Leadership at Apple Inc.

Executive Summary

Leadership approaches are versatile, and every concrete organisation should select the one that is the best for its vision and purposes. Large businesses have more responsibilities than small ones due to the increased number of employees and customers involved. Apple Inc. founded by Steve Jobs in 1976, is considered as the best and most successful player in the world’s technology and innovation market. The analysis of the company’s leadership behaviours and approaches is necessary to fully grasp the advantages and challenges of the organisation.

Thus, the problem under investigation is the leadership features at Apple and their dependence on a variety of factors. The main purpose of the paper is to discuss the typical behaviours of Apple’s leaders and connect them with the factors influencing the company’s leadership style. Additionally, an analysis of several alternative theories will be offered, along with their possible implementation at Apple.

The paper consists of several separate chapters, each one pursuing a particular objective. In the introduction to the paper, the reason why the problem emerged is discussed. The context of the problem is also mentioned in this part of the paper. Finally, the introduction section explains the purpose of the present report. The discussion section is the largest, starting with the analysis of Apple’s leadership behaviours and approaches. Further, the influence of different factors on the company’s leadership style is discussed.

These factors include the organisation’s role and nature, corporate governance, external environment, and operating context. Next, several alternative leadership theories are discussed, along with their validity and utility at Apple. The conclusions section offers a summary of the findings made in the report. Recommendations and their possible benefits are discussed in the last section of the paper.


Apple Inc. is one of the most successful corporations in the world. The company’s achievements are considerable, thus raising interest in the factors that led to such incredible results. One of the elements of the advantageous development of any organisation is its leadership. While in general, Apple’s leadership strategies are considered to be effective and productive, some of the aspects associated with them raise concerns, giving food for thought to researchers and analytics.

Thus, the problem that initiated this report is the inefficiency of some elements of Apple’s leadership. At the same time, attention must be paid to the numerous advantageous aspects of the company’s government. The purpose of the report is to discuss the leadership behaviours and approaches at Apple, including the effect of various factors on the company’s leadership style. Additionally, the report contains the analysis of alternative leadership theories and the possibility of their application at Apple. Conclusions and recommendations contain a summary of the findings and offer suggested future solutions.


Leadership Behaviours and Approaches at Apple

Leadership at Apple is characterised by a variety of approaches and behaviours. Such a tendency may be explained both by the diversity of services and products created by the company and a recent change in leadership, which occurred after the death of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs. Researchers single out several major means of leadership evident in the organisation’s activities. Renko et al. (2015) note that Apple is one of the companies practising entrepreneurial leadership.

This style incorporates several features, such as a focus on opportunity, vision, motivating employees, creativity, flexibility, power-orientation, and self-confidence (Renko et al., 2015). Shenhar (2015) notes that Apple also bears the attributes of strategic project leadership, such as competitive advantage and strategic focus. Due to owning these characteristics, the company has become an “undisputed market leader” in its sector (Shenhar, 2015, p. 33). The company has always been considered as the main player in its market territory.

Currently, major shifts are occurring in the leadership systems worldwide. As Mauri (2017) remarks, many teams are “overmanaged and underled” (p. 1). However, it is not possible to say so about Apple, where leadership has always been given a prominent place. Jobs used to prefer the autocratic leadership style, with all major decisions being made by the leader without considering employees’ opinions. Meanwhile, the company’s current CEO, Tim Cook, prefers the democratic approach, in which all team members’ opinions are given value and attention.

It is not possible to say that Jobs’s approach was ineffective since he was the one who made the company what it is: the most successful and significant in its field. However, Cook has proved to be an effective leader, as well, having been recognised as number one on the World’s Greatest Leaders list of 2014 (Colvin, 2016). Cook admits that it was hard for him to succeed Jobs since the expectations of him were too high (Lashinsky, 2015). However, Cook managed not only to keep up with Jobs’s success but even exceed it (Colvin, 2016). Combining a democratic approach and setting high performance standards allows Cook to maintain and enhance the progress of Apple.

Being emphatic is another behaviour practised at Apple that allows increasing the company’s performance. For instance, when a new sales director was appointed at Apple, he placed his trust in the team every time possible. Despite having over fifteen years of experience, the new director first listened to employees’ suggestions and only then expressed his own vision (Kouzes and Posner, 2017).

According to Apple’s finance manager, Mark Anderson, such a behaviour of the sales director made the team respect him and feel more responsibility because their viewpoints and analyses were taken into consideration. Such a leadership approach enables promoting a personal relationship between employees and the leader due to the latter demonstrating concern for the former (Kouzes and Posner, 2017). Thus, Apple’s leaders at different levels establish collaboration and mutual respect between themselves and their subordinates.

In view of the approaches prevailing at Apple, it is relevant to discuss the leader-member exchange theory. Rather than explaining leadership from the leader’s point of view, this theory focuses on the interaction between leaders and subordinates (Northouse, 2019). Depending on how the leader works with the team and how the team works with the leader, employees may belong either to an in-group or out-group.

Furthermore, this division is contingent on workers’ realisation of their responsibilities (Northouse, 2019). Those willing to negotiate with their leader become members of the in-group. Such negotiations lead to employees’ agreement to perform some extra work for the sake of the company and the leader’s agreement to do more for the team. On the contrary, if workers do not agree to take on new duties, they form the out-group (Northouse, 2019). Evidently, the leader is not likely to be interested in supporting and promoting such employees. Based on the information about Apple’s leadership, it is possible to conclude that the people working for the organisation belong to the in-group. Seeing their leader’s support, they feel willing to pay extra effort to their work in return.

A significant aspect of understanding leadership is analysing the leader’s personality traits. Apple is not an exception since its leaders’ personal features constitute the success of the company to a great extent. According to The Big Five Model of Personality, successful leaders possess such features as surgency, adjustment, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness (Lussier and Achua, 2016). The traits related to this model include extroversion, sensitivity, emotional intelligence, dependability, self-confidence, flexibility, determination, and integrity (Lussier and Achua, 2016). Based on Apple’s achievements and its status, it is viable to conclude that its present leaders have a positive balance of the mentioned traits, which allows them to maintain the company’s success and profitability at a high level.

The Effect of Various Factors on the Company’s Leadership Style

The role and nature of the organisation

The major effect on the company’s leadership approaches is produced by its function and essence. In particular, Apple has to build its leadership traits depending on the popularity of its products worldwide and the ways of reaching out to customers. Apple makes the most powerful products, allowing users to stay mobile and access information wherever and whenever they need (The most powerful products, n.d.). The devices created by the company are aimed to serve all types of users (Different together, n.d.). With these aspects in mind, the leadership in the organisation should concentrate on diversity and inclusion.

Corporate governance

The organisation’s corporate governance is the factor most effectively impacting the choice of leadership approaches. Apple is considered as the leader in the technology industry, but at the same time, researchers note that the organisation is not an exemplary representative in terms of the corporate governance structure. Over the past years, the company’s operations were largely governed by the nature and scope of its partnerships (Nwogugu, 2015).

Some of the partners do not entirely conform to antitrust laws, which makes Apple vulnerable to critique. The strategic alliances of the organisation are reported to cause considerable social welfare ramifications (Nwogugu, 2015). Iliev, Kalodimos, and Lowry (2019) emphasise the need to increase investors’ interest in the company’s corporate governance. Chikhale and Mansouri (2015) explain the need to make Apple’s corporate governance more agile. Taking these finding into consideration, Apple’s leader should dedicate more efforts to enhancing the corporate governance system by applying integrity.

External environment

The company’s external environment has a great impact on its leadership approaches. To investigate Apple’s external environment, Khan, Alam, and Alam (2015) have employed the PESTLE analysis. In the political dimension, the organisation is exposed to a variety of difficulties due to having contract suppliers in different parts of the world. As a result, any changes in world politics can lead to legal issues both in the USA and abroad (Khan, Alam and Alam, 2015).

The likelihood of such challenges urges the company’s leader to be determined and flexible. In the economic dimension, the company is affected by the growth and fall of the world economy. Prices on products and transportation are dependent on the general situation in the world, so the company leader has to remain well-informed and be prepared for the deterioration in the employment dimension.

Social development of the company is associated with its endeavours to satisfy each customer and meet their expectations. Social factors that can potentially influence Apple’s development involve its marketing strategy and emotional effect on consumers (Khan, Alam and Alam, 2015). In this respect, the leader has to be conscientious and ready to adjust to new needs and trends. In the technological sphere, Apple is probably the most relaxed since it has long been acknowledged as the world leader of innovation and technology (Renko et al., 2015). Still, it is crucial for the leader to remain focused and keep track of competitors’ initiatives.

The company’s legal vulnerability is determined by its products’ involvement with intellectual property laws. At this point, the leadership strategy should focus on the elimination of legal disputes by acknowledging each participant of the technological process, such as music industry members. What concerns the environmental aspect, the greatest concern is presented with manufacturing processes and the disposal of used devices. The company’s leader has to demonstrate intelligence and integrity when coming up with the solutions to these issues.

Operating context

Apple’s operating context is largely defined by its external environment. Hence, to investigate its effect on leadership, one may review the features analysed in the external environment dimension. Additionally, the aspect of diversity should be considered in this respect. The company operates with the help of employees with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, which allows gathering opinions from people with various experiences (Different together, n.d.). Apple constantly works on increasing the percentage of women and other underrepresented groups (Different together, n.d.). Each team member’s opinion counts, and the leader makes sure that every employee has the possibility to express their ideas and suggestions.

Validity and Utility of Alternative Theories

Transformational leadership

One of the theories that might be utilised at Apple is transformational leadership. This approach is relatively new, with more and more researchers paying attention to its analysis (Northouse, 2019). Transformational leadership presupposes that in the process of work, people will change and continuously improve. Transformational leaders set goals for employees and announce deadlines for their attainment.

However, in the process of work, deadlines may become shorter, or goals may become more demanding. Thus, team members are motivated to accomplish more than initially expected (Northouse, 2019). Transformational leadership incorporates a variety of approaches, starting from individual endeavours to affect employees and ending with broad changes in the organisation. This approach may be utilised at Apple to enhance the level of innovativeness and readiness to cooperate. However, the leader should be cautious not to make employees discouraged by increasingly complicated tasks. The leader should also demonstrate interest in subordinates’ needs and take into consideration their motives.

Authentic leadership

This leadership style concentrates on the ingenuity of the leader and the authenticity of his or her approaches. As Northouse (2019) remarks, this approach is still in its formation phase, so new features may be added to it. However, the present definition is concerned with the ability of the leader to demonstrate exceptional truthfulness of his or her goals. That way, employees will feel secure and ready to follow such a person.

It is self-evident that being led by a person who does not pursue the goals that he or she sets for the subordinates is rather discouraging. Authentic leadership can be viewed under different angles, including intrapersonal, interpersonal, and developmental (Northouse, 2019). It is viable to note that the authenticity approach can be traced in the work of Apple Inc. At the intrapersonal level, the CEO demonstrates a high level of life experiences and connects it to his leadership strategies. At the interpersonal level, authenticity may be developed in the communication and collaboration between the leader and his followers. Finally, the developmental dimension presupposes continuous development of the leader depending on significant life changes.

Laissez-faire leadership

The third alternative that might be suggested is the laissez-faire leadership style. This approach presupposes the delegation of responsibilities and complete trust to employees (Northouse, 2019). While it may sound like a good idea, the laissez-faire approach has several hidden disadvantages. First of all, too much trust and independence may lead to employees’ reluctance and deterioration of the quality of their work.

Secondly, a leader who does not know what the major processes and decisions of the company are cannot arrange the collaboration with partners at the national and international levels. Thirdly, this approach might be suitable in start-ups and small firms, which do not have as many products as Apple and do not need to maintain connections with so many stakeholders. Therefore, even though the laissez-faire leadership style may sound tempting, it is not recommended to utilise it at Apple since it is likely to make the team too relaxed, and the leader — too poorly informed.


The report allows making several important conclusions about the leadership behaviours and approaches at Apple Inc. Firstly, it is necessary to note that the company’s approaches to leadership have long been considered some of the most effective ones. Both late CEO, Steve Jobs, and his follower, Tim Cook, did everything possible to make employees dedicated to the organisation and its vision, ethics, and goals. While Jobs preferred an autocratic approach, and Cook uses the democratic one, their subordinates demonstrated excellent results in the past and continue doing it at present.

Secondly, it can be concluded that there are both positive and negative features influencing leadership at Apple. The company’s external environment and operating context, as well as its role and nature, help to promote the success of its products and services. Meanwhile, the corporate governance at Apple needs improvement since currently, this aspect produces an adverse effect on the company’s development. Thirdly, an overview of three alternative leadership theories allows concluding that elements of transformational and authentic leadership might be useful for Apple. At the same time, the laissez-faire approach is not recommended due to the likelihood of the leader’s loss of control.


Based on the report’s findings, the following recommendations can be given. Firstly, it is necessary to enhance the level of corporate governance at the organisation. This problem is currently the most significant obstacle in the development of the most effective leadership approach. Secondly, it is recommended to review and improve the policies related to the disposal of used devices. This aspect considerable undermines the overall positive external environment of the organisation, so managing it successfully will eliminate problems in this area. Thirdly, it is advised to introduce some features of transformational leadership in the leader’s strategies. By implementing this approach correctly, the leader will increase productivity and improve the followers’ dedication.


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