Tag Archives: empathy

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

(A personal note:  I am writing this blog post during the great pandemic of 2020.  Some of the books I read, and present, seem oddly out of place with our current reality.  Even as I write this post, Disney had quite a difficult reopening of Disney in Florida…
But this book is a terrific book, on business success, and on leadership.
One can only hope that life returns to “normal” as soon as possible).


At its simplest, this book is about being guided by a set of principles that help nurture the good and manage the bad.The Ride of a Lifetime
I’ve come to believe that I have insights that could be useful beyond my own experience.
If you run a business or manage a team or collaborate with others in pursuit of a common goal, this book might be helpful to you.

We used to call our biggest, most exciting theme-park attractions “E-Tickets.” That’s what comes to mind when I think about the job, that it’s been a fourteen-year ride on a giant E-Ticket attraction known as the Walt Disney Company.


At the July First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis on The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger.

This is a very good book.

Robert (Bob) Iger has been at the top position of Disney for fifteen years.  (He stepped out of that role just before the pandemic, and quickly returned to the role because of the pandemic).  He started at the bottom, and was mentored by Roone Arledge at one point.  ESPN; ABC; Disney. Quite a resumé!

In my synopses, I always ask:  What is the point?  Here is my answer for this book: Leadership is earned. And respect is earned. Robert Iger came up from the bottom, learned his lessons, and earned the title of leader. 

And I ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book.
#1 – This book is a history of the Disney organization in modern times (along with some history of ABC and ESPN), and a tutorial on how to successfully pull off acquisitions and mergers.
#2 – This book is a reminder, yet again, that there are very few geniuses.  Steve Jobs was one of those geniuses.
#3 – This book is a reminder that success most often comes from the basics; getting lucky with your opportunities and mentors; working hard; cultivating the right mix of strategic insights and human-centered leadership.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages.  Here are a number of the very best from my synopsis handout:

• Optimism. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
• A company’s success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small.  Another way of saying this is:  The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
• 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.
• It’s about creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity.
• One lesson in this story, the obvious one about the importance of taking responsibility when you screw up.
• I learned from them that genuine decency and professional competitiveness weren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, true integrity—a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong—is a kind of secret weapon.  …They trusted in their own instincts, they treated people with respect, and over time the company came to represent the values they lived by.
• My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity. In part this is just garden-variety ambition. …but I also wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing things that I was unfamiliar with.
• Your inexperience can’t be an excuse for failure.
• Managing creative processes starts with the understanding that it’s not a science—everything is subjective; there is often no right or wrong.  …a delicate balance is required between management being responsible for the financial performance of any creative work and, in exercising that responsibility, being careful not to encroach on the creative processes in harmful and counterproductive ways.
• When the two people at the top of a company have a dysfunctional relationship, there’s no way that the rest of the company beneath them can be functional.
• I would give him a stack of materials in advance of a meeting, and the next day he’d come in not having read any of them and say, “Give me the facts,” then render a fast opinion.
He was covering up for not being prepared, and in a company like Disney, if you don’t do the work, the people around you detect that right away and their respect for you disappears.
You have to be attentive. You have to learn and absorb.
• At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to possibly step into your shoes—giving them access to your own decision making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and, as I’ve had to do, sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.
• Pessimism became the rule more than the exception, and it led him to close ranks and become increasingly cloistered. …but optimism in a leader, especially in challenging times, is so vital.
Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion.
• “The world is moving so much faster than it did even a couple of years ago.” …Our decision making has to be straighter and faster, and I need to explore ways of doing that.”
• I even took a moment before I walked into the room to look again at Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech, which has long been an inspiration: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
• In other words, demanding quality and integrity from all of our people and of all of our products is paramount, and there is no room for second chances, or for tolerance when it comes to an overt transgression that discredits the company in any way. In moments like that, you have to look past whatever the commercial losses are and be guided, again, by the simple rule that there’s nothing more important than the quality and integrity of your people and your product. Everything depends on upholding that principle. 

The book has so many lessons, and great stories. 

I especially appreciated the story of how Robert Iger salvaged the relationship with Roy Disney (the nephew of Walt Disney).  Mr. Iger has a heart of empathy, and that shows in his leadership decisions; especially in this decision.

He also was greatly helped by his close friendship with Steve Jobs.  His stories about that business and personal friendship are worth the price of the book!

Here are a few of the key points I included in my synopsis handout: 

  • a lesson in crisis management
  • after the alligator attack — Within twenty-four hours, they had ropes and fences and signs up throughout the park, which is twice the size of Manhattan.
  • a lesson in Innovation
  • you have to do it
  • you may need a whole new culture to do it; it may be much easier to acquire a true innovation culture than to make a non-innovative culture innovative
  • a lesson in pushing management and decision-making out to the teams…
  • Iger dismantled the strategy and decision-making culture – and he did it in one big swoop!
  • Their dismantled strategy was fairly simple. They were hypervigilant about controlling costs, and they believed in a decentralized corporate structure.
  • They hired people who were smart and decent and hardworking, they put those people in positions of big responsibility, and they gave them the support and autonomy needed to do the job. 
  • Take responsibility
  • In your work, in your life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you honestly own up to your mistakes.
  • What’s not okay is to undermine others by lying about something or covering your own ass first.
  • You will fail – learn from your failures
  • Of all the lessons I learned in that first year running prime time, the need to be comfortable with failure was the most profound.
  • You have got to be aware when the world is changing/has changed
  • Of great interest to me was the fact that almost every traditional media company, while trying to figure out its place in this changing world, was operating out of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that couldn’t possibly survive the sea change that was under way. 
  • You only get three — priorities (Disney: High quality branded content; embrace technology; global company)
  • A company’s culture is shaped by a lot of things, but this is one of the most important—you have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. In my experience, it’s what separates great managers from the rest. …If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be. 

Here was a real highlight of the book:  he began this book with “The Priniciples,” and he ended it with “lessons to lead by.”  Both of these were great lists, with explanation and commentary.  Her are just a few, from each list:

  • The Principles:
  • Optimism. — Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
  • Courage. — The foundation of risk-taking is courage,
  • Curiosity. — A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.
  • Empathy — essential, as is accessibility. …People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances, and judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourage communication and innovation. …Nothing is worse to an organization than a culture of fear. — Empathy is a prerequisite to the sound management of creativity, and respect is critical.
  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. — This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.” …If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it. …be in the business of making things great.
  • Integrity. — Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product. …setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small. 
  • Lessons to Lead By:
  • To tell great stories, you need great talent.
  • Now more than ever: innovate or die. There can be no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new.        
  • Take responsibility when you screw up.
  • Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy.
  • As a leader, if you don’t do the work, the people around you are going to know, and you’ll lose their respect fast.
  • A company’s reputation is the sum total of the actions of its people and the quality of its products.
  • You can’t communicate pessimism to the people around you. It’s ruinous to morale.
  • Long shots aren’t usually as long as long as they seem. Take big swings.
  • You have to do the homework. You have to be prepared.
  • If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you.
  • When hiring, try to surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do. — Genuine decency—an instinct for fairness and openness and mutual respect—is a rarer commodity in business than it should be, and you should look for it in the people you hire.
  • Most deals are personal.
  • The decision to disrupt a business model that is working for you requires no small amount of courage. — Deal with this kind of uncertainty by going back to basics: Lay out your strategic priorities clearly. Remain optimistic in the face of the unknown. And be accessible and fair-minded to people.
  • You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility.
  • Hold on to your awareness of yourself, even as the world tells you how important you are.

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You cannot live off of yesterday’s successes.  Innovate or die.
#2 – What is not paid careful attention to…becomes mediocre in a hurry.
#3 – It may not be possible to turn around a dysfunctional culture; especially one which spent a long time becoming dysfunctional.  The answer may be to acquire the culture you need.
#4 – Treat people decently! Cultivate empathy. – Remember the Roy Disney story.
#5 – Cultivate the key relationships.
#6 – A footnote – regarding Marvel, and a dinner which included the two leaders and their wives – (Note: Robert Iger is married to Willow Bay, who is quite accomplished. She is the current Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism).

And, I wish I had included his strong emphasis on the leader’s need to “take responsibility” in my lessons and takeaways, which comes through throughout the book.  The responsibility is on the leader!

Though I always think it is better for folks to read a book for themselves, there are times when I think my synopsis will give someone “enough” of the book to be more than helpful.  I do believe my synopsis of this book is quite thorough.  But it cannot possibly give you the emotion or the full impact of the stories. This is a very good book.  I encourage you to read it, especially if you are in a position of leadership.


I present synopses of two books a month at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  My synopsis of this book, with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout and the audio recording of my presentation, will be available to purchase soon at the “Buy Synopses” tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

Empathy Training May Not Be Genuine

We have presented several books over the years that have featured empathy as an important skill for managers to exhibit.  Obviously, the Kouzes and Posner best-seller, Encouraging the Heart (Jossey-Bass, 2003), includes many different references to empathy as a management tool in recognizing and reinforcing employee behavior.

I was interested in a recent syndicated article entitled “The Impact of Empathy,” oirignally writtten by Matthew Gutierrez for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 11, 2016.  You can read his article by clicking HERE.

His premise is that companies often benefit when managers receive and use the tools to become more understanding of their direct reports.  He cites an imporant program taken by local YWCA managers, who claim they are more effective after receiving empathy trainilng.  Gutierrez state that about 20 percent of employers offer empathy training for managers, and he provides documentation from Development Dimensions International (DDI), that top-to-bottom, the copmanies perform better with this training, as much as 50% more income per employee.

I love the end, but not the means.  I don’t have a lot of good to say about people who exhibit the skill of empathy, without the underlying heart that contains it.

Any manager can learn a series of statements and questions that show interest in others.  And, there is some likelihood that those behaviors will result in positive outcomes for the employees who receive them.  But for how long?  When does the facade wear off?  How much time will it take for someone who really doesn’t care about another person to finally show true colors?

I’m not too interested in showing anyone how to use a skill such as displaying empathy who does not have cotresponding empathy in the heart.  If you really don’t care, then how better off is anyone, if all you do is fool someone into thinking that you care?

I don’t mind this training for people who really do care, but have trouble expressing it.  That is worthwhile training for them, for it builds proper skills that they need to exhibit.

But, we’ve already got enough problems in the workplace than do add phony skills for phony people to exhibit who really don’t care.  Just be honest – tell us you don’t care, go do your job, and don’t build false hopes and promises by being non-transparent.

What do you think?  Hit reply and let me know.



Listen, with Respect – and Don’t Forget Empathy

 “To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more that just their ideas get heard.  It’s a sign of respect.  It makes people feel valued.”  (Deborah Tannen).
Listening is an essential and underutilized service behavior…  Every day you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationships with staff members and customers by listening to them and helping them see the power that comes from “knowing” their customer.   
Joseph Michelli, Prescription for Excellence


It starts here – with listening.  All customer service, all business interaction, requires the attention given by you to the person on the other end of the interaction.  And that starts with listening.

And there are some very physical aspects of listening.  For example, where are you pointing your face, especially your eyeballs.  I use the word “eyeballs” on purpose.  The words “eye contact” seem to no longer be strong enough.  So how about this:  “eyeball to eyeball contact.” 

So, if you point your eyeballs at the eyeballs of the other person, you have a much better chance of actually listening to them.  Here are some places to not point your eyeballs when you should be listening to a person:

At your iPhone
At your computer
At someone else walking by
At a book or a magazine

Or anywhere else – except the person you are listening to…

And then, to genuinely listen, when the other person is talking, you actually listen to what he/she says, both the words and the body language.  You do not take the time while someone else is talking to “figure out what you are going to say next.”  You listen to the other person, and then, after a pause, it is your turn to speak.  You pay attention to that other person, and then you respond to that person.

Listening may be the ultimate sign of respect.  And everything else flows from good listening moments.

(And, remember – it might be even more valuable to remember to listen with “empathy”).

Four Questions – My Takeaways from the book What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

I have now presented my 15 minute version of Gary Hamel’s new book, What Matters Now:  How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation at yesterday morning’s First Friday book Synopsis.  I look forward to one of my longer sessions with this book, where I can spend quite a bit more time on some of the points.

(explanation:  at the First Friday Book Synopsis, we present our synopses in 15 minutes.  It is very fast paced.  And then, frequently, companies or organizations hire us to present our synopses in longer sessions, which is where we have time to give the content a more complete “treatment.”  These presentations are useful in many ways:  leadership training and interaction; issues identification; strategy development sessions…)

For example, on Friday, I simply did not have time to talk about this great point:

Great design is less about genius than empathy—and it’s often the tiniest things that make the biggest difference to consumers.

I think empathy may be one of the traits most needed for business success.  With empathy, we listen better, we solve problems better…  we can meet the needs of our customers and our co-workers when we come from a place of genuine empathy.

The book What Matters Now covers little that is  “new.”  I’m not sure that I “learned” much that was new.  But the book does a terrific job reminding us of what is important, and then leading us to ask the right questions.  In fact, here are my four takeaways from the book, all in the form of questions. Have a go at these…  it will be worth your time.

(And, after you read the book, you might add your own takeaway questions).

#1.  What are your actual values?
Your organization is – and you; yes, you! are – values driven.  So, what are those values?  Answer that question honestly. The values you claim to follow may not be your actual values (i.e., the values that reveal themselves in your decision making and your actions).  What are your values – for you, and for your organization?
#2.  Where are you on the hierarchy of the human capabilities at work?  How can you, how do you help people move toward the summit – that top level, the level of passion?
#3.  Are you actually practicing continual innovation and adaptability?  Throughout your organization?  And in all aspects of your life, especially including your work life?  Have you actually embraced innovation and change?  How have you done so — what is your proof that you practice continual innovation?
#4.  Are you passionate about your work?
If passion matters (which it does), would your customers describe your employees as passionate employees – passionate about serving the needs of the customer with a product and/or service that makes a difference for the better?  And, would your customers, and your coworkers, describe you as passionate about the work you do?

I always try to figure out “just what should we do” after reading a good book.  One thing we can always do is to ask “what are the questions that we need to deal with regarding the issues addressed in this book?”.  Coming up with the questions is difficult work.  It’s even more challenging to answer them.


You can purchase my synopsis of What Matters Now, with audio + a comprehensive handout, soon on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  We have hundreds of book synopses available.  You really can sit down with handout in hand, listen to the audio, and learn significant content from the best business books of our era.  Nearly all of these are recorded at our First Friday Book Synopsis events.

“Empathy” 1st, “Fix” 2nd – A Customer Service Basic!

I provide a seminar on customer service, and have a keynote presentation called The Customer Never Forgets.  I have studied customer service, read a lot about customer service, and written quite a bit on customer service.

But more than anything else, I am a customer.  Constantly.  Practically every day.  Increasingly, my customer experiences are on-line. And most of these experiences are fully what I hoped – one-click, fully satisfied little miracles.  I click my mouse, and my product shows up on my doorstep two days later.  Wonderful!

But occasionally, not so wonderful…

Recently, a disappointing customer experience, which cost me a little embarrassment and about one hour of my time, which was completely the fault of the company providing the service because of a mistake by one of their people, made me think a little more about this whole “how do we provide a better customer experience?” question.

So here is a snapshot of my latest thoughts..

In my training, I state that all customer experience boils down to two critical elements:  be nice, and, be competent.  I am convinced that if a company provides both of these, they will, in fact, keep their customers coming back.  If the product or service is what the customer wants, and the interaction between the company representative and the customer is nice and hassle free, you’ve got a real winner on your hands.  (We’ll leave it for another discussion about what happens when a competitor has a “better” product or service to offer.  That is a different issue).

If you force me to choose, I will take competence over nice.  If the product or service is exactly what I want, and I can’t get it anywhere else for less, I will take a slight absence of “nice.”  Nice without competence does not satisfy – I need to be able to rely on the product or service more than I need someone to treat me in a nice way.  But, give me both, nice and competent, and I am happiest.

But the real moment of truth is when there is a problem; a “mistake; a “disappointment.”   When the company messes up, this is the acid test.  And when I call to say, “you have made a mistake,” the first thing I want is “empathy,” then I want it fixed.  I am not happy if it is fixed first.  And, no matter how nice the person is, after I sense empathy, if it is not then fixed, I am not happy.

Consider this as a way to think about providing that better customer experience:

If I need a precise product The company provides it, with no hassles I am happy
If I need a product, but don’t know exactly what I need The company suggests the right item/solution – I get it, try it, like it I am happy
The company messes up The representative of the company tries to fix it, but without empathy (including a genuine “I’m sorry”), before they then fix it I am not happy
The company messes up The representative of the company is really empathetic, but does not “fix it” well I am not happy
The company messes up The representative is genuinely empathetic, then fixes it I am happy

So – Empathy first, fix it second.  This is what I need when a company messes up.  And without that empathy first, I am not happy – and might look for an alternative.


I have recently presented synopses of two terrific books related to customer service excellence.  One is Demand:  Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian J. Slywotzky.  This book is terrific on the issue of removing hassles.  And people really do not like hassles!

The other is Prescription for Excellence:  Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D.  Michelli is a superior observer, and he is especially good at pulling out insights that you can transfer into your own arena.

Both of these books are worth reading.  And, you can purchase my synopsis of these books, with audio + comprehensive handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

And, if you are interested in bringing my customer service training, or my keynote presentation, into your company or organization, click the “hire us” tab.

We Need Empathy At Work, And Not Just Competition – Business (And Life) Counsel From Playwright Doug Wright

“We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, professional, or institutional.” (Paul G. Hawken, founder, Smith and Hawken)
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart:  A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others

More profoundly than just getting things done, strong connections with others represent a value unto themselves. Relationships lie at the heart of who we are as humans; they give our lives meaning and significance.
Dov Seidman, how:  Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life)


On a drive to a client’s last Thursday, I listened with rapt attention to a great hour on Think, the local NPR program (KERA – 90.1), hosted by Krys Boyd.  Krys is a terrific, always thoroughly prepared interviewer, and her guests on Thursday were a Pulitzer and Tony winning playwright, and his high school drama teacher.  Here’s the paragraph on Think’s web site:

Doug Wright

What makes a writer a writer, and how can a great teacher influence the arc of a writer’s career? We’ll spend this hour with playwright, author, screenwriter, actor, director Doug Wright and Linda Raya, the Highland Park High School Fine Arts director and theatre teacher who instructed Doug when he was a student at the school. Doug Wright will deliver the keynote address at this weekend’s 15th annual Highland Park Literary Festival.

During the interview, this paragraph absolutely gripped me (I transcribed this from the audio):

Doug Wright:
Art (should be perceived as) a serious subject.  I’m very fond of saying that Art, and Drama in particular, is the one discipline that teaches empathy…  Because if you’ve got a kid in Anne Frank, then they’re learning what it was like to be Jewish during World War II.  Drama is all about slipping into someone’s shoes, and walking their walk…by studying plays and acting in them we learn tolerance.
And the emphasis in schools (athletics):  we teach competition; we teach competition really, really well.  But we don’t always teach empathy and tolerance.  And I think that’s what these disciplines foster.  And I think it is shocking and disturbing that they’re the first to meet the chopping block when legislators are looking at the state budget.

I have read a lot of business books over the years, and there is little shortage of discussion of concepts such as “winning,” competition,” “beating the competition,” “being first.”

But this interview reminded me that there is another, I think better, side to this whole endeavor – let’s call it the “human side.”  And in the heart of this side is empathy – walking in another’s shoes.  Doug Wright reminds us of the simple fact that all business leadership, all business management, all business endeavor begin (and end) with human beings.

Starting by being human might be the best business (and life) counsel of all.