I had to watch it several times to see if I was missing something. In the end, Apple’s new “work from home” long-form video advertisement via its Underdogs team is a giant win for marketing and PR agencies everywhere.
After all, it’s got people talking about Apple like I am (begrudgingly) in this column.
Simultaneously, however, it’s a gigantic slap in the face to those trying to curb the world of poor leadership behavior. The ad has it in spades. It’s an attempt by Apple to demonstrate its products in action during the pandemic, and in work from home situations. What it does, however, is to magnificently highlight how incredibly awful leaders are in today’s organizations.
I wish I didn’t have to write a response. But here we go. (Because I fear too many people will believe that great leadership gets conducted in this manner. And I don’t think Apple meant to do this.)
The scene is first set when Vivienne (the boss) is traveling in the back of a town car, opens up FaceTime, and barks an edict at 8:00 am on a Monday to her team without consult or discussion that “Project Pandora’s Box is back… and we need to present new designs on Monday.”
Fair enough. Sometimes leaders have to jump to action and make a decision.
Before abruptly leaving the call, Vivienne queries the team with a look of contempt, “Are there any questions?” Before anyone can ask, she hangs up.
It’s not leadership; it’s a dictatorship. (And Vivienne knows how to dictate really well.)
The nervous energy that enveloped the team prior to that original FaceTime call with Vivienne was palpable. They all knew something was up, and that Vivienne was about to act with her usual ruthlessness, caring not for a single second about the team’s workload, engagement, or WFH pressures.
“JFDI” is an acronym used in many leadership circles. Tragically, “just (swear word) do it” is what it means.
Cut to scene two where Bridget—assumingly Vivienne’s project lead or direct report minion—takes command of the situation at hand. And when I mean “command,” I mean “command and control.” Bridget, like Vivienne, is the quintessential example of an uncaring leader for 2020.
First up? One billion calendar requests that clog everyone’s day. And night. She manages to allow 10 minutes for lunch during the week for her team members. Later, Bridget crafts and sends “Team Exercise Routine” and “Team Healthy Eating Plan,” notices indicating to “Plz follow it exactly.” (Bridget’s words, not mine.) Whilst in jest by Apple marketers, it’s another sublime example of how leaders assume their title permits them to run power trips over the people they are supposed to be inspiring.
Later, during an actual exchange with the team, members complain that Vivienne (the boss) has recently hired another new assistant, “the fourth one this year,” someone mutters over another FaceTime call. One of the employees, Dave, even has the audacity to ask, “What happened to the one that cried all the time?”
It’s likely meant to be a funny line. However, it makes a mockery of those employees at organizations everywhere who in fact, cry at work due to the strains and stresses of leaders like Vivienne and Bridget. Have we entered into a corporate world of hell where crying is not allowed? Are we supposed to be celebrating Vivienne and Bridget?
Halfway through the video, our illustrious boss, Vivienne, reappears. She informs the team that the presentation has been moved up to Friday. Demonstrating her arrogance and an overly busy schedule, Vivienne’s phone rings in the middle of the update and she says, “I have to take this,” leaving the team hanging and yet again to fend for themselves without her help or leadership.
This conduct happens all the time in leadership circles. When leaders ignore the team they are supporting because someone more important is calling, how does that make the team feel? Exactly. Like a heel.
Shortly after that, a text arrives. It’s from Vivienne. “The budget has been cut in half.” Again, there is no support, follow-up, or coaching from Vivienne. JFDI might be the hidden slogan of Apple’s new ad.
If the ad wasn’t horrible enough depicting leadership, the two children seen running around the single dad’s house eventually put themselves to bed, with Dave asleep on their floor. Remarkably, they ask: “Siri, can you read us a bedtime story. With no monsters?”
What kind of draconian, dystopian world do we live in when the leaders of Apple (marketing or otherwise) think it’s a good idea to get children to ask Siri to read them a bedtime story?
Furthermore, what does that say about how we are leading ourselves? Is it worth ignoring your children, doing whatever you can to serve the insanity that is Vivienne’s (and Bridget’s) leadership? At what cost does it come? (I may know the answer, as Dave is divorced.)
Towards the end, Bridget takes over the project, adds more “zing” to the design, stays up until 5:30 am to do so, and gets ready for the Friday presentation. It’s a masterclass in what is wrong with today’s leadership. The pandemic is only exacerbating these flaws, and Apple has highlighted them to a tee.
This is how Apple describes the 7-minute piece: “It’s still a world of deadlines, meetings, group chats, conference calls, coworkers, and bosses. But it’s also a world of kids, a dog, and a hairless cat. And it’s a world where collaboration never misses a beat, whether the team uses iPad, iPhone, iMac, MacBook, or all of the above. Working from home (or working from anywhere) isn’t new, but what you can make happen together is.”
What’s happening in the video is an explicit demonstration of uncaring, poor leadership. I suppose I should thank Apple for inadvertently highlighting it in their work from home advertisement. But I remain equally dismayed.
Pre-order my next book, LEAD. CARE. WIN. How to Become a Leader Who Matters. It publishes September 29, 2020.
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