Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Three Tips from Disney’s CEO for Creating Thriving Workplace Environments

By Jacquelyn Adams

I stumbled upon a Masterclass called “Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy and Leadership,” after the recent news of Bob Iger returning to Disney for another two years as CEO. And how could I say no to adding a bit of that Disney magic into what can often become business as usual? In the course, Iger discusses several of his tenets for success, including how curiosity is vital for success, integrity is everything, and the need for honesty and authenticity. For each of these points, he shares his own anecdotes and insights. But instead of doing a quick overview of all of his topics I thought we could do a deeper dive on just a few. And we will start with what might possibly be my favorite.

Be fair and give a second chance for honest mistakes.

So much of today’s culture seems to be a simple equation of action and reaction. In social media, we see many celebrated examples of people “getting what is coming to them.” There is no dialogue. There is no trying to understand the other side. There is no bridge building.

However, Iger encourages leaders to be more than that. Not every mistake merits that gut reaction. Leaders should be accessible and give people an opportunity to state their case. Be present. Let people express their opinions and give you a sense of who they are. Be empathetic. Don’t just ride the culture wave, but stop and put yourself in their shoes. When a leader can practice these traits, it creates more space for employees to own up to their mistakes, be candid and accountable.

Create a safe environment for honesty and candor.

But wait… there’s more! This attitude of fairness and understanding is just one way to build honesty and candor in our workplace. One of the best ways to deepen the trust required for honesty is to adjust how we respond to bad news. A primary aspect is hearing both the good and the bad of their activities and their business. Of course, communicating good news is relatively easy. And while communicating bad news is more difficult, it is also more important. The good news simply requires a pat on the back or congratulations. Bad news involves some form of action or reaction — thus, knowing about it is very important. That’s why it’s so necessary for employees to communicate bad news.

Ways to help create a safer environment for honesty would be to start using phrases like, “Thank you for coming to me with this issue,” and “What can we do to remedy this issue?” These types of phrases show gratitude for the fortitude it takes to be “the messenger,” and solidarity as we work to solve the problem together. Pro tip: the best leaders create environments where employees are not only able to tell hard truths about the business, but also about the leader. To become this type of leader, we should surround ourselves with people who will tell us hard truths.

Be optimistic. It will inspire people.

“People don’t want to follow a pessimist,” says Iger. Pessimism does not create energy or inspire people to do their best work. Optimism, on the other hand, can inspire people. Hope gives people a sense that their work is for a good cause and will likely have results that are going to be good. This doesn’t mean that as leaders we should be a pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna Sunshine. A leader doesn’t have to be an idealist. Actually, I would go so far as to say that we shouldn’t be. We should be realists. We can choose to approach reality by hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. In this way, we can dream big, but we aren’t blindsided when things go poorly. This realistic optimism fosters hope, and we see firsthand the resulting magical innovation for which Disney is known.

Leadership isn’t always a magical experience, but hopefully these tips from Bob Iger can help inspire us to have more magical moments. When we as leaders create the type of space that Iger describes, we open a whole new world of opportunities. We strive forth with realistic optimism and honesty, and it takes away some of the strain  from employees, allowing them to be more curious, hopeful and authentic — and in that is the space in which employees, leaders and businesses can thrive.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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