Leadership Behaviors and Attitudes of Steve Jobs

2010/02/15 § 9 Comments


(A discussion of Steve Jobs as a leader, based on Andrew J. DuBrin’s definitions.)

Introduction

“iPledge allegiance to the Apple by the genius of Steve Jobs, and to the Quality for which it stands: one Fanboy under Tech, Indivisible, with Creativity and Style for all.”1

This ode to the CEO of Apple exemplifies the influence and charisma extreme fans of Apple products (the so called “apple fanboys”) attribute to Steve Jobs. However, apparently he is hated with similar eagerness by others, exemplified by the excistence of a “we-hate-Steve-Jobs” petition site2. So, who is this person that creates such extreme emotions?

Steve Jobs is a co-founder of Apple Company in 1976 (with a childhood friend Steve Wozniak)3. He was forced to leave the company in 1985, after internal power struggles, and returned twelve years later. Meanwhile, he had very successfully led the Pixar animation studios4.

Apparently, Steve Jobs is, despite his success, or maybe therefore, a controversial individual. Maybe a first approach to answering why this is can be found in a Harvard review blog entry by Bill Taylor: “So In terms of the impact his products have had on the world, Steve Jobs represents the face of business at its best. And yet, in terms of his approach to leadership, Jobs represents the face of business — well, if not at its worst, then certainly not as something worth emulating.”5

We will attempt to analyze his leadership style and his traits based on the information available to us:

Charisma

What is charisma? In Dubrins book on leadership he suggests that charisma “involves a relationship between the leader and the people being led”6. He furthermore points to the importance of “management by inspiration” as he calls it and he point to the different communication styles of a charismatic leader7. In essence, charisma is a key aspect of leadership, as Dubrin discusses.

Steve Jobs is famed for his ability to give speeches and captivate the audience’ attention8. He is able to captivate his employees and audience with the ability of an evangelist. In this respect we can observe that he posses the charismatic abilities that Dubrin demands by communicating his ideas using metaphors and analogies and storytelling9.

Interestingly, when presenting the new Apple product “iPad” he would sit down on a couch as some of us would have at home and create a scenario that helps the viewer and listener to imagine a Sunday-morning scene at home, using this new product while reading a paper. Jobs then also started by opening the webpages of an American newspaper. By creating these stories in our head he communicates the advantages of his products most efficiently.

He is a gifted speaker with an uncanny ability to confound his employees and the public with an almost evangelistic delivery (referent power10). 

Jobs charisma is largely dependent on his deep knowledge and understanding of the technology he is immersed in (expert power11). Jobs technical knowledge might not be that of his engineers, however, Jobs has been the founder of Apple together with Wozniak, and together they developed the very first hardware. Certainly Jobs understanding of the technologically possible, combined with a visionary gift help him to develop his visions and then efficiently communicate them, for execution, to his employees.

His charisma enables him to whip up the enthusiasm of his employees (job involvement) to achieve more by doing seemingly impossible tasks, and also convince customers to buy Apple products. 

Personalized leadership

His charisma type could be described as being personalized12. This means in accordance to Dubrins explanation, that one serves primarily own interests and exercises only minor restraints on the use of power. In Jobs case this means that he does not only motivate by story telling but also by force. Jobs is described by some as being manipulative, dishonest, and boorish13.

An indication for this can be found, when he says, for instance: “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. And to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better, coming up with more aggressive visions of how it could be.”14 He wants people to follow him, expects obedience and much of it seemingly out of the self-interest, since working at “Apple” is what he considers a valuable goal in his life15.

In conclusion, we can say he is a visionary type who communicates his visions well in this story telling fashion16. This vision, and the way that he can communicate it is the main attribute that makes Jobs being perceived as Charismatic.

Leadership Behaviors

Because of his “manipulative” behavior he is considered by some of his employees as autocratic. His behavior in meetings for instance is described as being rude, authoritative and obnoxious17.

Dubrin explains the importance of consideration and, what he calls, initiating structure18. Considerations stands for the degree that a leader offers emotional support, while structure is the way work is organized, i.e. by schedules, orders, guidelines etc. “Getting the job” done is highest on their priority list.

Because of his quest for perfection, Jobs has domineering presence which makes some of the employees fear him. This would let us assume that his consideration level is rather low (else he would care about peoples fear and try to counteract it) and his initiating structure level appears rather high, as we saw in the former paragraph on “charisma”, when we saw him saying “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.”19

However, in his later years, he shows more warmth and less vindictiveness towards his employees. In fact, a current rating of approval by his employees shows Jobs to get a 90% approval rating20. Nevertheless, it is not at all clear that this rating is based on him being softer on people today or simply on people’s admiration for him due to his success.

Leadership style

Autocratic versus participative

Jobs seems to micromanagement at Apple. Jobs admits that there are an incredible amount of up to 100 individuals reporting directly to him21. As mentioned above, he is perceived as autocratic. The fact that so many individuals report to him directly is representative for his will and eagerness to hold all the strings in his hands. Total control is certainly the basis for this leadership.

Dubrin describes an autocratic leader as one who tells “people what to do, asserting themselves, and serving as a model for team members”22. In contrast, a participative leader would be interested in hearing everyone’s opinion and integrate them into a group-decision either in a democratic way (let a vote decide), a consensus finding manner (strive for an agreement of compromise) or consultative (consult with all group members, then decide)23.

We assume that the amount of Jobs’ participative leadership is low. Anecdotes rumor that he is a rather rude participant in meetings and extremely impatient24. This behavior certainly does not contribute to people wanting to voice their opinion and participate. In contrast, Dubrin explains that a participative leadership style demands for “teamwork approach” where the leader does not try to dominate the group25.

From the documentary “The triumph of the nerds” we may conclude that his humility levels are very low, bringing his personality in conflict of the requirements for a participative leadership style26. This documentary has Jobs talk about some of his less successful episodes, blaming others for the losses.)

Entrepreneurial

At the same time Jobs is being described as entrepreneurial: “Jobs may be a multibillionaire, but that hasn’t cut into his work ethic. He brings an entrepreneur’s energy to tasks many CEOs would see as beneath them”27.

Dubrin defines an entrepreneur as someone with a strong will for achievement and a sensible risk taking, high degree of enthusiasm, tendency to act quickly on opportunity, being impatient, visionary, amongst others28. From the above discussion we have seen already, that Jobs can be described as being enthusiastic and a visionary, being impatient and having a strong will for achievement. Additionally, Jobs has taken risks and seized on opportunities many times in his career, for instance when leaving Apple (though being forced to) and leading Pixar to success, just to come back to Apple some years later and saving the day for a company in dire straits at the time29.

His continued entrepreneurial spirit is also shown by the fact, that he repeatedly introduced products to the world that revolutionize the entertainment industry, and the way entertainment media is distributed (e.g.: the iPhone and iPod as media devices, and iTunes as distribution channel).

Transformational leader

Dubrin defines a transformational leader as one who “brings about major, positive change for the group, organization or society”30. As we just heard, Jobs has transformed several companies over the years. He has transformed Pixar into a success story31.

He has all the necessary attributes to be considered one, based on some requirements that Dubrin mentions32: he leads by example, he practices empowerment, he has a vision and as mentioned he can be perceived as charismatic.

However, he appears to lack the humane qualities of a transformational leader, which are also mentioned as a prerequisite for a transformational leader by Dubrin33, namely: emotional intelligence, personal encouragement, building trust (Apple is famous for its secrecy, even admitted by Jobs himself: “It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished”34) etc.

Power Motives

In asking “why” someone strives for power, Dubrin explains two major motives, the personalized and the socialized power motive35. In Jobs’ case neither seem to fit completely. The personalized power motive would require the striving for status, money and luxury, something that is hard to pin on Jobs. Socialized power motives on the other hand would require the use of power for the greater good, or to help others.

We may leave the description of his motives to himself, by citing his words:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice; and the most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”36.

His motives appear selfish, but without the typical requirements of the personalized power motive. It would possibly be fair to assume that power is not his driving force, at least, when we trust his own words, but rather that for him, power is something that is a necessity for what really drives him: achievement in itself.

Personality traits of effective leaders

Dubrin mentions several character traits for an efficient leader37. We want to briefly mention them an state what we feel is true for Jobs from the above discussion:

Self-confidence:  intimidatingly high

Humility: incredibly low. (The documentary “The triumph of the nerds” can be used for reference38. This documentary has Jobs talk about some of his less successful episodes, blaming others for the losses.)

Trustworthiness: probably low, if the mentioned secrecy he exhibits in dealing with the world outside the company is in any way a reflection of how he deals with flow of information within the company (which is likely, since many projects remain incredible enough, secret until they are unveiled, like exemplified in the recent introduction of the iPad39).

Authenticity: true authenticity is based on self-reflection, which requires a degree of humility we can safely assume from the already analysed not to be found in Jobs.

Extraversion: his self-confidence may at first be mistaken for extraversion, however, extraversion in a socially interested way appears not to be extractable from the above analysis.

Assertiveness: the description of how he runs meetings and the aggression with which he motivates his employees speaks for a high degree of assertiveness.

Enthusiasm: his speeches and his entrepreneurial behavior indicate a large degree of enthusiasm.
Sense of humor: he never exhibited it, in case he posses it.

Conclusion

Interestingly, in general Jobs personality traits would not be characterized as the traits of an effective leader. In a way, he is far from a classical “text-book” example, as Dubrin for instance describes it. Nevertheless his charisma, self-confidence and passion for work overshadow all his negative characteristics thus making him one of most successful CEO’s of the decade.


Also check other popular articles on business themes:

Douglas McGregor: Human relations perspective on work

Henri Fayol: 14 principles of management

Business Ethics: A review of the psychology of morals and economy and the effects of measures such as Codes of Conduct (Honour Codes)

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REFERENCES:

1 http://fanboypledge.com/
2 http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/we-hate-steve-jobs
3 http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/01/business/an-unknown-co-founder-leaves-after-20-years-of-glory-and-turmoil.html
4 http://www.pixar.com/companyinfo/history/1986.html
5 http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2009/06/decoding_steve_jobs_trust_the.html
6 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 68ff
7 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 77ff
8 http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/steve-jobs-presentation-tips/
9 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 78ff
10 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 69ff
11 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 69ff
12 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 71ff
13 http://www.economist.com/media/globalexecutive/icon_steve_jobs_e.pdf
14 http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/gallery.jobsqna.fortune/5.html
15 http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/gallery.jobsqna.fortune/4.html
16 http://www.workbabble.com/2009/10/steve-jobs-the-return-of-the-worlds-greatest-storyteller-7-tips-to-sell-your-ideas-the-steve-jobs-wa.html
17 http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/what_steve_jobs_is_like_in_a_meeting.php
18 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 100ff
19 http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/gallery.jobsqna.fortune/5.html
20 http://www.glassdoor.com/blog/which-ceos-have-been-naughty-or-nice-according-to-their-employees/
21 http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/gallery.jobsqna.fortune/7.html
22 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 114ff
23 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 113ff
24 http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/what_steve_jobs_is_like_in_a_meeting.php
25 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 113ff
26 http://www.pbs.org/nerds/part1.html
27 http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_06/b3970001.htm
28 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 120ff
29 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Inc.
30 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 83ff
31 http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_06/b3970001.htm
32 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 86ff (Attributes of Transformational Leaders)
33 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 85ff
34 http://images.apple.com/hotnews/agreenerapple/docs/A_Greener_Apple.pdf
35 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 49ff
36 http://www.thepracticeofleadership.net/2005/07/01/steve-jobs-your-time-is-limited-so-dont-waste-it-living-someone-elses-life/
37 Leadership, Andrew J. Dubrin, Edition 6, 2010, page 33ff
38 http://www.pbs.org/nerds/part1.html
39 http://www.utalkmarketing.com/pages/Article.aspx?ArticleID=16688&Title=Why_the_Apple_iPad_launch_was_the_worst_kept_secret_ever

Post revised: Aug. 19, 2010

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