In his book, The Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, compellingly tells the story of the time he was in Shanghai to open Disney’s first park in China. He was preparing for a grand, star-studded event, when he got the news of a little boy succumbing to an alligator attack in the Orlando park. It was the first time something like this had happened at a Disney park.
What came through to me most starkly in his storytelling was his humanity as a leader. He allowed himself, even in the midst of everything that was going on, to fully feel the pain of the boy’s parents, to call them and express his sympathies. He made a promise to them that their boy’s life would not be in vain. At the end of the call, he says, ‘We hung up, and I sat there shaking on the edge of my bed. I’d been crying so hard that both of my contact lenses had come out.’
And carrying that feeling with him, he went on with the rest of his day, ensuring his team in Orlando managed the remarkable feat of putting up safety ropes, fences and signs around the hundreds of water bodies all over the park within 24 hours – a park that is twice the size of Manhattan!
And at the same time, he inaugurated the Shanghai park, connecting with the dream that was coming to life in China – a dream made possible by the hard work of so many people, over such a long time. ‘It was a happy day,’ he says. ‘It was also the saddest day of my career.’
This story is a beautiful illustration to me of how the work of leadership is not just outward, it’s not only about who can create the best strategy or win the next big deal.
Leadership is about the inner game. It’s about having the mental courage to connect deeply with ourselves, with those we lead and with the world around us. It’s about knowing who we really are, living in alignment with our values, allowing ourselves to be steered by a larger purpose, and taking responsibility for ourselves and our impact in the world.
This is the inner work that shines through in a time of crisis. This is what allows one leader to come from a space of grounded humility and take responsibility, while another may look to protect themselves / their reputation.
What’s your favourite story of leadership in a time of crisis, of leaders demonstrating their deep humanity even as they do what the crisis demands of them?
PS: This is the journey we support for leaders – looking within to align with your values, purpose and gifts, so you can show up strong and resilient, yet empathetic and connected, when it most matters.