The thin line between toxic leadership and transformational leadership: Stories of Steve Jobs

University essay from Lunds universitet/Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Abstract: Title: The thin line between toxic leadership and transformational leadership: stories of Steve Jobs Seminar date: 1 June 2016 Course: FEKH49, Degree Project Undergraduate level, Business Administration, Undergraduate level, 15 University Credit Points (UPC) or ECTS‐cr) Authors: Amanda Bengtsson, Malin Lindskog and Sofia Jörnlid Advisor/s: Sverre Spoelstra Key words: Steve Jobs, Toxic Leadership, Charismatic Leadership, Transformational Leadership and heroic leadership Purpose: The purpose of this thesis is to study the thin line between toxic and transformational leadership. To explore this, the case and the narratives of Steve Jobs have been chosen to study. We believe that there are both similarities and contradictions between the theories of transformational leadership and toxic leadership. For this reason we have chosen Steve Jobs, a business leader whom by many is regarded as transformational and charismatic, in certain approaches tends to be perceived as toxic or having toxic qualities as well. In this thesis therefore, we will investigate in what ways are Steve Jobs perceived and portrayed by the media as both a toxic leader and transformational leader. Methodology: The scientific approach in this study is a hermeneutic method, which means that the focus is on the process of interpretation and understanding. The empirical data will be interpreted through the theoretical framework and analysed using storytelling and narrative method. The empirical data will be analysed ontologically, which means that interpretation of the empirical data is based on the different ways in which the world can be viewed. Theoretical perspectives: The theoretical framework consists in particular of two main leadership concepts, first the notion of transformational leadership which focuses on leaders as something great followed by the second notion of toxic leadership which focuses on leaders are by definition bad and evil. We will also support these theories by presenting concept of heroic leadership and the great man and the Hitler problem. Empirical foundation: The empirical data in this thesis is derived from traditional and social media and presents narratives of how Steve Jobs is perceived in media as a leader. The narratives are analysed and interpreted using the theoretical framework. Conclusions: The conclusion of this thesis is that there is indeed a thin line between transformational and toxic leadership. The way that leaders within transformational and toxic leadership theory get their followers to follow them is in theory the same; namely through inspiring them through a common vision. Part of the definition of being transformational is that the leader is good, and part of the definition of being toxic is having bad intentions. What the case of Steve Jobs shows is that someone can be perceived as both transformational and toxic, depending on how the leader’s actions are interpreted. The conclusion is that a leader can be considered transformational and toxic at the same time. Being considered transformational does not exclude the possibility of being considered toxic, and being considered toxic does not mean that you cannot be considered transformational. In Steve Jobs’ case it was all dependant on the beholder. Steve Jobs shows that there is a thin line between transformational and toxic leadership.

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