Bob Iger and Leadership: The Top 10 Principles

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Do you want to know about Bob Iger’s leadership principles? How can these 10 tips help you be a more successful leader?

In his book The Ride of a Lifetime, former Disney CEO Bob Iger’s leadership helped him save Disney. If it weren’t for Iger and his successful management, Disney would have become irrelevant or been bought by another company.

Keep reading to learn about Bob Iger’s leadership principles.

Bob Iger’s Leadership Principles

Throughout the book The Ride of a Lifetime, Iger shares his management advice behind his career and Disney’s success. Here are the 10 major Bob Iger leadership principles:

Optimism: The first Bob Iger leadership principle is to be optimistic. This isn’t about blindly believing things will work out, but rather about believing in yourself and your team’s abilities. In contrast, a pessimistic “everything’s going to fail” attitude leads to defensiveness and risk aversion; plus, no one likes working for pessimists.

  • Example: In the last few years of Michael Eisner’s tenure as CEO, he faced heavy scrutiny from the board and press for poor performance. He would glumly remark that the sky was falling, and this demoralized the team.

Courage: Growth requires risks, and risks require courage. Even the biggest ideas are possible if you work hard and smart. Don’t fear failure, or you won’t take risks. Don’t fear change, or you’ll refuse to embrace the future and go extinct. Instill this in your team—make it acceptable to fail.

  • Example: Iger pursued the acquisition of Pixar when the board and public thought it was a foolhardy idea. He knew that Disney risked becoming obsolete if it didn’t make courageous moves.

Perfectionism: This doesn’t mean being 100% perfect at all costs. Rather, refuse to accept mediocrity. Don’t just make things “good enough”—make them great. Sweat the details because you care—but not so much to the point of stifling micromanagement. And apply the same standards to yourself—you need to do the work and be great yourself.

  • Example: Iger admired how his old ABC Sports boss Roone Arledge had an exacting eye for details and demanded the most from his team.

Focus: Decide what the few most important priorities are and focus on them. Then communicate those priorities repeatedly to your team, so they know how to align their own work with them. “This is where we want to go. This is how we’re getting there.” 

  • Example: When becoming CEO, Iger focused on three clear priorities—great content, technology, and global expansion. He then focused the entire company on those priorities.

Decisiveness: Make decisions quickly and deliberately. Don’t muddle; your team will lose sense of direction and get anxious. You’ll never have enough information to reach 100% certainty, so recognize that decisions are risks, and be guided by your instinct.

  • Example: Iger trusted his instinct for major decisions like billion-dollar acquisitions, even if the analysis didn’t prove that it was a surefire home run.

Curiosity: Seek to understand new ideas, people, and the shifting marketplace. Innovation requires learning.

Fairness: The Bob Iger leadership method is to treat people fairly and decently. Even as you enforce high standards, be empathetic; realize how much the creator has put into her work. Give people second chances for honest mistakes. When negotiating, be respectful; disrespect can be very costly. 

  • Example: Iger is aware of his position as CEO and finds that at meetings, everyone looks only at him. He makes sure to involve everyone at the table.

Thoughtfulness: Be informed in your opinions. Admit when you don’t know something and learn to close the gap quickly.

  • Example: When first becoming head of ABC, Iger admitted that he knew nothing about picking good scripts and enlisted the help of his lieutenants. 

Authenticity: Be honest and don’t fake it. People will trust and respect you, even if they don’t like what you have to say. If you’re explaining a difficult decision, like demoting a friend, explain your thought process honestly. When negotiating, explain clearly at the start what you’re looking for. Don’t create a false expectation and then go back on it later.

  • Example: When first negotiating the Pixar deal with Steve Jobs, Iger could have played it cool and pretended Disney didn’t really need Pixar. Instead, he couldn’t help expressing his admiration for what Pixar was doing and how much Disney wanted it. In turn, Jobs appreciated how enthusiastic Iger was about the deal, and this built trust that Disney wouldn’t ruin Pixar.

Integrity: The final Bob Iger leadership principle is to have integrity. Know what right and wrong means to you—your values will define the company’s values. Then set a high ethical bar for everything that your company does, big or small. “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” Your company will be defined by how your people behave. Hire good people, not just people who are good at what they do.

  • Example: After 2017, Disney had a series of scandals involving people behaving poorly, including Pixar head John Lasseter inappropriately touching employees and Roseanne Barr posting racist Tweets. Despite the commercial losses, Iger fired both employees without remorse.
Bob Iger and Leadership: The Top 10 Principles

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  • How Bob Iger went from television crew member to CEO of Disney
  • The 10 major principles behind Iger's management style and success
  • How Iger resuscitated Disney Animation by buying Pixar

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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