Here's the management tactic Apple CEO Tim Cook uses to keep employees on their toes

  • A new book about Apple CEO Tim Cook reveals his go-to management tactic.
  • Cook is known for asking team members a barrage of questions to ensure they’re on top of their duties, the book reveals.
  • He would start by asking an employee 10 questions at a time, then 20 questions if that worker answers one question wrong.
  • Other managers in Apple’s operations division are said to have adopted this management style.
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When it comes to his management style, Apple CEO Tim Cook is just as mild-mannered as his public persona seems to indicate.

But he’s still relentless when it comes to tackling issues. Cook is known for grilling employees with a series of questions to ensure they’re on top of their responsibilities, as Cult of Mac editor Leander Kahney details in his new book “Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level,” which launched on April 16.

When describing Cook’s management style as chief operating officer, a post he held until being named CEO in 2011, Kahney writes that the Apple CEO could “wear people down through an endless barrage of questions.”

“He’s a very quiet leader,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of product marketing, said to Kahney, according to the book. “Not a screamer, not a yeller … He’s just very calm, steady, but will slice you up with questions. You better know your stuff.”

This technique has been effective, writes Kahney, because it keeps employees on their toes since Cook could interrogate them at any time. Steve Doil, who joined Cook’s operations group at Apple back in 1998, described the process like this to Kahney:

“He’ll ask you ten questions. If you answer them right, he’ll ask you ten more. If you do this for a year, he’ll start asking you nine questions. Get one wrong, and he’ll ask you 20 and then 30.”

This method caught on in Apple’s operations division. Kahney writes that it was common for leaders to memorise numbers and then question supply managers if one changed. Like Cook, they would also ask a series of questions. “They want to know [if] you understand the problem,” Helen Wang, a former global supply manager, told Kahney.

Read more: Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why you don’t need a college degree to be successful

Cook isn’t the only leader who finds questioning to be an efficient means of drawing the best out of your team; Nike CEO Mark Parker is known to do the same. In a 2015 profile, Fortune quoted the company’s chief financial officer, Andy Campion, as saying that Parker’s use of questions “leaves other leaders empowered to find the answers themselves and act on them.”

A USA Today story from 2009 also states that employees in the sneaker maker’s research lab say “there’s no telling when Parker will drop in and start reeling off questions.”

The Harvard Business Review described a category of leaders known as a “multiplier” in a 2010 article, which refers to managers who are capable of multiplying intelligence among their employees. Multipliers are known to ask difficult questions that encourages team members to find the answers, not unlike Cook.

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