PERHAPS one of Robert A. Iger's greatest assets as he prepares to take over as chief executive of the Walt Disney Company is that he is not his predecessor, Michael D. Eisner.

Mr. Eisner ran Disney for two decades and turned the company into an entertainment giant, early on championing animated hits like "The Lion King," expanding onto Broadway with "Beauty and the Beast" and starting the highly regarded Disney cruise line. But in his later years his autocratic leadership stifled creativity in a place that reveres imagination so highly that it calls some of its employees "imagineers."

As Mr. Eisner centralized decision-making in the corporate suite, many employees either left Disney or avoided taking risks in fear of a backlash. In some ways, Mr. Eisner kept trying to run Disney with the same dynamic tension that he encouraged when he arrived at the company and it was still small and struggling.