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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

It's always been personal

The secret of Apple's success is personal. Its leadership, namely Steve Jobs, knows how to connect with consumers in ways that make engaging with technology, simply, easy, fun and personal. And for me the personal connection is well, personal.

My very first computer was an Apple III, with a CPU and keyboard fused in a heavy plastic box, two 5-1/4 disk drives, and a television for a monitor. There was little cool about it, save that it was a tool that allowed me to write quickly and efficiently, and better yet, revise easily and simply. I was so proud of my Apple III, which was lent to me by my wife's company then a start-up venture that was the first of its kind to apply PC technology to health care, that I used a photograph of it and me as part of my first advertising brochure for my then fledgling scriptwriting business.

A short time later I was invited to Cupertino to work on the promotional launch of Apple's then next big thing - LISA. It was a micro-wave sized device that had a built in screen and keyboard and a hard drive mounted on top. Clunky sure, but not in 1983. The highlight for me was not Lisa; it was the opportunity to interview Steve Jobs about the new product.

Steve was most gracious to me and even got a kick out of my ad brochure featuring me and the Apple III. Really cool, I recall Steve saying. And it was while in Cupertino I heard chatter of the next product, the one that would really change the face of computing forever - Macintosh. Now that was cool!

In the interest of full disclosure I must confess I did not graduate to Lisa or Mac, no, my next computer was an IBM-PC. The reason was simple; the demands of my writing business required me to use more popular DOS-based software programs.

But Steve Jobs remained a business leader I admired. After getting unceremoniously dumped at Apple by the executive he hired, Jobs went on to greater fame at Pixar. I too changed my career as more education and new opportunities led me into the field of leadership development.

Eventually my path crossed Steve's when I did a profile of him for a book of mine, How Great Leaders Get Great Results. My take on his leadership is his ability to leverage his communications with his strong vision of the future to create products that bridged the gap between technology, productivity and entertainment. Jobs is and always will be an icon of how to make vision reality.

And now many computing generations later, I am happy to say that I am once again back in the Apple family. My laptop is a Mac Book Pro II. But my big toy these days is not big in size, only in practicality - iPhone. With its blend of form and function and more apps that one can imagine, iPhone - as I like to tease - is not just a phone, it's a lifestyle.

The personal touch is evident in its retail stores. Not long after getting my iPhone I went to a local Apple store and asked when Apple might introduce an external keyboard. Onscreen key stroking is a challenge for folks of my generation. The young man who worked in the store said, "We are committed to the onscreen keyboard." Note the usage of the word "we." How many times have you inquired about a product not carried by a store, and the clerk answers with the word "we"? Not many times, I'd bet. The Apple clerk owned the issue. He might have sympathized with me, but no. He stated the corporate line and underscored his conviction with the use of the personal pronoun.

Agree or disagree with the answer, you must commend a company whose employees refer to it in the collective we. And you see that's the genius of Apple. It's not them, not you. It's us. And that's very personal.

By John Baldoni

 |  January 28, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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