Disney is Going Back to An Elevated Leader: Iger’s First Move as Reinstated CEO

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Disney Castle with fireworks

One of my favorite business/leadership books is A Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger, the former and newly reinstated CEO of Disney.

I loved this book for two primary reasons:

  • It highlighted the CEO/Board dynamic in a way that I had never read about before
  • It shows what amazing things can happen when an organization is run by a really vertically developed leader

When Bob Iger stepped down from his CEO role in 2020, I was curious how the new CEO, Bob Chapek, would do as the head of Disney.

At the time, I didn’t have a lot of information about Chapek, but I was skeptical about his vertical altitude, particularly compared to Iger’s vertical altitude.

Recent Happenings at Disney

You probably are aware that Disney, on November 20, 2022, surprisingly fired Chapek and brought Iger back in to be CEO of Disney.

This immediately got me wondering: What is going to be Iger’s first steps?

The answer to this question is likely to expose Chapek’s lack of vertical development and help me better see how a vertically developed leader thinks and operates.

Iger’s First Move as Reinstated CEO

Only a day or so on the job, Iger took two big steps in one fell swoop: He let go of Kareem Daniel, the head of Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution division.

The two big steps this move enabled were:

  • A reduction of the organizational hierarchy
  • And, as Iger put it, putting “more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams.”

Context for this Move

Shortly after Chapek became CEO, he tried to centralize the decision making around media by creating a new position: the Head of Media and Entertainment Distribution, and Chapek hired Daniel to fill that role.

This move ran counter to my two prior articles related to effective leadership:

Essentially, in making this move, Chapek exposed his lack of vertical development. He demonstrated that he struggled to trust the creative teams in the organization, and thus felt a need for greater control.

Now that I have done further research on Chapek, it seems quite clear that he operates with a Mind 2.0 operating system, primarily focused on results and outcomes. This can be highlighted by his emphasis on pricing, specifically instigating rather dramatic upward shifts in pricing for Disney+ and Disney theme parks.

He seemed to care more about financial results than customer experience, forgetting that when customers have a great experience, positive financial results will follow.

Keep an Eye Out for Iger’s Next Moves

What else does Iger have in store?

I am not sure, other than he has announced that he has assembled a team to restructure the organization. This is another indication that he wants to create the right context for Disney employees to operate at their highest level.

But, I do believe that whatever happens will be a masterclass in vertically developed leadership.

What I Wish Could Have Happened

In hindsight, one could say that Disney (and even Iger) made the wrong decision of putting Bob Chapek in as CEO.

But, another perspective is that:

  1. Disney (and even Iger) didn’t know to consider vertical altitude when setting up a successor
  2. There were early signals that Chapek wasn’t a very vertically develop leader

Thus, if Disney had been more aware of the concept of vertical development I believe that they could have either:

  1. Done a better job of selection in the first place
  2. Helped Chapek vertically develop so that replacing him with Iger wasn’t necessary

If you want to introduce the topic of vertical development into your organization so that you better select and develop your leaders, let’s connect: Connect with Ryan.

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