Saturday, January 18, 2020

5 Leadership/Business/Marketing Lessons from Disney CEO Bob Iger - Takeaway from "The Ride of a Lifetime"

"The Ride of a Lifetime" is the memoir of Walt Disney's CEO Bob Iger. He shared what he learned in the last 45 years, including 15 years at Disney where he orchestrated several large-scale successful acquisitions: Pixar, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.

I was impressed by how candid he chose to be in this book. It's very personal and engaging. Besides many success stories, he's not afraid to share some of his failure and what he learned from each one of them. 

If you're looking for a good book to kick off 2020, it's worth your time. The book offers a plethora of fantastic business, career and life advice. 

Today I want to share the top 5 lessons I learned from his story. They're a mixture of leadership, business and life lessons.

1. Thoughtfulness

A rarely discussed quality of good leadership.

According to Iger, thoughtfulness is "the process of gaining knowledge, so an opinion rendered or decision made is more credible and more likely to be's simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions".

I agree with Iger that thoughtfulness is "one of the most underrated elements of good leadership". You don't hear that often in leadership lectures. Yet, it's extremely important to gather the correct information before rendering an opinion or decision.  Have you ever sat in a meeting where it's clear the leaders aren't prepared for the meeting? For example, they ask questions that are answered in materials given to them days ago. As a leader, if you don't do the work, the people around you are going to know, and you'll lose their respect fast.

2. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
This doesn't mean the pursuit of perfection at all cost. Instead, it's about "creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity". Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that "good enough" is "good enough" because "there aren't enough time", or "this requires a difficult conversation I don't want to have". But great things happen when you push beyond your comfort zone and aim a bit higher.

In my opinion, the implication of this principle at work, is to build out a solid feedback cadence. It's important for team members to solicit feedback from their leaders early in the process, and keep them in the loop along the way. Feedback could be given along the way. So we could all avoid the 11th hour do-over, which adds unnecessary stress and could tank the team's morale.

3. Managing Creativity is an Art, not a Science
Brand marketers' favorite question: how to give creative feedback? Iger shared his perspective after having to work with numerous creators to fuel the Disney content pipeline.

First, he starts with empathy:"When I am asked to provide insights and offer critiques, I'm exceedingly mindful of how much the creators have poured themselves into the project and how much is at stake for them." As he put it himself:"empathy is a prerequisite to the sound management of creativity, and respect is critical."

When it comes to actually giving feedback, this is what he does:"I never start out negatively, and unless we're in the late stages of a production, I never start small. I've found that often people will focus on little details as a way of masking a lack of any clear, coherent, big thoughts. If you start petty, you seem petty. And if the big picture is mess, then the small things don't matter anyway, and you shouldn't spend time focusing on them."

WELL SAID. This is consistent from what I learned a long time ago from a seasoned marketer about giving feedback - You acknowledge what works well, and always START with how this creative work achieve the desired objective, before diving into any details.

4. Avoid Getting into the Business of Manufacturing Trombone Oil
Iger learned this lesson from his former Boss, Dan Burke, the President of ABC till 1994. Burke is telling us not to invest in small projects that would drain your and the company's energy without giving much back. "You may become the greatest trombone oil in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year!", Burke said.

For me, this is about identifying the right opportunity, and invest your energy behind the correct priority.

5. Convey Your Priorities Clearly and Repeatedly
Once you identify your priority (and hopefully not trombone oil), it's a leader's job to set the communicate the priority to his/her team, and do so REPEATEDLY. People are busy. The big picture and strategic direction could get lost when one is buried in the day-to-day nuances of the business. Articulating your priorities clearly, and often, help people around you know what their own priorities are.

These five lessons are only a snapshot of many great ideas from this book. The last chapter "lessons to lead by" does a great job summarizing various themes and what he learned in his 45 years in business. Hope you give it a read and let me know what you think.

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