Comparing the leadership of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

The leadership styles adopted by the leaders of different organizations play a key role in influencing the success of the organizations they lead. The styles of leadership are often replicated in the behavior of the subordinates and develop an organizational culture. In the present competitive business environments, various challenges face and affects the operations of various organizations around the world. Apple’s spectacular leadership qualities have been a gateway to its success and soaring performance evident today. The leadership strategies employed by Apple’s CEOs Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have helped propel it to success placing the company among the top electronic companies in the United States and globally (Pantos). Some analysts, including the CEO of Forrester Research, argued that following the departure of Steve Jobs from Apple, the company would go the Sonny way and eventually fade out of business (Forbes). The CEO asserted that failure to recruit a new charismatic leader at the CEO position, Apple would fall from a great company it has been known for to a good company and eventually, a bad one.

Ever since Tim Cook joined the Apple Company, many analysts have realized he is no different from Steve Jobs regarding charisma when it comes to leadership. Under his leadership as the present CEO, Apple has equally registered remarkable advances. How then does Tim Cook’s leadership characteristics compare to that of Steve Jobs? Considerable research has been conducted regarding the leadership qualities of Steve Jobs during his tenure at Apple’s top leadership and as the co-founder of the company. The objective of this research is to compare the leadership styles of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. The analysis will provide an understanding into the insightful mysteries surrounding the leadership characteristics adopted by the two leaders (CEOs) in developing the company’s image in the global market as well as locally. A different aspect of leadership are analyzed, and comparisons made between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.

Industry Overview

Steve Jobs and Tim Cook were the CEO of the world’s giant electronic company, Apple Inc. Steve Jobs is also the co-founder of Apple Inc. alongside Wozniak and Ronald G. Wayne and was the CEO of Apple Inc. between 1996 and 2011 (Pantos). Apple is one of the largest electronics giants in the United States and the world. The company designs, manufactures and markets various mobile communication as well as media related devices. It also sells an assortment of related software, IT services, networking components, accessories as well as the third party digital contents and applications. Its products and services include iPhones, Apple Watch, iPads, Mac, iPods, Apple TV, and software applications including iOS, MacOS, the WatchOS, tvOS, iCloud, and related services and accessories (Pantos). Besides the electronic component, Apple Inc also develops and sells digital content as well as related applications through its iTunes store, App Store, the Mac App Store, iBook Store and the popular Apple music Store. Apple’s main market segments are America, Europe, the Great China, Japan, and the other Asian Pacific regions of the world. The Europe market comprises of the European countries, India, Africa and the Middle East.

Apple’s business segment is one of the most contested businesses with many electronic companies targeting or emerging quite often. Major competitors include Samsung, Huawei, Tecno, among other related companies (Pantos). The growth in the electronics market is quite futuristic and rapidly expanding as the digital intensification spreads globally. As the consumption levels for the electronic goods, including APPle’s products, continue to soar, more companies are attracted to the business making the market stiffly competitive. Moreover, the rapidly increasing cyber threats, although seen as a remarkable challenge to the IT related businesses, presents an opportunity for exploitation by IT related companies such as Apple by developing effective solutions to these emerging problems (Pantos). Apple operates its businesses under the US regulatory frameworks with strong intellectual property rights which have helped to regulate and uphold creativity and innovations in the business world.

The relevant theories, knowledge, findings, and discussions

Since its conception in 1976, Apple Inc. has had two remarkable CEOs, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook who have displayed not only almost the same styles of leadership but also the shown same focus when it comes to the company’s governance systems. This report compares the leadership styles adopted by Steve Jobs and Tim Cook at Apple Inc. during their tenure at the top leadership of the company. The analysis and discussions are conducted based on relevant theories and models of leadership depicting the scenario at hand.

Motivation and communication

Essentially, Apple doesn’t have a clear vision for its present and future businesses. Jobs, however, knew what the company needed to achieve and what was good for it in the short-term and the long-term basis. A lot of the company’s business operations revolved around his visions and perspectives on the business ideas. For these reasons, many have described Jobs as a visionary leader who knows sunk what needs to be done at what time to propel the company to the next development levels. To achieve these effects, Jobs employed a lot of charisma in his leadership to inspire and motivate to the employees of Apple at all times to inform them about what needed to be done. According to Aronson (247), a corporate culture that revolves around a charismatic leader who has a clear vision for the company has helped to create a unique culture among the employees. Applying his charming charisma, Jobs created a feeling among the employees to insert a feeling that their role is not about developing new brands of computers but pursuing a nobler goal than the just this. Regarding this aspect, Jobs said ‘I want to introduce a ding in the present universe’ (Vanacek). He spoke very highly concerning the company and its motivation. Jobs’ leadership approaches can be explained from the lenses of the contingency leadership theories. Job believed there is no one way of doing things, but rather every situation and circumstance require its unique method of address.

Like Jobs, Cook preferred to communicate to his employees directly, employing the charm of his charisma to influence and motivate the employees to perform better and more fruitfully. These approaches, according to Aronson (247) can prove very motivational to the employees by making them feel part of the company’s success. Through these, the leadership of Apple, under the two leaders managed to develop an enthusiasm. Unlike Cook, Jobs could become very harsh, notorious and very difficult to work with especially when his expectations weren’t met. Every situation, according to Jobs was treated specially and accorded the necessary attention it required. For these reasons, Jobs’ leadership could be seen to cut across the situational and contingency theories. The complexity of his style of leadership made him a unique leader at Apple whose legacy will last longer among his employees. One most important trait that Jobs displayed is that he did not carry any situation out of context. He dealt with every situation at its present occurrence and within its context and ensured that it did not have a spillover effect on other events following it. Due to this, he carried no grudge between him and his employees but always made his leadership felt whenever it was necessary to do so.

Based on the observations above, some analysts such as Kahney (57) have argued that the Jobs motivation was twofold: intrinsic and extrinsic. Coupled with the co-founding tag that Jobs carried with him, he had more authority and power in exercising control over the employees and all affairs of the company at all times compared to Cook. Through these practices, Jobs developed a corporate culture in which emphasis was laid on putting extra efforts on what an employee could do to the best levels they are capable of achieving. Else, as much as the employees felt free with Job and interacted very well with his leadership due to his charisma, they also feared being confronted if they did anything substandard. As a result, every employee put a lot of effort in their works to ensure that they achieved the best they could at all times.

Cook’s style of communication and motivation seems a little different from that of Jobs which tends to desist from open confrontations with the employees. Cook prefers to speak precisely and calmly with the employees about every issue but remains tough and follows the implementation of the task changes and orientations as he has directed (Richtel and Brian). Cook’s style of communication reflects his desire to see the company grow to greater heights as is always reflected in his assertions. He is often passionate and firm in his words, a fact which leaves the employees with nothing other than adhering to the set limits and instructions. For instance, during a Goldman Sachs’ investors forum. Cook spoke about Apple, employees and his position regarding their work at Apple. In his statement, he said that Apple’s ‘high-order bit’ is to please its customers at all times with their products (Cook). The term high order bit is a term used in computer science and refers to the most important data piece in a given set of data. These statements reflected Polidoro opinions regarding Cook’s communication styles when he described Cook as an assertive and eloquent. When he presents an issue he wants his listeners to take care of, he organizes his statements within a meaningful context and emphasizes on it to assert its meaningfulness.

Through these strategies, it is often easy for his listeners, mainly the employees and customers of Apple to distinguish an important matter and a mere relational joke. This style seems to move from that of Jobs who preferred to put most of the things down in a charismatic way, making sure that it sunk down as he wanted. Contrarily, Cook prefers to rule the company from behind the scenes, allowing only his well-structured and firm words to speak out regarding the direction he needed the company to go. The cognitive resource theories can be used to explain the leadership style adopted by Tim Cook. The cognitive resource theory asserts that the leaders contribute to the performance of the teams when his role is directive (Daft). By leading from behind the scenes, Cook makes his leadership felt across the company. His core areas of strength are in planning and making decisions


Works Cited

Aronson, Edward. “Integrating leadership styles and ethical perspectives.” Canadian Journal of   Administrative Sciences, 18.4 (2001): 244-256.

Cook, Tim. “Tim Cook Speaks Up.” Bloomberg Businessweek 30 (2014): 2014.

Daft Richard L. The Leadership Experience, (5th Ed). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning. (2012).

Forbes Moira. SteveJobs: “Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention of Life. Forbes. 05         November 2011. Electronic. 12 November 2016.          <   the-single-bestinvention-of-life/>

Kahney Leander. Inside Steve’s Brain. New York, NY: Penguin Group. (2008).

Richtel, Matt, and Brian X. Chen. “Tim Cook-Making Apple His Own.” New York Times, Technology 15 (2014).

Pantos, R. “W. May, Apple Incorporation, HTTP Live Streaming draft-pantos-http-live       streaming-11.” (2013).

Polidoro, Ronnie. “Apple CEO Tim Cook announces plans to manufacture Mac computers in        USA.” Rock Center with Brian Williams 6 (2012).

Vanacek Jacqueline. David Packard and Steve Jobs – One Pioneer Inspiring Author. Forbes. 10   October 2011. Electronic. 14 November 2016.          <     inspiringanother/>