Symbolic Leadership

Om Malik:

I think Gruber is missing the point — attending a game when a
division you are responsible for is down for six hours is a clear
lack of empathy for the customers, and also is a sign that
standards are falling of what used to be an Apple Standard for
building products of delight. Sure, things might have taken as
much time to fix the iCloud, but the message you would have sent
out to rest of the Apple team would have been different.

Let’s unpack this. First, it has nothing to do with “empathy for the customers”. 99.999 percent of the customers whose iCloud accounts were affected by the June 2 outage have no idea who Eddy Cue is, let alone care whether he attended the Warriors game.

As for the message to Apple employees, that’s really the only part of the “Eddy Cue should have skipped the game” argument that makes any sense to me. I disagree with it, but at least it makes sense. But it’s predicated on a lot of assumptions about Apple employee attitudes and morale, and Cue’s leadership and management abilities. Are the engineers and system administrators who were responsible for fixing the outage delicate emotionally fragile children who felt hurt when they found out Eddy Cue went to a basketball game while they were doing their jobs? Or are they mature professionals, who realize that the only thing that mattered was fixing the outage?

And let’s go further. Let’s say Cue did skip the game. How would the employees working on the outage know that he skipped the game? Should Cue have been calling them every 15 minutes to see how it’s going? Should he have made them feel small by screaming at them, telling them that they’re incompetent shitheads? Should he have made them feel guilty by telling them that he was missing game one of the NBA Finals, because of this outage? Or, should he simply trust them, leave them alone and let them do their jobs — in which case, he might as well have just gone to the fucking game.

If we’re going to talk about symbolic leadership, I like what it says to Apple employees that Cue went to the game. It says having fun and a life outside work is good.

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