Tim Cook: A Lesson on Playing to Your Strengths

The New York Times has a fantastic profile on Tim Cook as the leader of Apple. It’s a lesson on playing to your strengths as a leader.

In Silicon Valley, Mr. Jobs is also known for relentlessness. Yet on many levels, he and Mr. Cook are opposites. While Mr. Jobs is mercurial and prone to outbursts, Mr. Cook, who was raised in a small town in Alabama, is polite and soft-spoken. He is often described as a “Southern gentleman.” While Mr. Jobs obsesses over every last detail of Apple’s products, Mr. Cook obsesses over the less glamorous minutiae of Apple’s operations.

Their complementary skills have helped Apple pull off the most remarkable turnaround in American business, and made it the world’s most valuable technology company. When Mr. Cook is on his own, he will have to compensate for the absence of Mr. Jobs — and his inventiveness, charisma and uncanny ability to predict the future of technology and anticipate the wishes of consumers.

Tim Cook could have come in trying to “pretend” to be Steve Jobs. The problem is that what makes Jobs great is his authenticity and passion for what he does. Yes, he is a visionary.

However, Tim knows he’s an operations guy, someone that makes things run smoothly at the company. Each kind of leader needs the other to balance them out. That doesn’t mean you have to learn to do the other skill, it means you should surround yourself with people that balance you out. And trust them – Steve could easily be throwing Tim out any time they disagree. Tim could get frustrated with Steve in the same way. But they don’t, they value each other.

Self-exploration and understanding where your strengths truly lie (not just where you think they do) is invaluable in a leadership career. There are plenty of free personality tests out there. A Strong Interest Inventory and Meyers-Briggs would be a great start.

Understanding yourself and others is a must.

January 24, 2011