The Distillation of Bob Iger – Former Disney CEO on Becoming a Great Leader | What Got You There with Sean DeLaney

Check out the What Got You There episode page

Key Takeaways

  • “Know what you don’t know and trust what you do”Sean DeLaney quoting Bob Iger
    • True leadership derives from authenticity and integrity
    • Being honest with yourself and being decent to others are the fundamental building blocks for great leadership
    • Check out the rest of Bob’s leadership principles
  • Great companies survive because they have an environment that gives permission to fail
    • “You can only put the story together in retrospect… determining principles of leadership is impossible to do without experience” – Sean DeLaney quoting Bob Iger
    • Every failure pushes the boundaries of possibility a little further
  • “Mentors save you decades” – Sean DeLaney
    • Bob Iger received some incredible advice from his mentors which included Roone Arledge, Michael Eisner, Tom Murphy, and Dan Burke
      • To tell great stories, you need great talent
      • Innovate or die – embrace the unknown, mediocrity thrives in familiarity
      • Relentless pursuit of perfection – do what you need to do to make it better
      • Be generous with your time be accessible


  • Bob Iger (@RobertIger) was the CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 2005-2020 and now sits as the executive chairman. In another distillation episode, Sean analyzes Bob Iger’s prominent business career and what made him such an inspirational leader.
  • Host: Sean DeLaney (@SeanDeLaney23)

Bob’s Success Philosophy

  • Bob said yes to every opportunity that presented itself
    • Not only to never miss an opportunity but more so to prove to himself that he was always capable of doing things unfamiliar to him
  • “You can only put the story together in retrospect… determining principles of leadership is impossible to do without experience”Sean DeLaney quoting Bob Iger
    • It takes time for instincts to be articulated into leadership principles
  • Luck is a huge factor in success
    • Looking back, your career looks linear, but there were thousands of crucial decisions that could have led you down a different path.
  • “Know what you don’t know and trust what you do” Sean DeLaney quoting Bob Iger
    • Inexperience can never be used as an excuse for failure
    • Do the work to learn what you need to know
    • True authority and leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else

Bob’s 10 Leadership Principles

  • Optimism – pragmatic enthusiasm for the possibility of achievement
  • Courage – the foundation of risk-taking
  • Focus – allocation of time and resources to the most important issue at hand
  • Decisiveness – decisions need to be made in a timely manner and include diverse perspectives – indecision crushes moral
  • Curiosity – awareness of your ever-changing environment & marketplace – innovation begins with curiosity
  • Fairness – empathy and accessibility to everyone in the organization, no matter their role
  • Thoughtfulness – taking the time to develop informed opinions
  • Authenticity – being true to yourself no matter what, drives respect and trust
  • Perfectionism – not in the purest sense but in the sense that you refuse to accept mediocrity
  • Integrity – the way you do anything, is the way you do everything
  • Additional Principles:
    • Be aware that you are replaceable
    • Be honest with people when they are not ready to take the next step

Bob’s Mentors

  • “Mentors save you decades” – Sean DeLaney
  • Roone Arledge – President of ABC Sports for 20 years from the 1960’s-80’s, and ABC News for a decade after
    • To tell great stories, you need great talent
      • Roone was insanely competitive but knew he was only as good as the people he surrounded himself with
      • Be decent and authentic – if you care for your people, they will care for you
    • Innovate or die – you’ll never have innovation if you operate out of fear
      • Embrace the unknown, mediocrity thrives in familiarity
  • Michael Eisner – CEO of Walt Disney from 1984-2005, before Bob took over
    • Zoom in, zoom out – was able to see the big picture and the small details all at once
      • Eisner’s Philosophy: Greatness is a collection of a lot of small things added up
    • Relentless pursuit of perfection – do what you need to do to make it better
      • The people who seek excellence identify patterns of success across different fields of discipline
  • Tom Murphy and Dan Burke – led the merger of Capital Cities and ABC, Warren Buffet calls them the best executive team of all time
    • Most authentic people Bob ever met
      • When you let integrity guide you, you are guided by ethical decision making which can be a secret weapon
      • Decentralized cooperate structure – not all key decisions should be made at the top
    • Generous with their time and accessible – priorities were always understood because of this
    • Optimism – always communicated to the team that they were able to solve anything


  • Managing creative talent is not a science, it is subjective
  • Give permission to fail – not for lack of effort but for pushing the boundaries of what is possible
    • Convey faith – never let your employees think they are incapable of achieving greatness
    • Be a fan! It feels good to be cheered for.
  • Bob often feels guilty in front of his colleagues, the light shines on him for other peoples hard work

Health is Wealth

  • Bob is maniacal about his workout routine
    • Reasons for working out: Health, Vanity, Sanity
    • Exercise always gave Bob an opportunity for solitude, to be still with his thoughts
      • Starts his day at 4:15 am: figure out what is best for you – morning routines are not most effective for all
      • Does 45 minutes on a Versa Climber
      • Works out in the dark – you become immersed in your activity-  a meditative state of sorts
    • Both his parents had heart attacks in their 40s; he didn’t want to fall into the same health pattern
What Got You There with Sean DeLaney : , , , ,
Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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