This past week, while attending a global conference hosted at Disney World in Orlando, I got a glimpse into a large, complex organization that many people don’t see.
The first day I arrived, I saw that Disney was holding casting calls for new talent. Disney World is such a huge operation, and I’m sure the parent company is hiring almost constantly.
I saw many nervous, young people standing in line waiting to be interviewed. You could tell just by looking at their faces that they were all quite desperate to sign on at the Magic Kingdom.
In fact, I was still thinking about those earnest applicants when I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about the sudden resignation of Tom Staggs, Disney’s chief operating officer. Staggs was the consensus heir apparent to current CEO Robert Iger, who is scheduled to resign in the summer of 2018.
According to the WSJ and others, succession planning at Disney had fallen “into disarray” when Staggs made his announcement. What could motivate a rising star like Staggs to jump ship at a wildly successful company like Disney at such a sensitive time in the succession planning process?
It turns out that Staggs may not have been the heir apparent after all. It was revealed that the Disney board and Iger had recently decided to expand their search for the next CEO of the Magic Kingdom.
The news that Disney had broadened its search must have come as a bit of a shock to Staggs, and no doubt prompted his decision to leave. It’s a risky proposition to make a move like that, given the impact that it can have on a large organization.
Sudden, and sometimes unexplained departures can have a devastating effect on a company’s morale and financial prospects. Last month, streaming music giant Pandora (which boasts more than 80 million users) announced suddenly that CEO Brian McAndrews was leaving and founder Tim Westergren was stepping back in.
Pandora is still a wildly profitable company that is on a strong acquisition path. Even so, Pandora stock dropped 10 per cent on the day McAndrews departed.
With the stakes so high, did Staggs make a rash decision, or was he acting in his own best interests as a business leader? The fact of the matter is that when the Disney board broadened its search, it was also saying that it had lost faith in Staggs.
I guess he could have stuck around. But sooner or later the knowledge that he did not enjoy the confidence of the board would have affected his confidence and judgement.
That is the ugly truth about faith: when we lose faith in someone, we cross a line from which we can rarely return. Losing faith in someone or something is like closing a door; we lose all interest about what lies on the other side.
In that context, I think Staggs probably made the right move. He is a young man at 55, and there will no doubt be many leadership opportunities for him at other organizations. Had he elected to stay and ride out the succession planning process, he would likely have ended up losing out on the CEO competition and in the process, potentially damaging his brand as a leader.
Again, the awful truth of the matter is that you cannot be an effective, accountable leader if you do not enjoy the faith of your organization.
If your superiors, whether it’s your direct manager or a board, are unsure about your value as leader, I don’t believe you can do your job. Ultimately, moving on may be one’s best solution.
Faith and confidence in leadership is one of those things that takes time to build, but can be lost. And once it’s gone, there is no magic solution – not even in the Magic Kingdom – that will help you get it back.
What do you think?
This week’s gut check asks: Does your organization have faith in you?