Steve Jobs was famously fired from his own company in 1985 after a clash with John Sculley, Apple's CEO at the time. He was criticized for being headstrong and having tunnel vision with his then pet project, the Macintosh, amid disappointing sales and a plummeting stock price.
This moment in Jobs's life, which was depicted in the 2015 Aaron Sorkin Steve Jobs biopic, has been cited as an example of his belligerent management style. But according to new research, that behavior might not have led to his ouster if Apple's stock price hadn't plunged. The new thinking is, if the company was doing well, nobody would have cared about his management style--and, on the contrary, they might even have praised him.
Robert Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University who has been researching work practices, shared his findings with The Wall Street Journal.
"Leaders are complex figures sending multiple signals at the same time," Bies told the WSJ. "With Jobs, there is plenty of evidence of abuse. But you can see that he's a motivator. He was pushing the envelope for excellence in products."
Still, there's a fine line between motivation and abuse.
Bies states a manager could be viewed as an abuser or a motivator depending on social contextual factors, such as the success rate of a manager's team.
An aggressive and demanding manager could be perceived as an inspirational leader if the results are sound. If the tide turns, however, that same leadership style could be identified as abusive. Think back on Jobs's own management style. Even though it was consistent throughout his career--yelling at employees and insisting on his particular definition of perfection--it was more tolerated (even celebrated) when Apple thrived.
Other factors to consider include employees' level of trust in their leaders, peer opinions, and the narrative used to rationalize a manager's motives.
Bies also stresses that performance feedback from an employer carries a hefty weight in the relationship. Even when the review is negative or delivered in a very loud manner, the manager could still be viewed as a "master motivator" if it pushes an employee to excellence.