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Tim Cook's Bigger Message - It's Not About Being Gay, It's About Being Real

04/11/2014 14:00 GMT | Updated 31/12/2014 10:59 GMT

So Tim Cook is gay. On the one hand I think our reaction should be - so what? Change is generational and while many older people still squirm around awkwardly when they see a same sex couple holding hands, for much of the younger generation, like social media, it is just part of their lives.

Popular situational comedies are always a mirror of where our society is going - twenty years ago American sitcoms were still oriented around nuclear families with heterosexual parents. Now the most popular show in the USA is Modern Family, where two of the six main adult characters are gay. If there is one sad character in the show it is the emasculated white heterosexual male.

On the other hand though what Tim has done is huge. Here is the CEO of the highest profile corporation in the world, a company whose biggest growing market is in Asia, where many societies have a far less tolerant attitude to homosexuality, saying with no fuss or drama, that he is proud and glad to be gay. There's many a high profile movie star who have not been prepared to be so bold.

The really impressive thing though is not that he shared that he is gay, but that he was authentic. The real Tim Cook has just shown up and in doing so paved the way for all those people in businesses who have had to spend their lives pretending to be corporate citizens with their strange veiled business speak, to get real. Corporations and increasingly western societies at large are often highly passive aggressive. They talk about liberation and freedom while enforcing a crippling conformity by encouraging the repression of difference - you can't do that, say that, it's just not done. It is why Dilbert and The Office have been so phenomenally popular - they shine a light on the crazy inauthentic worlds in which so many people have to work.

If we want to build thriving companies and societies in this era of profound disruption and change we don't need conformity, we need diversity. That is where new ideas and progress comes from and this is the real message in Tim Cook's actions.

Tim Cook has done a great job taking on the post-Jobs Apple. It is a tough gig to take over from a charismatic and forceful founder - especially one that has been raised to near messianic status. Up until now though he has always lived in Jobs' shadow. He launched products well but was like a great but unknown actor taking on the lead role in a Broadway show when a big name star has left. Even his carefully untucked shirt looked like he was trying to be like Steve rather than himself.

But now the real man has shown up and what an impressive soul he is. He doesn't have Jobs' bombast - he is thoughtful. He doesn't have Jobs' ego, he is at pains to point out he doesn't want to be an activist, just be honest and in doing so perhaps make a difference. His lack of desire to take on the world, but instead have the bravery to be vulnerable, to show himself, is the sign of both an extraordinary man and real 21st century leader.

What he did was something Steve Jobs was never really prepared to do - show his real self, rather than a carefully crafted stage-managed avatar.

So yes it is a big deal that Tim Cook shared that he is gay. The real game changer though is he was prepared to be himself. He has punctured the macho myth that you have to pretend to be something you are not to be successful, a myth that is actually born out of fear not strength.

What he has done hasn't just given people permission to be honest about their sexuality, it has given others permission to be honest about themselves. When someone is real we can trust them. When they authentically share rather than advocate we are drawn to them because we then know them.

This, I hope, will be the legacy of Tim's decision - an outbreak of authentic leadership. If that happens who know what is possible, because once people are able to act in good faith and be themselves they can start to operate from their own humanity, something the world really needs right now.