Leadership and Management Style Comparison: Steve Jobs versus Tim Cook

Leadership and Management Style Comparison: Steve Jobs versus Tim Cook


Organizational leadership and management is one of the key elements that affect organizational performance. Leaders must possess certain qualities that enhance productivity in the organizational set up. At the same time, the leaders must be capable of developing their followers towards working for the same goals and objectives. Organizations in which a relevant leadership and management style is used usually record high profitability, employee retention rates and sufficient customer satisfaction. While the two aspects i.e. leadership and management are very different from each other, it is clear that no organization can perform exceptionally without intertwining the key elements that constitute leadership and those that constitute management. Effective leaders work based on the combination of more than one leadership traits. Organizational leaders and managers may employ different leadership styles but still achieve the same level of growth in the organization. It is therefore important that any leadership style used should take into consideration the type of employee force available as well as the competencies of the organization.

A typical organization that can be taken into consideration in the analysis of leadership and management styles is Apple Inc. Through the years, the company has managed to exhibit exceptional performance characterized by high profitability and great innovation. One outstanding issue in the company is the diversity of leadership styles that have been used by the CEOs of the company over the years. Steve Jobs, the immediate former CEO stands in contrast to the present CEO (Tim Cook) in terms of both leadership and management capabilities and styles. It is however important to note that despite the differences in their styles, both leaders managed to maintain the company at the top of the market in its industry. Tim Cook is said to have followed the advice given by his predecessor in avoiding to ask himself what Steve Jobs would do in any situation. This has consequently brought out stark differences in both leadership and management aspects in the organization. There are several differences as well as a few similarities that can be associated with the leadership practices of the two CEOs. The present paper aims at exploring these differences and similarities and subsequently understanding the advantages associated with the leadership styles of the two leaders.

Differences between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

According to various biographies that have been conducted on the life and leadership qualities of Steve Jobs, his leadership style can be described as executive or autocratic. In this case, major decisions are made by the organizational leader with little or no consultations from the subordinates. In an autocratic leadership regime, the leader has little room for consensus yet requires the followers to collaborate with him/ her. This is one of the key features of Apple as a company during the tenure of Steve Jobs. For instance, McInerney reports that Steve Jobs maintained great focus on the goals of the company and held control over all systems of operation (2011). Making efforts to control all areas of operations is an indication that the leader did not delegate his duties. The effect of this is that despite being feared by the other employees to a certain extent, he was able to motivate them through coercion. This is a characteristic that is more often associated with autocratic leadership. On the other hand, Tim Cook is often associated with a democratic leadership style. The democratic leadership style practiced by Tim Cook has many advantages and a few disadvantages. While most of those who worked at Apple managed to work effectively due to being pushed to make decisions effectively during Steve Jobs’ time, the contrary has been done during the present tenure by giving out opportunities for innovation and growth of the employees.

Through an open door leadership style, it has been possible for Tim cook to enhance consensus building among the team members. While Steve Jobs stressed on focus and movement for positive growth, Tim Cook focused on transparency as the key to organizational growth. As such, the employees during Steve Jobs’ tenure collaborated with the management as a result of being pushed. Tim Cook on the other hand has managed to achieve employee collaboration and motivation without any form of pushing. The feeling of participating in the organizational decision making is sufficient reason for the employees to be motivated towards organizational objectives. Ampo (2016) described Steve Jobs as unconventional. This was based on the argument that his actions such as reprimanding employees in public could not be related to any of the conventional leadership styles or combinations thereof. The ability of the company to retain employees during the tenure of Steve Jobs is related to the distinction that exists between motivation based on the satisfaction of needs and mandatory motivation due to the absence of other job alternatives that may offer benefits similar to or greater than the present job conditions. In this regard, employees remain in a position not because they so desire, but because they are compelled to do so. On the other hand, Tim Cook has managed to maintain employee motivation through engagement and maintenance of participatory leadership. The employees are retained because they so wish to remain in the organization.

Raelin (2003) describes leadership theories by McGregor in terms of theory X and Theory Y. Theory X is more pertinent in situations where the leaders consider their subordinates incapable of making major decisions regarding the company (Casse, 2011). The theory postulates that leaders believe that people are innately structured to be led and that they tend to avoid responsibility through accepting to be pushed and coerced into motivation. The implication of this theory is that people dislike work and would do anything to avoid work. Northouse (2013) suggests that in organizations where the leaders apply theory X, an autocratic leadership style is most commonly applied as evidenced in the case of Steve Jobs. While this may make the employees to work even further on the foundation that they are waiting for better opportunities, it has the potential of destroying the relationship between the superiors and the subordinates and resulting in great resistance from the subordinates. The theory can also be described as coercive and demanding of instant compliance with regulations (CMI, 2015). Steve Jobs applied this, placing the subordinates under pressure to perform and expecting nothing less than perfection in accomplishing his demands.

This style is contrary to Tim Cook’s style that can be taken to be based on theory Y. Theory Y entails the postulation that people tend to take work more naturally and that this enables them to be motivated towards accomplishing their roles in the work place. With a calm and more approachable demeanor, Tim Cook can be described as an influential and motivating leader in Apple. Taking workers as more likely to enjoy their work implies that the leader has to take into consideration the key aspects of employee motivation while providing opportunities for the employees to grow into bigger and better opportunities. Ampo (2016) described Steve Jobs as passionate about his cause yet abrasive in his style. This can clearly be related to his application of the autocratic leadership style and combining it with the theory X approach to leadership (Casse, 2011). From the point of view of Ampo, this is bound to result in chaos in the organization. Tim Cook on the other hand, the reign of a democratic leader such as Tim Cook is characterized by peace. Moltz (2011) reports concerning the differences in ambiance between the time of Steve Jobs and that of Tim Cook through the assertion that it is no longer easy to experience confrontations like those that occurred during the time of Steve Jobs.

Another difference between the two leaders is in the way in which they each handled their investors. Jobs has been described as egotistical and uncompromising. During the entire period that Steve Jobs was the Apple CEO, the investors were not paid any dividends (Kets de Vries, 2014). This could have been a result of poor communication and consultation by the CEO. On the other hand, as soon as Tim Cook took over Apple, he managed to plan sustainably for the company to develop a dividend payment plan. The first dividends were then paid in 2012 under the leadership of Tim Cook. From this perspective, it can be argued that the outstanding performance associated with Apple in the present time is a result of the motivation of employees as well as the investors in the company. Motivated investors work towards the application of ore resources towards organizational building and expansion. Steve Jobs failed to achieve this through focusing on profitability rather than building all stakeholders. From the company reports, it is indicated that in 2015, Apple managed to record the highest profits ever after the deduction of dividends, taxes and other expenditures. This can clearly be associated with the motivation of all the organizational stakeholders.

Although leadership roles require the application of many theories and strategies, it is also crucial to note that profitability cannot be achieved without excellence. However, the way in which a leader demands for that excellence determines whether it can be achieved or not. For instance, in the tenure of Steve Jobs, the CEO demanded perfection and excellence and could at times cause chaos due to his harsh words to employees (Hurley-Hanson and Giannantonio, 2013). Similarly, Tim Cook also desires excellence and perfection. While Jobs went about it through coercion and demands, Cook addresses this need through communication and collaboration. Kets de Vries defines leadership as a form of stage management. In this context, the stage is the company in which the leaders operate (2013). Effective managers of the stage are said to be those capable of greatly influencing the subordinates without coercion. Cooks thus managed to keep the trust of the employees while also addressing the needs of the investors.

According to a report by McInerney (2011), Steve Jobs had hands – on strategy and is even described as a high maintenance co-worker. This implies that far from being there to guide and give directions to the employees, he really took the time to be there and actually do the work himself. This explains why it is claimed that working under Steve Jobs was a high pressure opportunity as people often faced criticism and rebuts from him. On the other hand, Cook is described as approachable. Although he does not really come out to do the work himself, he is capable of influencing the employees to give exactly what he desires. The structure applied by Jobs can be described as high intensity. Higgs (2003) suggests that autocratic leadership style is most applicable where the subordinates have low levels of competency. In situations characterized by high competency levels, the structure is bound to result in resistance and chaos. In addition to this, this leadership style is also suitable where there is need for fast decision making where there is no time for consultation. On the other hand, the democratic leadership style applied by Tim Cook is characterized by high efficiency and effectiveness in performance. However, it is also characterized by slow decision making. This can explain why Tim Cook can lead the development of fewer technologies in a similar amount of time to that in which Steve Jobs led to the realization of more innovations. On the other hand, the non- consensus building strategy used by Steve Jobs led to the performance of errors more frequently than the collaborative approach used by Tim Cook.

Similarities between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

Despite the differences between the two CEOs, there are also some significant similarities that have been observed between them. For instance, both leaders have been described as being strategist and futuristic in their operations. Moltz (2011) describes Steve Jobs as a strategist and Futurist whose objective was see the company moving forward regardless of the situation they were in. It also seems that Steve Jobs managed to perform exceptionally through motivation of other employees to work together towards the achievement of organizational goals. Similarly, Tim Cook also had a futuristic outlook on business operations, intending to build the business for sustainable operations in all contexts. Each of these leaders worked towards ensuring that the company had sustainable profitability and was always ahead of competition in the market. The futuristic outlook to business enabled Steve and now Cook to strategize operations such that all plans made for company development resulted in the realization of positive growth (Moltz, 2011).

Moreover, the two leaders can also be said to be similar in terms of their commitment to product differentiation and to the organizational product lines (CMI, 2015). Steve Jobs was committed to placing Apple at the top of the market through the provision of distinctive products that set the company apart from the competition. This led to continued innovation in the company realizing new products frequently and meeting emerging customer needs through persistent innovation. This commitment to product differentiation is also seen through Tim Cook. In his time as the Apple CEO, he has managed to spear head the development of three key products such as the Apple mini and others which have led to great market recognition. It is the commitment of these leaders to product differentiation that has continued to set Apple apart in the advancing technological industry. The differences between the organization’s products and other products in the industryy have come to make them standout as luxury products, fetching higher market prices in comparison to others. Additional exceptional product features realized through innovation continue to make the products attractive to the market at large.

Additionally, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook are both described as visionary leaders (McInerney, 2011; Ampo, 2016). It can be argued that the ability to steer the development of new products and to effectively manage such developments depends on the ability of a leader to learn the potential needs of the customers. Through feedback and actual use of the products, leaders can identify existing needs that still need to be addressed and thus work towards accomplishing such needs. In the case of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, the ability to recognize technological advancements and to predict the future actions and developments of competitors can be said to be a sign of visionary leadership. The capacity to predict future developments and to act before the competitors is a key feature of visionary leadership as observed in the case of Apple (Casse, 2011). The two can thus be said to be effective in their actions.

Furthermore, the two leaders can also be associated with strong leadership skills and matching management skills. In spite of the differences in the leadership style, it is important to note that each of the leaders have been able to achieve the organizational goals during their time. Each of the leadership styles has pros and cons but has led to the accomplishment of organizational goals. In the case of Steve Jobs, the ability to take control of the situation and to maintain hands – on approach to leadership made him stand out as one who is dedicated to the accomplishment of the common objectives. Similarly, the open door approach to leadership as employed by Tim Cook is an appropriate method for the accomplishment of company objectives. Since each of the leaders managed to apply the specific strategy chosen in its entirety, they can both be said to be good leaders. On the contrary, Tim Cook is reported to be an effective manager due to the ability to motivate the employees and investors through provision of participatory leadership and dividends respectively while Steve Jobs was not much of an effective manager. The similarity in management therefore lies in the fact that Steve Jobs knew his shortcoming and thus surrounded himself with a team of effective managers whom he included in the decision making process (Moltz, 2011). The organization can thus be concluded to be under effective management throughout the two reigns.

Benefits of Different Leadership Styles

It may be necessary to understand that the leadership styles applied by Steve Jobs and Tim Cook were different yet led to the realization of great benefit to the company due to different reasons. Each of the styles has its own strengths and weaknesses. The fact that the two leaders managed to gain from their different leadership styles shows that they both used the chosen styles with caution. For instance, the autocratic leadership style used by Steve Jobs is characterized by motivation and reward for the leaders who use them through recognition of their efforts. It has been reported that as Steve Jobs used this method, he at times failed to recognize his boundaries through claiming the glory due to others (Investopedia, 2015). This is because an autocratic leader makes most of the decisions independently and thus is credited individually for most of the achievements of an organization. Additionally, the autocratic leadership style is based on individual decision making hence leading to the realization of faster decision making. There is also a strong chain of command and lack of initiative for decision making as the leader makes all the essential decisions (Khan et al., 2015).

On the other hand, this leadership style is also limited due to dislike, frustration and poor motivation of employees. The actions of Steve Jobs while using this particular leadership strategy show inclination to positive outcome regardless of the path followed (Rasel, 2013). For instance, while taking advantage of the strengths associated with the method, he also downplayed the style limitations through pushing employees towards motivation; dealing with frustrations when they arise, sometimes harshly and demanding excellence and perfection regardless of an employee’s perception concerning him.

The democratic leadership style applied by Tim Cook is also similarly two sided. The advantages associated with democratic leadership include employee empowerment and motivation among others. The employees subject to a democratic leader feel included in the decision making process and subsequently feel motivated towards achievement of organizational objectives. The key disadvantage of this style on the other hand is the slow decision making process due to intensive consultations. The appropriate use of the democratic leadership style by Tim Cook can therefore result in greater benefits for the company (Gastil, 1994).


Apple has managed to maintain strong performance in the mobile phones industry. Through the two key CEOs of the company, Apple has been under two distinctive leadership styles i.e. autocratic and democratic leadership leading to various differences and similarities. For instance, while Steve Jobs is associated with coercion and demand for excellence and perfection without consensus building, Tim Cook is associated with collaboration, consultation, and motivation of employees without being pushy. The two leaders posses futuristic and strategist ideologies; are committed to product differentiation and effective leadership and management capabilities. The key lies in the ability of the leaders to take advantage of the strengths associated with the leadership styles chosen while also downplaying the negative aspects of the selected styles.


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