There are certain things that you can’t learn by simply reading about them – kindness, empathy, listening, trusting your gut, etc. And it is these very things that self-help books and autobiographies of business leaders espouse. People often pick up these books expecting ah-ha wisdom, but it boils down to completely banal and cliched life-lessons that we’re all aware of. These lessons are a rite of passage and can’t possibly be understood or acquired by reading about them. There’s also the fact that individual journeys are more about luck and circumstance than anything else, and thus, force-fitting a bunch of generic leadership traits into a story about a leader’s rise to the top is in no way representative of how most of these journeys progress.
Bob Iger’s (CEO, Disney) Ride of a Lifetime is a cross between a memoir and a leadership self-help book. It’s a collection of personal situations and stories – presented in a biographical fashion – that support the values and traits he thinks all leaders should have. I’m a self-confessed geek, and by virtue of my love for all things fantastic and fictional, I was hoping that he would cover ground around Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm. While he does touch upon these milestones, it is done after half the book is over and in a slightly drab manner, with the objective of imparting a banal leadership lesson.
There’s no denying that Bob Iger will go down in history as one of the most famous CEOs of the world, and someone who turned Disney into the behemoth that it is today. But the book feels like a whitewashed attempt to present a picture of a leader hoping to one day run for President, retrospectively ascribing life lessons to situations which I only assume are a regular part of any leader’s life. A summary of these lessons is available at the end of the book and I’m quoting the ones I found most relevant to the world I operate in: innovate or die, refusal to accept mediocrity, taking responsibility for screwing up, kindness, empathy, respect, excellence, fairness, asking questions, controlled optimism, the ability to avoid investing time in small projects that suck company resources, the ability to translate strategic priorities into day-to-day tasks for individuals across the entire corporate hierarchy, and lastly self-awareness.