained caricatures of casual cruelty, contravening the real-world trends toward employee empowerment and enlightened leadership.

Children's worldviews--which may extend into adulthood--are shaped not only by parents, teachers, and other real-life relationships but also by television and movies. Of those cultural influences, Disney films are among the more pervasive, according to a new paper by professors Martyn Griffin of Leeds University and Mark Learmonth of Durham University. For example, if you were a parent of young children between, say, 2013 and 2015, just recall how much of your household's attention and entertainment budget were sucked up by all things related to Frozen.

The paper, published by the Academy of Management, addresses Disney's effect on "organizational readiness": children's expectations of what the world of work will be like. "Just because Disney films are made this way doesn't mean everyone thinks their boss is Stromboli," said Griffin in an interview, referring to the evil puppeteer in Pinocchio. "However managers should understand that young employees are not a blank slate." Pop culture in general and Disney in particular may plant negative perceptions of managers' motives and actions in young people's minds. It is up to real-life leaders to dispel them.

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