Leadership Study of Steve Jobs in Apple Inc

By | February 18, 2013

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1. Introduction

1.1 Background of Apple Inc

The corporate history of Apple Inc is considered as a history of passion (Schermerhorn 2010, p.438). It was begun by a pair of Stevens, i.e. Steven Wozniak and Steven Jobs together with Ronald Wayne, who combined their professional skills to create Apple Computer [1]on 1st April 1976 with the release of the Apple I, the first Apple computer, in the same year. Since the establishment, Apple has been focusing on the consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers and the best-known products include Iphone, Ipad, Mac line of computers and other hardware and software products. And according one of the most recent brand study carried out by the global brands agency Millward Brown, Apple has overtaken Google as the world’s most valuable brand (Bbc.co.uk 2011).

Figure 1 Steve Jobs and the most recent Iphone 4 in white

Source: Yohe 2010

1.2 Industrial environment introduction

As claimed by Hill and Jones (2008, p.100) that for the last 20 years, fast growth of the power of the computer has greatly attributed to the high extent of innovation and a turbulent environment in the personal computer industry. There are a number of players and potential entrants in the industry that drive up the competition and such fierce competition again is enhanced by the fast technological innovation resulting in the fact that no single company, no matter how large and power it is once, could maintain absolute competitive advantage for a long time. For example, in the 1980s Apple Computer manage to build up a competitive advantage based on the combination of a proprietary disk operating system and an intangible product image but such competitive advantage was lost to Microsoft when the similar system, Microsoft’s Windows operating system with many similar features was released in the 1990s. So we can see that it is highly competitive in the personal computer industry even for the giant companies such as Microsoft and IBM.

1.3 Personal profile of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955 and grew up in an area which was later known as Silicon Valley (Lemke 2006). As early as in his high school age, Jobs often joint the after-school lectures at the Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto and soon he become to work as a summer employee with Steve Wozniak. He later got enrolled in Reed College majoring audit which he didn’t like at all. His career life become on the way when Steven Jobs came back and work with Steven Wozniak and together with Ronald Wayne, they created Apple Computer. In the long development history of Apple, Steve Jobs’s creativity and personalized charisma, great passion and strong vision had contributed greatly to the success that Apple has today. In term of the health concerns, in the mid of 2004, Jobs announced to his employees that he had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his pancreas and the following years he had been struggling with the health issues. But at the same period, Steve Jobs become more matured as a leader as he said that “I will live each day as the last day and focus on what is truly important because almost everything-all the external expectations, all pride, and fear of embarrassment or failure will fall away in the face of death” (Murphy 2009, p.79).
steve jobs
2. Leadership style analysis of Steve Jobs

Leadership as a term could be defined as an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes (Rost 1993, p.102). In the long history of leadership development practices, there are various theories proposed to try to explain and guild the leadership behaviors such as the trait theories, Behavioral and style theories and Situational and contingency theories, below we will try to apply some theories with linkage with leadership practices of Steve Jobs.

2.1 Trait leadership theory

2.1.1 Literature review

Trait leadership theory, together with attitudinal and situational leadership theories are considered as the three basic approaches in leadership theories (Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson 2001). In the trait leadership, the earliest approach in the history of leadership theory development, theorists have sought to understand leadership by examining the characteristics or traits of a leader (Huber 2006, p.10). Bennis (1994, p.39) proposed that there are five ingredients of leadership (guiding vision, passion, integrity, curiosity and daring) and by possessing which one could be a successful leader.

2.1.2 Leadership traits of Steve Jobs

2.1.2.1 Risk taking and daring

As one of the five ingredients of leadership, daring or risk taking is essential for a leader especially in today’s disruptive environments that demand the need for flexibility to respond to such environments which means changes and the leadership trait of risk taking to perform the changes is very important. This is also in accordance with Kouzes and Posner (1993)’s perspective that leaders are those who talk about adventures into new territory and take the risks inherent in innovations. As in the case of Steve Jobs, he has been long been famous for taking risks in term of pursuing innovative products that is in his vision, and regarding his daring characteristic one of the highest compliments ever extended to him was given in 2007 by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft that “what Steve has done is quite phenomenal, and it goes back to 1977 and the Apple II computer and the idea that it would be a mass-market machine. The bet made by Apple uniquely was that this could be an incredible and empowering phenomenon…And the bet of Macintosh was risky…Steve really bet the company on it. He has pursued that with incredible taste and elegance, and it has had a huge impact on the industry, innovation and risk taking” (Gallo 2011, p.221).

2.1.2.2 Passion

As Zaleznik (2004) suggested that one of the differences between a leader and a manager is the inspiration and human passion that a leader would incorporate into his or her motivational work whereas a manager would focus on the actual process of dividing and managing work. This is also in accordance with Pagonis (1992)’s view that in order to become a successful leader, he or she need to demonstrate two active, essential and interrelated traits: expertise and empathy. As for Steve Jobs, he is not simply work as a CEO of Apple; he always has great passion and love for the personal computer products. It is reported that after the conference of the launch of the MacBook Air, John Markoff from the New York Times described Steve Jobs that his passion for personal computing came across even more so than it did when he was performing on the stage as he told Markoff in exciting that “I am going to be the first one in line to buy one of the these. I’ve been lusting after this” (Gallo 2011, p.31). And the passion that Steve Jobs has for the PC industry provides him with sufficient to him even after he had made a lot of fortune out the business.

2.1.2.3 Visionary

Steve Jobs’s innovative mind and idea not only come from his risk taking characteristic also comes from his brand vision. It is believed that “Great entrepreneurs are focused on today while the most innovative have a road map of where they will be tomorrow” (Gallo 2011, p.221). As complimented by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, that Steve Jobs always dreams about and anticipate what the customers would expect in the future. Back in 1976, Steve Jobs and Steven Jobs as two hardware experts created Apple Computer in 1976 with vision to make a personal computer that was affordable and with easier interface to be used. And with this vision the Job and Wozniak created their owned version of BASIC provided by Microsoft and their Mac operating system which was developed with a new graphical user interface which was the first in the world to use mouse and screen icons on the screen and this system proved to be a success. And it was believed that later Microsoft was forced to launch a system that followed but improved based on the Mac operating system and that system was the Microsoft Windows (Weihrich & Cannice 2010, p.371). What’s more, the leading and previously considered as adventuresome design of a touch-screen computer without a keyboard which was introduced in 2001 in iPod, and in the iPhone in 2007 had long been speculated by the media and competitors as not working and not viable proved to be a great success could be seen from the long queue waiting to purchase a Iphone 4 and Ipad 2 in white both of which are using the design of touch-screen without a keyboard. According to many employees who had work under Steve Jobs, Jobs is a stern taskmaster who understands the art of the possible with long-range visionary (Waters & Menn 2010).

2.2 Situational leadership

2.2.1 Literature review

Though the leadership trait theory used to be and is still popular in both research actual management practices, there are some problems that the trait theory alone can not explain. Stogdill (1974) who review 163 traits studies on the leadership performed during 1949 and 1970 and he found out that these studies were often inconsistent and even contradictory so he concluded that traits alone could not explain many leadership problems such as the leadership effectiveness. And because of the constraints of the trait theory, other theories were developed to try to explain the leadership practices. Herbert Spencer (1884) suggested that time produced the leader and not the other way around. His theory, known as the situational leadership claimed that different situation call for different leadership characteristics which means that there is no single optimal psychographic profile of a leader (Mehta 2009, p.161). An early situational leadership theory is Kurt Lewin’s studies which were done in the 1930s, from which and he claimed that there are three leadership styles related to forces within the leader, within the group members and within the situation: autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire (Roussel & Swansburg 2006, p.169). According to the study, autocratic leader makes decisions alone and they focus more on finishing the tasks; democratic leaders are more relationship oriented and concern for people in term of care for teamwork and human relationship; the laissez-faire leaders tend to be permissive and generally abstain from leading the staff.

2.2.2 Leadership behaviors of Steve Jobs

In the early time before Steve Jobs left Apple, he led the company using a laissez-faire leadership style that was believed to contribute the creation of the technology-based products and many of which proved to be quite successful because of the environment brought by the laissez-faire leadership style and such environment did encourage the creativity of the employees (Pride, Hughes & Kapoor 2011, p.170). But there are also constrains of using laissez-faire leadership such as that it is confirmed as being connected with the reason for low productivity (Bass, B. M., Bass, R. & Bass, R. R. 2008, p.451). As for Apple, the laissez-faire leadership style of Steve Jobs become to some extent ineffective and had made the company in disadvantage when competing with IBM after IBM’s entry into the PC market. And this was one of the key reasons why Jobs was replaced by the tough John Scully who was known as a top-down decision maker (Clemens & Meyer 1987). And after his return to Apple in 1996 when Apple announced that it would buy NeXT, Steve Jobs’ new company for $429 million, Steve Jobs came with the leadership with some differences. He still requested for perfection and he was manipulative and demanding which his employees described as “autocratic” but such autocratic leadership was focusing on the key project as himself was quoted saying that “My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better. My job is to pull things together from different parts of the company and clear the ways and get the resources for the key projects” (Kramer 2010). Though laissez-faire leadership style and autocratic leadership behavior seems to be contradicting, they do co-exist in Steve Jobs’s management practices as the CEO of Apple which people explained as Steve Job is having a personalized leadership which means that his leadership behaviors serves primarily his own interests and obviously money is not the most important thing that he cares about resulting in his only focusing on the key projects in his vision leaving his other leadership roles untouched.

2.3 Charismatic leadership

2.3.1 Literature review

Charisma could be defined as a person’s ability to influence others based on a sort supernatural gift and attractive powers (Bertocci, D. I. & Bertocci, D. L. 2009, p.44). Accordingly, charismatic leadership is a relationship between a leader and one or more followers based on leader behaviors and attributes combined with favorable attributions on the part of followers (Pablo & Javidan 2004, p.196). And from this definition we can see that the most significant difference between charismatic leadership and other leadership styles is that under a charismatic leadership the followers are actually enjoying being with such a charismatic leadership as they probably feel inspired, correct and important which means that the leader gains his or her major power from his or her charisma, which is usually a set of characteristic traits, rather than a position power. And from the perspective of the followers, the charismatic leadership could be very effective because one of the most important effects of charismatic leadership is that the charismatic leader is seen as an object of identification by followers who try to emulate his or her behavior and accept higher goals or have more confidence in their ability to contribute to the realization of the company targets (Lussier & Achua 2010, p.339). Below we will check the charismatic leadership and the relative leadership behaviors that Steve Jobs has being the CEO of Apple Inc and leader of other companies.

2.3.2 Case discussion

Steve Jobs is said to be the number one salesperson in Apple as he is always the one put onstage to announce a new product or technology because no one else can communicate better his vision with such high passion than he does and this is also because of the fact that Apple’s vision for technology is largely Jobs’s vision for the technology in the future (Pritchett 2006, p.23). To be detailed, Steve Jobs has excellent ability to captivate the audience attention and share with the audience or employees the vision that is in his mind. For example, when he was doing the presentation of the new product Ipad, the tablet PC by Apple which soon become a substitute of the traditional laptop, he would sit down in the sofa with the Ipad on his hands and he also started to open the homepage of an US newspaper to read the news making people vision that they are at home with the new Ipad in a weekend morning to read the interesting news that they love in that day’s newspaper with the more human touch screen function. And because of his ability to deliver his idea with passion, he is able to become the number one salesperson in Apple using his charisma.

Figure 2 Steve Jobs in the Ipad presentation

Source: Latimes.com 2010

On the other hand, Steve Jobs also sources his charisma in leading Apple by his abundant professional knowledge and the technology that he is immersed in for the past 30 years as he started his career as specialist in circuit design with the necessary technical background, and technical background and his profound experience in technology innovation provides him with the knowledge for him show off his charisma in leading the employees including the technicians and engineers. And charisma is also strengthened by his being the cofounder of the Apple Computer which most employees will admire. In a word, as a born leader with strong passion, and charisma and also his interests, vision and profound experience in the PC technology, Steve Jobs managed to motivate the employees to follower his vision and high expectations and also convince the customers to buy Apple products.

2.4 Leadership style of Steve Jobs and organization effectiveness

Organization effectiveness which could be defined as the company’s ability to create acceptable outcomes and actions (Yaeger & Sorensen 2009, p.309) is considered as having closed relationship with the leadership behaviors. There are a number of approaches to measure the organization effectiveness and performance, and below will use the Strategic Constituencies model to measure the effectiveness of Apple Inc under Steve Jobs’s leadership as the CEO.

Strategic Constituencies, or sometimes referred as the participant satisfaction (Keeley & Zedler 1978), measures the organizational effectiveness by examining the company’s ability to meet the needs and expectations of the strategic constituencies or stakeholders who are all those groups and individuals who are affected by and/or affect corporate goals (Owens 2008, p.200). In other words, the Strategic Constituencies model match between an organization’s activities and stakeholders’ expectation. Below let’s check whether the key stakeholders such as the users, employees and shareholders have obtained what they desire from Apple Inc.

2.4.1 Strategic Constituencies Analysis – Customers

In the perspective of the users, Apple has been the top in a number of satisfaction surveys in many of its product categories. For example as the table below shows, in 2010 Apple enjoyed the highest customer satisfaction score than other PC brands, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The score of 86 is the highest for Apple, and it has a lead of 9 points even compared the second brand Acer which only score 78.

Table 1 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Source: Zdnet.com 2010

And for another blue chip product, the Iphone, according to the results released by J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study, for the fifth consecutive years Iphone has been placed on the top of the satisfaction study (News.cnet.com 2011). And from the global mobile phone sale and revenue data (sees appendix 1), Apple’s Iphone series have topped the global mobile phone market in term of revenues and in term of phones shipped, it is No.4 globally. These data all suggest that the Apple products have enjoyed very high customer satisfaction and meet and even exceed the expectation of the users.

2.4.2 Strategic Constituencies Analysis – Shareholders

In the perspective of the shareholders, the most important indicator of the organizational effectiveness is the profit that the company creates which has close relationship with their own interests; and according to the second quarter financial results in 2011 released in April 20 2011, Apple has a record 83 percent revenue growth, 95 percent profit growth and record iPhone sale growth at 113 percent (Apple.com 2011). With all these sale and profit digits, there is no way the shareholders would become dissatisfied.

2.4.3 Strategic Constituencies Analysis – Employees

Table 2 Employee satisfaction report

Source: Mac.blorge.com 2009

Though explosions, suicide and other major issues still surround Foxconn’s Apple manufacturing center in China, in a strict sense, these have nothing to do with the Apple Inc, and what’s more from the employee satisfaction report above, we can see that employees are more satisfied with the company and with Steve Jobs ever than before. But for a long time, it seems that not all the staffs will love Apple and Steve Jobs so much. According to an senior employee in Apple, there are very few happy retirements at Apple below the executive level and many had left the company with the thinking that “Love the products, hate the company” because of the mistreatment they received in Apple (Typepad.com 2005). But now it seems that a growing business can cover a number of issues and seemingly employees are quite content with the job they are doing.

2.4.4 Steve Jobs’s leadership and organization effectiveness

According to the Strategic Constituencies analysis we have above, the key stakeholders are very satisfied with Apple Inc, and a conclusion could be made that Apple has high organization effectiveness by meeting or even exceed the expectations from the key interest groups. And to a high extent does the leadership of Steve Jobs shape the company’s performance and effectiveness that it achieved today, the reasons are three fold: firstly, from a broad sense, Steve Jobs provides Apple the vision and major direction that it is using today which is the major reasons that it is growing so fast and together the employees, shareholder and user satisfactions come; secondly, Steve Jobs exerts higher expectations for the employees to achieve and he also spreads his passion among the followers for them to achieve such expectations through his charismatic leadership behaviors; thirdly, without Steve Jobs, Apple would not be what it is today, the leadership that he has is important to shape the organization effectiveness and performance.

3. Bolman and Deal (1997)’s Four Frames model analysis

3.1 Literature review

Table 3 Bolman and Deal (1997)’s Four Frames model

Source: Schuh, Jones & Harper 2011

Bolman and Deal (1997) in their famous book, Reframing organizations, after reviewing thousands of studies regarding organizational behavior and also theories they proposed a four frames[2] model that was designed to help better understand how organizations operate and the reasons and motives behind some organization issues. As illustrated above, the four frames include: structural, human resource political and symbolic. The structural frame is usually used to depict how the employees in the company are grouped up to finish different tasks and also the setting goals polices and technology in the strategic direction is also the content of the leaders in the structure content; the human resource frame aligns the organizational and human needs of the company; the political The political frame views organizations as “living, screaming political arenas that host a complex web of individual and group interests” (Bolman and Deal, 2003, p. 186); and the leaders in the last frame, the symbolic frame, will majorly deal with symbols creation, rituals, and stories to help prosper the organizational culture.

3.2 Case discussion

In the case of Steve Jobs in Apple Inc, he has been majorly performing within the structural frame which deals with setting the goals, and role and responsibilities. Steve Jobs with a technical background and great love and passion for the PC products had long been setting the vision for Apple according to his vision for the future of the PC market in term of new functions and customers’ needs. But if Jobs’s leadership is reframe to categories, he may not be still so successful. If we examine Jobs’s leadership in the human resource frame, we can see that Jobs did not do a good job in aligning the organizational and human needs of the company. As mentioned above, when focusing on the key projects, Steve Jobs tended to be using an autocratic leadership style to fulfill his personal interest though it is also the interest of the company, but when the employees’ requests were ignored for many times, we can say that Steve Jobs is under performing in the human resource frame. In another frame, the political frame, Steve Jobs also is not very good at dealing with the political conflicts and also he is focusing too much on his own projects. In 1985, Steve Jobs had been obsessively working on his personal project within the company: the Macintosh but he became increasingly antagonistic toward Apple’s other groups, resulting in the fissure that would eventually lead to his leaving the company. And in another frame, the symbolic frame, Steve Jobs plays an even worse leadership role. Though he did make a number of famous products that are the best sellers and bring a lot of fortune to the shareholders and amazing experience to the customers that they had never had before, but his being an autocratic person have make a lot of people and employees hate him. There is even a “We hate Steve Jobs” petition site on the internet.

4. Conclusions

From the above literature review and in-depth analysis of the leadership of Steve Jobs using the various leadership theories and models, some conclusions could be made. Firstly, Steve Jobs’s obvious leadership traits (passions, vision, risk taking) have greatly contributed his business success as the CEO of Apple Inc, and his leadership style which is a mixture of laissez-faire and autocratic which has to a high extent shape the organization’s performance and effectiveness. But when we reframe Steve’s leadership under three other frames rather the structural frame in which he is doing a job, we can see that Steve Jobs still need to improve his leadership in other three frames such as dealing with the political conflicts and meeting the need of the human sources management.

5. Recommendations – Changing laissez-faire into empowering leadership

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[1] Apple dropped the word “Computer” from the name and known more simply as “Apple, Inc” on January 9th 2007

[2] A frame is known as a mental model, mind-set or cognitive lens, it is a set of ideas or assumptions that guide behaviors.

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