Steve Jobs vs Tim Cook – If X worked then Y use a collaborative management style?

Published on: Wed 23 October 2013 by Admin

I was chatting to a friend of mine recently about the need to upgrade my mobile phone.  I have had my head turned by the new, shiny iPhone I told him, his response …… “Naaahh Apple have gone off the boil since Tim Cook took over, he’s too soft….. What Apple needs is another Steve Jobs” This got me thinking about the different management and leadership styles of these 2 prominent men.  What did Jobs have that Cook doesn’t (apart from a fierce reputation)… or indeed, vice versa.

Jobs certainly divides opinion, stories of an overbearing, controlling almost draconian approach to management frequently hit the internet during his reign.  In stark contract Tim Cook is often considered to have a quieter, gentler approach, allowing his employees to take responsibility and fulfil targets they are set.  People also tend to like Tim, all that aside it is still clear that he is not yet generating the results of his predecessor.

These opposing management styles can be linked to McGregors Theory X, Theory Y which looks at how manager’s perceptions of what motivates team members affects the way they behave.

Jobs appears, in some way, to favour Theory X.  That is an assumption that people are naturally unmotivated, this encourages the need for a more authoritarian style of management.  Theory X managers are comfortable using threats and coercion (…here comes that fierce reputation again) in order to gain compliance and meet objectives.

Cook leans more towards Theory Y which is a more participative, collaborative style of management.  Managers communicate more openly with employees minimising the management hierarchy and creating an environment of shared decision making.  This creates a culture of creative problem solving and trust.

McGregor advocates Theory Y as the more widely applicable approach as it engages employees in a more participative way.  So why then, is my friend so passionate about Steve Jobs and his Theory X management style?  Is it a case of rose tinted spectacles or does Tim Cook really need to toughen up to be as successful?

Steve Jobs leadership style is almost the complete opposite of everything advocated as ‘best practise’ (including McGregors theory), it goes against everything I have ever read, heard or been taught about effective leadership and management

Jobs was an exception to all the rules on effective management and just because 1 particular leadership style works for 1 particular person does that mean that we all have to adopt it??

I think, as in most cases, it is more about balancing the 2 approaches.  There will always be a time where an authoritative approach is necessary and appropriate however the value of a motivated, creative and participative workforce mean that Tim Cook could still turn out to be one of Apples greatest leaders yet.