12 Leadership Lessons I Learned from Working at Apple

I worked with Carly (@carlymask) for over 18 months. This is us on her last day at Stonestown. (And that's Jeff Wang behind us -- probably helping 12 Chinese mainlanders)

Last weekend marked the three-month anniversary of my departure from Apple. I loved working there and the experience taught me wisdom beyond my years. I graduated back in July as part of the inaugural class of the Apple Store Leader Program, the company's rotational management training program in the trenches of its retail sector. Apple does practically everything differently, and retail was no exception. During my last week, I wrote the twelve most significant things I learned during that time. So, in the spirit of sharing, here they are! 

The 12 Things I Learned as an Apple Store Leader Program Associate:

1 - The most important job description you will ever have in life is to inspire people. This will dictate the success of your family, the success of your career, and the success of your life. No call to action or impetus for collaboration will thrive (and survive) beyond mediocrity without the punch of inspiration.  If the pursuit of this lofty aspiration hasn't in some way transformed you (yet), make it your #1 priority. Everything else comes second. And sometimes, you'll find that the way you approach everything else is fundamental to your prowess to inspire. 

2 - Another lynchpin factor in inspiring others is finding incredible meaning in what you do everyday. And part of that is firmly believing that YOU were MADE for this job, and this job was MADE for YOU. Once you believe this, practically nothing can stop you short from success. List all the reasons why this role matters to the world, to society, to the organization, to your peers, to all your spheres of influence, and to yourself. Let those reasons drive, ennoble, and discipline your work. 

The SF North Team presents an employee development model (blurred for confidentiality) we designed to Global Retail Training

3 - It doesn't really matter what you've learned unless it actually makes an impact, on others and the business. And since you do work through others (as a leader), no impact will be made without others learning what you've learned, and knowing what you've known. So share, and share generously: "You will tire of your message before your people will" (Lisa Filippi, Market Leader of San Francisco North). Wash, rinse, repeat. 

4 - It doesn't really matter what you've done unless it actually makes an impact, on others and on the business. Aggressively find ways to measure your work to validate the efficacy of your strategic direction, and pivot substantially if required. Working without consistently validating is like playing an endless "game" of passing the ball (versus a real game of soccer). Know when you're winning, because then you'll know what you're doing right. (And besides, where's the euphoria in victory, the drama in failure, when no one wins, and no one loses, and no one bothers to keep track?)   

5 - Ferociously filter your communication, for that is your personal brand. Don't mindlessly present data that's not worth presenting. Not saying anything is paradoxically better than saying practically nothing. Be rigorous in your standards on what you present to others. Keep your head down and just do good work, so said Ron Johnson (#4 in Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2012 and Apple's previous VP of Retail) . Others will notice when your results are real, sustained, and sustainable. Rest assured, a phenomenally great idea -- well-executed -- will go viral, and change the habitual fabric of a world as flat as this. So never stop striving, never stop testing those great ideas, never stop thinking that you're here to make a ding in this universe, for it's exactly these kinds of ideas that moves this company forward, this society upward, and our world onward. 

Playmobil Apple Store

6 - Your sense of humor is the most important factor in how much fun you'll have at work (and how much others will have working with you). You don't have to be a comedian, but you will have to grasp some basic skills (like comedic timing, exaggeration, and irony) if you want to (and you can!) transform even the dullest work moments into some of the funnest. 

7 - Visual standards is the minimum prerequisite for professionalism. Before you can even line up to compete, pay rapt attention to every element in your visual brand; it signals whether you're in it to win it -- and if you're in it for anything else, anyone who's anyone will hit the ground running. 

8 - Work-life balance begins at work. Life doesn't magically turn off when you come into work and turn back on when you leave. Au contraire, work is a tremendous chunk of your life, so make every moment here count. Magnify it, elevate it, transform it into the ultimate part of your day, everyday. Make your work matter, and you'll be happier both on and off the clock. And don't ever forget to play. Play all day. Live while you work, and work while you live, and you'll get more out of everything, guaranteed.  

9 - If you care enough about your job, you care enough to give feedback. Give it all the time, and give it generously and holistically. Someone out there is languishing at his job because he lacks self-awareness. Be a career hero and save them from the unnecessary doom of career mediocrity. 

10 - You can never be too humble nor too self-confident. The trick is not to blunder into the twin elephant graveyards of self-pity and hubris. There's a dangerously fine line (or dotted line) between humility and self-deprecation, and an equally blurry one between self-confidence and arrogance. 

My team of Apple Store Leader Program Associates (Brett, Christina, Carly, me, Berwick, and Alli) in SF North -- with our fearless leader Chris Hemauer.

11 - And be genuine. Be productively transparent. Be painfully honest. Be lovably good and care. CARE. Care more than anyone else about everyone else and feel true pain when witnessing another's pain. If you can't feel this, ask yourself why. Do you suffer from a disconnect between your beliefs and actions? Or if you don't suffer from cognitive dissonance, could your beliefs benefit from a righteous revolution? Painstakingly practice emotionally responding to those around you. As the axiom goes, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." So care more than you know; you'll never regret it.

12 - Everyone in this multiverse has something to teach you, however old they are, whatever position they hold, or wherever they come from. Everyone has a story that can inspire or move you, exhilarate or even infuriate you (in a good way!). Half of the greatest lessons in life and work that can ever be learned must be taught to you by someone else, who's done things, seen things, and lived through things you never have and never will. And even if you will, someday, live through those things, it could only help to hear words of wisdom from someone who's been there and done that before you.