Much has been written about the brilliance of Steve Jobs and the iconic company that he built. Many say that it was Steve Job's laser focus on the beauty and simplicity of product design that was the key to Apple's success.
But I'll always have an asterisk by his name in my book of great leaders because he didn't always treat his own people with a sense of dignity and respect. Jobs's achievements at Apple came along with a command-and-control leadership style, and a take-no-prisoners attitude toward both his employees, and business enemies.
But I believe that if Jobs had understood the impact of employee engagement and internal company culture, he not only would have grown Apple bigger, he would have felt an even greater sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.
Of course, Tim Cook's the new sheriff in town at Apple, and he is doing things that were blind spots during the Jobs era. He's focusing on people. As far-fetched as it might seem, I believe that strategy will contribute to Apple making even more money than it already has. (Of course, plenty of Apple engineers will also continue to make cool stuff.)
Let's look at some of the things Tim Cook is doing:
- He started "Blue Sky," a program that allows employees to take two weeks to work on pet projects that are unrelated to their jobs at Apple.
- He's offering employee discounts on Apple products and matching gifts for community donations.
- He's praising employees in public.
- He's letting long-time staffers take sabbaticals.
- He's more willing than Apple has been before to make counter-offers to employees thinking about bolting to the competition.
Cook is also making business moves that show Apple's new softer side. He recently announced that one Mac computer will be made in the U.S. instead of China, amid concerns about working conditions there. And he's less litigious than Jobs, seemingly working to settle lawsuits instead of starting them. Case in point: Apple's recent settlement with HTC, and willingness to pursue arbitration with Motorola. While Samsung's lawsuits still loom, it appears Apple's culture of litigation is taking a turn.
I applaud Tim Cook for the small changes he is making, not because he wants to be different than Jobs, but because it is how he is wired, and he knows it is the right thing to do.
I'd bet we'll see it's good for Apple's business too.