10 principles for great leadership, according to Disney's Bob Iger

Bob Iger, former CEO, The Walt Disney Company
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

After 45 years in the media industry — with 15 as the CEO of The Walt Disney Company — Bob Iger announced on Tuesday that he will step down as CEO and assume the role of executive chairman, effective immediately. 

Despite making $66 million a year as the CEO of Disney, Iger's rise to the top wasn't exactly easy.

The Long Island native had to work odd jobs starting at the age of 13 to help support himself. As a teenager, he worked as a summer janitor in his school district, scraping gum from under desks.

He got his first position at ABC Television as a studio supervisor at 23 and spent the next 31 years moving through more than 20 different positions at the network. He was named CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005.

"I've been the lowliest crew member working on a daytime soap opera and run a network that produced some of the most innovative television (and one of the infamous flops) of all time. I've twice been on the side of the company being taken over, and I've acquired and assimilated several others, among them Pixar, Marvel, Lucas-film, and, most recently, 21st Century Fox," Iger writes in his memoir, "The Ride of a Lifetime."

And while he credits his father for encouraging him to work hard and stay productive, Iger has also learned a thing or two about what it takes to rise to the top — and stay there.

Iger outlines in his book a set of 10 principles, which he says helped him succeed and are essential for every good leader.

1. Optimism

Iger writes that being and staying positive is one of the most important qualities a leader can have.

"If you walk up and down the hall constantly telling people 'The sky is falling,' a sense of doom and gloom will, over time, permeate the company. You can't communicate pessimism to the people around you. It's ruinous to morale," Iger writes.

He says the bottom line is that "no one" wants to follow a pessimist. Optimism is about believing in yourself and your employees' abilities.

2. Courage

The foundation of risk-taking in business is courage, Iger says.

"Too often, we lead from a place of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that can't possibly survive the sea change that is underway," he writes.

"Don't be in the business of playing it safe. Be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness."

3. Focus

Iger says it's extremely important to allocate your time, energy and resources to the issues and goals that are the most important at that moment. And it's imperative to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly to your team.

"If you don't articulate your priorities clearly, then the people around you don't know what their own should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted," Iger writes.

Additionally, Iger cautions against letting your ambition get ahead of current opportunities and responsibilities.

"By fixating on a future job or project, you become impatient with where you are. You don't tend enough to the responsibilities you do have, and so ambition can become counterproductive."

4. Decisiveness

"All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive but deeply corrosive to morale," writes Iger.

5. Curiosity

Iger says having a "deep and abiding" curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places and ideas (i.e., business ventures). Curiosity also helps leaders gain awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics.

"The path to innovation begins with curiosity," he says.

6. Fairness

Be decent to people always, Iger says. Every leader must treat everyone with fairness and empathy.

"This doesn't mean that you lower your expectations or convey the message that mistakes don't matter. It means that you create an environment where people know you'll hear them out, that you're emotionally consistent and fair-minded, and that they'll be given second chances for honest mistakes."

7. Thoughtfulness

Iger says thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. He says thoughtfulness is the process of gaining knowledge so that when you give an opinion or make a decision, you have enough knowledge to back it up.

"You have to do the homework. You have to be prepared," Iger writes.

On the flip side, you have to recognize that there is never 100% certainty and no matter how much data you've been given, any decision is still, ultimately, "a risk."

8. Authenticity

Iger says you should never "fake anything," and it is essential to be genuine and honest at all times.

He encourages leaders to take responsibility when they screw up and learn from their mistakes.

"Set an example that it's okay to get things wrong sometimes," he says.

9. Relentless pursuit of perfectionism

According to Iger, Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, once told him, "If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it," and that "micromanaging is underrated."

Iger agrees — to a point.

Sweating the details can show employees how much you care, says Iger, but on the downside, it can be stultifying and come across as a lack of trust in the people who work for you.

10. Integrity

"The way you do anything is the way you do everything," Iger writes.

Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of a company's people and its products, according to Iger. He says every great leader's success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small, and a good leader has to demand integrity from their people and products at all times.

This story has been updated with the news that Iger is stepping down.

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