Will Steve Jobs' management style get you to the top?

Image released by Universal Pictures of Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs Image copyright AP
Image caption In the newly released film, Michael Fassbender portrays Steve Jobs as a leader with unwavering self-belief but not always much patience with colleagues

By most accounts the new biopic of Steve Jobs is an accurate portrayal of a man who shouted down colleagues at meetings, was visibly impatient and dismissive of others' contributions... and yet he is lauded as perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation.

So does being rude, ruthless and self-absorbed give you an advantage when it comes to getting ahead in business?

Quite the reverse, according to Professor Christine Porath, at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University.

"I wouldn't recommend people try to emulate Steve Jobs' style," she says.

Image copyright ALAMY
Image caption Meryl Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, in the Devil Wears Prada, is the epitome of the hard-to-please boss

In her research, stretching back more than 20 years, respondents told her they worked less hard if managers were rude to them. In lab studies students given the brush-off by a professor were subsequently less successful at word puzzles.

She says uncivil behaviour from bosses and colleagues affects sickness rate and mental health, stifles creativity and above all affects staff retention. None of which reflects well on those in charge.

"The thing I hear a lot is - 'if I yell at them, doesn't it light a fire under them and I'll get more short term results?'

"But it robs people of focus and they don't perform. Cognitively you don't gain anything and you might lose out."

And she points out that even Steve Jobs mellowed when he returned for his second, and more successful, stint at Apple.

Image copyright Restaurant Property
Image caption David Rawlinson admits he does occasionally shout at his employees

The boss

David Rawlinson, is founder of Restaurant Property, which manages sales and leases of restaurant sites in London.

The general atmosphere in his office is very positive, he says, when it comes to the nine people who work for him he's aware of the importance of getting the balance right between being friendly and being firm.

"It is difficult when you are working in the same room with people day in, day out, to be bad cop sometimes. But you have to. You can't just be nice all the time.

"Certainly I would like to be nice all the time. The reality is you just can't sometimes. If people aren't doing their job properly, or if you think people are taking liberties with sickness or something like that you, have to lay the law down.

"Mostly I start out with explaining things in a cool calm way. But, you know, losing your temper is a very powerful motivator sometimes, and that is something I have had to do in past. I don't enjoy doing it, and it's something I think you should use as final straw."

He says unlike in the old days when the mentality at some companies was to rule with a fist of iron, nowadays it's much more about looking after your staff.

He takes all his staff on a big night out once a month, so that the team can bond and he can get to know them better.

Image copyright Risk Capital Partners
Image caption Venture capitalist Luke Johnson says it's generally the egotists, those who like to take command, even to the point of arrogance, who succeed.

But showing off your cut-throat style - for example table-pounding at a meeting or a strategically-timed temper tantrum - won't always be the wrong choice, at least according to some.

Serial entrepreneur and now venture capitalist, Luke Johnson has overseen vast numbers of small and medium-sized businesses since he sold on his first successful enterprise, Pizza Express, in 1999.

"My observation, from my direct experience, is that to get ahead people have to have a glint of steel about them."

He says in his experience at the coal-face he has met plenty of successful entrepreneurs who aren't particularly polite but it's usually a symptom of the pressure they're under.

"I think all of us should respect basic social niceties and all of us who fail to do that - and I'm as guilty as the next man - deserve to be ticked off."

Image copyright Thinkstock

The employee

Sarah [a pseudonym] works for an international law firm. She says in corporate law it pays to be tough.

"This industry is one where being very self-centred is a help rather than a hindrance. In terms of charming your colleagues, it's a bonus rather than something that's necessarily important.

"The nature of the work is such that it really rewards hard-charging, it's not exactly aggressive but there are certainly very opinionated loud people, people who make their presence felt. That being the nature of the work, you don't see people progressing who don't conform to that."

"I definitely try and be one of the boys at the office lots of joking discussion with other people and I certainly have a slightly hard edge."

"But business is a serious affair and if you take on the mantle of running a company, the responsibility of employees and meeting that payroll at the end of the month and all the rest of it, you can't afford to spend all your time stopping at every desk and asking people how their weekend went.

"So probably there's a risk that you come across as uninterested or abrupt or impatient."

He says it is generally the egotists, those who like to take command, even to the point of arrogance, who succeed.

"Leadership is often about not caring whether you make friends or people like you, but doing the right thing.

"Putting people's feelings first and the right decision second is not what I call leadership."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Orson Welles played the famously belligerent newspaper tycoon in the 1941 film Citizen Kane

Ben Dattner, executive coach and author of management book, The Blame Game, agrees.

"Even in the days of Machiavelli he said it's better for a leader to be feared than loved.

"If your ethics and integrity allow you to go the 'I want to be feared' route perhaps that can work in certain contexts. It might not get you any love [but] it's about achieving objectives.

He advises his clients to stick to their natural style but just adapt it where necessary.

Women v men

"The aggressive, contentious approach might help you achieve certain things in the short term, but over the long term, if people don't want to work for you, you might pay a price for having that kind of style."

But just as bad, he says, is making yourself very popular but struggling to get things done.

Mr Dattner says different leadership styles may serve better depending on whether you are facing the tough decisions involved in shrinking an organisation, or building creativity and innovation in a growing business.

The bad news is that both strategies, nice and nasty, carry an extra risk if you're a woman. Highly collaborative women are frequently viewed as ineffective leaders.

But as Mr Dattner also admits: "It's easier for a woman to be perceived as bitchy than it is for a man to be perceived as an ass."

Behaviours best avoided

  • Walking away mid-conversation
  • Interrupting
  • Mocking someone's performance in front of others
  • Taking credit for other people's achievements
  • Looking at your phone when someone is speaking to you
  • Shouting and swearing

source: Professor Christine Porath