Summary of The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
The culture and management of Disney have fascinated me for years. The Ride of a Lifetime is part autobiography with an inside look at the highlights of Bob Iger’s tenure as CEO of Disney. I really like the details covering the negotiations and purchases of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars.
In the words of the author. “If you run a business, or manage a team, or collaborate with others in pursuit of a common goal, this book might be helpful to you.”
My Favorite Quotes
- It is vital to create space in each day to let your thoughts wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities, to turn things over in your mind in a less pressured, more creative way than is possible once the daily triage kicks in.
- Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. 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.
- Do what you need to do to make it better.
- One person’s unwillingness to give a timely response can cause so much unnecessary strain and inefficiency.
- I would much rather take big risks, and sometimes fail, than not take risks at all.
- I do not want to be in the business of playing it safe, I want to be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.
- The need to be comfortable with failure is the most profound lesson he learned in his first year running primetime at ABC. If you want innovation, and you should always, you need to give permission to fail.
- Anything that reminds you that you are not the center of the universe is a good thing.
- Managing your own time, and respecting others’ time, is one of the most vital things to do as a manager.
- The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you, no one wants to follow a pessimist.
- Don’t let your ego get in the way of making the best possible decision.
- A little respect goes a long way, and the absence of it is often very costly.
- You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility.
- Robert (Bob) Iger
- Michael Eisner
- Roone Arledge (an early boss and mentor at ABC)
- Thomas Murphy
- Daniel Burke
- Steve Jobs
- Alan Braverman
- Tom Staggs
- Kevin Mayer
- Ike Perlmutter
- George Lucas
- Rupert Murdoch
- People and discussions at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference
Life doesn’t always go the way you expect it will, things happen that you can’t possibly anticipate.
The overwhelming challenge of creating Shanghai Disneyland, which Bob repeated so often it became a mantra for everyone working on the project, was “to create an experience that is authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese.”
Even the least eventful days require the ability to constantly adapt, and re-adapt. A typical day of Robert (Bob) Iger includes
- Plotting growth strategy with investors.
- Looking at the design of a giant new theme park attraction with Imagineers.
- Giving notes on a rough-cut of film.
- Discussing security measures, board governance, ticket pricing, and pay-scale.
Days are challenging, and dynamic, they are also a never-ending exercise in compartmentalization.
If you run a business, or manage a team, or collaborate with others in pursuit of a common goal, this book might be helpful to you.
Universal ideas from Bob’s experiences.
- Fostering risk-taking and creativity.
- Building a culture of trust.
- Fueling a deep and abiding curiosity in one’s self, and inspiring that in the people around you.
- Embracing change, rather than living in denial of it.
- Operating always with integrity and honesty in the world.
Bob hopes this book will be inspiring to anyone wanting to be less fearful and more confidently themselves, as they navigate their personal and professional lives.
Bob Iger’s Ten Principles Necessary to True Leadership
- The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
Pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved.
People are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
The foundation of risk-taking.
Risk-taking is essential.
Innovation is vital.
True innovation occurs only when people have courage.
Fear of failure destroys creativity.
Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of the highest importance and value is extremely important.
It is imperative to communicate your priorities clearly and often.
All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way.
Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinions balanced with the need to make and implement decisions.
Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counter-productive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale.
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 it’s changing dynamics.
The path to innovation begins with curiosity.
Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people.
Empathy is essential, as is accessibility.
People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances.
Judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourages communication and innovation.
Nothing is worse to an organization than a culture of fear.
Thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership.
Thoughtfulness is the process of gaining knowledge so an opinion rendered, or a decision made, is more credible and more likely to be correct.
It is simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions.
Be genuine, be honest, don’t fake anything.
Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.
The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs.
Refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.”
If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it.
If you are in the business of making things, being in the business of making things great.
Nothing is more important than the quality, and integrity of an organization’s people and product.
A company’s success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Part One: Learning
Chapter 1: Starting at the Bottom
Bob has always woken early and cherishes those hours to himself before the rest of the world wakes up.
Bob became a serious reader in high school and fell in love with books. He credits this to his dad and his den lined with shelves full of books. His dad made him curious about the world. He started reading the New York Times at age 10.
Bob grew up in a Long Island town called Oceanside. At an early age, he learned to repair things around the house for his mom. He credits part of his curiosity about technology to this.
His parents were worriers, but he has always been the opposite. He has never worried much about the future. He’s never had much fear about trying something and failing.
He started working in eight grade, shoving snow, babysitting, and working as a stock boy. At age 15 he got a job as the summer janitor in the school district, he cleaned the gum from the bottoms of hundreds of desks.
Bob was determined not to live a life of disappointment. He told himself, there wasn’t a chance in the world that he was going to toil in frustration and lack of fulfillment.
He started his career at ABC on July 1, 1974, as a supervisor for ABC Television.
Bob wakes nearly every morning at 4:15, to have time to think, read, and exercise before the demands of the day take over.
It is vital to create space in each day to let your thoughts wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities, to turn things over in your mind in a less pressured, more creative way than is possible once the daily triage kicks in.
Bob cherishes this time alone each morning. He is certain he would be less productive and less creative in his work if he didn’t spend the first hours away from the emails, text messages, and phone calls that require so much attention as the day goes on.
Innovate or die. There is no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.
Roone Arlidge’s mantra: do what you need to do to make it better.
Of all the things Bob learned from Roone, this is what shaped him the most. This is the relentless pursuit of perfection. It’s about creating an environment where you refuse to accept mediocrity. You instinctively push back against the urge to say “there’s not enough time” or “I don’t have the energy” or “this is a difficult conversation I don’t want to have” or any of the many other ways we can convince ourselves that good enough is good enough.
Bob talks about how he was inspired by Jiro Dreams of Sushi. He loved the documentary so much that he showed excerpts of it to 250 executives at a Disney retreat to teach them about the relentless pursuit of perfection. He said this is what it looks like to take immense pride in the work you create and to have both the instinct toward perfection and the work ethic to follow-through on that instinct.
It is a delicate thing to find the balance between demanding that your people perform and not instilling a fear of failure in them.
Roone treated Bob differently, with higher regard, after Bob admitted to making a mistake in a group meeting.
Two lessons Bob learned from this.
- Taking responsibility when you screw up.
- Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy. (he only came to fully appreciate this years later)
Create an environment where people know you will hear them out.
Excellence and fairness do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Chapter 2: Betting on Talent
True integrity, a sense of knowing who you are, and being guided by your own sense of right and wrong, is a kind of secret weapon.
One person’s unwillingness to give a timely response can cause so much unnecessary strain and inefficiency.
Chapter 3: Know What You Don’t Know
Advice on offering insights and critiques, especially on creative projects.
- Be exceedingly mindful of how much the creators have poured themselves into the project, and how much is at stake for them.
- Never start out negatively.
- Never start small (unless in the late stages of production). 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.
- If the big picture is a mess, the small details don’t matter anyway, and you shouldn’t spend time focusing on them.
- There is a big difference between giving feedback to a seasoned person versus someone with much less experience and confidence.
A delicate balance is required between management being responsible for the financial performance of any creative work, and in exercising that responsibility, being careful not to encroach on the creative processes in harmful and counterproductive ways.
Empathy is a prerequisite to the sound management of creativity, and respect is critical.
Bob Iger addressing the cast and crew after trying something big that didn’t work. He said “I would much rather take big risks, and sometimes fail, than not take risks at all.”
Bob did not want to be in the business of playing it safe, he wanted to be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.
The need to be comfortable with failure is the most profound lesson he learned in his first year running primetime at ABC. If you want innovation, and you should always, you need to give permission to fail.
You can’t pin your bad decisions on someone else. You have to own your own failures. You earn as much respect and goodwill by standing by someone in the wake of a failure, as you do by giving them credit for success.
If Bob had a strength (in running primetime at ABC) it was his ability to urge creative people to do their best work and take chances, while also helping them rebound from failure.
His years of running entertainment gave him a new appreciation for what it takes to get a group of talented people to produce at the highest level.
Anything that reminds you that you are not the center of the universe is a good thing.
The way Tom Murphy and Dan Burke conveyed their faith in Bob at every step, made all the difference in his success at ABC.
Chapter 4: Enter Disney
Bob has tried over the years, to keep his eye on the job he has, and not the jobs he might someday have.
Dan Burke handed him a note of advice which read:
Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. 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.
Dan was telling him not to invest in projects that would sap the resources of the company, and Bob, and not give much back. Bob still keeps that note inside his desk.
Managing your own time, and respecting others’ time, is one of the most vital things to do as a manager.
If you don’t do the work, people around you detect that right away, and their respect for you disappears. You have to be attentive. You have to learn and absorb. You have to hear out other people’s problems and help find solutions. It’s all part of being a great manager.
Bob’s first six months at Disney (under Michael Ovitz) were the most dispiriting and unproductive of his career.
You have to be willing to ask the hard questions.
Those instances in which you find yourself hoping that something will work, without being able to convincingly explain to yourself how it will work, that is when a little bell should go off.
In those cases, ask yourself some clarifying questions:
- What’s the problem I need to solve?
- Does this solution make sense?
- If I’m feeling some doubt, why?
- Am I doing this for sound reasons, or am I motivated by something personal?
Chapter 5: Second in Line
Bob was committed to doing his own job as best as he could, and to learning as much as he could about all aspects of the company.
If the time came when Michael was ready to step down, he wanted to be ready when the opportunity arose.
The best way to nurture ambition, both your own and that of the people you manage.
As a leader, you should want those around you to be eager to rise up and take on more responsibility. As long as dreaming about the job they want doesn’t distract them from the job they have. You can’t let ambition get too far ahead of opportunity.
Bob has known people who didn’t tend enough to the responsibilities they did have because they were longing so much for something else. Their ambition became counter-productive.
It’s important to know how to find the balance. Do the job you have well. Be patient. Look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow. Make yourself one of the people, through attitude, energy, and focus, that your bosses feel they have to turn to when an opportunity arises.
As a boss, nurture those who are proving themselves to be indispensable day in and day out. Not the ones who are clamoring for promotions and complaining about not being utilized enough.
At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable, it’s about helping others be prepared to possibly step into your shoes. Give them access to your own decision making. Identify the skills they need to develop and help them improve. Being honest with them about why they are not ready for the next step up.
Bob took his first scouting trip to Shanghai, China in October 1998.
Bob spoke with Roone before planning ABC’s millennium coverage. “If there was ever an idea that people would assume came from you, this is it! It’s big and bold. It could be impossible to execute, but when has that ever stopped you?” He used this to appeal to Roone’s pride when he didn’t want to do the project.
Chapter 6: Good Things Can Happen
Bob Iger would walk the Disney parks with Michael Eisner and Micahel would immediately identify nuances such as landscaping that wasn’t lush enough, fences that encroached on important views, or buildings that seemed either out of place or out of style. These were great teaching moments for Bob.
Imagineering is the creative and technical heart of everything Disney builds that isn’t a film, TV show, or consumer product.
Almost every traditional media company, while trying to figure out its place in the changing world, was operating out of fear rather than courage. Stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that couldn’t possibly survive the sea change that as underway.
Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion. 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.
The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you, no one wants to follow a pessimist.
Chapter 7: It’s About the Future
Bob vowed not to try to make himself look better at Michael Eisner’s expense. When asked questions about the past, he would shift the focus to the future.
Scott Miller of Core Strategy Group advised him on his “political campaign” and provided the playbook in running for CEO of Disney.
Scott started by asking these questions:
- Which board members are definitely in your corner?
- Who is never going to give you a chance?
- Who are the swing voters? (these are the ones to focus on)
Advice from Scott: “You cannot win on the defensive. It’s only about the future. It’s not about the past.”
You have to convey your priorities clearly, and repeatedly. That is what separates great managers from the rest. If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then people around them don’t know what their priorities should be. Time, energy, and capital get wasted. People in your organization suffer unnecessary anxiety because they don’t know what they should be focused on. Inefficiency sets in, frustration builds up, morale sinks.
A CEO must provide the company and its senior team with a road map. The 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.
After the meeting with Scott, Bob landed on three clear strategic priorities. They have guided the company since the moment he was named CEO:
- We needed to devote most of our time and capital to the creation of high-quality branded content. In an age when more and more “content” was being created and distributed, we needed to bet on the fact that quality will matter more and more.
- We needed to embrace technology to the fullest extent, first by using it to enable the creation of higher quality products, and then to reach more consumers in more modern, more relevant ways. From the earliest Disney years under Walt, technology was always viewed as a powerful storytelling tool; now it was time to double down on our commitment to doing the same thing.
- We needed to become a truly global company. We were broad with our reach, doing business in numerous markets around the world, but we needed to better penetrate certain markets, particularly the world’s most populous countries, like China and India. To continue to create the same things for the same loyal customers was stagnation.
Bob Iger laid out this plan to the Disney directors. He stated that “My goal is for Disney to be the most admired company in the world. By our consumers, by our shareholders, and by our employees.”
Bob faced tests of his ideas and his temperament by the directors. Bob determined not to let the negativity being expressed by people who knew little about him, affect the way he felt about himself.
Bob learned about the need to steer clear of anger and anxiety over things you cannot control. Keep blows to the ego, real as they often are, from occupying too big a place in your mind and sapping too much of your energy.
Chapter 8: The Power of Respect
Upon being named CEO, he called a meeting with his key people and went over the list of the most critical things to accomplish in the first six months.
- Bury the hatchet with Roy Disney.
- Try to salvage a relationship with Pixar and Steve Jobs.
- Begin the process of changing the way Disney made decisions. This consisted primarily of restructuring strategic-planning by changing its size, influence, and mission. The purpose was to decentralize decision making and planning.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of making the best possible decision.
A little respect goes a long way, and the absence of it is often very costly.
If you approach and engage people with respect and empathy, the seemingly impossible can become real.
Bob canceled an early meeting scheduled by strategic-planning about ticket pricing in Hong Kong. His reasoning was as follows. “If they can’t figure out what pricing should be, they shouldn’t be in their jobs. But if we believe they should be in their jobs, then they should be in charge of pricing.”
You can’t wear your disdain for people on your sleeve. You end up either cowing them into submission or frustrating them into complacency. Either way, you sap them of the pride they take in their work. (Talking about Peter Murphy of strategic planning)
Chapter 9: Disney-Pixar and a New Path to the Future
“These people can’t be bought that way, they’re different.” Bob Iger to the Disney board of directors in discussing a suggestion to hire or poach Pixar employees with lots of money.
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.
One of the things Bob has always instinctively felt is that long shots aren’t usually as long as they seem.
Roone and Michael both believed in their own power and in the ability of their organizations to make things happen. With enough energy, thoughtfulness, and commitment, even the boldest ideas can be executed.
Bob Iger and Steve Jobs met at Apple Headquarters to discuss the possible purchase of Pixar by Disney. In the conference room, there was a big whiteboard where they wrote the pros and cons. (See my summary of To Pixar and Beyond, this is similar to what Steve and Lawrence Levy did when strategizing an earlier contract negotiation between Pixar and Disney).
Cons (written by Steve Jobs):
- Disney’s culture will destroy Pixar.
- Fixing Disney animation will take too long and will burn John [Lasseter] and Ed [Catmull] out in the process.
- There is too much ill will, and the healing will take years.
- Wall Street will hate it.
- Your board (Disney’s board of directors) will never let you do it.
- Pixar will reject Disney as an owner, as a body rejects a donated organ.
- DISTRACTION WILL KILL PIXAR’S CREATIVITY.
- There were many more not listed in the book.
- Turning animation around will totally change the perception of Disney and shift our fortunes.
- John and Ed will have a much larger canvas to paint on.
- There were other pros, but overall the pros were meager and the cons were abundant.
Bob was discouraged after coming up with the pros and cons list. However, Steve said, “A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons.”
Steve Jobs was great at weighing all sides of an issue and not allowing negatives to drown out positives. Particularly for things he wanted to accomplish.
Bob wanted to make a visit to Pixar to learn about their culture. He had these questions.
- What did it feel like there?
- What did they do differently from us that led them to consistently create brilliance?
Bob’s first visit to the Pixar campus was one of the ten best days he has ever had on the job.
Bob’s impressions of Pixar, what amazed him the most.
- The level of talent and creative ambition.
- The commitment to quality.
- The storytelling ingenuity.
- Leadership structure.
- The air of enthusiastic collaboration.
- The building itself and the architecture.
Nothing is a sure thing, but you need at the very least, to be willing to take big risks. You can’t have big wins without big risks.
Bob believed the acquisition of Pixar would transform Disney.
- Could fix Disney animation.
- Add Steve Jobs, arguably the strongest possible voice on issues of technology, to the Disney board.
- Bring a culture of excellence and ambition into Disney.
Chapter 10: Marvel and Massive Risks that Make Perfect Sense
Steve Jobs never sacrificed quality in order to attain affordability.
Steve Jobs voted against four directors in a shareholder meeting. He said, “I think they’re a waste of space, I don’t like them.” Bob talked him into changing his vote.
During their research on purchasing Marvel, Disney put together a dossier of 7,000 Marvel characters.
Firing people, or taking responsibility away from them, is arguably one of the most difficult things you have to do as a boss.
There is no good playbook on how to fire someone, but Bob has his own internal set of rules.
- You have to do it in person. Not by email, phone, or text message.
- You have to look the person in the eye.
- You can’t use anyone else as an excuse. This is you making a decision about them. Not them as a person, but the way they have performed in their job. They need, and deserve, to know that it is coming from you.
- You can’t make small talk once you bring someone in for the conversation.
- He will usually start with: “I’ve asked you to come in here for a difficult reason.”
- Try to be as direct about the issue as possible.
- Explain clearly and concisely what wasn’t working, and why you don’t think it is going to change.
- Emphasize that it is a tough decision to make, and you understand it is much harder on them.
- There is no way for the conversation not to be painful, but at least it can be honest. In being honest, there is a chance for the person on the receiving end to understand why it’s happening, and eventually move on.
Surround yourself with people who are good, in addition to being good at what they do. You have to demand honesty and integrity from everyone, and when there is a lapse, you have to deal with it immediately.
Chapter 11: Star Wars
You have to recognize that when the stakes of a project are very high, there is not much to be gained from putting additional pressure on the people working on it.
Projecting your anxiety onto your team is counterproductive.
There is a subtle difference between communicating that you share their stress, that you are in it with them, and communicating that you need them to deliver in order to alleviate your stress.
On the Force Awakens project, Bob’s job was to not let Disney lose sight of their ambition when they confronted creative and practical obstacles and to help them get to solutions in the best possible way.
The common thread of the purchases of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. Each deal depended on building trust with a single controlling entity. The personal component of each of these deals was going to make or break them. Authenticity was crucial.
- Steve Jobs had to believe Bob’s promise that Disney would respect the essence of Pixar.
- Ike Perlmutter needed to know that the Marvel team would be valued and given the chance to thrive in their new company.
- George Lucas had to trust that his legacy, his baby, would be in good hands at Disney.
Chapter 12: If You Don’t Innovate, You Die
Disney began to focus on the dramatic changes they were experiencing in their media business and the profound disruption they were feeling. Disney decided it was time to start delivering content in new and modern ways.
Questions they had to ask themselves:
- Could we find the technology we needed to accomplish that, and be at the forefront of change, rather than simply being undone by it?
- Did we have the stomach to start cannibalizing our own, still profitable, businesses in order to begin building a new model?
- Could we disrupt ourselves, and would Wall Street tolerate the losses that we would inevitably incur as we tried to truly modernize and transform the company?
- Do we build a tech platform or do we buy one?
If something doesn’t feel right to you, then it is probably not right for you.
(regarding Disney’s potential purchase of Twitter)
Disney holds an annual board retreat, an extended board meeting, in which they present their five-year plan, including financial projections, and discuss specific strategic issues and challenges.
The executive team decided to spend the entire 2017 session talking about disruption. Bob instructed each of the business leaders to present to the board the level of disruption they were seeing, and what impact they predicted it would have on the health of their business.
Bob doesn’t like to layout problems without offering a plan for addressing them. This is something he exhorts his team to do too. It is okay to come in with problems, but also offer possible solutions.
It is a good idea to populate boards with people who are not only wise, and confident in their opinions, but also have direct and relevant experience of current market dynamics.
Bob has a concept that he calls “management by press release.” Meaning, if he says something with great conviction to the outside world, it tends to resonate powerfully inside the company.
The decision to disrupt businesses that are fundamentally working, but whose future is in question, intentionally taking on short-term losses in the hope of generating long term growth, requires no small amount of courage.
Being present for your people, and making sure they know you are available to them, is so important for the morale and effectiveness of a company.
When you innovate, everything needs to change, not just the way you make or deliver a product. Many of the practices and structures within the company need to adapt too.
So many companies fail to innovate because of tradition. Tradition generates so much friction every step of the way.
The investment community often punishes established companies for reducing profits under any circumstances. This often leads businesses to play it safe and keep doing what they’ve been doing, rather than spend capital to generate long-term growth or adapt to change.
Chapter 13: No Price on Integrity
In regard to the purchase of Fox from Rupert Murdoch.
What would, could, or should the new company look like? Bob asked himself, if he were to erase history and build something totally new, with all of these assets, how would it be structured?
Bob worked from a whiteboard next to his office.
The first thing he did was separate content from technology.
Three Content Groups (left side of the whiteboard)
- Walt Disney Animation
- Disney Studios
- 20th Century Fox
- Fox 2000
- Fox Searchlight
- ABC News
- Television stations
- Disney Channels
- National Geographic
- Sports (ESPN)
Technology (right side of the whiteboard)
- User interfaces
- Customer acquisition and retention
- Data management
The idea was to let the content people focus on creativity, and let the tech people focus on how to distribute things.
Physical Entertainment and Goods (middle of the whiteboard)
- Consumer products
- Disney stores
- Global merchandise and licensing agreements
- Theme parks
Chapter 14: Core Values
In April 2019 Disney held a presentation to investors to present the details of their new direct to consumer businesses.
These are the key questions Disney was addressing with these new businesses.
- Are high-quality branded products likely to become even more valuable in a changed marketplace?
- How do we deliver our products to consumers in more relevant, more inventive ways?
- What new habits of consumption are being formed, and how do we adapt to them?
- How do we deploy technology as a powerful new tool for growth, instead of falling victim to its disruption and destruction?
With a company this size, something unpredictable will always happen.
Bob’s thoughts on his retirement and stepping down.
It is not always good for one person to have too much power for too long.
It is important for a company to have a change at the top.
You can accumulate so much power in a job, it becomes harder to keep a check on how you wield it. Little things can start to shift:
- Your confidence can easily tip over into overconfidence and become a liability.
- You can start to feel like you’ve heard every idea, and so you become impatient and dismissive of others’ opinions.
You have to make a conscious effort to listen, to pay attention to the multitude of opinions.
Bob has asked the executives that he works most closely with to tell him if they notice him being too dismissive or impatient.
No matter who we become, or what we accomplish, we still feel that we are essentially the kid we were at some simpler time long ago.
The trick of leadership is to hold on to that awareness of yourself, even as the world tells you how powerful and important you are.
The moment you look yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way. Wherever you are along the path, you’re the same person you’ve always been.
Appendix: Lessons to Lead By
Bob has always woken early and cherishes those hours to himself before the rest of the world wakes up.
- To tell great stories, you need great talent.
- Innovate or die. There can be no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new.
- The relentless pursuit of perfection. It’s a mindset more than a specific set of rules.
- Take responsibility when you screw up.
- Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy.
- Excellence and fairness don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
- Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them.
- Ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology when you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can.
- Managing creativity is an art, not a science.
- Be comfortable with failure.
- Do not be in the business of playing it safe, be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.
- Don’t let ambition get ahead of opportunity.
- Don’t invest in small projects that sap resources and don’t give much back. “Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. 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.”
- As a leader, if you don’t do the work, the people around you are going to know. You lose their respect fast.
- We all want to be 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.
- You have to demand integrity from your people and your products at all times. A company’s reputation is the sum total of the actions of its people and the quality of its products.
- Great is often a collection of very small things.
- Too often we lead from a place of fear rather than courage.
- Technological advancements will eventually make older business models obsolete.
- It is easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you you’re great, it is much harder, and 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.
- If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you.
- What people think of you is what they will think of your company.
- When hiring, try to surround yourself with people who are good, in addition to being good at what they do.
- In any negotiation, be clear about where you stand from the beginning.
- Projecting your anxiety on your team is counterproductive.
- Most deals are personal. This is even truer if you are negotiating with someone over something he or she has created.
- If you are in the business of making something, be in the business of making something great.
- It is not good to have power for too long.
- You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility.
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