Culture Framework Part 3: Leadership | Rebuilding the Core with Apple
Leadership is perhaps the most enigmatic and eclectic piece of the Culture Framework. There is no direct or charted path to leadership, no one style of leadership that paves the path to success and there is no way of definitively identifying the future traits of an employee. The hallmarks of a leader’s style are rarely a carbon copy of her or his predecessor. One size does not fit all.
Despite its difficulty to define an exact roadmap, deliberate steps to strengthen the leadership and extend its efficacy and impact help ensure employees feel empowered to improve the organization, rather than go through the motions.
The relationship requires a mutual respect, reciprocal transparency and a defined code of ethics in order to work. Those ideals are not easily won, and they can be lost in an instant. But when rooted in a strong culture, employees and leadership can compliment and elevate one another, benefitting the entire organization.
The Unpopular Decisions
When Steve Jobs re-assumed the CEO position at Apple in 1997, he created a new type of culture — a no-compromise culture that would not attempt to do everything — or even many different things — but to be the very best at everything it did. This was the Jobs’ mantra throughout his time at the head of Apple, and not many people would argue with the resulting trajectory of the business.
Mr. Jobs, of course, was not without his flaws — some would call him erratic or egomaniacal, but for those who chose to follow him, he was an effective leader for several simple reasons:
Sure, the approach was a tad self-aggrandizing, but his famed black turtleneck talks were impressive pieces of rhetoric that defined Apple’s outlook and desires for employees and the general public alike. He was just as clear, albeit just as egocentric, behind closed doors. His expectations were always articulated clearly and sometimes viciously. Numerous employees recount the specific direction that was given from Steve personally as well as the rebuke when it was not adhered to.
If Jobs was anything, it was open. What you saw was what you got. He was never one to sugarcoat or beat around the bush, and while that made plenty of enemies, it never left anyone guessing where he stood. An aggressive style vs. its infuriating passive counterpart.
Living the Values
For Jobs, everything Apple did came back to core value: to make the best products in the market. He believed that this would be the longest-standing aspect of the company’s legacy, and that attitude permeated throughout the organization.
Though impossible to pin down, it cannot be ignored. Let’s put it this way: in 1997, Tim Cook defied all logic and made the decision to join a failing Apple instead of staying with the tech behemoth Compaq purely based on a gut feeling after meeting Jobs once.
Now, none of those qualities are unique to Jobs — charisma comes in all shapes and forms — nor do they require somebody to be a natural leader. But again, they also do not necessarily yield popularity in the office. Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, famously said that most people he knew wouldn’t work with Jobs again if given the chance.
Yet, the top up-and-comers still wanted to work for Jobs, to see things from the inside. They respected him as a leader, and it took work, but there was a clear path to winning his respect. Employees vied for his approval, and many rose to his high standards including Tim Cook. And it always came back to Apple’s company values.
Do we see Apple as a successful company? Yes. Did Jobs make some drastic moves to reach that point? Absolutely. Above all, that is what it takes to be a leader. You have to be willing to be the face of unpopular decisions. When even those unpopular decisions are rooted in your culture and strategy, and they are clearly communicated, that leadership vs. following.
Changing of the Guard
Not every company has a Steve Jobs, and now, even Apple is without its primogenitor. And this has forced the organization to take a step back and examine exactly what Jobs’ leadership meant in their organization.
A culture had built up around Jobs’ leadership, but would that mean it would disappear when he left the company? That was up to current CEO, Tim Cook, a man who stood by Jobs making some of those unpopular decisions right alongside him. Many thought the company would perish, and there are some unavoidable factors that create rifts and dips in stock prices. But Cook knew Jobs, and had a perspective beyond the facade. He knew that it was the strength of the culture that Jobs had created that, in turn, made Jobs such an effective leader.
Cook is coming into his own on the charisma front, but he’s already making bold moves — taking a pay cut when stock prices went down and getting rid of the headphone jack (another of Apple’s signatures — kill your product before someone else does). He has expanded into new markets by acquiring Beats by Dre, and he has maintained Apple’s paramount fidelity to simplicity.
By all accounts, Cook is much easier to work with than Jobs — less condescending and cruel — but in many ways, he is just as demanding. But it is his reliance on the culture that has kept the company moving forward and proven that leadership is not just alive in a singular entity. Leaders make great culture and great culture makes the great leaders yet to come.
Culture Framework, Part 3: Leadership