Disney’s Former CEO Bob Iger Just Explained the Reason He Resigned. It’s the Best Example of Emotional Intelligence I’ve Seen Yet

Last February, Bob Iger announced he was stepping down as CEO of Disney, a role he held for 15 years. He officially handed the reigns to Bob Chapek at the time but took an active leadership role as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on many of Disney’s core businesses.

The plan was that Iger would remain executive chairman until the end of 2021, which means his departure is coming very soon. There are some who think there’s a chance he may be brought back into the role as CEO next year, but in an interview with CNBC that was published Tuesday, Iger says he’s done–and explained why he decided it was finally time to step down. 

His reason is a rare example of emotional intelligence from a CEO atop a global business empire. It’s also a powerful lesson for every leader.  

“I became a little bit more dismissive of other people’s opinions than I should have been,” said Iger. “That was an early sign that it was time. It wasn’t the reason I left, but it was a contributing factor.”

I think it’s worth mentioning that Iger is probably not the first CEO to become “dismissive of other people’s opinions.” He is, however, unique in his willingness to admit it. 

“Over time, I started listening less and maybe with a little less tolerance of other people’s opinions,” Iger continued. “Maybe because of getting a little bit more overconfident in my own, which is sometimes what happens when you get built up.”

The cynical view would argue Iger had had so much success that it was all downhill from there. Leaving–according to that argument–was opportunistic, not altruistic. 

To be fair, however, Iger’s is easily one of the greatest success stories in business. In a span of 15 years, he had acquired Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel, which means Disney controls arguably the three most valuable film properties in the world. 

Half of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time are Disney productions. Nine of the top 10 best opening weekend box office totals belong to Disney films (if you include Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was produced by Marvel). Disney+ is easily the most successful new streaming service launched in the past decade, relying on its valuable library of family-friendly content.

When Iger took over, Disney’s market cap was roughly $50 billion. Today, it’s roughly $270 billion. The company’s revenue has doubled during that time. 

The thing is, as Iger admits, all of that success has a cost. For a leader, the cost is that you start to think that it’s all because of you. Iger refers to it as being “built up.” When that happens, you think you’re invincible, and that your ideas are the only ones that count. That’s not only arrogant, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for you, and for your business. 

Being the CEO of a company like Disney is the pinnacle of a career. With it comes wealth, prestige, and power. There have only been seven CEOs at the Walt Disney Company, and it isn’t the sort of role that most people are going to walk away from unless they’re pushed out. 

That’s where the part about emotional intelligence (EQ) comes in. EQ is the ability to identify your own emotional response to a situation, change the way you think about it, and behave differently. It requires self-awareness and a degree of humility, two things that aren’t especially common for people at the top. 

Iger’s response is worth mentioning because–let’s face it–it’s pretty uncommon for a leader at the top to not only recognize that they had started dismissing the input and value of others, but also to admit it publicly. More than that, Iger understood the damage that sort of response to the input and feedback of others could cause his leadership and the business he was entrusted to run, and recognized that it was time to make a change. 

The hardest thing for a leader to do is to admit that they might be the thing that is preventing the organization they are responsible for from growing or innovating or rising to whatever challenge it faces. It means admitting that there’s something that needs to change, and sometimes that thing is you. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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