Transformational leader examples
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Steve Jobs is an example of a leader who is often associated with transformational leadership, in particular when it comes to his charismatic and inspirational qualities (e.g. Bryant, 2003; Bass and Riggio, 2005). A simple internet search on his name heralds a raft of articles describing him as ‘iconic’, ‘visionary’, ‘genius’, ‘brilliant’, ‘mythic’, ‘magical’, ‘charismatic’, or ‘authentic’. The New York Times argued that he ‘led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age’ (Madoff, 2011). Jobs himself was driven to transform the world, as captured in this mantra: ‘I want to put a ding in the universe’ (Isaacson, 2011). Academics also attributed transformational powers to Jobs. Victor Vroom, a prominent professor at the Yale School of Management, said in 2010 that ‘[Jobs] is the supreme example of the transformational leader who stands for higher order values … he has caused people to do things they might never have done before’ (‘A design, a dream’, 2010). Religious language is often used when describing Jobs, some calling him a ‘savior’ (Mishkin, 2009), or as one writer says, ‘Jobs himself has been labeled a saint, a sinner, and now a saint again’ (‘A design, a dream’, 2010). After Jobs’s death in 2011, the Board of Directors of Apple issued a statement saying that ‘The world is immeasurably better because of Steve’, which may indeed be seen as ‘leadership beyond expectations’ (Bass, 1985).
Jobs is a perfect example of a corporate leader who was inspired by and fascinated with the charisma of cult leaders and spiritual gurus (he was a devoted follower of Zen Buddhism) and ‘borrowed’ charismatic traits from these leaders (Isaacson, 2011, p. 38). We notice the totalizing nature of the language and sentiments – Steve single-handedly changed not only several industries, but the universe (a bit like God?) and every person in it. This highly romanticized image of Jobs (which perhaps says more about the needs, desires and anxieties of those constructing this image than Jobs himself) has recently been called into question.
While some may celebrate Jobs’s ability to make people ‘do things they might never have done before’, this cannot solely be read in a positive light. Jobs was known for his ‘reality distortion field’ or, in other words, he tended to willfully deny reality, to completely ignore certain truths or facts. He then used this to ‘con people into believing his vision’. He ‘hypnotized’ people to do ‘the impossible because you didn’t realize it was impossible’ (p. 119). He transformed ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ to get people to perform beyond their expectations. Jobs’s role as a leader links to the dysfunctional or destructive side of charismatic leadership. Workers describe how they worked beyond their expectations out of fear. Jobs was known to have moments where he was aggressive and belittling in his treatment of peers, superiors and subordinates (Isaacson, 2011).This is common in people who are charismatic and know how to manipulate people. You just have to look to Donald Trump as a clear example of a premiere con man who continually tried to ‘transform’ reality and truth.
An Apple employee described Jobs’s leadership as ‘management by character assassination’. Another senior colleague at one point said, ‘we should expose him for the fraud that he is so that people here stop regarding him as a messiah’. Such stories therefore pointedly question the problematic assumption in transformational leadership literature that the transformational leader is inherently benign and good.
But it’s easy to place far too much emphasis on Jobs’s personality and influence. The powerful ‘transformational’ influences of Job’s invariably are ignored in a contemporary society that worships the idea of a heroic ‘savior’ leader.
After reading the above case study the questions below for your discussion points:
- What parallels can you see in this case study between Steve Jobs and Donald Trump?
- How does the behavior of Jobs compared with DuBrin’s illustration of transformational leadership?
- If you consider a multitude of noted transformational ‘leaders’ can you see how these leaders’ actions and behaviors could or would be harmful?
Be thorough and accurate in your discussion, apply theory and concepts from DuBrin to support your analysis.
Post your discussion thread by the first week’s Wednesday night by 11:59 p.m. Between Thursday and Sunday respond to at least one classmate’s discussion post by providing additional insights and information on the current topic. Consider using personal experiences as they may relate to the weekly topic. Remember that the expectation is for all students to participate in these discussions.
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