Osnat Shurer, Disney Producer, talks about how to empower your team on the Joy of Leadership Podcast

Welcome to the Joy of Leadership Podcast. I am your host Shar McBee.   

Our guest is an Academy Award winning movie producer at Walt Disney Animation, Osnat Shurer.   You can read it below or listen on YouTube. 

You can listen on KMozart, read it below,  or catch it on You Tube.  It is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.  

First, we begin with today’s leadership secret:  To lead is to connect.

When people feel included, they will support you.  When they feel excluded, they will undermine you. So, make people feel included, be a connector. 

The challenge is that when you’re the leader, you feel connected, you are included. So you don’t notice when others feel left out.

In yoga and in life, and in leadership, we’re looking for balance.  Being hard on people when you’re in a leadership position is too forceful. 

Being overly gentle would be too weak. A leader who is gentle, but clear, commands respect. 

Our guest Osnat Shurer supervises a crew of roughly 400 creative people. She is the Academy Award nominated producer of two of my favorite Disney animated musicals, “Moana” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” She was head of Pixar Animation before she moved to Disney.

Osnat Shurer says that it takes a village of creative people, animators, directors, writers, and cast members to make a movie.

The producer has to pull them all together; she has to be the connector. I asked her if she has any advice for someone who is new to leadership.

Osnat Shurer: Oh, where do I start? Hi Shar. First of all, thank you for inviting me. It’s lovely to be here. 

I think one of the most important things I have understood about leading people is it doesn’t matter what you talk about.  It’s important that you walk the talk. 

It sounds obvious, but so much emphasis, particularly corporate emphasis, is on the talking.  How we are going to be inclusive?

How we are going to make sure, especially as a filmmaker and storyteller, that the diversity of voices are essential?

Otherwise, we get the same story … which we did over and over and over again, and we still do. 

So, how do the changes happen at the moment every day, in the small decisions, in the moments, in who you bring to the table, and what criteria do you use.  How important is it to you, even if there’s no one watching?

So, I think the issues are the same issues that we have in our lives as human beings, do you walk the talk? Because people feel it. 

For me with “Moana,” there weren’t departments, there were no diversity and inclusion departments, and budgets and things like that. 

It wasn’t a known thing.  It just felt important, and so we invented it as we went along.  We invented a title so that I could then bring in somebody who’s Hawaiian from within the community to help manage the relationships in the community in order to be sure that we are doing what we need to do. 

I think people sense it, I think if something is important to you it trickles to everyone else.  I think that’s one of the keys to leadership, wherever you are in the hierarchy.   

That’s the other topic. Everyone of us is a leader because we interact with other human beings. I could go on and on, but I think the first and most important thing is if you’re going to talk the talk… then walk the walk.

Shar McBee: Because people pick up on it quickly.

Osnat Shurer: Yes. They will know right away.  We all know right away. We know… so why wouldn’t somebody else know?

Shar McBee (to audience): Osnat Shurer wishes that people would be more encouraging to young creative people. 

She advises that if you work in a creative field, try not to get too attached to your ideas. Other people are creative too.

Give them a chance. I liked this because detachment is a yogic principle. In leadership, detachment gives you power.  

Attachment to doing it your way makes you weak. Detachment makes you strong and flexible. It gives you a 360-degree view of the situation  which helps you prepare for almost any contingency. Osnat Shurer said, don’t worry about people stealing your ideas.

We often put people in too small of a role. They may be capable of more. Look at that. 

Shar McBee to Osnat:  People who rise to the top in leadership tend to be ambitious. How do you use ambition for good? 

Osnat Shurer: First, really look at it carefully because I think we’ve labeled people in weird ways. Like an ambitious guy is good and an ambitious woman is a pushy bitch. So, first of all, back out of that because we’ve all internalized that nonsense, not just the guys. 

So, back up and take a look.  Ambitious is not bad. Ambitious fine. Unkind, no.  

For me, for example, the line that some directors have crossed is if you are having a hard day and you want to yell at me, fine.

But you never yell at somebody at a lower level than you.  You can’t do that. You don’t have the right to do that. 

You gave that up when you accepted a leadership role.  Comeyell  at me, whatever, or not just yell, be unkind.  You can’t do that to someone else.

I think we establish that for ourselves. And sometimes you have to help somebody in your group establish that. 

Say, “I love that you want to do more. I’ll do my best to give you more to do or more interesting things…to give you a chance to take initiative.

You still have to show me that you know how to be kind to people.  You still have to show your ability to make them hear you. 

Not just say, you know what I mean? It’s like that.  Help them develop some soft skills.  Then ambition will not be a problem.

Shar McBee: We have been listening to Osnat Shurer, Executive Producer at Walt Disney Animation. I have known Osnat for a long time. 

She takes great satisfaction in encouraging other people along their journey. I hope she has encouraged you today. 

Listen to the Joy of Leadership Podcast.I am Shar McBee.