Forrester CEO George Colony posted this rather pessimistic blog about Apple’s prospects absent the charismatic leadership of Steve Jobs. So, why am I, the head of a narrative marketing agency, bringing this up, you ask? Well, as you may be aware, the charismatic leader is a common fixture in that other industry I have spent a fair amount of time working in – the creative one – and I believe that Colony has falsely equated charisma with vision as a prerequisite for effective leadership.
And here's why. I have worked with charismatic creatives who are visionary – one comes to mind in particular. And I have also had an opportunity to work with visionary creatives who lacked charisma. And, most importantly, I have known charismatic creatives who were most definitely not visionary – but used the aura of the “crazy/charismatic genius” in the ultimately futile hopes of perpetrating a charade of capability. In every instance, there was no correlation between their vision and their charisma.
Now, no one (myself included) will dispute that Jobs was both a charismatic leader and a visionary one. But they are not inextricably intertwined. Stated differently, the absence of charisma doesn’t necessarily translate into a deficit of vision. And, conversely, the presence of vision doesn’t mandate charisma. Or to really state it differently – not all abusive jerks are creative and not all creatives are abusive jerks.
And that brings me to why I think Colony is so absolutely misguided in the reasoning for his pessimism. Tim Cook may or may not be as charismatic as Steve Jobs. And he may or may not be as visionary. But it doesn’t matter because a CEO's job isn't to be either one of those things. What a CEO needs to do is be a successful leader who inspires and leads a corporate culture that values visionary innovation. That's all that matters. Who Cook is as a presence is irrelevant. That he's going to run the company differently than Jobs did is also irrelevant. All that matters is whether he can nurture and promote those who are capable of continuing the innovation cycles that Jobs championed. All that matters is that Apple remain ruthlessly focused on building great products. All that matters is that Cook presides over the transformation of Apple from a company that makes great (innovative) products under the leadership of a (by all accounts) tyrannical visionary leader into a company that makes great (innovative) products. And if he doesn't succeed - then Colony will be proven right and Apple's rudderless future looks bleak.
But to equate charisma with vision as a prerequisite for effective and successful leadership– yeah, I just don’t agree with that.