A new film about the man behind Apple’s astonishing success has been released in the UK. Were Steve Jobs’s dictatorial methods justified by his results, or is consensual leadership better?
‘Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.’
Steve Jobs’s claim at the launch of the iPhone in early 2007 may have sounded outlandish, but few now disagree with him. When the iPhone 6 went on sale last year, crowds camped outside shops around the world; fighting broke out in queues which reached up to half a mile; and some people lined up just to sell their position. In September, Apple sold more than 13 million iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models within three days of launching them.
Today, the late pioneer’s life is back in the spotlight as the film Steve Jobs is released in the UK. The film, which stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, follows Jobs through the launches of three of his iconic products. It is the second biopic of him made since he died; the first was Jobs, a 2013 film starring Ashton Kutcher.
According to his unofficial biographer, Jobs ‘revolutionised six industries’. The man who created iTunes and gadgets such as the iPod and iPad also funded Pixar and worked as an executive producer on the breakthrough blockbuster Toy Story. By 2014 he had 458 patents to his name — a third of which had been credited to him after his death three years earlier. Apple, which he co-founded, became twice as valuable as the second-largest listed company in the world earlier this year.
But those who worked with Jobs reported that he had an authoritarian and often abusive management style. Alan Deutschman, who wrote a book about him, said his behaviour included ‘intimidating, goading, berating, belittling and even humiliating’ his underlings. He sacked some employees on the spot; for example, in 2008, he dismissed the head of theMobileMe project in front of a crowd of employees. Jony Ive, a close friend of Jobs, once said: ‘I think, when he’s very frustrated, his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him’.
Some say hard taskmasters make the best managers. Just look at how much Jobs, Sir Alex Ferguson (whose rebukes to players were nicknamed ‘the hairdryer treatment’) or the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher, got done. Leadership requires conviction; without it staff become complacent, deadlines are missed and shoddy standards become acceptable.
Nobody respects a bully, respond others. As psychologist Kurt Lewin found in his experiment of 1939, a democratic leadership style gets better results than an authoritarian one. Good managers allow their staff to feel as if they have a stake in the project they are involved in. Shouting at, overworking and belittling staff is counter-productive: fearful, miserable people are unlikely to care how effective they are.