Influencing People, Leadership Lesson From Robert Iger, Former CEO, Disney-II

In 2005, Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company. At that time, the company was in a downward spiral, losing money rapidly. Robert had to quickly turnaround the company. For that to happen in a short time, he felt that he had to focus on one critical factor that could exercise a disproportionate influence in transforming the company. The one factor he chose was Animation.

Walt Disney brand was built wholly on Animation. It was the fuel that powered other businesses -consumer products, toys, television, theme parks, merchandise, and other related products. If Animation goes, then the company goes. If Animation performs well, then all the other businesses would flourish. So, Robert’s priority was to turnaround the animation division.

After extensive research, Robert Iger laid down the following critical steps to turnaround the animation division—

  • Enhance Storytelling Ingenuity
  • Adaptation Of New Technology
  • Build a Culture Of Creativity

To achieve that, Robert Iger had only one option in front of him — To buy Pixar.

Buying Pixar — Steve Jobs was the Pixar’s investor. Ed Catmull and John Lasseter were the people who created and built the organization.

Robert Iger approached Steve Jobs and proposed the idea. Steve told him that he would sell the company only if John Lasseter and Ed Catmull agree to it. Steve also shared Robert’s proposal with both John and Ed.

So, Robert Iger had to convince/influence John Lasseter and Ed Catmull to let Disney buy their child Pixar. At that time, Pixar’s brand value had eclipsed Disney in the minds of customers. Also, Steve and Ed had recently taken their company for public & their shares had soared. So, they were financially in a better situation. It means that both John and Ed had no reason to sell the company.

So, how did Robert convince them? What lessons could we learn?


Before thinking about convincing people, we need to answer the following question — Why we want to convince others? What should be the outcome we want to achieve.

You can’t convince people if you don’t know why you want them to do what you’ve intended them to do.

For Robert Iger, the expected outcome was crystal clear.

  • Pixar acquisition would help Disney to make next-generation branded content.
  • Disney could venture into new products. It would enable the company to become the leader in a market that is changing and growing.
  • Disney could be at the forefront of technology.

Imagine that you have convinced people & they did what you’ve asked them to do. What would be the consequences? Can you prioritize the expected outcomes?

Remember, outcomes should not be more than two or three. Robert Iger had only three results.

Can you articulate the outcomes clearly so that people could easily understand?


We want to influence people not just for our benefit alone but for them too. It should be mutually profitable to each other. That’s a critical requirement.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.” That’s the secret ingredient in influencing people.

Dale further wrote, “I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or a grasshopper in front of the fish and said, “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”.”

We have to use the same tactic when fishing for people — Dangle things in front of them that they would love to have. To do that, we should know what people would need, want, and desire.

First, arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot, walks a lonely way — Harry A. Overstreet.

So, to convince John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, it was clear that Robert Iger has to talk in terms of benefits for them, Pixar’s employees, and their customers. Disney’s Pixar acquisition should be a win-win situation for both companies.

However, Pixar was already in a better position than Disney at that time. How can an acquisition add value to the Pixar brand? What benefits could Robert Iger give to Ed Catmull and John Lasseter?

To answer these questions, Robert has to understand Pixar, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter’s needs, wants, and desires. For that, he needs to learn about them — To learn about them, he has to spend time, observe, and listen to them.


How to find the needs, desires, or wants of people to whom you would like to influence? The answer is to study them — Spending time with them, listening, and observing them.

To learn about Pixar and its people, Robert Iger visited the Pixar campus, met the key people, spent several hours, observed their culture, and learned how they worked. He saw elements of films they were working on —storyboards, concept art, original scores, and cast lists.

Robert was stunned by the level of talent, creative ambition, the commitment to quality, the storytelling ingenuity, the technology, the leadership structure, and the air of enthusiastic collaboration at Pixar. He was highly impressed by the company’s culture and felt that anyone in a creative business, would aspire to have a similar one.

Robert also met John and Ed, spent time, and observed them. He not only learned about them in-depth but also how they built Pixar.


So, you have got clear outcomes, you have understood the people’s needs, and your idea has got mutual value to people, whom you are trying to influence. Now, it’s time to begin the process of convincing people.

How to start? Where to begin?

What did Robert do?


It’s time to meet people, share your idea, discuss the benefits, and convince them. Right? Unfortunately, no!

Let’s focus on the first element — Where are you going to meet them?

The meeting place plays a pivotal role in influencing people. A friendly place — a meeting over a social gathering or in a restaurant or a bar or a golf course could tilt the scales in your favor more than meeting them in a formal setting.

Where did Robert meet John and Ed?. He met them individually in their homes, along with their families. If it is possible, it is always better to meet people independently. There’s no other better place than meeting somebody in their homes. People would be naturally relaxed without any fear or anxiety while meeting others at home over food. It would be easy to connect with them.

In their homes, people would be more open to talking about themselves as well as listening to other’s ideas.


So, you have chosen the place. Are you planning to jump directly to discuss the plan? That’s a bad idea!.

Warm Up —Most of the games/sports need people to warm-up before resuming the play. Similarly, to influence people, we need to warm-up before discussing the main idea.

What’s the warmup in this scenario? — Start a general conversation.

The success of influencing other people depends on your ability to start a conversation, especially with a stranger.

Are there any golden tips to start a conversation?

The best way to start a conversation is to get the other person to talk about himself. It breaks the ice and thaws out the inter-relationship.

When Robert Iger met John Lasseter in his home, he first discussed John’s career path. John shared his working days at Disney Animation(which happened two decades earlier) before joining Pixar, his struggling period at Pixar, how Walt Disney’s TV shows in the 1950s inspired him to take up Animation, and his childhood life.

Why should we start the conversation by listening to their stories? — Listening to their stories shows that you are interested in him/her. Subconsciously, he/she would start liking you. It would prompt him/her to lower his/her defenses. He/she would be open to listening to your ideas. Naturally, their subconscious mind would also think that whatever proposal you propose would be for their benefits.

Les Giblin writes, “The art of being a good conversationalist consists not so much in thinking up a lot of clever things to say, or heroic experiences you can relate, or flattery, but in opening up the other fellow and getting him to talk. It will get him to warm up to you, and be more interested in and receptive to your ideas when you are talking.”

Robert Iger made John Lasseter and Ed Catmull warm-up to him by letting them talk about themselves before discussing the acquisition idea.

FORGING A BOND — Once you have made the other person to talk about himself, it is time for you to share something about yourself that would tie into something the other person has said. It would help in forming a bond between you and the other person that would eventually help in convincing him/her.

After listening to John and Ed, Robert also spoke about his earlier days at ABC studios and his interaction with creative people at the studio. He shared several common elements that tied with John and Ed’s experiences. Robert also shared how his life changed after Disney acquired ABC studios — A situation similar to proposed Disney’s acquisition of Pixar. Those common elements helped Robert in establishing a positive connection with both John and Ed.

Les Giblin writes, “Bringing yourself into the conversation in a way that forms a common bond between you and him/her is flattering to the other person — It means you are saying, “I agree with you” — We like people who agree with us. Every person who agrees with us confirms our own worth and our own self-esteem.”


To convince people, rather than talking about what we would gain, we should talk about what they would reap.

Robert Iger had mapped out what Pixar, Ed, and John would win from the acquisition. He had to talk about that before talking about Disney’s gain.

Now, the critical part — If possible, we need to customize our communication, according to the type of person.

As Robert met Ed and John separately to discuss the idea, he had the opportunity to customize his communication.

Customize Your Communication according to the type of person.

  • Having spent time with John, Robert understood that John was all about emotion and extroversion. To convince him, Robert realized that he had to speak things that would appeal to his emotional mind.
  • On the other hand, Robert saw Ed Catmull as a quiet, thoughtful, introverted person. To influence him, Robert recognized that he had to appeal to his rational mind —He has to explain things with reasons.

ADDRESS THEIR FEARS— To influence people, we saw that we need to start talking in terms of benefits to them. However, there’s one more critical thing before talking about the benefits — We have to address the fears. The proposed idea might have triggered some hidden anxieties in people’s minds. It could potentially hinder the positive influencing of people. People oppose things when they have some fears. So, we have to address them. Prepare the field for sowing your seeds.

As Robert Iger had spent time with Ed and John, he had a fair idea of their fears and hidden anxieties. Moreover, in the earlier part of his career, he had experienced the implications of the acquisition process. So, he knew what would be John and Ed’s fears.

Robert told both John and Ed individually, “I understand what it’s like to be taken over by another company. I myself faced the situation when Disney bought ABC Studios. So, I understand your fears. You might fear the loss of autonomy. I assure you that it won’t happen.”

He further added, “I need to stress one critical point. The only way it made sense for Disney to buy Pixar was if we protected whatever it was that made your culture so unique. PIXAR needs to be PIXAR.” He stressed the last sentence.

Robert also repeated, “If we don’t protect the culture you’ve created, we’ll be destroying the thing that makes PIXAR valuable .”

It gave Ed and John the confidence to discuss the acquisition idea further.

So, Robert allayed their fears before talking about the benefits.

TALKING ABOUT THEIR BENEFITS — After allaying the fears, Robert began to talk about the benefits of the acquisition.

To John, Robert appealed to his emotional mind. He told him, “John, I’d want you to head Disney Animation creative side.” On hearing this, John found it impossible to hide his enthusiasm. He couldn’t believe it. Two decades back, John was fired from Disney studio. It was like a perfect redemption. At the same time, he had massive respect for the heritage of Disney Animation.

John responded enthusiastically, “Well, that would be a dream.”

To Ed Catmull, Robert appealed to his rational mind. He told him the benefits of Pixar being part of Disney Empire — Robert spoke about the technology resources in other parts of Disney that Ed could get his hands-on and how it could help Pixar grow. He also told him how he would get a bigger canvas for him to work. Robert also spoke about other advantages.

Thus, Robert convinced John Lasseter and Ed Catmull.


If we need to influence several people, then it would be difficult to focus on everyone. It requires too much effort and time, spreading our energy thin. In the carrom game, the opportunity to win increases, if we strike a coin in such a way that it could hit multiple pieces to corner pockets — Pocket three or more coins in one shot. Similarly, we should focus on people who could help in influencing others. Target those influencers and utilize them to convince more people. We could call them as Kingpins(From the book Blue Ocean Strategy)— People who are well respected and persuasive or the people with specific powers. It would free us from influencing everyone.

So, identify and motivate the influencers.

Robert Iger had to convince Disney board members to accept the proposed acquisition price. He felt that he should use influencers. Who could be those kingpins?

Who could be better than Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Ed Catmull?

Robert believed that allowing board members to meet and hear directly from Steve, John, and Ed would help them to understand the value of the acquisition. Only when they realize the benefits offered by Pixar, they could validate the price.

At that time, several board members were still against the acquisition deal. However, the moment Steve, John, and Ed started talking, everyone in the room was transfixed. The Pixar team had no notes, decks, or visual aids — They spoke with passion about Pixar’s philosophy, dreams, and the future with Disney. John talked about his lifelong love of Disney and his desire to return Disney Animation to its former glory. Ed gave an exceptional presentation about technology and what a combined studio of Disney & Pixar could contribute to the world. He also showed where technology was heading.

Robert Iger writes that it’s hard to imagine a better salesman than Steve Jobs. Steve talked about the need for big companies to take huge risks.

Finally, the board members approved the pricing value for buying Pixar.

Robert Iger had successfully influenced everyone.


It was also essential to note that a few other factors had helped Robert Iger in influencing Steve, John, and Ed. Let’s see what were those factors.


Robert Iger was candid and honest in sharing his thoughts with Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter. He was truthful, transparent, and had no hidden agenda. There was no shrewd pretense.

Being transparent builds trust between you and others. Trust is the cornerstone of influencing people.

Be radically transparent with others.


One of the reasons why a person finds it difficult to influence people is that he/she is afraid of establishing a conversation with people. He/she fears that he/she might say something too trivial or obvious thing or something unworthy or irrelevant to the occasion. The fear blocks our mind. We are our judge and the victim.

Fear is one of the greatest handicaps to getting to know people quickly and getting off on a friendly footing — Les Giblin.

FORGET CONSEQUENCES—If you are afraid, you would lose confidence and would start to blabber. It would appear that you aren’t sure about your idea. People don’t like doubters.

Robert Iger was fearless. He wasn’t afraid of proposing his idea to board members or Steve Jobs — He was not bothered about the consequences — He never pondered whether they would laugh at him or tease him. His sole aim was to find a way to communicate the idea and not to think about the consequences. That’s the way forward.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF —Most of us have one more critical fear — We are afraid that a specific person is going to be challenging to deal with — we have an intuition that it would be impossible to convince him/her.

Whatever fear we have, it stays in our subconscious mind that has shortcuts to sensory organs and motor skills. Our subconscious mind might prompt unfriendly actions and inappropriate facial expressions, without our knowledge, towards the other person, resulting in a hostile situation. So, we have to avoid fear at any cost.

Many people told Robert Iger that it would be impossible to deal with Steve Jobs. Yet, Robert believed that Steve would like him and listen to his idea. His positive attitude played a pivotal role in convincing Steve and others.

So, for influencing people, you’ve got to believe that the other fellow is going to like you.

Les Giblin writes, “Your own actions and attitudes affect the scenario. In dealing with other people, most of the time, our attitude is reflected in their behavior. Get over the fear that the other person will snub you — Take the risk. You won’t win every time but the odds are in your favor.”

If you believe in yourself and act as if you believe in yourself, others will believe in you — Les Giblin.

BE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT YOUR IDEA — You influence people by publicizing confidence about your idea. Confidence comes when you are enthusiastic about your idea.

Your success in influencing people depends on how enthusiastic you are about the idea.

We saw that Robert Iger spent time at the PIXAR office to study them in detail. At the end of the day, after leaving the Pixar office, Robert Iger immediately called his colleague Tom Staggs and began describing Pixar. He spoke about the level of talent, creative ambition, the commitment to quality, the storytelling ingenuity, the technology, the leadership structure, and the air of enthusiastic collaboration at Pixar. Tom could sense Iger’s enthusiasm.

Listening to Iger’s excitement, Tom also began to feel positive about the idea of merging Pixar with Disney.

As soon as Robert reached Disney’s office, he immediately called his team and shared his stories. People saw his excitement about the idea of buying Pixar. They also felt that Pixar’s collaboration would change their lives.

Then, Robert Iger called Steve. Before dialing, he told himself that he should try to contain his enthusiasm. Iger didn’t want to show his desperation to buy Pixar. However, the moment he got Steve on the phone, Robert couldn’t control his excitement. Hearing his voice, Steve realized that Iger wanted to make the deal happen. His seriousness prompted Steve Jobs to ponder positives about the merger.

Robert could influence people because he was always enthusiastic about his idea. He believed in his idea.

Enthusiasm is more contagious than all other pandemics.

Concentrate on being enthusiastic about your idea.


To influence people — Define outcomes, Study people’s needs, Make sure that the outcome is mutually beneficial, Choose a place, Strike Up a conversation, Coalesce people to talk about themselves, Build a bond, Speak in terms of other’s benefits, Customize your communication, Address their fears, Be Transparent, Have Confidence, and Believe in your idea.

References: The Ride Of A Lifetime by Robert Allen Iger, Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People by Les Giblin.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store