Lead like the Apple Store

We know it, we’ve heard it, and this is one of the big guys behind it. Ron Johnson, while senior VP of retail for Apple, brilliantly created a retail experience that’s unsurpassed. Sure, it’s Apple’s products that make people walk in, but it’s not just the products (if it were, people would buy mostly from discount shops like Target, or online). It’s what he’s done with the Apple Store that recently landed him his new job as CEO of JC Penney.

Reading about Ron in the Harvard Business Review grabbed me (highly recommend you read the article, too). I’m continuously training execs on leadership presence, and a huge aspect of leadership is the experience you create for people around you – so what can we learn from Ron and Apple?

To create a positive experience, it comes down to this (highlights, at least). When you’re interacting with others:

  • Are you paying attention to detail? Quick tip: Details make the entire experience. When it’s your meeting, presentation, or even large-scale kickoff, get there early and do some setup. What’s the room temperature? How are the seats arranged?  Has the coffee arrived? If your audience’s experience in the room is better (read less distracting), they can pay more attention to you and your message.
  • Are you approachable? Quick tip: Pay attention to your face. Are you someone who has a furrowed brow (scrunched forehead) or frowning neutral face? They can be interpreted as intimidating, even if that’s not what you mean. Think about brightening up with a slight smile.
  • Are you connecting? Quick tip: Put down the iPhone for a few minutes (Siri will know you still love her) and hold eye contact throughout the conversation or meeting. It’s very easy to get in the habit of checking the phone or computer screen, but it hurts rapport with those around you.
  • Are you listener-focused? Quick tip: Watch your pronouns. Instead of making it all about me and I, think about using us, we, and you. Seems simple, but changes the whole tone of the conversation.
  • Do you have a clear point-of-view? Quick tip: The last time you tried to explain your perspective on a project or idea, did you beat around the bush or get long winded? State your position up front, and then support it with all the background and detail. It helps people stay on the same page with you.

Ron Johnson knew that to become a leader in the retail space, Apple had to think differently about the experience they created for their customers. Same goes for us. To be viewed as a leader, you have to think about how you come across and what experience people have when they interact with you.

Try some of these quick tips, and let me know some of your own experiences in the comments.

2 comments on “Lead like the Apple Store

  1. You have put together a strong list — great work! Maybe as a sequel you might consider a list of best “behind the scenes” communicators who do a great job but do not seek or get much personal spotlight? With Decker’s network, you might extend your service and support to the world by doing this – with anecdotal examples of the unsung heroes of powerful communication. Just a thought.

  2. Thanks, Ben.

    Only one chance to make a first impression and nobody does it better than Apple.

    Visit the computer department of Best Buy, then visit Apple. Enough said!