Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs’ Leadership Styles

Leadership plays an important role in determining the success or failure of an organization. The leadership styles that different companies adopt affect employee productivity, which is directly related to organizational performance. In other words, the performance of any company is a function of the leadership style employed. In the context of organizations, leadership entails influencing employees to work diligently and willingly toward the achievement of set goals.

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A main reason for establishing a business is to generate profit. Therefore, leaders must create a vision map and produce strategies to increase profitability. Leadership is also a relational concept that involves both the leader and the individuals being led, meaning that leadership styles reflect the nature of the relationship that exists between leaders and their followers. Leadership styles differ from one person to another, based on individual beliefs and understanding of the concept.

For example, Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs displayed differing leadership styles. While Winfrey practices a transformational leadership style, Jobs used an authoritarian leadership style. This paper compares and critically appraises the leadership styles of Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs along with the associated organizational impact.

Executive Summary

This paper discusses the main issues associated with autocratic and charismatic leadership styles using the examples of Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey respectively. Jobs believed in autocratic leadership, wielding this leadership style to achieve unprecedented success with Apple Inc. In contrast, Winfrey, who exercises a charismatic leadership style, has achieved uncommon success as a self-made business leader in contemporary times.

Charismatic leadership can be considered preferable because it allows subordinates to participate in decision-making and become part of an organization’s success. In comparison, autocratic leaders make decisions independently, commanding subordinates in terms of the tasks to be performed. While power is centralized in autocratic leadership, charismatic leadership works by delegating power to different functional teams. However, both forms of leadership display inherent weaknesses.

For instance, charismatic leadership has a problem of overreliance on the leader, and autocratic leaders tend to drive away the best talent from their organizations, problems that could be solved in the interest of improved leadership efficiency. Regardless of their leadership style, leaders impact overall organizational performance in different ways, including decision-making and employee motivation. Therefore, several recommendations on how to implement a leadership change process are highlighted in this paper together with strategies to review and measure results.

Main Issues

The main issue that this paper will address is a comparison of the leadership styles practiced by Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs. Each leadership style will be critically appraised to identify the associated organizational impacts, including the applicable aspects of culture and ethics. The inherent weaknesses associated with each leadership style will also be highlighted in order to offer potential solutions to address the associated problems.

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Discussion of Main Issues

Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Style

Winfrey is one of the most successful self-made business leaders in modern times. After rising from childhood adversity, she transformed herself into a successful businessperson, filling the roles of film actress, television producer, talk show host, and philanthropist.

Arguably, she has achieved her successes due to her charismatic leadership style. According to Sacavém, Martinez, da Cunha, Abreu, and Johnson (2017), charismatic leaders rely on charm and persuasiveness, and they are driven by their commitments and convictions to achieve their organization’s set objectives. Charismatic leadership and the transformational leadership style are closely related, sharing common characteristics. According to Sparks (2014), confidence, humility, compassion, and good communication skills are some of the characteristics of charismatic leaders.

Such leaders empower their followers by providing a “transcendent purpose as their mission—one that addresses the higher-order needs of their followers” (Conger, 2013, p. 378). One of Winfrey’s charismatic leadership traits is leading by example. As a leader, she has demonstrated that success can be achieved, and she has confidence in her abilities. Winfrey is known to make business decisions based on partnerships as opposed to profits (Garson, 2011), an assertion that shows Winfrey is compassionate and cares about the other people she works with. This approach to leadership is considered ethical by contemporary culture, explaining Winfrey’s success in her ventures.

Steve Jobs’ Leadership Style

In contrast to Winfrey’s charismatic style, Steve Jobs exercised an autocratic leadership style in the process of steering Apple Inc. to the high level of success that the company continues to enjoy to date. According to Wang and Guan (2018), authoritarian leadership refers to “a leader’s behavior of asserting strong authority and control over subordinates and demanding unquestioned obedience from them” (p. 1).

Such leaders require their subordinates to produce their best; in Jobs’ case, he used this strategy to achieve the set organizational goals that pushed Apple Inc. onto the world map. Toma and Marinescu (2013) posited that Jobs was an obsessive perfectionist who was egoistic, impulsive, overly critical, persuasive, and rough with people, personal traits that ideally embody autocratic leadership. However, even though such characteristics may appear detrimental on the surface, they played an important role in enabling Jobs to pursue and accomplish his dreams during his tenure at Apple Inc.

For example, Jobs believed that ensuring efficiency required the best-suited candidates to occupy work positions. As a result, he was known to quiz employees on company-related matters; any who offered unsatisfactory answers risked being fired on the spot (Kustar, Ghose, & Kustar, 2014). Jobs’ perfectionist attributes combined with his autocratic tendencies ensured that Apple’s products were of the highest quality that could be found in the marketplace, leading to the success of the company overall and for Jobs as its leader. A modern culture that emphasizes democratic institutions may regard autocratic leadership as unethical. However, this perception is relative, and it may be considered a misapprehension when viewed in the context of Jobs’ successes and achievements as a leader.

Comparison

Charismatic and autocratic leadership differ in several aspects such as authority, behavior orientation, autonomy, control, and suitability. In autocratic leadership as practiced by Steve Jobs, a clear demarcation exists between leaders and followers. In this context, leaders exercise absolute power to command and make decisions. Therefore, this form of leadership is characterized by high levels of control and supervision as can be clearly seen in Jobs’ tendency to fire employees on the spot if they failed to show the necessary competency in their jobs. In contrast, charismatic leaders value their followers; thus, they tend to consult with others before making important business decisions.

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Such leaders show low levels of control and supervision, allowing their followers to enjoy independence and freedom in thinking and expressing their ideas. Winfrey engages in extensive consultations with her followers and partners, embodying the spirit of charismatic leadership. In autocratic leadership, in comparison, power is centralized, and the leader does not consider others’ input. Jobs was accused of disregarding other people’s opinions, a characteristic of his leadership style.

However, in charismatic leadership, power is delegated to different governing groups, and followers provide input wherever necessary. Another difference between the two leadership styles is found in behavior orientation. Under autocratic leadership, behaviors are task-oriented, fixing the focus on completing specified duties. In comparison, charismatic leadership is relationship-oriented, whereby leaders focus on creating functional relationships with their followers by sharing power and opinions.

This assertion underscores Winfrey’s tendency to make business decisions based on relationships with her partners as opposed to expected profits. The two leadership styles also differ in origin. According to Cote (2017), charismatic leadership is derived from McGregor’s Theory X of leadership, while the autocratic leadership style reflects Theory Y of leadership.

However, despite their many differences, these two leadership styles also share some common characteristics. In both cases, the leaders’ actions are motivated by the need to achieve goals set in the interest of organizational growth. Both Winfrey and Jobs can be seen as inspirational, motivating their followers to become better at their duties. Moreover, the leaders using either style under consideration are visionary: they know what they want and how to get it.

Organizational Impact

Leadership styles affect organizational performance in different ways. Major affected areas include decision-making and employee performance, which in turn determine the overall organizational performance through productivity. Successful leaders analyze organizational problems and needs, assess the level of skills among subordinates, and look for alternatives before finalizing important decisions (Klein, Cooke, & Wallis, 2013).

Autocratic and charismatic leadership styles differ on how these processes are executed, but the guiding principles are the same. Winfrey and Jobs used different routes to achieve the same goals, including organizational success. While the goals may be the same for both types of leadership style, employee morale determines performance and productivity. Autocratic leaders make decisions about what is required to achieve set objectives, passing that information on to their subordinates to execute without question.

Their employees are motivated to achieve the set objectives by associated fear or rewards. Although Jobs rewarded his hardworking employees handsomely for competently delivering on their duties, it can also be argued that his employees at Apple were motivated by fear because they risked dismissal if they did not meet Jobs’ perfectionist standards. In comparison, charismatic leaders like Winfrey engage subordinates in setting organizational objectives along with the associated rewards to be gained after achieving the goals.

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Their employees are motivated because they co-own the vision of the organization with their leaders. In either case, the exercised leadership style motivates employees, increasing their productivity, and this aspect directly affects organizational performance. Leadership style also determines how decisions are made, impacting organizational performance (Klein et al., 2013). Decision-making determines what, how, and when different duties should be undertaken to move an organization forward. Under charismatic leadership, subordinates are involved in decision-making, while autocratic leaders make decisions on their own. No matter which process is used in decision-making, the final decisions will affect how an organization performs.

Weaknesses of Charismatic and Autocratic Leadership

The charismatic leadership style has several inherent weaknesses. First, this form of leadership relies mostly on the leader. Such leaders win employees and subordinates through exercising their motivational attributes. However, in some cases, the inspiration drawn from the leader can cause overreliance, and employees may start attributing the success of the organization to one individual.

As a result, in the absence of this individual, employees may lack motivation to continue operating with the same efficiency, leading to negative consequences for the company (Khan et al., 2015). In addition, self-serving charismatic leaders may not have the capacity to convince employees to believe in the vision of the organization, and charismatic leaders who lack clarity of thought may fail to perceive the dangers associated with the company being dependent on an individual. Finally, charismatic leadership is faced with the problem of a lack of successors and visionaries. Such leaders, in most cases, fail to trust other individuals to match the established precedence and levels of success. As a result, their companies are exposed, risking failure should anything happen to the leader.

The autocratic leadership style has been associated with numerous drawbacks, especially in light of the emphasis on democracy in contemporary times. First, teamwork is necessary for organizational success.

However, autocrats discourage this mode of operation by embracing a central source of power and decision-making (Khan et al., 2015). Thus, an autocratic approach to leadership is dangerous because leaders are bound to make mistakes, and errors may cost companies fortunes. Furthermore, the best talent tends to leave autocratic organizations due to the associated limited opportunities for growth and career advancement. In addition, workers may not buy into a leader’s way of doing things, affecting their commitment and potentially reducing their productivity and organizational performance.

Solutions

The inherent problems identified in both the autocratic and charismatic styles of leadership can be solved using evidence-based strategies that have worked in different organizations. For example, charismatic leaders have the problem of not mentoring other people to take over leadership roles in the future. The solution to this problem is to mentor upcoming leaders who can carry forward the vision of the organization.

Furthermore, such leaders should deliberately communicate to subordinates, letting them know that everyone plays an important role in the success of the organization. Promoting such a message will solve the problem of associating organizational success with one individual. This approach also fosters team spirit as all employees come to acknowledge their roles in shaping the success of the company. Additionally, charismatic leaders should clearly understand the inherent dangers resulting from the dependence of the entire organization and subordinates on one person. It is vital to put proper structures for transition in place to ensure that if anything should happen to the leader, others will be able to take over for the continuance of the organization.

Autocratic leaders, for their part, should seek to integrate elements of teamwork into their leadership style. Adjusting decision-making to become a shared responsibility between leaders and subordinates will help to avoid costly mistakes.

Although leaders bear the responsibility of making the final decisions, they should listen to input from their subordinates. This approach will also solve the problem of talented workers leaving autocratic organizations. Such employees will be assured that their input will be considered in decision-making and that they will have a chance to develop their careers. Engaging employees will also ensure that they will buy into the leaders’ vision and will work together to achieve the set objectives. Consequently, productivity and organizational performance will improve significantly.

Recommendations and Discussion of Recommendations

Both charismatic and autocratic leaders should pursue the following recommendations to improve their leadership styles.

  1. Coach and train subordinates to take over leadership roles in an organization.
  2. Create a spirit of teamwork and encourage all employees to recognize that they are part of the organization’s success.
  3. Listen and communicate effectively and clearly to avoid ambiguity.

Coaching and training subordinates prepares them to take over leadership roles in case something happens to the leader. For example, Winfrey should groom her subordinates to be able to execute her duties even in her absence. Similarly, creating a spirit of teamwork and letting employees acknowledge their contributions to organizational success will create a sense of autonomy and instill confidence.

Employees will become independent and creative thinkers because they will not need to rely on their leaders for general decision-making. Finally, effective listening and communication play a central role in convincing employees to buy into a leader’s vision for an organization. Proper implementation of these tools will mean that employees will understand expectations as well as their specific roles in ensuring the success of the organization.

Trials of Recommendations and Results

Both autocratic and charismatic leaders can begin by implementing the given recommendations one at a time to gauge their employees’ reaction. For example, autocratic leaders can start by asking their subordinates to contribute to the decision-making process in dealing with minor issues. These leaders may then evaluate the input they receive and compare employees’ ideas with their personal decisions to see which version will potentially work best to achieve the set objectives. In a similar vein, charismatic leaders can start by communicating directly with subordinates to emphasize the role of every employee in ensuring organizational success. They can also allow subordinates to serve in leadership roles and assess their performance.

Review and Measurements of Results

The progress of any change implementation process can be measured using questionnaires to collect data from employees. Questionnaires can be given before and after the change process to gather data on the employees’ perceptions concerning the different leadership attributes being measured. For example, autocratic leaders can measure progress made in terms of involving their subordinates in decision-making by evaluating the obtained responses. Similarly, charismatic leaders can measure the degree to which subordinates acknowledge their role in the success of the organization.

Summary and Conclusions

Leadership determines the success or failure of an organization. Leaders are vision bearers; thus, they should ensure that their subordinates embrace the established goals and objectives. However, leadership styles differ from one person to another. For example, while Oprah Winfrey exercises a charismatic leadership style, Steve Jobs applied an autocratic leadership style during his tenure at Apple Inc.

On the one hand, charismatic leaders inspire their subordinates by encouraging teamwork and sharing power. On the other hand, in autocratic leadership, power is centralized, and leaders make decisions individually without consulting their subordinates. Regardless of the style of leadership, the decisions made will impact organizations in different ways. The weaknesses of the two forms of leadership can be addressed using evidence-based practices that have been applied in other organizations. Both autocratic and charismatic leaders should address their weaknesses and measure their progress consistently for improved results.

References

Conger, J. A. (2013). Charismatic leadership. In M. G. Rumsey (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of leadership (pp. 376-391). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Cote, R. (2017). A comparison of leadership theories in an organizational Environment. International Journal of Business Administration, 8(5), 28-36.

Garson, H. S. (2011). Oprah Winfrey: A biography (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

Khan, M. S., Khan, I., Qureshi, Q. A., Ismail, H. M., Rauf, H., Latif, A., & Tahir, M. (2015). The styles of leadership: A critical review. Public Policy and Administration Research, 5(3), 87-94.

Klein, A. S., Cooke, R. A., & Wallis, J. (2013). The impact of leadership styles on organizational culture and firm effectiveness: An empirical study. Journal of Management and Organization, 19(3), 241-254.

Kustar, V., Ghose, N., & Kustar, Y. (2014). Leadership analysis using management tools: Steve Jobs. American International Journal of Contemporary Research, 4(2), 125-130.

Sacavém, A., Martinez, L. F., da Cunha, J. V., Abreu, A. M., & Johnson, S. K. (2017). Charismatic leadership: A study on delivery styles, mood, and performance. Journal of Leadership Studies, 11(3), 21-38.

Sparks, G. A. (2014). Charismatic leadership: Findings of an exploratory investigation of the techniques of influence. Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, 7, 1-11.

Toma, S. G., & Marinescu, P. (2013). Steve Jobs and modern leadership. Change and Leadership, 17, 260-270.

Wang, H., & Guan, B. (2018). The positive effect of authoritarian leadership on employee performance: The moderating role of power distance. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(357), 1-10. Web.

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