Disney’s Former CEO, Bob Iger, Mastered This 1 Thing His Successor Lacks



Disney cracked the code on customer loyalty, building a timeless brand that is something of a right of passage for every generation in the Western world. And even if you’re not a Disney adult there’s much to be inspired by in the world of Disney that doesn’t involve a penchant for fabled stories or dining on Micky Mouse-shaped pancakes. 

As a business built on storytelling and entertainment, it demands high-octane communication from angles–from its creative teams to its c-levels. And great communication is something its current CEO, Bob Chapek, who is in hot water over his shortsighted approach to the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit, could take a lesson from former CEO, Bob Iger, who mastered it a long time ago with one simple method. The very thing that made him such a great leader. 

So much so that Iger was named Time’s Businessperson of the Year in 2019, and the esteemed leader is highly regarded as a simply great communicator. Keyword “simply.”  

Following Bob Iger’s Master Class on strategy and leadership, the team at Master Class outlined nine leadership tips pulled from his course:

  1. Strive for balance.

  2. Develop sharp communication skills.

  3. Foster curiosity.

  4. Apply emotional intelligence.

  5. Be clear.

  6. Seek feedback.

  7. Be decisive.

  8. Project optimism.

  9. Embrace failure.

However, if it were up to Iger, he would likely say that nine is too many. And it is. If you look at the list, tip no.2 encompasses tips no. 4, 5, 6, and 8. Iger’s simplistic approach to communications is the simple reason why he is such an effective communicator. In other words, Iger is a notoriously concise leader. 

Or, better yet, Iger is concise. And he’s not only concise, he understands that at the core of communication is coding. Language, after all, is a form of code. What we communicate to others is the code and whether or not someone understands what we meant–and how we meant it–relies upon their ability to decode your code. 

Many believe that speaking the same language is the key to decoding one’s communications. And yet, communications within a native or fluent language doesn’t equate to a perfect decoding process. Even with perfect fluency, the way in which we decode and understand others is highly subjective, depending upon a variety of factors from personal experiences to expectations. 

Some of the most intelligent people, from ivy league professors to tech geniuses, fall victim to great miscommunications. In fact, many of the smartest people are the worst communicators. The reason being, because they understand their area of expertise so well that from their vantage point they can’t realize what others can’t–or don’t realize. 

So while Iger tells a story–something aligned with the Disney brand, Chapek paints a picture. And it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows as the world has come to expect from the entertainment company built on feel-good animations. 

What Iger understands is how to use language to connect, and how to decode language so that it can be universally understood. He approached communications like translating foreign languages and saw that the more simplistic the language, the easier it was to translate (or decode). And with that, the more effective he was as a leader. 

In war, the inability to clearly communicate and connect can cost lives, and in startups, it can cost founders their business. In the understanding of the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know, you are able to reduce the potential for misunderstandings and communicate more clearly. Because it doesn’t matter how brilliant a founder’s vision is if they’re not able to communicate it so that the world to see it too.  

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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