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5 Essential Leadership Lessons From Tim Cook

There's a lot you can learn from the CEO of the world's most valuable company. Check out some key insights.
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Tim Cook--unlike his predecessor, Steve Jobs--famously doesn't crave the spotlight. So his most recent interview with Businessweek, which appears as a the magazine's cover story, offered a rare glimpse into Cook's life as CEO of Apple.

The discussion ranged from product design to manufacturing; he announced the company will expand its manufacturing operation in the USA. But the interview also provided some great insight for leaders about stewarding an organization--any organization.

Here are a few takeaways from Cook's leadership style:

1. Diversity of leadership is massively important.

Diversity isn't just an HR buzzword (or an old wooden ship, either). In fact, a plurality of backgrounds among your employees can actually help the revenue of your company. The idea behind this philosophy is that people bring lots of different experiences to the table, and companies that can harness the most amount of creative experiences will be more innovative in their approach to business. Cook very explicitly recognizes that fact, and has made diversity a cornerstone of his management philosophy.

"We want diversity of thought," he says. "We want diversity of style. We want people to be themselves. It's this great thing about Apple. You don't have to be somebody else. You don't have to put on a face when you go to work and be something different. But the thing that ties us all is we're brought together by values. We want to do the right thing. We want to be honest and straightforward. We admit when we're wrong and have the courage to change."

2. Transparency is key. 

Cook knew transparency would be key. With harsh criticism about the standards of Apple's global employees (especially through their manufacturing partners at Foxconn), Cook opened the doors and invited the world to see how Apple's operations really worked. By doing this, he not only created goodwill around the company, but set industry standards for other manufacturers.

"Our transparency in supplier responsibility is an example of recognizing that the more transparent we are, the bigger difference we would make," Cook says. "We want to be as innovative with supply responsibility as we are with our products. That's a high bar. The more transparent we are, the more it's in the public space."

3. Read customer emails. (If anything, it humbles you.)

You think you understand your customers...but do you? Even Tim Cook, head of the world's most valuable company, carves out time to walk around company stores and read customer e-mails.

"I'll walk around our stores," he says. "You can learn a tremendous amount in a store. I get a lot of e-mails and so forth, but it’s a different dimension when you're in a store and talking to customers face to face. You get the vibe of the place...Not allowing yourself to become insular is very important—maybe the most important thing, I think, as a CEO."
 
4. You "can only do a few things great."

Considering the size of Apple, it's pretty remarkable to think about how few products the company actually creates.

"I mean, if you really look at it, we have four iPods. We have two main iPhones. We have two iPads, and we have a few Macs. That's it," he says.

The point is: focus on what you do best, and do it the best you can. "We argue and debate like crazy about what we're going to do, because we know that we can only do a few things great," he says. "At the right time, we’ll keep disrupting and keep discovering new things that people didn’t know they wanted."


5. Admit you're wrong.

Ultimately, Cook's advice for entrepreneurs and CEOs is advice that's pretty helpful for anyone, really.

"So many people, particularly, I think, CEOs and top executives, they get so planted in their old ideas, and they refuse or don't have the courage to admit that they're now wrong," he says. "Maybe the most underappreciated thing about Steve was that he had the courage to change his mind. And you know—it's a talent. It's a talent."

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 6, 2012




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