Tim Cook is easily among the most powerful businesspeople in America. He runs one of the most valuable companies in the world, and leads the teams that bring us iconic products and services that improve people's lives on a daily basis.
So it might surprise you to know how he describes his beginnings at Apple. "When I joined Apple in 1998, I couldn't believe my luck. I was going to spend the rest of my professional life working for Steve Jobs," said Cook over the weekend during a commencement address.
Cook has a tradition of giving commencement speeches, and this year was no different. Okay, this year was completely different in almost every way, but regardless, Cook again delivered an address at Ohio State University. Well, he wasn't actually at Ohio State University--like everything else in a world of social distancing, Cook delivered his address virtually.
That's not the point, though.
This is: He couldn't believe his "luck."
I mean, it's not as though he hadn't already had a pretty good career before Steve Jobs asked him to come and run operations at Apple. When Cook joined Apple as a senior vice president in 1998, he'd had already headed up fulfillment for IBM's North American business, and worked as an executive at Compaq. And yet, he still had the humility to feel lucky.
He's obviously had a pretty enviable career since then, the past nine years spent as CEO. That position has made him a billionaire, based on his ownership of Apple's stock.
Looking back, I can see why that would feel a lot like luck. Not everyone gets that kind of opportunity. Right now, college seniors are entering what is arguably the most uncertain period of time that any of us will likely see. Not only have more than 30 million Americans lost their jobs, but those who are still able to work are also doing so under far different circumstances than they're probably used to.
Which is exactly why Cook's message is such a powerful lesson. There are two lessons, really, and they aren't just for college seniors. The first is the sense of self-awareness to recognize when you have the privilege of being part of a good thing. That's a humility you don't often see--especially among those at the top of their fields--but it's a trait that serves a leader well.
The second, maybe less obvious observation is the level of respect Cook had for the person he would work for--and succeed. Regardless of which side of that relationship you find yourself on, it's worth considering how you can foster that type of connection with the people you lead.
"The loneliness I felt when we lost Steve was proof there is nothing more eternal, or more powerful, than the impact we have on others," Cook said. That's wisdom, and at a time when we're more dependent on each other than we've been before, it's worth considering more than ever.