Leadership Style Comparison: Steve Jobs and Tim Cook


The success or failure of any organization depends mainly on the prevalent leadership style as embodied by the leaders at the helm. The sphere of leadership styles has evolved with the changing workplace requirements as dictated by time and other factors like globalization. A leader may use a mix of different leadership styles based on situations and the objectives at hand. One leadership style cannot be classified as superior to others because workplace demands are diverse with different missions and visions.

Steve Jobs founded Apple, resigned, and came back in 1997 to steer the company to unmatched success levels. Jobs’ leadership style was largely authoritarian and he would micromanage employees to ensure perfection in the achievement of the anticipated outcomes. On the other hand, Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO, has adopted a democratic leadership style. Under this leadership style, Cook allows employees to function independently based on their skills and experience. Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has grown to become the highest valuable public company in contemporary times. This case study compares the leadership styles between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook of Apple Inc.

The early years of Apple with Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs together with his two other friends founded Apple in the 1970s. Jobs resigned from the company in 1985 but returned in 1996 after Apple bought NeXT, which he had founded. In 1997, Job became Apple’s CEO at a time when the company was struggling with declining share price among other problems like imminent bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Jobs initiated a restructuring program that made the company successful and competitive in the marketplace.

As a visionary leader, Jobs narrowed Apple’s product line to four products, thus effectively allowing the company to specialize and focus as a way of gaining competitive advantage. For instance, the company released the 1998 iMac a year after Jobs took over and sold almost 800,000 units in less than 6 months. Jobs pioneered different mobile phone applications and stayed ahead of the competition for a long time.

For instance, Job came up with the iTunes music store in 2003 and launched the App Store in 2008, which revolutionized the way users enjoy music and access mobile applications respectively. Additionally, Job was behind the pioneering launch of the mobile operating system, which had not been experienced in the mobile phone circles hitherto. Therefore, it suffices to conclude that Jobs was a visionary leader who knew what the marketed wanted and innovated to meet the expectations. His authoritative leadership style will be discussed in detail in another section.

The Current year with Tim Cook

Apple has continued on the growth trajectory under the leadership of Tim Cook. Five years after Cook took over as the CEO in 2012, the company has almost doubled its market capitalization to stand at 800,000 million USD. This figure places Apple at the pinnacle of the most valuable public company around the world. Cook has taken a different approach to leadership as compared to his predecessor, Steve Jobs.

While Jobs innovated continuously to come up with new products, Cook has decided to focus on the iPhone to drive the company’s profits on a year-over-year basis. Additionally, Cook has expanded the company’s market share in places like China among other emerging markets as a way of maintaining steady growth. Under Cook, Apple is now involved in social justice causes and charitable events, which abandons its earlier culture of not donating money as it gave up enough through taxes.

For instance, in 2014, Cook revealed that he is gay, which came out as a huge boost to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement. Consequently, the company’s workplace has become highly diversified. Therefore, while Apple has not been as innovative under Cook as it was under Jobs, the company now comes out as corporate social responsibility (CSR) champion.

Steve Jobs’ leadership style

Steve Jobs’ leadership style can be termed as authoritarian. He was so obsessed with details that employees would feel micromanaged while executing their duties. In other words, Jobs wanted to participate in most of the company’s undertakings from design to marketing. According to Steve Wilhite, a former leader in the company’s marketing department, Jobs’ eagerness for details and participation were unparalleled (Segall, 2016). Wilhite notes, “Working with Steve was not an easy task, but it was inspiring. His bandwidth, his ability to grasp different concepts, his passion for delivering an off-the-charts experience – I’ve never experienced anything like that with any other CEO” (Segall, 2016, p. 56).

Jobs was a perfectionist and he would tell off people who disagreed with him without mincing his words. According to McInerney (2011), Jobs was “…a high-maintenance co-worker who labeled people who didn’t agree with him as bozos” (para. 11). Jobs controlling nature touched on every aspect of the company even the food served in the eatery. Jobs ensured that employees were hired specifically based on the match of their skills to the available task.

Additionally, every Monday, the CEO would hold weekly meetings with executives to fine-tune details of what needed to be accomplished within the week. Interestingly, even with the authoritarian leadership style practiced by Jobs, Apple experienced low turnover rates. Since employees did not like Job’s leadership style, people joined and stayed in the company because they believed in its mission and vision as sold out by the CEO (Pontefract, 2016). The authoritative nature of leadership came from a point of passion for the company as opposed to the quest for personal and monetary gains.

Tim Cook’s leadership style

Tim Cook has been exercising the democratic leadership style at Apple since he took over in 2012. After taking the helm at Apple, Cook endeavored to focus on the existing products, especially iPhone, coupled with nurturing business and employee relationships. In what came out as a clear contrast to his predecessor, Cook does not micromanage employees or get involved at all levels of running the company.

For instance, the executive cabinet took care of the details surrounding the product engineering of the iWatch, which was launched under Cook’s leadership (Lashinsky, 2015). The CEO values the role of consensus building when making critical decisions. Under Cook, Apple is now involved in different corporate social responsibility exercises, which underlines the democratic leadership style.

According to Lashinsky (2015), Cook “has used the pulpit provided him by Apple’s worldwide platform to opine on subjects as diverse as human rights, access to education, female representation on Wall Street, immigration reform, and privacy rights” (para. 8). Unfortunately, this style of leadership has led to slow decision-making coupled with limited innovativeness that characterized Apple under Steve Jobs. Nevertheless, Apple seems to be moving in the right direction given its unprecedented growth under Cook’s leadership.


Lashinsky, A. (2015). Apple’s Tim Cook leads different. Fortune. Web.

McInerney, S. (2011). Steve Jobs: an unconventional leader. The Sydney Morning Herald. Web.

Pontefract, D. (2016). Flat Army: Creating a connected and engaged organization. Boise, ID: Elevate.

Segall, K. (2016). Think simple: How smart leaders defeat complexity. New York, NY: Penguin.

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1. BusinessEssay. "Leadership Style Comparison: Steve Jobs and Tim Cook." June 20, 2023. https://business-essay.com/leadership-style-comparison-steve-jobs-and-tim-cook/.


BusinessEssay. "Leadership Style Comparison: Steve Jobs and Tim Cook." June 20, 2023. https://business-essay.com/leadership-style-comparison-steve-jobs-and-tim-cook/.