Members of an organization need to have confidence in their leaders. When employees see their leaders making embarrassing misstatements or obvious exaggerations, some credibility is lost and that can lead to retention issues and a more difficult time recruiting top talent. If those misstatements or exaggerations are public and concern the company’s products, it can impact product appeal, confidence in the brand, and overall company reputation.
The CEO of Apple has made, in my estimation, two blunders in this area in the recent weeks:
1.) iPhone Security – When the FBI approached Apple privately, asking the Apple CEO to open up the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist who killed 14 people and seriously injured many more, he decided to take the request public and to refuse to help. He publically warned, over and over again, that even if Apple engineers would be able to retrieve the contents of the iPhone, it would be wrong to do it, since Apple must protect the security of each and every iPhone user, giving the impression that iPhones are absolutely secure (a crazy thing to infer in the world of software).
After weeks of hearing Apple make that argument publically, the FBI announced they were withdrawing their request of Apple, and had found an “unnamed third party” (hacker ) who did the job! Now every Apple iPhone user knows that their iPhone is hackable and their data is not secure. Clearly the CEO should have never taken the issue public and should have given the FBI private access to a couple of Apple engineers to do exactly what the hackers did, and the public would know nothing of all of this ( as it should be in an FBI/terrorist case). He should have known that if Apple didn’t help, some white-hat hacker organization or individual would.
2.) The Recent “Small iPhone” Announcement – Credibility is lost when Apple holds Steve-Jobs-like unveilings to announce things like smaller sizes, lower prices or some other minor change/feature. Let’s face it; Apple has not had a major product breakthrough since the loss of Jobs. Apple loses credibility when it pretends that a smaller size iPhone is exciting!
The CEO of Apple pontificating on the sacredness of iPhone security, and then being upstaged by a hacker, accompanied by a big Apple press event to announce small size phones, are the kinds of things that can lower the morale and confidence of employees and tarnish the image of the company’s products.
The lesson for a leader in all of this is the importance of objectivity in everything you do. To do otherwise risks credibility.