A recent New York Times article explained that Apple "...does not often invent things first." Instead, they redefine pre-existing and oftentimes, clunky solutions that people utilize. When Steve Jobs created what would eventually become an earthshaking company in 1976, he started down a long road of continuous innovation. In short, the genius of Jobs became a legend and a role model for countless entrepreneurs to come.
In 2011, Steve Jobs passed away and now, Apple is led by Tim Cook. Those who oversee Jobs' legacy face quite a few challenges, the most important of which -- is it even possible to live up to such a genius?
To make matters more complicated, the technology industry is vastly different than when Jobs created Apple -- partly in thanks to his setting the bar so high. Their many competitors are not lightweights, either. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and many others aggressively compete to be first and to win.
How can Cook and other leaders who have big shoes to fill find their place in the world of leadership and management? It's a massive undertaking but so far, Cook has managed to find a way to keep Apple on top -- with the highest market capitalization ($750 billion) of any company in America.
Most of us, fortunately, do not have to step into Steve Jobs shoes. But many of us will assume new positions from a very successful incumbent. The pressure is on, everyone is watching you, wondering if you will measure up. So, what do you do? Here are six tips I have found work very well in these kinds of transitions.
Don't assume everything your predecessor did was correct
Let's say you have just been promoted to VP of Sales. You're taking over from Frank who, legend has it, was the best in the company's history -- big shoes to fill no doubt. Frank clearly had great financial results, but did he get everything right? Generally speaking, the answer is no as none of us ever bat 100 percent.
By reviewing prior year's results and speaking to various people in the company, you will understand his strengths and weaknesses and identify opportunities to improve on things Frank was not as good at. You must trust your own leadership style as you are not Frank, and if you do exactly what you think he would have done, you are likely to fail.
Engage and connect
Talk to as many people as you can in the first 90 days -- employees, customers, suppliers, and others to find out what they think. What's working, what's not; what would they like to see improved; what programs should be eliminated; how can you better service your customers; etc., You can even, in a nice way, ask them to describe what they think Frank's strengths and weaknesses were, which will provide you with another perspective from your own assessment.
You will get amazing information from these discussions, which you will need to assess, review with your team, prioritize, make decisions and implement.
There is a natural tendency when assuming a new position to be tentative, particularly after taking over from a very strong leader. Resist that temptation because everyone is watching you to see what type of leader you are.
Leaders make decisions -- they don't kick the can down the road. Having spoken to many people in the first 90 days, you need to start making your mark. Make sure your team provides the necessary analysis, assess the opportunities and risks and push to make some initial decisions. Often, it is much easier to break projects into smaller chunks allowing you to make easier, less risky decisions with a clear commitment to proceed if the first phase generates the expected results.
Speed things up
Other than startups, most organizations operate too slowly and ponderously. One great way to drive change is to speed things up. Start thinking and acting like a startup. Instead of the normal monthly, quarterly and annual timeframes, think of asking for deliverables in days and weeks. People will realize there is a new sheriff in town and they will respond positively to a new sense of urgency.
Communicate and be fully transparent
A critical way of demonstrating your leadership is to really communicate well and often. Let everyone know what you're doing, thinking, what the game plan is and engage them in this process. It's vital that you be fully transparent with your employees and to also let them know that your expectation is that they feel free to openly communicate with you. This is where great ideas come from.
Don't look back and think "what would my predecessor do"
Finally, while there might be a tendency for you to think to yourself, what would Frank do, don't ask that question. You are not Frank and you are approaching your position in a way that needs to work for you.
Most of all, look at your new leadership position as a great opportunity for you to contribute, learn and grow. If you stick with these 6 tips, you will succeed. Within a year, people will be asking Frank who?