Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Apple and Lessons of Leadership

I have been fascinated for many years with the culture of Apple Computer. I watched Apple as both an interested spectator out of my office window and as a provider of services. I watched the rise and fall and rise of the fortunes of Steve Jobs at Apple.

I have wondered what impact the death of Steve Jobs would be for Apple as a company and culture. Yesterday, Apple introduced their next version of the iPad. I scanned part of the introduction event to get a sense of the leadership and how they were engaging their previously rabid press fans.

Unlike any other company, Apple has enjoyed almost universal GREAT press. When Steve Jobs would appear on stage at one of these launch events, there was cheering and standing ovations, even from the most jaded reporters. There was an admiration of his intense focus and extraordinary storytelling.

This admiration was not without awareness of the whole personality of Steve. It was his pursuit of greatness, in such a public way,that drew loyal customers and company followers, from the press to investors.

Steve’s attention was on how each aspect of what he was selling could be the best there was. This meant that the greatness he focused on was not some simple feature or incremental differentiation; it was a leap in value that transcended conventional thinking.

He is touted with his focus on design. This is true, if you understand the full nature of design. Design is about the wholeness of the experience. Items like the features of the product are simply a subset of the design process. Steve knew that the introduction of new products was a part of this design process as well. He put as much attention on these 90-minute events as he did on the product.

The result has been a groundswell of consumer and commercial interest in what’s new at Apple. No other company, including Microsoft, has had such broad public attention with regard to new product introductions.

Yesterday was the first new product introduction without Steve Jobs’ hand in it. I could tell much of the course of Apple’s future by watching. The CEO is very competent in the areas of finance and operations. These are important aspects of design, but not the perspective from which Apple has led the field.

Phil Schiller, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, had a moment in his presentation yesterday when he was trying to get a Jobs’ like response from the audience about the new feature he was showing. He asked the question, “isn’t this great?” In the past, when Steve asked this question, he was always greeted with rousing applause and cheers. For Phil, the response was an embarrassed smattering of clapping.

What will this mean? This means that the significant competitive distinction of Apple is no longer there. Sure, for some time into the future, Apple will experience great financial results from the momentum of the past. They may provide innovative products that will be considered successful. It’s unlikely, though, that they will produce innovation at the level of the immediate past.

I write this note today from my interest in not letting the past be the guide of the present and future. Too often, we think the past will continue into the future. We forget that the only true indicator of what we can expect today is today. Only look at the facts of today and from seeing clearly what these facts mean to us, we can make the best decision – today.

Until later,

Thomas

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