While most companies seek to minimize risk at these events, Apple CEO Tim Cook showed last week what can happen when a leader acts like an actual human. Or, “feisty, funny and fiery,” in the words of the Los Angeles Times headline.
Other CEOs can take a lesson from him. They’re often so guarded about their image that they end up coming across like robots. Here are a few things Cook does right.
He Uses Humor
Cook stunned the audience by announcing that he was about to unveil some new products, which never happens at the shareholders meeting.
Then he told them he was just kidding. “Yankin’ his shareholders chain,” as the Times put it. “Come on. I’ve got to have some fun!” he said.
I love the idea of a high-level executive actually seeking to make work “fun.” I also like that he used “found” humor. Instead of trotting out some tired joke, he found something funny in the natural context of the event—which is always more effective than some contrived joke.
He Speaks in Plain Language
I’m struck by the simplicity of the language Cook uses. Not a lot of jargon and not a lot of hemming and hawing—at least in what I’ve seen.
And he’s not afraid to get a little salty when he says, “I don’t give a crap.”
He Shows Emotion
Too many leaders are afraid to show emotion, thinking perhaps that it makes them appear weak or out of control. But a little judicious use of emotion can be highly effective.
Here he gets passionate about his commitment to improving conditions for Apple’s workers overseas:
My lifelong heroes are Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. I get a lot of spears when I talk about this stuff. I don’t give a crap. This is something we care deeply about. I don’t think there’s a company on Earth that cares more deeply about human rights than Apple does.
You don’t change minds without winning hearts, and tapping into emotion is an important way to do that.
He also shows some righteous indignation when challenged by a shareholder questioning the return on investment of the company’s environmental sustainability efforts (the questioner representing a group that denies climate science, by the way):
When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI. When I think about doing the right thing, I don’t think about an ROI. If that’s a hard line for you, then you should get of the stock.
Damn! (As Tim Cook might say.) Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to pound the table once in a while. And inviting a shareholder to divest is pretty … well, ballsy.
Whether you’re CEO of a company or the leader of a small team, people want to see that human side of you. They crave it.
It’s incredibly powerful. It can help you win over outside audiences like customers and investors and journalists. And it can motivate and inspire employees.
I’m sure Apple employees are coming into the office this morning with a little extra spring in their step. Rightly so.
So don’t bottle yourself up out of some misguided sense of propriety. Loosen up. Act natural. Be human!