Jobs film places genius’s style under scrutiny

Single-minded: Fassbender stars as the perfectionist and workaholic Jobs. © Universal Pictures

A new film about the man behind Apple’s astonishing success comes out in the UK today. Were Steve Jobs’s dictatorial methods justified by his results, or is consensual leadership better?

‘Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.’

Steve Jobs’s claim at the launch of the iPhone in early 2007 may have sounded outlandish, but few now disagree with him. When the iPhone 6 went on sale last year, crowds camped outside shops around the world; fighting broke out in queues which reached up to half a mile; and some people lined up just to sell their position. In September, Apple sold more than 13 million iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models within three days of launching them.

Today, the late pioneer’s life is back in the spotlight as the film Steve Jobs is released in the UK. The film, which stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, follows Jobs through the launches of three of his iconic products. It is the second biopic of him made since he died; the first was Jobs, a 2013 film starring Ashton Kutcher.

According to his unofficial biographer, Jobs ‘revolutionised six industries’. The man who created iTunes and gadgets such as the iPod and iPad also funded Pixar and worked as an executive producer on the breakthrough blockbuster Toy Story. By 2014 he had 458 patents to his name — a third of which had been credited to him after his death three years earlier. Apple, which he co-founded, became twice as valuable as the second-largest listed company in the world earlier this year.

But those who worked with Jobs reported that he had an authoritarian and often abusive management style. Alan Deutschman, who wrote a book about him, said his behaviour included ‘intimidating, goading, berating, belittling and even humiliating’ his underlings. He sacked some employees on the spot; for example, in 2008, he dismissed the head of the MobileMe project in front of a crowd of employees. Jony Ive, a close friend of Jobs, once said: ‘I think, when he’s very frustrated, his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him’.

Good job?

Some say hard taskmasters make the best managers. Just look at how much Jobs, Sir Alex Ferguson (whose rebukes to players were nicknamed ‘the hairdryer treatment’) or the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher, got done. Leadership requires conviction; without it staff become complacent, deadlines are missed and shoddy standards become acceptable.

Nobody respects a bully, respond others. As psychologist Kurt Lewin found in his experiment of 1939, a democratic leadership style gets better results than an authoritarian one. Good managers allow their staff to feel as if they have a stake in the project they are involved in. Shouting at, overworking and belittling staff is counter-productive: fearful, miserable people are unlikely to care how effective they are.

You Decide

  1. Do you work better for hard taskmasters, like Jobs, or people who lead by consensus?
  2. Does shouting at people work?


  1. Write down five qualities which you think the best leaders have, and rank them in order of preference. Why did you choose them?
  2. Write and act out a sketch in which Steve Jobs explains why he created one of his inventions. Use the first link in Become An Expert (the video from 2007) if you need inspiration.

Some People Say...

“The strongest leaders are those who listen to others.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why would I think about different ways to lead?
Leadership affects everyone. At the moment, you will witness different leadership styles from the teachers at your school and possibly elsewhere (for example, if you are in an orchestra or sporting team, someone will be in charge). You may well also be a leader yourself already — for example, you might be a team captain or have taken charge of group projects at school.
How will leadership affect me when I’m older?
If you become a parent, you will face leadership responsibilities — albeit different to those in the workplace. In most jobs, employers will expect you to start in the most junior position — but if you wish to be promoted, you will need to show signs that you can be a good leader.

Word Watch

To the surprise of critics, American audience figures for the film have been disappointing. Despite favourable reviews from critics, more than 2,000 US cinemas dropped the film last week after just five weeks. Box Office analyst Phil Contrino said in response: ‘People must just be tired of his story, because they just didn’t show up for it.’
Michael Fassbender
Fassbender has faced a punishing workrate in recent months. He has made seven films in a row and was about to go on holiday when the lengthy script for Steve Jobs arrived.
Six industries
These were personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.
Twice as valuable
In February this year Apple was valued at £500bn. Its nearest competitor, Exxon Mobil, was worth £244bn.
The workaholic culture which he promoted appeared to affect even Apple’s lowliest workers; reports on their factories in China revealed the use of child labour and workers doing 15-hour days.
This was a collection of services and software which was poorly received by press critics in 2008.

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