Apple’s Transition and the Church

All Things Digital is reporting that Apple will unveil the iPhone 5 and its companion operating system iOS 5 on October 4. Fox News released an article that placed the technology in second place behind this first keynote speech by Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook.

While the iPhone 5 was a highly-anticipated handset, the media event itself has a lot more importance for Apple than many others as it will be newly-installed CEO Tim Cook’s first big product introduction.

The reason Cook was set to preside over the rollout was that the launch event will mark the first time the public and investors will be able to get a lengthy impression of Cook as Apple CEO, which could set the tone for his new role, according to sources.

Apple’s legendary outgoing CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs has always been closely identified with Apple and its product innovations — the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and more recently the iPad. Since his decision to step down was announced in August, many investors expressed fears his departure would change the company.

As a diehard fan of Apple products (I own and adore my Macbook Pro and iPad 2), I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about Mr. Cook’s upcoming tenure as CEO, and like many investors, I am optimistic. Steve Jobs spent several years grooming Cook, and more importantly, he learned from the lessons of the last time he brought in a CEO (back in 1986, after which Jobs was summarily fired). I think Mr. Cook and Apple will do just fine.

The iPhone 5 is easily one of the most anticipated pieces of technology in recent memory, and I anticipate that it will quickly outsell even the iPhone 4. As Droid handsets struggle to maintain their market share in the face of iPhone spreading to Sprint and T-Mobile as well as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, you have to wonder why Fox News put such a focus on Tim Cook.

Leadership transition is a very difficult thing to pull off well in our modern management environment. Most businesses rely heavily on the extraordinary individual for their impetus and momentum.

Who even knows that Hughes Aircraft Company was once one of the most successful aircraft manufacturers in the world? Its founder, Howard Hughes, was a man of unbelievable vision and genius, but when mental illness drove him into solitary misery, the company floundered. Within a decade of his death, the juggernaut was sold off in bits and pieces and disappeared from existence.

More recently, Microsoft has floundered for years since Bill Gates stepped down, and it has steadily cranked out substandard products – except for Windows 7 which had been in development when Gates was still running the show. The Microsoft Office system has gone from an industry delight to a standard reluctantly adopted by its users because it has crushed its competition. Even now, Microsoft is struggling to regain some semblance of control with their new OS Windows 8, but there are a lot of doubts about the decisions being made in its design.

The reality is that leadership transition has to begin years before the physical transition takes place. Steve Jobs recognized his own mortality. When he returned to Apple in 1996, he assembled a team of high level collaborators – Tim Cook among them – who grasped the vision that Jobs himself saw. Rather than seeing these men as competitors, he saw them as coworkers and equals. The transition to Mr. Cook’s leadership has been going on behind the scenes for years. The corporation will move on. Although Steve Jobs remained the face of the corporation, the body was working together for something bigger than Steve Jobs could do on his own.

My father used to say, “The only person you can do without is the person you think you can’t do without.” The life of a congregation must always be about Jesus’ vision and Jesus’ will. Leaders should be investing their time and effort into teaching the vision – planting it deep in the hearts of those who will eventually lead. The vision is more important than any measurable or plan. We can never find ourselves to be indispensable to Jesus’ vision. Components of the body? Yes. But the only indispensable person in Jesus’ vision is – well, Jesus.

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