In January 2011 Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced he was taking a medical leave of absence. Apple COO, Tim Cook, is now responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations.
So far so good. I’d like to call attention to some of the leadership skills Cook is evidencing and things he’s doing particularly well as the interim head of the company:
1. Keep the interim in interim
2. Focus on the task
3. Eschew the perks
Keep the interim in interim
There are different sorts of interim assignments. These include:
- Holding the fort until we find the right person, which absolutely will not be you.
- On probation with a good chance of becoming permanent.
- Doing the job as a developmental opportunity on the way to something else.
Cook and Apple are not talking about any of these. It’s not clear how long his interim assignment will last, whether there will another interim assignment after that, or if it will become permanent. Cook is acting and talking like he is filling Jobs’ shoes until Jobs comes back.
There is every reason to believe that first prize for Cook, and all involved, is for Jobs to come back. In Cook’s commencement address to Auburn’s graduating class he said, “I am where I am in life because of (my parents, teachers)…and Steve Jobs.”He also went on to explain that “five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple.” Cook knows his own strengths and recognizes Jobs’ “creative genius.” He’s acting like it’s an interim role because he truly, sincerely hopes it’s an interim role.
Focus on the task
Cook is staying focused on the task at hand. He revealed one of his core mantra’s in the Auburn talk:
In business as in sports, the vast majority of victories are determined before the beginning of the game. We rarely control the timing of opportunities, but we can control our preparation… Make sure your execution lives up to your preparation.
As far as Cook and Jobs’ team are concerned, Apple is continuing its turnaround. There is no way they are going to falter on execution – if they have anything to say about it. Cook has been Jobs’ number two and part of the inner management circle for long enough to step up and work with the rest of the team to keep things running as they should, and as Jobs would expect.
Eschew the perks
Cook is carrying the title of COO, not Interim CEO. The most effective interim executives don’t take the fancier title, don’t take over the fancier office and simply don’t do anything fancy. They engage fully with the work itself while eschewing the perks of the job – basically, focusing their efforts on the least prestigious, highest impact tasks and leaving the glory to others.
Cook is doing this well. If needed, he gives the presentations – his way, not Jobs’ way. When possible, he yields the stage to Jobs. Witness the ipad 2 announcement and Jobs’ comments on location tracking.
It isn’t tough to understand why this works. People appreciate a leader that inspires and enables others. People do not appreciate a leader that engages in self-inspiration and self-enablement. Apple is doing well without Jobs because Cook is doing things the way Jobs wants them done, not necessarily the way Jobs would do them himself.
This is a good example of step 1 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Position Yourself for Success
There are several components of this including positioning yourself for a leadership role, selling before you buy, mapping and avoiding the most common land mines, uncovering hidden risks in the organization, role, and fit, and choosing the right approach for your transition type. (Including an interim role.)
Click here to read about each step in the playbook
Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step
The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.