10 true principles of leadership from Robert Iger’s “The Ride of a Lifetime”

Disney's groundbreaking CEO shares his transformative ideas that have revitalized the company while inspiring its magic-makers.
Jason Walkow
April 24, 2024

In his very readable, enjoyable memoir, "The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company," Robert “Bob” Iger shares the wisdom and experiences that helped shape his leadership journey at one of the world's most iconic entertainment companies. Starting from the bottom of the pack at ABC to turning the Olympics into a worldwide entertainment phenomenon to high-stakes acquisitions of the biggest companies in entertainment, Iger's story offers invaluable insights for business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. But what I’ve always liked about Bob Iger the most is…well, his likeability. “Literally, I have never heard one person say a bad thing about him and I have never seen him be mean,” Hollywood executive David Geffen told The New York Times. “To be honorable, decent, smart, successful, and a terrific guy is unusual anywhere. But it is most unusual in the entertainment business. He’s in a category of one.”

Though I’d highly recommend picking up his book for an easygoing read - “Hollywood’s nicest CEO” really has a way of endearing himself to you in the first few pages - I wanted to offer Iger’s “10 True Principles of Leadership” and share some of the principles that have guided Bob Iger to unimaginable success on the world’s biggest stage.

  1. Optimism: “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.” Iger emphasizes the importance of leaders maintaining a pragmatic and enthusiastic outlook, even in the face of challenges. Optimism drives motivation and fuels creativity while fostering a positive work environment.
  2. Courage: "Fear of failure destroys creativity. Don’t be in the business of playing it safe. Be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.” Embracing risk-taking and innovation is essential in ever-evolving industries, and true innovation stems from courageous decision-making. Courageous leaders empower their teams to take calculated risks and explore new ideas.
  3. Focus: “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.” Effective leaders prioritize their time, energy, and resources, concentrating on strategies and projects that yield the highest value. Clear and consistent communication of these priorities is vital for success.
  4. Decisiveness: “Challenges are opportunities in disguise. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive but deeply corrosive to morale.” Making timely decisions, even when faced with challenging choices, is crucial for maintaining efficiency and fostering a culture of trust. Encouraging diverse opinions and striking a balance between decision-making and implementation is key.
  5. Curiosity: “A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas as well as an awareness and understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.” A leader's curiosity leads to the discovery of new ideas, market awareness, and a deeper understanding of the evolving business landscape. Curiosity fuels innovation and adaptability.
  6. Fairness: “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 chances for honest mistakes.” Treating others with empathy, respect, and dignity is essential for fostering a positive workplace culture. Fair leaders give second chances, avoid harsh judgments, and encourage open communication and creativity.
  7. Thoughtfulness: “Thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. It is the process of gaining knowledge so that an opinion rendered or a decision made is more credible and more likely to be correct. It’s simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions.” Gaining knowledge and developing well-informed opinions make leaders more credible and likely to make correct decisions. Thoughtful leaders take the time to explore and understand all aspects of a situation before acting.
  8. Authenticity: “Be genuine. Be honest. Don’t fake anything. Truth and authenticity. Respect and trust. Set an example that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes. Lead with empathy and humility, and your team will follow.” Being genuine and transparent in leadership builds trust and respect. Authentic leaders prioritize honesty and avoid misrepresenting themselves or their intentions.
  9. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection: “This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being good enough.” Striving for excellence and refusing to settle for mediocrity is a defining characteristic of successful leaders. They continually seek improvement, ensuring their work meets the highest standards.
  10. Integrity: “Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product. A company’s success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small. Another way of saying this is, ‘the way you do anything, is the way you do everything.’” Upholding strong ethical standards in all aspects of a company's operations is crucial for long-term success. Leaders with integrity establish and maintain a culture of trust and transparency, ensuring the quality and reputation of both the organization and its people.

What a great example of being intentional with your values and sticking to them. But that’s Bob Iger. His brand of leadership is my personal favorite, and I’ll no doubt find myself returning to his words of wisdom in the future as I form my own brand of leadership.

Thanks for reading!

Jason Walkow

Jason Walkow is Head of Design at Plain Sight Ventures. In his free time, Jason enjoys running, eating at the newest spots, and anything coffee-related.

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