Apple doesn't sell the best computers. They don’t sell the cheapest computers. But people will queue through the night to be the first to buy the latest apple device. Why would someone be compelled to do this when they can order better and cheaper equipment online from the comfort of their own home? Apple is more than just a company. Apple has become a movement and every movement has a great leader. So, what are the qualities that Steve Jobs and many other successful leaders have that can lead to this level of loyalty and sustainability?
Every great company or organisation begins with a great idea. To lead a company, it is essential to have a leader who has a clear vision based on that great idea, but what is more important is the ability to communicate this vision with those around them. Why do people follow a leader? If the motivation and vision of the leader is in line with how you think then you are more inclined to subscribe to that organisation's product or services. A great leader can clearly articulate their vision and make others believe in it too, this is not exclusive to the world of business, all great leaders must be able to communicate their vision to others. Take Martin Luther King, from the Civil Rights movement for example. He is one of the most influential, most recognised leaders ever to have walked the earth and I for one cannot think of a more clearly articulated vision than that presented in his iconic “I have a dream” speech. Martin Luther King is the leader of a movement that has been sustained for decades. A good leader can lead a successful company or an organisation, but a great leader can create a movement which can outlive them. Bringing this back to the world of business, Steve Jobs had a vision in 1980, his vision was “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind”. Apple’s business and marketing strategy mirrors this vision perfectly, they don't sell on the number of megabytes or gigabytes, they don't advertise the number of megapixels in the cameras on their products. What they do sell is a lifestyle… “Think Different” is the tagline to their advertising. What they are saying is that if you want to be different, buy an Apple product and help to advance humankind. Steve Jobs clearly communicated his vision to his team, his peers and the public and that is what makes him such a successful leader. The products that Apple sells hardly compete with the power and ability of some of their competitors but it is due to their leader and his vision that Apple has become one of the most successful computer hardware companies ever to have existed.
Hand in hand with the perfect vision and the ability to communicate this vision to others, a great leader needs to employ people who have a shared passion for this vision. Everybody within a business needs to have a purpose, they need to understand where they fit in and their role within the company on the journey towards achieving the vision. If each and every member of staff believes that what they are doing is making a difference, then each and every member of staff will be highly motivated. In the context of business, they will not mind working longer hours, picking up extra responsibilities and doing things that are not necessarily featured in their basic job description. As a leader, it is not about employing the most skilled in the industry, but rather those who can collaborate and evolve as the company evolves. If the culture within an organisation is right, everyone will be comfortable when it comes to speaking up, having new ideas or trying new things to further the vision of the company. This culture must stem from the top. The best leaders should create an atmosphere in which all colleagues are relaxed and willing to try new things and present their ideas, no matter their status within the company. If every member of staff feels like their ideas matter, then they will further understand their purpose when it comes to achieving their collaborative vision.
Trust - the followers need to trust that the leader has their best interests at heart and at all times is trying to further their Cause, i.e. the furthering of the vision. The recent Coronavirus pandemic has really shown a need for real leadership and has tested trust to the limit. A comparison of the ways in which different organisations have handled the challenges brought on by Covid are as follows:
Three organisations have recently announced job losses and other drastic impacts caused by Covid. Two of these organisations are Fintech start-ups with inspirational leaders, the third is a multinational airline with thousands of staff. The leadership styles are very different… The two FinTech’s, GoCardless and Airbnb have a philosophy of “we’re in this together” they even use those words in their very public announcements related to the impact of Covid 19. Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless) and Brian Chesky (Airbnb) felt it necessary and felt they owed it to their colleagues to be completely transparent about the decisions made in reaction to Coronavirus. Some of the news was really negative and some people lost their jobs, but the key was that everyone was impacted, from the top to the bottom, everybody felt some pain. In addition, the information was made public in case other organisations could find hints or tips through their approach. Despite devastating news, there has been only praise and congratulations for the way that the situation was handled. Contrast that with IAG, the parent company of British Airways, who had no consultation, no transparency, and were seemingly motivated purely by the bottom line, British Airways immediately laid off 30% of its workforce. The message was not delivered by the CEO, it was unexplained and there was definitely no sense of “we’re in this together” as the management team all held onto their jobs. The difference in leadership and the approach from Airbnb and GoCardless is all about trust. The staff in both of these organisations trusted that their leaders were making decisions for the right reasons. They will stick with GoCardless and Airbnb and they believe they will come out of this situation stronger than when they went in. British Airways on the other hand... would you want to work there?
So, how does a leader ensure that his vision is sustainable and long lasting? Some may argue that it’s easy to have a culture of openness and trust within small companies but as you grow, you are bound to change as you have more and more people between the leader and every level of staff. In Simon Sinek’s latest book ‘The Infinite Game’, he argues that the culture of the organisation is set by the leader so that the vision which Simon refers to as the ‘just cause’ continues long after the leader leaves the organisation. The mindset has become a part of the organisation and its employees, hence making the companies values sustainable and everlasting. Taking that thinking, every one of us is just here to make a difference to moving the project forwards. Whether in work, hobbies or family units, we all have a purpose within the organisation we have chosen to join and will all work hard to ensure that the vision is realised and carried through to those who buy our products, play in our teams or rely on us as they grow that's created through this culture.
So, what are the qualities that Steve Jobs and many other successful leaders have that can lead to this level of loyalty and sustainability? All leaders need a vision and a way to articulate that vision. Through their words and actions, they will be able to attract followers who believe in the same thing. They will create a culture in which followers are able to understand their purpose as well as have the opportunity to express themselves and grow. This requires trust in the organisation and its leadership. All these things start with the leader. Great leaders lead more than just an organisation; they lead a movement.