Apple’s success has been attributed to the unconventional leadership of Steve Jobs. Similar to rappers having “street credit,” as the inventor of many products, Steve had “geek credit.” He was the lead innovator of ideas such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc. Additionally, he was an entrepreneurial legend who broke the rules and made billions.
Therefore, when Steve was in charge of Apple, his legend status made investors feel confident that their stock was safe and would grow in value. If there was a product or software problem, his reputation gave customers confidence that issues would be set right. The problems would have little if any impact on customers’ willingness to make future purchases. Steve was not only a creative genius and an unconventional leader, but also a customer/investor relations savant! That is pretty valuable and hard to replace.
Since his death, many have wondered if Apple will continue to be as successful. Will it loose innovative energy now that he is not alive to drive it? With its recent financial results, one may think the question is answered – yes. However, the current success may be inertia from his work when he was alive. In fact, the products that are driving current results were Steve ideas.
Many companies that were hugely successful in the past eventually became dismal failures: Kmart, Digital Equipment, Nokia and countless others. Will the same happen with Apple? The most important task for leaders is creating a strategy that is matched to its external environment and creating a culture that matches the strategy. Apparently Steve did this as Apple is one of the most innovative companies in the world.
However, will Tim Cook keep this innovation going? Will he be able to modify the strategy and culture to match its rapidly changing competitive environment? Doing so is particularly challenging given that Apple is active in so many industries (computers, cell phones, music, etc.) that are characterized by intense competition. Although Tim has a strong tech. background, he doesn’t have the “entrepreneurial credit” with investors that Steve had, nor the “geek credit” either.
While Tim should not try to become another Steve Jobs, Apple does need an unconventional leader. It needs someone who will do the unexpected and lead innovation, not only in the company, but the industry too. Here are some ideas for Apple’s leadership.
Staying on Top
- Successful companies have a tendency to create bureaucracies, resist this by mostly relying on general guidelines that allow flexibility rather than strict policies and procedures
- Focus on maintaining a culture that is innovative, flexible and takes risks
- Support creativity with humor, candor in communication, constructive conflict and an environment that allows staff to try new ideas that might not work
- Maintain a diverse workforce in terms of educational and industry backgrounds, experience levels, age, nationality, thinking styles, design sense, etc.
- Remember that the company’s mission is to make the best and most innovative products in the world, not beat earnings estimates
These suggestions can help any company that wants to become an innovative industry leader or keep that position. In either case, unconventional leadership is the essential component to staying on top, competing outside the box and beating the competition.