3 Leadership Lessons I Learned Working with the Most Influential Company in the World

Apple has been one of the most influential companies of the past two decades. They have launched countless forward thinking products, created edgy marketing campaigns, developed a following of almost cult-like followers and continued to break through limitations to achieve success. Not to mention the fact that they attract some of the top talent in the world.

Even if you dislike their product, culture or marketing, you have to admit that they have been able to tap into something special. But what is it? Five years ago, I set one goal for myself: get a job with Apple. I wanted to learn first hand why and how they had such a prolific following, and I wanted to learn it from the inside.

Many people see the catch phrase, ‘Think Differently,” and the company’s drive for simplicity as the catalyst that appealed to the masses, but after being inside the organization, I started to see the real message driving the company’s success…


Here’s to the crazy ones. 


The Apple culture is powerful for many reasons, but mostly because it brings together the crazy ones. These are the people who believe they are outliers, the ones on the fringe looking in. They are the early adopters who thrive off of ambiguity and diversity, and they are the ones who identify as everything but the social norm.

I entered the company thinking I was going to learn sales skills, leadership strategies and the secret to their special marketing sauce. What I learned was something very different.

It’s Just Business, but It’s All Personal

Apple has been fighting a battle behind the scenes which most of us haven’t even seen. For decades, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” has been said and taught to men and women in corporations across the world. Meanwhile, when Apple launched their retail division, they said, “Our business is personal. Our heart and soul are our people.”

This has pushed leaders to think, act and lead differently. It is the causality which results in ‘thinking differently.’ It has required their people to develop deeper levels of listening, empathy and communicating from a place of emotional awareness rather than just logical delegation. In our modern consumer culture, people want to be seen and cared about, and they want to feel connected to you and the brand. Millennial’s especially want to be a part of the conversation, understand why decisions are being made and be connected to a leader who values their input.

So ask: “What would I do differently if I was more focused on people than product, service or KPI’s?” After all, people buy your product, not the other way around.

Feedback Forms Your Future

Your ability to create feedback loops as a leader will directly impact the future of your success—or failure. One of the most confronting aspects of being a manager or leader at Apple is the blatantly obvious fact that you only succeed to the degree which you are willing to receive and give feedback.

Many organizations talk about this, but very few get it right. The best leaders in the organization have spent countless hours eliciting feedback, creating channels for people to give them feedback and training their direct reports to feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback from any level or position within the organization.

While almost all organizations are inherently hierarchical, providing feedback between all levels of the organization creates an environment which appears and functions more laterally.

Ego Is the Enemy and Vulnerability Is Your Ally

Despite most people’s perception of Steve Jobs being an egocentric leader, he created a culture where people had to admit their shortcomings and be uncomfortably transparent about the challenges they were facing. Maybe because this was one of his biggest challenges and the biggest lesson he had to learn.

This has filtered down to the rest of the organization and has created a culture where narcissists and big egos are quickly broken down by feedback loops.

In an interview with Vanity Fare, Jonny Ives—Chief Design Officer for Apple—tells a story about being called out by Steve Jobs. Jobs was critical about the product and Jonny asked him to be more political—or softer—with the feedback when dealing with the team, to which jobs replied:

You’re just really vain. You just want people to like you and I’m surprised at this because I thought you held the work above how people perceive you.

Ives has said time and time again that this insight was one of the most profound conversations of his personal and professional life. Why? Because ego stands in the way of us being vulnerable enough to hear truly important feedback and make the change needed to grow. Ego blocks us from having the tough conversations with our peers because we worry that they might like us.

Ego stands between us and real impact. Vulnerability allows us to have clarity of vision in our communication and in our development. So whether you run your own business, run a team, or are trying to grow yourself professionally, just remember, you’re managing people, not just products.

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