Corrie A. H. Penraat, MBA Candidate
In Robert Iger’s “The Ride of a Lifetime,” he shares the lessons he learned leading Disney’s more than 200,000 employees as CEO for nearly 15 years. Through this journey, he explores the principles necessary for effective leadership including optimism, courage, focus, decisiveness, curiosity, fairness, thoughtfulness, and integrity. This memoire was not just written for aspiring CEOs of the world but for “anyone wanting to be less fearful, more confident in themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives.”
THINK POINT #1: Optimism
One of the most important qualities of good leaders is optimism—a passion for what can be achieved. Bob Iger reminisces on his time as COO through the 2001 NYC Twin Tower terrorist attack. The stock market fell sharply, and Disney lost nearly a quarter of its value within days. The company’s challenges began to pile up and stockholders began looking at Michael Eisner, the CEO at the time, and began criticizing his tenure. Iger recalls Eisner began caving into pessimism and soon, paranoia, as stress increased while the company crumbled around him. Iger would receive calls from Michael in the shower, on the plane, or during lunch convinced that something was going to fail. Soon this overwhelming pessimism began to permeate the entire company. Four years later Iger replaced Eisner as CEO. Looking back, he emphasizes heavily the importance of optimism even when navigating challenging times and concurrently rising above defensiveness and self-preservation. He states bluntly, “No one wants to follow a pessimist.”
Even in the face of tough choices and less than perfect results, an optimistic leader cannot give in to pessimism. Similarly, the real estate market can be touch and go and discouraging at times. Within your real estate firm, have faith in your co-workers, leaders, and subordinates, and trust that together your abilities can help overcome difficult circumstances. Through uncertain economic times, shifting markets, and whatever challenges may come your way, decide now to have an optimistic outlook. Projecting anxiety onto your team is counterproductive. It’s not about saying things are good when they’re not or flippantly hoping that “things will work out.” It’s about believing in your and others’ capabilities. There is a difference between communicating stress that, as a team, will be overcome and communicating that success must be achieved in order to alleviate your stress.
THINK POINT #2: Courage
The foundation of risk-taking is courage, and in every shifting business, risk-taking is crucial. When Iger took over as CEO, Disney was in a precarious situation; in the last decade animation had lost nearly $400 million. At his first board meeting as CEO, Iger reminded the board, “as Animation goes, so goes the company.” Disney Animation was the brand that fueled other businesses, including consumer products, television, and theme parks. Iger, with only a few days of being CEO under his belt, suggested to the board that Disney buy Pixar, which was producing success after success and high ratings in key market sectors. The daring proposal was met with intense pushback from the board. Undeterred, Iger called Steve Jobs, the current CEO of Pixar, the next day to discuss the possibility. Iger recalls “nerves caused me to break out in a sweat,” and he expected Jobs to immediately shut him down. Jobs, however, responded, “You know, that’s not the craziest idea in the world.” Iger’s step of courage eventually led to Disney acquiring Pixar and producing some of the 21st centuries most beloved animations including Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Cars, and others.
As Iger showed time and time again, do what you need to do, despite being scared. Change is inevitable and necessary. True change occurs only when a person is willing to step out with courage into the unknown. Don’t settle for continuing to do what has always been done; instead be in the business of “creating possibilities for greatness.” As a real estate agent, you will often be faced with situations outside of your comfort zone—reaching out to new clients, liaising between buyers and sellers, negotiating and closing sales. People often steer away from “taking big swings” because they convince themselves not to swing before they even step up to the plate. Iger posits that with enough thoughtfulness and commitment, the boldest ideas can be executed. Take a few moments to think about what bold ideas you have that might just need a little boost of courage to execute.
THINK POINT #3: Curiosity
Iger formulates, “the path to innovation begins with curiosity.” After three major acquisitions, including Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, under the leadership of Iger, Disney began shifting its focus to a new frontier. The landscape of media business was changing quickly with the introduction of Netflix and other streaming services. The company had no choice but to innovate or be left behind. The obvious question was: Should Disney build its own tech streaming platform or buy one? Iger pivoted and chose to purchase BAMTech, which would be used to launch the company’s first ever Disney and ESPN direct-to-consumer media streaming platform. The Disney+ streaming service consumers know and love today would not have been possible without a fierce commitment to curiosity and pursuit of innovation.
Be a lifelong learner. Curiosity is what enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as creating awareness and understanding of the marketplace. Too often people lead from a place of holding on to the past, stubbornly trying to guard old models and maintaining the status quo, which won’t survive the external changes in progress. It’s hard to adjust models to which you have become accustomed and even harder to adjust the profitable ones, but change is necessary to embrace the future. Iger stresses that firms must innovate or die. As a real estate agent, stay up to date with the latest trends and shifts in your marketplace. Anticipate changes so you can approach them proactively rather than retroactively, as doing this will save you time and money in the long run. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Begin taking small steps each day to pursue invaluable leadership lessons in your real estate business. Optimism, courage, focus, decisiveness, curiosity, fairness, thoughtfulness, and integrity will take time to build, but the pursuit is worth it. Iger explains that these principles guided him as he led one of the most iconic companies today, but these principles can be applied to anyone who is ready to be less fearful and to take on the world with more confidence.
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Iger, Robert (2019), The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Random House: New York, New York.
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About the Author
Corrie Penraat, MBA Candidate
Corrie Penraat earned her Bachelor of Science in International Business from Grove City College. Her past work experience includes roles for The Walt Disney Company as well as non-profits such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. Corrie is currently pursuing an MBA with a certification in Data Analytics at Baylor University and plans to further her career within supply chain management.