Susan Carroll - OECamJohn Sculley was in the last few months of his role as CEO at Apple Computer when I first joined the company as a young marketer.  One of the first (and most treasured) items of collateral I received when I joined was a mouse mat displaying the nine Apple Values.  Together, these formed the ‘Apple Spirit’, guidelines that governed the culture of the company, behaviour of employees, and underpinned all business conduct.  Now, we’re all human and people waver from time to time, but generally speaking employees really did live by the values and they formed part of the breath of passion that was (and still is) a feature of the company.

This was the first time I’d ever encountered explicit values within a company.  It helped me to realise that if corporate business values were well matched to personal ones, employees were comfortable in the belief they’d joined a company to be proud of.  In addition to shaping the way the company did business, two values in particular – good management and team spirit – had an influence on encouraging strengths.  This became very evident to me in the mid 1990’s when Apple went through a period of decline.  It was at this time the Apple Software business, and myself with it, was transferred to Claris (now FileMaker), Apple’s subsidiary organisation.

It is important to recognise that different leadership styles may suit a particular company or market condition.  As unique individuals we all have different strengths and motivational requirements so different leadership styles will also suit each of us depending on our life outlook.  For me, the managers I responded best to during this period of turbulence were those that had a transformational style.  I remain proud that I had the opportunity to work with some exceptional ones.  My own US based manager and others such as the Claris CEO and its International VP, clearly lived by their values and were able to share a vision that inspired others to follow them during this time of significant change.  They had inherent wisdom and the courage to constructively challenge others to find a better approach.  These memorable managers were able to encourage team members to discover their own individual strengths, to take risks, and try something new.  They recognised the efforts of the team, the individuals within it, and gave timely feedback.  And, if an honest mistake had been made, they had the humility and insight to support team members in dusting themselves down and seeing the mistake as a positive learning experience.  Like today, teams were geographically dispersed and these managers showed they had the ability to understand and connect with their teams as individuals, build mutual respect, and improve the organisation’s overall effectiveness regardless of how globally distributed its members were.

The fact that Steve Jobs returned to Apple and the company turned its fortunes around so dramatically has been well publicised and will no doubt form the basis of many business school case studies for some years to come.

But from my very personal perspective, transformational managers within the broader organisation also had a large part to play in the company’s survival.  Although I’m sure it happens, I’ve rarely heard anyone say ‘I love my PC’.  Yet, I’ve lost count of the times over the years I’ve heard people say it about Apple software and devices.  Martyn Sakol states in his article that:

Strong leaders have a distinctive character. But the most effective leaders have unique character strengths, which truly define them and the values and principles by which they lead.

The values and strengths that define the Apple Spirit and are displayed by its leaders and their teams extend beyond the bounds of the company to connect with the values and principles of an exceptionally loyal customer base too.

And that’s not just down to good marketing.