Apple's Tim Cook shares a rule that leaders should live by

Tim Cook
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As the CEO of one of the world’s most valuable companies, has a pretty decent platform for sharing leadership advice.

And he frequently does. The chief is a prominent spokesperson for diversity and inclusion issues and has made headlines for speaking out on some of America's most controversial political policies.

But that position of power comes with a major caveat: It must be backed up by specific expertise and the scope to add value, according to the 57-year-old tech titan.

Before speaking out, therefore, Cook said he always questions: "Is it something that Apple has a special expertise on?" and "Do we have a right to talk about the issue?"

Speaking at Fortune’s CEO Initiative on Monday, Cook said he doesn't want Apple to be "another talking head." But, as a leader, he said he believes he has a responsibility to speak out for both the company's values and the values of those it employs.

“I don’t think business should only deal in commercial things. Business, to me, is nothing more than a collection of people. If people have values, then companies should," Cook told the audience at the event in San Francisco.

But, he added, they should only take a vocal stance "when we have a certain knowledge on the subject."

As the leader of a global company with over 120,000 employees across the world, Cook said he felt justified speaking about matters ranging from education to privacy, human rights, immigration and the environment because he had gained a "perspective" on those issues.

“We think we have something to offer talking about that kind of environment," said Cook.

Last week, the tech executive spoke out against the Trump administration for its “heartbreaking” and “inhumane” policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. Trump later backed off from that practice.

Cook on Monday likened the situation to the Trump administration’s efforts last year to unravel DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — an immigration policy which temporarily protects certain young, otherwise undocumented immigrants from deportation. The move caused great unrest, not least among Cook and other Silicon Valley business leaders, many of whom have employees who are DACA recipients.

“I look at that and I think this is square in the dignity and respect area and felt we needed to say something,” Cook said on Monday.

“We have over 300 folks here on DACA. I want to stand up for them."

He added that, when something happens that isn't consistent with your company value, it's important to say something.

“If you don’t … you’re in the appalling silence of the good people category. This is something I’ve never wanted to be a part of.”

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