According to Fortune’s 2016 report of The World’s Most Admired Companies, which surveyed over 4,000 executives, directors, analysts and business insiders; Apple again commands the top spot on their list, for the 9th consecutive year! It’s followed closely by Alphabet (Google), and Amazon. With a track record like that, we’ve got to understand the ingredients to their success.
First, it’s important to know that the attributes used to determine this ranking include quality of products, quality of management, innovation, long term investment value, talent attraction, financial soundness, corporate asset use, social responsibility, and global business. A well rounded set of criteria that considers all facets of the business.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed by Adam Lashinsky to get his take on their phenomenal achievement, as well as how they’re handling criticism of recent fiscal first quarter performance, which was strong, but missed investors’ revenue expectations. His response provides several tips as a good reminder for leaders in any organization.
- Block out the noise.
Analysts, media, shareholders, and others will always have some comment or critique about your products or services, but be selective about who you’re listening to. You can’t react to every question or criticism. You can’t be all things to all people. A prime example is their recent issue with the U.S. government on providing access to encrypted information on an iPhone. Whether you agree with Apple’s position in this situation or not, overall, you must evaluate every option and potential product or service based on the next point.
- Focus on your mission and vision.
Cook talked about staying focused on “making the best products that really help people enrich their lives in some way.” So do your mission and vision inspire and excite employees and customers? Does your product or service continue to align with your purpose and the areas where you’ve been successful? Or does your company get distracted by what I like to call shiny objects alongside the road. You know, getting caught up in the latest trend, trying to do what other companies are doing, or letting financial goals be the primary driver to all decisions. Which leads to point three.
- Identify balanced metrics
Cook says he’s driven by the data that shows his customers are happy. And while recent sales didn’t meet analysts’ expectations, they still sold 74 million iPhones at a profit of $18 billion. The temptation to chase profits is HUGE, but most businesses need to take the long view and invest in their future, build a strong internal and external brand, and be known for the quality of their products and services; along with maximizing performance in the immediate term. What metrics best reflect your organization’s goals, market positioning, customer and employee needs?
- Explore the possibilities
Apple has a primary focus on innovation and is widely rumored to be working on a car project. While Cook would neither confirm nor deny that, he did admit that the DNA of the company includes curiosity around a variety of product options that align with their mission, and deliberately selecting a few to pursue. Their cash position makes this easy of course. But they approach it from a perspective of exploring technologies and different ways to use them to align with the focus on making great products that help people.
How Can You Become Most Admired?
So your company or team may not be quite as big as the 1,500 that were considered for this top 50 list. But you can still be greatly admired by colleagues in your industry, geography, or organization. Consider the following questions.
- What are you doing to ensure you are a great place to work, and have the best talent for an organization of your size, geography and industry?
- Do you have the right management team to lead you to the next level, or are you prioritizing loyalty, mediocrity, or family members above talent?
- How are you ensuring high quality products and services?
- How does your organization leverage its head, hands, and heart to support social causes?
- What is the global impact of your products and services?
- How are you innovating? What are you exploring that will make a substantial difference in your business or its operations?
- Are you making decisions that will ensure the financial stability of your organization?
- How are you managing and maximizing your corporate assets?
- What are you doing that would make others want to invest in you and your organization?
Addressing the items on this list may be a challenge for some organizations, but doing so is a reflection of implementing a level of organizational discipline necessary for success. And success is what is most admired.
Korn Ferry was Fortune’s survey partner for this project.
To read the interview of Tim Cook, go to http://fortune.com/tim-cook-apple-q-and-a/
What is the leadership trait that is most admired by others, most desired by leaders themselves, and most required by senior executives for their teams? Its importance applies not only for current, but for future success. It transcends geographies, cultures, and generations. Its meaning has global significance, but may vary in its local application.
This most admired global leadership trait is Inspiration.
In 2014-15, over 2700 business professionals from 122 countries were asked about the traits that they most admire in leaders both today, and the ones that are necessary to be successful in the future. In all cases, no matter how the data was analyzed, Inspiration ranked first.(1)
In 2013, IBM released the results of a survey of 1700 global executives in 64 countries who were asked what top executives want from their leaders. The ability to Inspire was among the top 3 responses.(2)
Why does Inspiration rate so highly as a desirable trait?
Each of us should be able to think of a leader with whom we’ve worked who we would define as Inspirational. In many cases, being around such a person made us perform better, stretched our creative abilities, and encouraged us to do something we would not have otherwise attempted. These leaders attracted others to them, and sparked thought provoking conversations. Their styles probably varied, but their authentic approach to leadership made a meaningful difference.
Too often, leaders are focused primarily on themselves or their tasks. They become caught up in their power, their position, or business problems to be solved. They expect employees to independently be self-motivated, results focused, and to understand the purpose of their work.
Instead, Inspiring leaders focus on others. They cast a vision of the future, connect people with it, and coach them to high performance. Inspiring leaders elicit a positive emotional response from those they interact with, that draws others to them. People want to join their team, and become a part of their successes. They truly believe that people development is the key to organizational success.
Dares are common among children at play. They dare each other to do something outlandish or out of the norm. But these same children may grow up and lose the nerve to take on some dares, because the societal repercussions are significantly greater as an adult.
Differences are necessary in providing complementary traits to create a fully functioning system. The human body is comprised of many different internal and external parts, each with their own specific purpose, that follow the brain to perform smoothly. A symphony is comprised of many different sounding instruments, some with significant parts and others with smaller parts, each eliciting a beautiful sound, when properly following the conductor and the music.
In the same way, each of us bring differences to our teams and organizations. We each may function in seemingly important ways, or in miniscule and replaceable ways, but nonetheless are each vital to the overall success of a team. Failure to share your full value with the team, may result in missing an opportunity for innovation, inability to meet clients’ needs, or overlooking costly design flaws. As leaders, it’s important to prioritize the growth and development of each team member’s differences to draw out their value to the broader organization.
I had a stark reminder of this while watching a recently released movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith, which followed the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered a neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of deceased pro-football players. He named this chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and published it in a medical journal. Faced with public denial of his findings, he worked to raise consciousness about the long term risks of football-related head trauma.
Five DARES Continue reading
Many years ago there was a leader and queen of the country of Sheba. As the ruler, she had many people and resources under her command. But rather than simply take pleasure in her obvious wealth, she pondered how to better lead her people, and how to handle the challenges of her country. Someone told her about another leader named Solomon who was the king of Israel. Solomon was known to be very wise and might be able to help her figure out how to manage some of the problems she was dealing with.
She must have been very concerned, frustrated, maybe even desperate to find a better approach to her leadership issues, because she planned a major trip to visit him and talk about it. Sheba gathered the currency of her country (many camels carrying spices, gold and precious stones), and along with numerous servants, traveled to meet with Solomon.
When she arrived and sat down to talk with him, the understanding she gained was overwhelming. The advance reports of his wisdom didn’t even come close to matching her actual experience. Solomon not only understood her issues, he answered every question she had. His perspective and wisdom were so very great that he became a valuable consulting resource for her. She observed his leadership style and capabilities, the engagement of his employees, his organizational culture, and the mission and focus of his team. Solomon’s perceptiveness was so helpful to her in leading her country more effectively that she gave him an abundance of the expensive gifts that she had brought.
While it’s difficult to measure her gifts in the context of her overall wealth, we do know that it was the best of her country’s resources, because no one else ever gave him such costly spices in so great a volume as she did. And in return, Solomon gave her all that she asked for.
Here was a leader, someone already accomplished enough to lead a large organization, but who recognized the need and opportunity to learn more. She knew that she had to continually improve her competencies to more effectively build relationships to influence her team, and accomplish her organization’s goals and objectives. She yearned to talk with someone else who understood leadership challenges and would support her in her initiatives. The queen’s perspective on the resources she devoted to this was not about cost, but about making an investment in her own growth, that would pay off in many ways in the long run. Continue reading
Leaders are faced with a myriad of issues each day, but one of their most critical responsibilities is to step back from the urgent and focus on the important. They must achieve a balance between the reactionary crisis mode and the proactive planning mode. This means pausing and reflecting on how they’re influencing behaviors to ensure the right outcomes. To accomplish that, there are 10 key important questions that, properly addressed, will strengthen both their leadership and their organizational effectiveness.
I posted the first 5 questions in Part 1 several weeks ago on this blog. Here are the last 5 questions.
- Engagement. How do you engage your team in what you’re trying to accomplish? Engagement is based on an emotional connection that energizes those involved to work toward a common goal. Competitive rowing teams, known as “sculling in crew” require all rowers to move in exact cadence with the leader for an efficient stroke. The leader is responsible for steering the boat, encouraging the crew and monitoring the rate of progress. Everyone knows their role and knows who to follow, and engagement is an important key to winning. Contrast this with a scenario where everyone is rowing at their own pace. They’re working at it, and they’ll make progress, but not nearly as fast because their behaviors aren’t aligned. Similarly, as the leader you must ensure that your team clearly understands the goal and that their efforts are coordinated, collaborative, and complimentary. This means making sure they buy into why the goal is important, and contribute their ideas on how to best accomplish it.
- Innovation. Are you creating an environment that encourages new thinking? Innovation involves taking existing ideas, processes or products and combining them in new and different ways to meet customer or market needs. For example, electric vehicles are innovative. Some companies have innovation labs, or innovation hours (i.e. hackathons), but this approach ultimately needs to be embedded in the culture of the organization. New ideas must be nurtured and encouraged. Carl Winans, Co-Founder of Mega Tiny Corporation asked a good question at a conference I attended recently. “Are you creating or merely consuming?” In other words, do you just take in information and knowledge and use it, or do you integrate it to provide new and different output that is beneficial to others? Leaders’ interactions with employees should incorporate discussions on innovative topics, soliciting ideas, encouraging them to investigate the potential for success, and when appropriate, giving them a leadership role in operationalizing their ideas. This rewards innovation and reinforces the skills requisite for success.
- Power. Do people follow you because of your power and position, or because you empower them? If you were no longer CEO, VP, or holding your current leadership position, who among your team would still want to follow you? John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership explains that at level 1, people follow you because they have to. But as you move to level 5, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. You only have power over others to the extent that they grant it to you, whether through an employment relationship, or because you meet a financial, emotional, social, psychological or physical need. Once you cease to fulfill that need, or they find someone else to fulfill it, you become effectively powerless. On the other hand, as a leader you can empower others, or give power to them, by providing them with responsibility, enabling them to do something, or equipping them to accomplish a challenge. Giving power to others generates a virtuous cycle of enabling, growth, commitment and engagement.
- Performance. What is the correlation between your effort and your outcomes? This is a sensitive issue, because all leaders like to believe that they’re exceeding the expectations of the individuals or groups to whom they’re accountable (and we’re all accountable to someone). But there are enough situations where no matter how intellectually capable or strategic the leader, their best efforts don’t move the needle forward as much as is needed or expected. Is their skillset incomplete? Is the internal business challenge too great? Are there insurmountable external economic or market forces that can’t be overcome? Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo in 2012 amid great fanfare about how she could turn the struggling company around. Three years later, the company has had to scrap its plans to spin off its extremely valuable stake in Alibaba Group Holding, and the market is currently valuing Yahoo’s core business at less than its cash on hand. While Mayer has upgraded content and worked to boost mobile revenues, some are publicly wondering how much longer the 6th CEO in 8 years will last. Opinions vary on how to return Yahoo to success, but the performance question is one that every leader grapples with at some point. And if the effort is not producing the right outcomes, it may be time to find a new opportunity where the leader’s contributions will align with strong results.
- Change Leadership. Are you leading your organization to be nimble, flexible and open to change? Change doesn’t happen unless the leader makes it a priority. Nikesh Arora, formerly responsible for all of Google’s revenue ($29B), and currently CEO-in-waiting at SoftBank Group of Japan, demonstrated this when he was first hired to run Google’s European operations in 2004. He doubled his initial 5-year revenue projection for the region, and created the analytical tools that were eventually implemented to track the financial condition of the global business. He’s known not to suffer fools, but his enemies respect him. Instead of changing his leadership style to fit into the company, Arora shrewdly changed the leadership perspective to mirror his own. He tells entrepreneurs “Anytime you can predict your trajectory, you should change it.” Change leaders don’t wait for external forces to drive internal business strategies. They anticipate the market, technologies, economy and customer needs; develop a flexible framework and goals for the future; then ensure that the right processes, strategies, technologies, and tools are in place to get there. Change leaders hold their organization accountable for results.