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TheStreet Open House

Apple's Tim Cook Is Not Required to Entertain Us

Stocks in this article: AAPL

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ever since Tim Cook assumed the CEO position at Apple (AAPL), there has been grumblings about his speaking style. The complaint is that he's no Steve Jobs. He doesn't have a great personality. He's not charming and articulate. His voice cracks and growls. And he can't seem to generate that special sense of anticipation, with a twinkle in his eyes, that Mr. Jobs was so good at in the past.

This is true. And it doesn't matter.

Leaders have many different styles, and there are many factors that go into being a great leader. Of course, it helps to have a good speaking style, and Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow. However, the complaints I've read seem more focused on the CEO's obligation, as the leader of the most wealthy and valuable tech company, to entertain us in a kind of high school pep-rally fashion.

In other words, if the products fascinate and charm us, then the CEO has an obligation to fascinate and charm us as well.

Nonsense.

From my experience, a good analogy is found in the military. Imagine a beloved captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier. He's reassigned and the executive officer, or XO, previously second in command, is promoted to the captain position.

What will the various department heads look at? The commander of the air group, or CAG, will want to make sure the new captain is supremely competent as a naval officer and can manage the ship properly. The CAG wants to be confident that his pilots and aircraft can be effective. The other department heads want to be sure of all that plus, in a critical situation like war or an emergency, that the new captain is well trained, knows what he wants, and will make the best possible decisions in accordance with his obligations.

You can't lead if you don't know what you want.

Meanwhile, the crew may be grumbling. The new captain isn't as charming. In his addresses during "all hands briefings," he fails to be endearing and entertaining. He's a bit gruff. They decide they don't like him.

This happens routinely in all branches of the military, and often, the troops don't come to appreciate the new officer until the chips are down and the new leader reveals his mettle. Looks and casual behavior are not indicators of leadership skills.

Tim Cook was trained for a decade and was then hand picked by the previous captain of Apple to succeed him.  Cook is running a steady, competent ship, following the Apple vision and tradition, but thinking on his own as a new leader when the need arises. That talent was demonstrated when Cook righted a divisive ship and fired software engineer Scott Forstall.

My impression is that some of the vocal critics are acting like the young, enlisted crew below decks. They're in a churlish fret about how uncharming the new leader is during presentations when they really should be attuned to how this new leader rose to that position, became trusted by the Admirals, executes and performs as an executive and makes command decisions each and every day.

His passion, devotion to the cause, and the way Cook gets Apple has been demonstrated over and over again in his one-on-one sessions with journalists Brian Williams and Walt Mossberg.

Cook doesn't have the greatest speaking style during keynotes, but he's getting better. The true measure of the man is not whether he delights and entertains us on demand. To complain that because his stand-up presentations aren't as compelling as those of Jobs is to completely miss the deepest understanding of what the fundamentals of leadership are within an organization.


This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

At the time of publication, Martellaro was long AAPL, although positions may change at any time.

John Martellaro was born at an early age and began writing about computers soon after that. He is a former U.S. Air Force officer and has worked for NASA, White Sands Missile Range, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Apple. At Apple he worked as a Senior Marketing Manager, a Federal Account Executive and a High Performance Computing manager. His interests include skiing, chess, science fiction and astronomy.

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