Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in early 2020. With the huge announcement earlier this week of the replacement of Disney CEO Bob Chapek by former CEO Bob Iger, I thought I would revisit the post before publishing a new one on the return of Bob Iger, what that means to the Disney company, and how hard it is to continue a founder’s vision.
For many people today, Walt Disney is not seen as a man, but instead as a nameless, faceless entertainment giant which owns the intellectual properties of the Disney Studios, Pixar Studios, Marvel, LucasFilms, and Fox. While that is all true, the man named Walter Elias Disney rose from humble beginnings to found the studio that bears his name in 1923.
After several years of barely scraping by and one disastrous setback, Disney put together a string of successes. By the early 1930s, Disney had reached what many industry leaders considered the pinnacle of success for an animated short features studio.
However, Walt Disney wasn’t at the top; he was just getting started.
Not all visionaries are leaders, but all leaders are visionaries. You can’t lead people without a vision of where you are taking them.
What is your dream, your vision?
According to author Pat Williams, great leaders are people of vision. Without a vision, how will you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? Your vision is your definition of success.
Look at the quote by Walt Disney above: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”
Author Pat Williams breaks the quote down as follows:
- “I dream.” Walt began with a vision, a dream of the future.
- “I test my dreams against my beliefs.” Walt made sure his vision was consistent with his beliefs, his core values, and his integrity.
- “I dare to take risks.” He acted boldly, betting on himself to win.
- “I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” He focused all his energies, and those of his organization, on turning his dreams into reality.
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. Although the purchase of land for what would become Walt Disney World had been completed, infrastructure work had barely begun. After concentrating on theme parks for years, the quality of movies and animation had declined. Leadership of the company passed to several individuals for a few years, then to Michael Eisner for twenty years.
After rising through the ranks of ABC Television and Disney, Iger became the COO of Disney in 2000, and then in 2005, Iger was named chairman and then CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Put yourself in Iger’s shoes, if you can imagine: How do you assume the legacy of Walt Disney?
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is that story.
In the fall of 2019, Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, released a memoir/leadership book, based on his forty-five year career in the media and entertainment world.
Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, during a difficult time. Competition was more intense than ever and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. His vision came down to three clear ideas: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger—think global—and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.
Today, Disney is the largest, most admired media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over, and he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of our era.
In The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger shares the lessons he learned while running Disney and leading its 220,000-plus employees, and he explores the principles that are necessary for true leadership.
This book is about the relentless curiosity that has driven Iger for forty-five years, since the day he started as the lowliest studio grunt at ABC. It’s also about thoughtfulness and respect, and a decency-over-dollars approach that has become the bedrock of every project and partnership Iger pursues, from a deep friendship with Steve Jobs in his final years to an abiding love of the Star Wars mythology.
“The ideas in this book strike me as universal” Iger writes. “Not just to the aspiring CEOs of the world, but to anyone wanting to feel less fearful, more confidently themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives.”
As Iger neared the end of his 45+ year career and began to think back on what he had learned, he came up with ten principles that struck him as true leadership:
Optimism – A pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved.
Courage – The foundation of risk-taking is courage.
Focus – Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important.
Decisiveness – All decisions, no matter how difficult, and and should be made in a timely way.
Curiosity – A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas.
Fairness – Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy and accessibility are essential.
Thoughtfulness – Taking the time to develop informed opinions.
Authenticity – Be genuine and honest. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.
Relentless pursuit of perfection – A refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.”
Integrity – High ethical standards for all things, big and small.
How can Iger’s list of principles inspire you to be a better leader?
A little backstory on the acquisition book: This is the book everyone who has even a passing interest in the Disney Corporation was waiting for. Since becoming a part of Disney’s senior management team in 1996, and especially since becoming CEO in 2005, Iger’s ideas and the values he embraced have led to the reinvention and resurgence of one of the most beloved companies in the world.
Under Iger’s leadership, Disney acquired four powerhouse companies – Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, and 21st Century Fox.
Iger donated proceeds of from his book to educational initiatives aimed at fostering more diversity in the field of journalism.
When the rumors of his book first came out in the fall of 2016, it went on my watch list, and true to Amazon’s promise, it was delivered the day it was released on September 23, 2019.
Handing off the CEO role to Bob Chapek in early 2020, Iger remained executive chairman (till the end 2020) and chairman of the Board of The Walt Disney Company (till the end of 2021).
And now coming soon, the sequel to Bob Iger’s leadership post of the Walt Disney Company…
(To be continued)