When Tim Cook first took the reins at Apple, many questioned whether he would be able to fill Steve Jobs' shoes. Apple’s unique brand and culture of innovation seemed inextricably linked with Jobs. He was inspirational, original, courageous, challenging and risk-taking – qualities that people associate closely with Apple itself.
Tim Cook, in contrast, is a bit of an enigma. He has a reputation as a brilliant strategist and an expert in operational efficiency, with an unwavering focus on results. But he lacks the charisma of Jobs. And that is a bad thing, or so we thought... But since he took over at Apple, he has also demonstrated new and invaluable qualities. For one, he appears to be a collaborative leader. Insiders say he communicates widely with all employees. He also knows he’s got a great leadership team and appears happy to share leadership responsibility – and public recognition – with them.
Whereas new Apple product launches used to reinforce Jobs’ guru-like status as he walked the platform demonstrating new devices, the new iPad launch demonstrated that Apple today is more about shared leadership, and less reliant on an individual leader. Phil Schiller, the senior VP of marketing was tasked with presenting the new iPad while Cook took a back seat. This is good news for the future of Apple.
CEO transition is a major issue for many organisations right now. Several, like Apple, are moving from the strong ‘heroic’ leader to the new ‘sharing’ version - from charisma to participation, from a solo style to a collaborative style of leadership. One or two are going the other way - from a shared approach to a centralised model where one person makes all the big decisions. This can cause frustration for others in the organisation. The biggest risk is that the frustration of others can reinforce the new CEO’s tendency to think he or she is the only one who really gets it.
Cook does not lead Apple alone. There is a strong leadership team at the heart of the business, most of whom have been there for some time. Those who have worked closely with Cook describe him as cool, calm, and highly focused. Personal recognition is not important to him. He is not emotionally demonstrative, yet skilled at engaging others with Apple’s fundamental vision and focus. He appears to encourage shared leadership to drive innovation and performance.
When he first became CEO, Cook wrote to all Apple employees: 'I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that — it is in our DNA.'
It may be that those who initially described Cook as a ‘safe pair of hands’ may have been underestimating him. The new iPad has been successfully launched, Apple has just topped the list of Fortune magazine’s most admired companies for the fifth year in a row, and the 25 billionth app has just been download from the iTunes App Store. It seems Cook is doing okay after all...
Nicky Little is head of leadership development at Cirrus
Picture: Dweider at the English language Wikipedia (via Wikimedia Commons)