At iPhone 5 launch, why all eyes shouldn’t be on Tim Cook


At the iPhone 5 launch on Tuesday, Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO, may want to quiet the comparisons between him and Steve Jobs. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

That’s because Tuesday is expected to be the first major product presentation—for the much-anticipated iPhone 5—under Cook’s tenure as CEO. And for Apple investors, employees and customers, there is no better opportunity to compare Cook to his iconic predecessor than one of the company’s famous product launches. At 10 a.m. pacific Tuesday, all eyes are sure to be on the operations whiz now charged with also being Apple’s visionary.

But in my mind, the best way for Cook to succeed in his first major presentation will be to shift those eyes away from him. At a time when many investors’ questions have been about what a post-Jobs Apple looks like, Cook could do nothing better than to showcase all of the talent that resides in Apple’s ranks.

For one, it will remove some of the inevitable comparisons between the two men. Of course, Cook will need to establish his leadership role, introducing the event and making the biggest announcement. But after that, he should invite other leaders on Apple’s executive team to take on significant roles, with Jonathan Ive talking design, for instance, and Scott Forstall talking software. If he leads it all himself, the Jobs vs. Cook parallels will be too tempting to make. Was he as captivating as Jobs? What was he wearing, and what signal did that send?

Second, sharing the spotlight will help to shore up any doubts about the depth of Apple’s bench. Reaffirming that Jobs’ commitment to excellence and innovation is not a one-man show, but something ingrained into the culture of the company’s leadership team, would go a long way toward quieting concerns about how Apple will run in a post-Jobs era. No company can be as perennially good as Apple has been in recent years without a roster of talented leaders, and the company would do well to showcase who they are and what they know.

Finally, it would send a signal to investors, customers and employees that while Cook may be unwavering in Apple’s strategy and fully behind the company’s focus on building innovative products, he is his own man. Nothing says that just because Cook isn’t going to change the company’s product focus he can’t change its presentation format. He can still create plenty of excitement about Apple’s new products without making the presentation all about him. A little less cult of personality, after all, could do the company some good.

More from On Leadership:

Nancy Koehn: Putting Steve Jobs in perspective

William C. Taylor: Tim Cook, here’s how to lead Apple

Carol Kinsey Goman: Should Tim Cook wear a black turtleneck?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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