• Məlahət Hacıyeva

Steve Jobs: Transformational or Charismatic leader?

Updated: Apr 8

With the development of leadership style theories, some famous leader figures of huge organizations as Steve Jobs, have already become a subject to charismatic and transformational leadership studies on leadership psychology. There is no doubt that Steven Paul Jobs, a business magnate based in the USA, is one of the most famous and influential personalities of the business world who attracts researchers of leadership theories. While some biographers describe him as a narcissistic personality with sometimes rude, unethical behavioral features, another group of describers portraying Jobs with his bright sides as an innovative, inspiring great leader. Yet there are valid arguments for Steve Jobs’s leadership style to be both charismatic or transformational leadership, I vehemently assert that his personality and leadership characteristics make him to indicate transformational (in other terms, inspirational or visionary) approach to leadership.

On the one hand, Jobs’s behavioral samples would be a reason for his transformational style to be questioned. After reading not only peer review but also descriptions of some biographers about Jobs, it is obvious to me that he was not inclined to listen to others. Although Jobs’s approach, not listening to customers for their needs and demands, worked as a beneficiary in the way of innovation on the marketplace; yet, notwithstanding this, he also wasn't willing to listen to his own workers for ideas or in a decision making process. Together with the pattern mentioned above, making subordinates dependent is one of the behaviors we should take in account. A friend of Jobs and also one of the first employees of the company, Daniel Kottke was not ever been set up with stock options in Apple. Despite the fact that pushing followers to use their full potential and to use a more creative approach to innovate Apple products is one of the features of Jobs's leadership behavior. This also reminds in some way about the term of intellectual stimulation as Yukl mentioned in his book (G.Yukl, 2013). Yet his way of empowering employees is disputable. Jobs is also well-known with his unethical behavioral samples towards his employees. For example, he fired workers without any noticing beforehand or even avoided paying compensation to them even if it was his responsibility. His way to empower employees to be more creative could be described with the motto as “no excuses for any fault”. So this style of behavior patterns indicates him being far away from inspirational leadership.

On the other hand, the skills he indicated seems to be a good potential for being a visionary leader. For example, the oratory and presentation skills of Jobs hold benefits in terms of appealing a vision to the followers. Bill Campbell, Steve Jobs’s coach, described him as a “magical storyteller”. Not only this, but also his ability to simplify things, or in other words choosing essentials by focusing on priorities helped him to avoid many distractions on the way of achieving success. Another ability which is noticed, is his emotional intelligence and/or empathy skills. As many researchers and decribers mentioned him as a customer focused individual, it is also important to pay attention to Jobs’s empathy for the customers' needs. By using this skill, Jobs was able to feel and find the customers’ demand for being attracted by innovative features of the intended Apple products.

Moreover, Steve’s traits as being visionary, passionate and creative would be also top qualities which describes his leadership style. For instance, if Jobs’s empathy to the customers were led to find their demands, his visionary side contributed to realize those needs on the Apple products. It is possible that his mental strength to see things through to the market is why jobs are sometimes described in terms of transformational leader (Marlane C. S., & Jennifer A. Z., 2014). Jobs's passion and confidence to convert his dream to practice seem on his strong beliefs and sometimes stubborn even desires about how to achieve making perfect products, why simple design for the technology is preferable, and so on. He obviously had passion to influence people. He worked for months, years on some product until perfection and then presented it to the audience to influence them and persuade them that it is possible to change the world. In his own words, “the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”. Creativeness is another strong point for Steve Jobs’s personality. “Creativity is just connecting things”, said Jobs. I would like to link Jobs’s this trait to his potential to connect right people around one aim and vision. As he tended to easily fire employees, he was more inclined to find the right people for vacancies and connect them together.

If I would describe Steve Jobs in three words, these words were vision, simplifying and presenting things. Jobs' visionary side, I think, is one of his strongest features for being a leader. For seeing the way he was going to start, he used his abilities to feel the demands of the target audience he focused, namely customers. Once he saw the way, the next best step was making clear the steps of that way to achieve his aim of the vision. He tended to make mostly everything to simplify, minimize and focus only on priorities without any distraction. When he achieved his aim, for example an innovative Apple product, he used all his best abilities to prove and show people around not only his achievement, but also inspiring subordinates by persuading them it is possible to make unbelievable things happen.

From the point of the Transformational leadership view, it seems Steve Jobs’s leadership style is mainly inspirational. We see some inspirational leadership features in his influence of customers (eg. inspiring, empowering etc.); and some other indicators in the context of his employees as subordinates. Some of his behavioral patterns or other variables as environment, and even absence of some main signs of visionary style might question his style to be ideal transformational leadership. Although his behavioral samples towards workers seems far away from transformational style, it could be explained with the reason of his preferable priorities. More precisely, Jobs was not willing to help any random subordinates to achieve their full potential, instead of that he was focusing on finding the right people for supporting them on their own success. Another aspect should be mentioned here is about the environment that provokes a certain leadership style. Yet there is not still studied enough in what exact situation transformational leadership style tends to emerge, according to Yukl, in the crisis situations in organizations as were similar to the case of Jobs’s returning to Apple, are a good circumstance to emerge charismatic leadership than inspirational. So the organizational situation was more eligible for another leadership style to appear. But there is no studied proof that transformational leadership style is not able to emerge in crisis situations. So yet we cannot say that his style is far away from transformational style. Moreover, the fact that in some studies showed that Jobs doesn’t have some of the main features of transformational leadership style, namely empowerment or interactiveness, yet this is not enough to say that his style is closer to any other leadership style.

Steve Jobs leadership style and personality features together are not an ideal sample of visionary leadership. Even if Jobs will be remembered as a perfect inspirational leader, we should consider the impact of this factor on our understanding of transformational leadership (Marlane C. S, 2014). Yet his role model might be improved by using recommendations of the mentioned leadership style. He could take time nor only to search for people with potential, but also their empowerment. Jobs’s relationship towards his employees seems to be more dangerous for an organization in case of provoking risk employees to quit work even. He could improve his empowerment features by supporting subordinates, by for example, coaching, listening to them, involving them in decision making processes, or even some other methods of inspiring. According to Peter Northouse (2016), transformational leadership does not provide exact steps to achieve success. It is more focused on general emphasising a few main features (namely, ideals, inspiration, innovations and individual concerns) of this style. Between those features, individual concern patterns should be improved in the manner and approach of Steve Jobs’s leadership.

In conclusion, the points above have discussed both the obvious indicators and reasons to question the inspirational leadership style of Steve Jobs; however, the compelling factors ( eg. lack of inspiring employee individuals, environmental variables, etc) reveal that the style he represents is far away from transformational leadership, indicating patterns (eg, vision, passion to influence, traits for articulating a vision, etc.) exceeding the questions.


  • Abz S. & David G. (2011). Narrative, drama and charismatic leadership: The case of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Leadership 7(1) 3–26. DOI: 10.1177/1742715010386777

  • Christopher J. V. (2014). iLeadership: the leadership style of Steve Jobs. Pepperdine University. UMI Number: 3636238

  • Colin Ting Si Xue. (2016). Role of leadership in achieving sustainable organizational change: Steve Jobs. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research. Vol-2, Issue-8. ISSN: 2454-1362

  • Loizos H. & Laura A. K. (2014). Charismatic Leadership and Rhetorical Competence: An Analysis of Steve Jobs’s Rhetoric. Group & Organization Management 2014, Vol. 39(2) 131–161

  • Marlane C. S., & Jennifer A. Z. (2014). Remembering Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a “Transformational leader”: implications for pedagogy. Journal of Leadership Education. DOI:10.12806/V13/I2/R3

  • Northouse, Peter (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 521 pp. ISBN: 78-1-4833-1753-3. SAGE.

  • Tanvi Shah & Zubin R. Mulla (2013). Leader Motives, Impression Management, and Charisma A Comparison of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates*. Management and Labour Studies 38(3) 155–184. DOI: 10.1177/0258042X13509736

  • Yukl, Garry. (2013). Leadership in organizations. 437 pp. ISBN: 9780273765660. Prentice Hall.

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