Great Leaders/Entrepreneurs: Tim Cook from Apple

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On October 8, 2012

Let me start off this post by acknowledging that it may be too early to call Apple CEO Tim Cook a great leader or entrepreneur. Cook hasn’t been in the seat all that long, and some could reasonably argue that the new products Apple is bringing out still bear the stamp of the legendary Steve Jobs. But in his short stint as Apple’s CEO, Cook has managed to do something that Steve Jobs never did while he was at the helm of the technological juggernaut: He apologized.

At the end of September Cook wrote an open letter to customers that acknowledged widespread complaints about the company’s new Maps application. Here’s a little sliver of the letter he published:

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

It’s hard to imagine Steve Jobs—who was known for his hard-driving innovation, but not his humility or people skills—making that kind of a statement. But Cook went a step further in another “un-Jobs-like” move when he recommended alternatives to Apple’s app, including Microsoft, Bing, AOL’s MapQuest, Nokia, Waze, and even Google Maps.

Do those two things make Tim Cook a great leader? The jury is probably still out on that count, but his actions definitely made people sit up and take notice—and they make an important statement about leadership—especially for leaders who assume the mantel of leadership from an iconic personality.

Tim Cook may never be the innovator that Jobs was. Frankly, we don’t know, yet. And that’s tough when you head up a great company that is known for innovation. But Tim Cook knew he couldn’t be Steve Jobs. He has to be Tim Cook. And at the same time, a different style of leadership may be required to meet a company’s changing needs.

In addition to being an innovative company, Apple has always played the role of the upstart underdog. They’re not the lovable underdog anymore. As the “little guy” people cheer you when you refuse to back down. When you’re the big kid and you refuse to back down, people call you arrogant. Somehow, I think Tim Cook gets that.

Will his actions set him apart as a great leader? That still remains to be seen. But it was a gutsy move and it will be fun to watch what he does next!

Have you ever had to take an action that seemed to fly in the face of your company’s identity?