Summer 2013

Jobs and Thatcher: The Divisive Leaders

It is 18 months since Steve Jobs died of cancer and since then, Lady Thatcher’s death and funeral has also received extensive coverage. It’s fascinating to compare and contrast their leadership styles and reflect on the qualities that set them apart.

To their followers they were inspirational leaders, possessing the vision, charisma, bravado and persistence necessary to create and maintain the commitment and loyalty of their colleagues, customers and electorate. Both possessed unparalleled drive and the power to redesign the world as they believed it should be. They coupled this with demanding and abrasive styles, with Thatcher being renowned for her ability to criticise colleagues and override their opinions. Jobs was also known for his ability to speak his mind and persuade just about anyone that anything was possible.

Some of their leadership derailers are pretty apparent. Margaret Thatcher’s inability to engage and manage the important stakeholders within her own party ultimately led to her own downfall. Steve Job’s centred on his apparent narcissism, perfectionism and competitive tendencies making a culture where “the highs were unbelievable … but the lows were unimaginable” (Brain Dumaine in Fortune).

The divisions of opinion that both leaders created are undeniable. Due to their counterbalancing qualities, the legacies that both leaders achieved are indisputable. The interesting question is how many leaders in the UK are as divisive, but don’t possess the counterbalances required to deliver a positive legacy?