Could Jobs’ Leadership Style Work Outside Apple?

Recently, CNNMoney and Wired ran a story about Steve Jobs and what it is like to work at Apple. Specifically, a key highlight of the article was about the internal drama that surrounded the failed MobileMe application that came out with the launch of the iPhone. The purpose of MobileMe was to mimick the very popular email sync features that BlackBerry users loved about their smartphones. Something went wrong, and the application was a major failure. The sync didn’t work correctly and users lost emails.

“Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?” For the next half-hour Jobs berated the group. “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation,” he told them. “You should hate each other for having let each other down.”

Jobs’ handling of the MobileMe debacle offers a rare glimpse of how Apple (AAPL) really operates… a brutal and unforgiving place, where accountability is strictly enforced, decisions are swift, and communication is articulated clearly from the top.     – Inside Apple, CNNMoney

Conventional management and leadership wisdom says that great managers are those who empower their people, act as coaches and mentors, and help their people grow. Research on company culture shows us that when managers care deeply about customers and employees—those companies have better performance. But valued at $153 billion, Apple is obviously very successful. Steve Jobs has been described as a visionary, perfectionistic, tyrannical magician and was named CEO of the Decade by Fortune Magazine. Is Steve Jobs, and by extension, the culture at Apple an outlier? Or can this management style work elsewhere?

What do you think? Do the ends justify the means in business? Is there a time and place to be a big bad boss? Are harsh management tactics ever justified? Taken further, are they sometimes necessary?

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  • It depends on how people are brought up. Some people are more emotionally resilient than others and can respond positively to harsh criticism which breeds excellence, others can’t take it. I don’t advocate anger in the workplace, but I do advocate honest, open criticism. Also I advocate training people how to respond positively to harsh critiques without feeling despair.

    • Interesting point about individual differences Angela. I agree that training and development around responding to criticism and feedback is very valuable!

  • Cary2225

    Perhaps it’s all about context.

    This is a situation where a major screw up. Not only was it a bad product it was a bad product that was allowed to go out to the public. It may have been different if it was a more minor affair.

    • Good point Cary… so would you say a harsh management style in the daily context of things might be irritating and demotivating while a major screw-up requires it in order to earn respect as a leader?

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  • Dustin


    I’m not even sure if you’ll get this, but I would be interested to know, in your opinion, what kind of training and development would lead people to becoming more emotionally resilient?


    • Hi Dustin,
      Thanks for your question, I do believe you just gave me a new blog post idea.

      Briefly, emotional resilience is not something that can be developed overnight or even in few weeks and it’s neither simple nor easy but I’ve seen it happen.

      Stay tuned for more!

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