Mickey Mouse Leadership

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
The average person goes to Disneyland to enjoy a nice fun filled day of amazing rides and carnival-like food or treats. I was no different than the average person; however, the land "where dreams come true" offered me more than a fun filled day.

Disneyland serves as the ultimate test of patience. While waiting in line to ride "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster," I began fabricating a plan to initiate a nationwide movement to change Disneyland to "Disneylines." While standing in the line for "Space Mountain," I noticed a little girl beaming with excitement as she stood next to her father. The girl's excitement amplified with each small step as we slowly navigated the mazelike path to the entrance. Along the path there were several signs that expressed specific rules that could make a person ineligible to ride. One sign, which is common in most theme parks, stated "You must be this tall to ride this ride." The expectation was clear; child silhouettes were even placed along the path so parents could ensure the minimum height standard was met.

As we continued, I noticed that the little girl didn't meet the minimum height standards. I started wondering what the dad was thinking, why wait in the line? Does he not understand the rules? Is he turning a blind eye to the standard? Is he afraid to tell his daughter no?

We finally arrived to the front of the line, which in itself was quite exciting. As the gate eased open, people made their way into their spaceship with assistance from Disneyland employees. As the father-daughter team stepped toward their spaceship an employee instinctively stopped them and asked the father how tall his daughter was. He wasn't too sure so the girl was asked to step to the silhouette. The little girl didn't measure up and was told that she couldn't go on the ride. Then the crying started. Ah yes, the crying...a consequence of Mickey Mouse leadership, something I've seen firsthand during my career.

A father-sibling relationship is closely matched to a supervisor-subordinate relationship. In each case the elder, more experienced person, is committed to the proper development, safety, health and welfare of the younger, less experienced person. At several points along the path the father had ample opportunities to enforce the standard but didn't. The standards weren't arbitrarily set; they were clear, concise and well promoted much like many standards found within the military. So why didn't the father, the person closest to the girl, enforce the standard? In the past few years, in the context of the supervisor-subordinate relationship, I've asked similar questions.

Supervisors, the people closest to subordinates, must be ready and willing to enforce the standards. All too often supervisors for varying reasons such as not knowing the standard, turning a blind eye and/or not wanting to be the "bad" person, don't hold their people to or enforce standards that are clear, concise and well promoted.

Mickey Mouse leaders are supervisors who don't know or lack familiarity with the standards, which in itself, is an indictment against their capabilities to lead. Supervisors who are unwilling to enforce standards are just as bad; leaders should never walk past a problem no matter how insignificant. Supervisors at the lowest level must be willing to make tough calls and if appropriate, they must be willing to tell their people they aren't measuring up. A squadron commander, chief, or first sergeant shouldn't always have to be the "bad" person who has to tell someone, who is several leadership levels below them, "No, you don't measure up." Unfortunately, this often happens when award packages, performance reports or decoration submissions rise to their level that lack support/justification or are clearly not deserved. This indicates that some supervision levels are practicing Mickey Mouse leadership.

Serving in a leadership capacity isn't about being everyone's buddy or being liked, let's leave that for Mickey Mouse. We must be brutally honest with one another. If a person isn't measuring up, it's in the person's best interest for them to know. We can ill afford to have people navigating their career path thinking they're meeting the appropriate standards because eventually they'll be told otherwise. And then the crying starts...ah yes, the crying.

Bring credit and honor to the United States Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.