top of page
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • TikTok

Unveiling leadership's magic: Lessons from Disney's CEO Robert Iger

In this blog, I want to share some of the fundamental principles of leadership that I have gleaned from the remarkable book "The Ride of a Lifetime" authored by Robert Iger, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

These key principles will shed light on the essence of effective leadership and its transformative impact on a renowned global enterprise. Embracing simplicity and clarity, Robert Iger imparts invaluable lessons that resonate beyond the realms of the corporate world, offering guidance applicable to various aspects of life.

Don’t expect much from this blog as these 31 pointers are my personal highlights from the book. So, let's explore these valuable lessons together.

The Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger’s Leadership Principles:

1. And I tend to approach bad news as a problem that can be worked through and solved, something I have control over rather than something happening to me.

2. Sometimes, even though you’re “in charge,” you need to be aware that in the moment you might have nothing to add, and so you don’t wade in. You trust your people to do their jobs and focus your energies on some other pressing issue.

3. Things were dire, for sure, but I needed to look at the situation not as a catastrophe but as a puzzle we needed to solve and to communicate to our team that we were talented and nimble enough to solve these problems and make something wonderful on the fly.

4. You’re also in a position of leadership, though, so you can’t let humility prevent you from leading. It’s a fine line and something I preach today. You have to ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can. There’s nothing less confidence-inspiring than a person faking knowledge they don’t possess. True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.

5. Optimism sets a different machine in motion. Especially in difficult moments, the people you lead need to feel confident in your ability to focus on what matters, and not to operate from a place of defensiveness and self-preservation. This isn’t about saying things are good when they’re not, and it’s not about conveying some innate faith that “things will work out.” It’s about believing you and the people around you can steer toward the best outcome, and not communicating the feeling that all is lost if things don’t break your way. The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you. No one wants to follow a pessimist.

6. A CEO must provide the company and its senior team with a road map. A lot of work is complex and requires intense amounts of focus and energy, but this kind of messaging is fairly simple: This is where we want to be. This is how we’re going to get there. Once those things are laid out simply, so many decisions become easier to make, and the overall anxiety of an entire organization is lowered.

7. I could control what I did and how I comported myself. Everything else was beyond my control.

8. Don’t let your ego get in the way of making the best possible decision.

9. If you approach and engage people with respect and empathy, the seemingly impossible can become real.

10. PEOPLE SOMETIMES SHY AWAY from taking big swings because they assess the odds and build a case against trying something before they even take the first step.

11. He built things of the highest quality, not necessarily affordable to all, but he never sacrificed quality in order to attain affordability. I never showed him anything like that again.

12. Surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do. You can’t always predict who will have ethical lapses or reveal a side of themselves you never suspected was there.

13. Now more than ever: innovate or die. There can be no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new.

14. I talk a lot about “the relentless pursuit of perfection.” In practice, this can mean a lot of things, and it’s hard to define. It’s a mindset, more than a specific set of rules. It’s not about perfectionism at all costs. It’s about creating an environment in which people refuse to accept mediocrity. It’s about pushing back against the urge to say that “good enough” is good enough.

15. Take responsibility when you screw up. In work, and in life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you own up to your mistakes. It’s impossible to avoid them; but it is possible to acknowledge them, learn from them, and set an example that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes.

16. Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy. This doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations or convey the message that mistakes don’t matter. It means that you create an environment where people know you’ll hear them out, that you’re emotionally consistent and fair-minded, and that they’ll be given second chances for honest mistakes.

17. Excellence and fairness don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Strive for perfection but always be aware of the pitfalls of caring only about the product and never the people.

18. True integrity—a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong—is a kind of secret leadership weapon.

19. Don’t start negatively, and don’t start small. People will often focus on little details as a way of masking a lack of any clear, coherent, big thoughts. If you start petty, you seem petty.

20. You may become the greatest trombone-oil manufacturer in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year!” He was telling me not to invest in small projects that would sap my and the company’s resources and not give much back. I still have that note on my desk, and I use it when talking to our executives about what to pursue and where to put their energy.

21. When the people at the top of a company have a dysfunctional relationship, there’s no way that the rest of the company can be functional. It’s like having two parents who fight all the time. The kids know, and they start to reflect the animosity onto the parents and at each other.

22. You often have to sit through meetings that, if given the choice, you might choose not to sit through. You have to listen to other people’s problems and help find solutions. It’s all part of the job.

23. We all want to believe we’re indispensable. You have to be self-aware enough that you don’t cling to the notion that you are the only person who can do this job. At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to step into your shoes—giving them access to your own decision-making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.

24. A company’s reputation is the total of the actions of its people and the quality of its products.

25. If you walk up and down the halls constantly telling people “the sky is falling,” a sense of doom and gloom will, over time, permeate the company. You can’t communicate pessimism to the people around you. It’s ruinous to morale. No one wants to follow a pessimist. Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion. Optimism emerges from faith in yourself and in the people who work for you. It’s not about saying things are good when they’re not, and it’s not about conveying some blind faith that “things will work out.” It’s about believing in your and others’ abilities.

26. You have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. If you don’t articulate your priorities clearly, then the people around you don’t know what their own should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted. You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life. A lot of work is complex and requires intense amounts of focus and energy, but this kind of messaging is fairly simple: This is where we want to be. This is how we’re going to get there.

27. It should be about the future, not the past. It’s easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you you’re great. It’s much harder, and much more necessary, when your sense of yourself is on the line. Treating others with respect is an undervalued currency when it comes to negotiating. A little respect goes a long way, and the absence of it can be very costly.

28. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you. A lot of companies acquire others without much sensitivity toward what they’re really buying. They think they’re getting physical assets or manufacturing assets or intellectual property (in some industries, that’s more true than in others). But usually what they’re really acquiring is people. In a creative business, that’s where the value lies.

29. In any negotiation, be clear about where you stand from the beginning. There’s no short-term gain that’s worth the long-term erosion of trust that occurs when you go back on the expectation you created early on.

30. If you’re in the business of making something, be in the business of making something great.

31. You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility. The success I’ve enjoyed has been due in part to my own efforts, but it’s also been due to so much beyond me, the efforts and support and examples of so many people, and to twists of fate beyond my control.


bottom of page