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How Do You Follow Steve Jobs? Part 1:The Power of a Story

COOK imagesSteve Jobs may well have been the best CEO speech maker ever. (Check out Carmine Gallo’s book  for an excellent analysis of the reasons why). So imagine the pressure on the guy who came after him to perform well at the podium. That guy, of course, is Tim Cook, who took over as Apple CEO in 2011. In the next couple of posts, I’ll take a look at how Cook is doing.

Cook has clearly decided to make corporate social responsibility a much higher priority for Apple than it was in the past. He has done a wonderful job of highlighting that new commitment through the power of… a story. At a speech in December accepting an award from his alma mater Auburn University, he told the audience about a day growing up in his small Alabama home town. He was a kid, cycling home on a new 10-speed, when he passed a huge cross, burning in front of a house that belonged to a black family.  Klansmen circled the cross chanting racial slurs.  Cook heard glass break; He yelled, “Stop!”

One of the men lifted his hood — it was a deacon Cook recognized from a local church. Startled, Cook pedaled away.

“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,”  Cook said.  ‘For me, the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred and a fear of anyone different than the majority.”

That is simply one of the best uses of a story by a CEO ever — it’s personal, it has drama, it’s linked to America’s historic struggle for racial justice. I guarantee no one in that audience, or anyone who has watched the video, will ever forget that day in Cook’s life.

And of course, after telling the story, Cook drew a direct connection Apple’s commitment to social responsibility.  He said the cross burning convinced him no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that must be acted upon. And the conclusion:  Cook’s Apple is a company that believes deeply in “advancing humanity.”


Tough Talk Quote Box: CEOs Deal Hope

Many if not most CEOs are brilliant people. Some are analytical, others are charismatic, others are instinctive. But you can be any one of those or all three and still not be a potential thought leader.

Why? Because a thought-leader is a dealer in hope, and a dealer in hope is someone who sees and can credibly share a concrete vision of a happy future—for the company, for the industry, for the nation, for the world. And in this pessimistic moment, in American history anyway, that’s not an easy thing to do.

David Murray, editor of Vital Speeches of the Day on his blog.

Quick Q&A with…Sun Microsystems’ Noel Hartzell

sun-logo1Noel Hartzell is Director – Executive Communications and Corporate Messaging at Sun Microsystems. Sun not only survived the internet bubble early this decade, but bounced back stronger than ever.

JP: Based on Sun’s experience, what are the top communication lessons you would offer to corporate leaders struggling to rebound during this current crisis?

NH: Number one is…communicate. That sounds tongue in cheek, but you’d be astonished how many people want to retreat into a bunker mentality.
Executives have to understand that communication is a primary weapon in motivating their troops, reassuring their customer base, and driving their product lines.

Number two is what I call “drive focus.” You really have to identify the game changers, and the things that are needed to right your business.And you have to make sure you communicate those priorities so everybody on the team can execute against them. If you can effectively articulate the vision, strategy, and execution plans of your top leaders then you build the confidence in your business you need to weather tough economic times.

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