The ride of a lifetime, a memoir by Robert Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, who recently stepped down, is a classic on leadership. For someone joining at the bottom of the organizational pyramid and reaching the helm of the organization despite mergers is simply fantastic. The learning from the monotony of his first job to taking decisions for creative adventures leaves a lasting impact! And when you have a chapter dedicated to Steve Jobs, it sure is going to be ‘The ride of a Lifetime’

Below is my interpretation of the book –

The ride of a lifetime
  • 10 commandments of leadership –
    1. Optimism – people are not motivated or energized by pessimism
    2. Courage – fear of failure destroys creativity
    3. Focus – it is imperative to communicate your priorities clearly & often
    4. Decisiveness – chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but deeply corrosive to morale
    5. Curiosity – path to innovation begins with curiosity
    6. Fairness – nothing is worse in an organization than a culture of fear
    7. Thoughtfulness – take time to develop informed opinions
    8. Authenticity – truth and authenticity breed respect and trust
    9. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection – not perfection at all costs but refusal to accept mediocrity
    10. Integrity – the way you do anything is the way you do everything
  • Cleaning gum from the bottoms of a thousand desks can build character, or at least a tolerance for monotony, or something…! Tolerance for monotony is essential to last the marathon that your professional career is
  • To this day, I wake nearly every morning at 4:15, though now I do it for selfish reasons: to have time to think and read and exercise before the demands of the day take over. These hours aren’t for everyone, but however you find the time, it’s 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
  • On Roone Arledge, the father of ABC sports: The show was more important to Roone than to the people who made it, and you had to make peace with that if you worked for him. His commitment to making things great was galvanising. It was often exhausting and frustrating but it was inspiring too. The inspiration far outweighed the frustration. The relentless pursuit of perfection (not perfection at all costs) and refusal to accept mediocrity. One instance during a urinal interaction with Roone: how’s it going? I said, “Well, some days I feel like it’s tough just keeping my head above water”. He looked straight and without missing a beat, “Get a longer snorkel”
  • But later in life I realised excellence and fairness to people cannot be mutually exclusive
  • On people praising only him and watching only him in meetings: I make sure to connect and speak with every person at the table. It’s a small gesture, but I remember how it felt to be the overlooked sidekick, and anything that reminds you that you’re not the centre of the universe is a good thing
  • There was nothing Steve (Jobs) was more averse to than someone trying to use leverage over him. If you tried to do that, he went nuts. Michael (Eisner), too, was averse to anything he perceived as bullying of him or the company. This combination made closing a negotiation between Disney and Pixar nearly impossible
  • If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly and repeatedly, then people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be. You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life
  • I can’t overstate how important it is to keep blows to your ego, real as they often are, from occupying too big a place in your mind and sapping too much of your energy. It’s easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you you’re great. It’s much harder, and much more necessary, when your sense of yourself is being challenged, and in such a public way
  • Steve’s idea of small talk was to glance out the window, make a brief comment about the weather, and then immediately start talking about the business at hand. I wanted to patch things with Pixar and Steve. Content (Disney) and technology (Pixar)! This is our new video iPod, he said. It had a screen the size of a couple of postage stamps, but he was talking about it like it was an imax theatre. Steve responded to boldness, and I wanted to signal to him that there could be a different way of doing business with Disney going forward (Read more on Steve Jobs’ leadership here)
  • You can’t wear your disdain for people on your sleeve, though. You end up either cowing them into submission or frustrating them into complacency
  • Sometimes people 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. Long shots aren’t usually as long as they seem.
  • A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons”, Steve said. Steve was great at weighing all sides of an issue and not allowing negatives to drown out positives, particularly for things he wanted to accomplish
  • It’s perhaps the most responsible advice in a book like this to say that leaders should just go out there and trust their gut, because it might be interpreted as endorsing impulsivity over thoughtfulness, gambling rather than careful study. The key is awareness, taking it all in and weighing every factor
  • Maybe this is the case for many of us: no matter who we become or what we accomplish, we still feel that we’re essentially the same kid we were at some simpler time long ago. Somehow that’s the trick of leadership, too, I think, to hold on to that awareness of yourself even as the world tells you how powerful and important you are. The moment you start to believe it all too much, the moment you look yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way
  • To tell great stories, you need great talent!
  • Take responsibility when you screw up!
  • Ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can!
  • Don’t start negatively, don’t start small!
  • Don’t let ambition get ahead of Opportunity. In some jobs, you are stuck for a little longer than you would want, it is important to make yourself the person, through attitude and energy and focus, that your bosses turn to when the opportunity arises
  • If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you!
  • It’s not good to have power for too long. You don’t realise the way your voice seems to boom louder than every other voice in the room. It takes a conscious effort to reduce these corrosive effects!

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