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Deborah Ancona

Deborah Ancona

Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Faculty Director of the MIT Leadership Center.

'Insanely great' leadership

Understanding Apple leadership means understanding Steve Jobs. As founder and CEO, and a very visionary and hard driving one at that, Jobs has imprinted aspects of himself on the culture. From his creation of the Macintosh, to the current iPad, Jobs's personality and mindset shine through. What does Jobs bring to the table?

• Reaching for the stars--it isn't enough to be good, or great, the mantra started early on to make products that are "insanely great." The idea is to build on great ideas and inventions in the technical domain but also to bring in great ideas from art or history. Apple's graphic interface was built on forms from calligraphy! Of course thinking big can also mean falling hard--and there have been some dramatic failures as well--but they just pick themselves up and go for the next reach.

• Meaningful mission--Apple is not just about making money and getting market share--though that is certainly important. But Apple has also been about revolution. Not just building a great computer or phone, but changing the way that people work, and play, and learn. Working with this larger mindset motivates people and unleashes creative ideas. People can step out of their own technical work and think about what it would take to change the whole game that is being played.

• Customer is King--everything begins from the mindset of the customer and it shows. Ask a Mac user to switch to a PC or an iPhone user to give it up and prepare for violence. There is an addiction, a loyalty, a following. Because somehow Apple has been able to instill a focus on ease of customer use and providing customers with the applications that they want. Add to this a dash of aesthetics and you have a beautiful product, in multiple colors, that is "cool" and way ahead of others.

• Spread the Innovation--the onus of innovation is not only on Apple, it is also on all of its many partners. By opening up their technology to others to build applications the innovation multiplies. The iPad is a new platform that now enables ebooks and internet. But just wait a bit and like the iPhone and iPod it will do more and more as time goes on. Customers will speak with their pocketbooks, the applications community will want to get on the Apple bandwagon, and the product will simply build.

• You only get one shot--for all the stories of ego and pushing people hard, Jobs still manages to inspire and lead. Perhaps part of his ability to do this stems from the fact that he has faced personal crisis and death and come out the other side with a sense of what is important in life. The idea that if it's not worth doing don't do it because life is short is something that many individuals and corporations would do well to learn.
While Steve Jobs has imprinted himself on the culture, unfortunately many others get eclipsed by the spotlight that is usually shone on Jobs. In fact, the stock price rises and falls with rumors about his health. The real test of Apple leadership is to have the culture shine as brightly as Jobs himself.

By Deborah Ancona

 |  January 28, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Very enlightening!

Deborah, this is really a fantastic article. You have beautifully summarized so many important aspects of Apple's success.

Thanks for sharing your insight.

Posted by: johnhersey | January 29, 2010 1:12 PM
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