Transformational Leadership Theory

Cases Study: Apple Inc.

One example of a transformation leader is Steve Jobs through his inspirational and charismatic qualities. Steve Jobs is the co-founder of Apple Inc. and the former CEO of the company. Jobs lost his life on October 5, 2011, after long-suffering from pancreatic cancer (Steinwart and Ziegler, 2014). An internet search of Steve Jobs provides qualities like authentic, charismatic, magical, mythic, brilliant, genius, visionary, and iconic. Several analysts argue that Jobs is primarily a transformational leader. This assignment will explore the aspect of transformational leadership as it relates to using Steve Jobs in Apple as the case study. 

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Transformation leadership according to our coursebook simply means, ‘let’s make one another better, and build a better organization together’. Crawford, Gould, and Scott (2003) explain that transformation leaders raise transactional leaders to a higher level. This is attained by moving an organization beyond its status quo by improving the personal and organizational level by helping the personnel to go beyond the satisfaction of their current needs. A transformational leader is one who coaches and develops the subordinates. They attain this by expecting high performance from their subordinates through the articulation of future visions and intellectual stimulation of followers.

Steve Jobs was a charismatic leader, which is one trait of transformational leaders. As a charismatic leader, Jobs pursued perfection and was customer-oriented. Through his perfection traits, Jobs inspired Apple employees to pursue outstanding goals but the trait is criticized that it produced demanding and high work pressures. The second trait was his customer-oriented trait, which led to the introduction of clear visions that led to the development of popular products. Thus, as a transformational leader, Jobs was able to push Apple’s employees where they set high expectations and details in their products. He introduced the unique culture of Apple, which is attention to details, innovative and creative strategies, and beautiful products. Lastly, Jobs introduced a creative and perfection-oriented culture in Apple, an environment that promotes developments for the Apple employees in actualizing their potential. 

Transformational Leadership vs. Laissez-Faire

Laissez-Faire is the opposite realm of transformational leadership. In contrast to transformational leaders who motivate employees, laissez-faire is the opposite with no motivation and lack of leadership skills. According to Wellman and LePine (2017), laissez-faire leadership is an inactive, passive, and non-directive leadership style. The leaders operate in the belief that internal drives motivate employees to act. This is attained by formulating a few rules, which act as a guideline for the employees to follow. This provides a beneficial arena where the followers explore their abilities and talents to their maximum.

In contrast, the transformation leadership style is directive and provides clear visions that followers are required to follow fully. However, Laissez-faire is where the leader does not have a clear vision and direction, which confuses the follower to using different objectives and goals, which is stressful for the employees. In turn, the lack of clear visions and directives results in poor quality and productivity (Wellman & LePine, 2017). Another drawback of laissez-faire form of leadership is the failure to influence organizational culture unlike transformation leadership, which was identified earlier; Jobs influenced the creative and perfection-oriented culture in Apple. 

Key Differences

According to Northouse (2018), transformational leaders assist followers to go beyond their expectations through their magnetism and charming personality that attracts the follower by supporting and encouraging them to attain their goals. Northouse explains that there are four factors of transformational leadership. The first factor is charisma or influence, which explains a leader with a captivating presence and attractive to followers who desire to act like the leader. The second factor is that transformative leaders are inspirational and motivational where they provide incentives for followers to be part of the goal attainment by illustrating the significance of their input in the business. Through this, an employee views his/her input as irreplaceable. 

The third factor is intellectual stimulation where the leader can motivate employees to think outside the box. A transformative leader attains this by attracting creative expressions. The last factor is individualized consideration, where the leaders are attentive to the needs of employees, are empathetic, and understand the atmosphere surrounding the employees. These factors, however, are absent in the Laissez-fair form of leadership. Comparatively, the transformational leadership style is a form of constructive approach while laissez-faire is a destructive approach.

Morale, Productivity, and Overall Commitment between Transformational and Laissez-Faire

When comparing transformational and laissez-faire in terms of morale, productivity, and general commitment, it is clear that transformational leaders improve morale, commitment, and productivity in their organization. The opposite is true when it comes to laissez-faire. Wellman and LePine (2017) explain that laissez-faire applies inadequacy in terms of leadership, which creates stress and frustrations in the workplace. This is likely to cause escalated conflict levels and interpersonal tensions. Besides, the frustrations are likely to cause anti-social behaviors in a work environment, which reduces employees’ morale.

Northouse (2018) explains that laissez-faire, as a form of leadership is a situational constraint, which forms interpersonal conflicts through poor performance among managers and poor interventions to interpersonal conflicts. Laissez-faire is viewed as a managerial cause of interpersonal conflict. Unresolved conflict in an organization demotivates employees and reduces productivity. In general, the laissez-faire form of leadership reduces motivation, decreases productivity, and reduces the general commitment of employees. 

In contrast to laissez-faire, transformative leaders promote motivation, productivity, and commitment in the workplace. According to Bass (1992), transformational leadership “occurs when leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir employees to look beyond their self-interest for the good of the group” (p21). This illustrates that transformative leaders can increase motivation, productivity, and commitment.

Nguyen et al. (2017) explain that transformative leaders motivate employees from low needs’ level, puts more focus on survival, and ensures the followers reach their highest levels. Besides, transformative leaders motivate employees to surpass their interest to the core purpose and success of the organization, which they attain after satisfying their individual needs as stipulated in Maslow’s theory of wants (love, learn and legacy). However, this form of leadership faces criticism with claims that it endangers trust, respect, loyalty, and admiration among followers. However, such an issue occurs when the leader fails to view the employee as an individual and views them from the lens of employees. Overall, transformative leaders increase the motivation, morale, and the achievements of their followers at all level


Bass, B.M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: learning to share the vision.

Crawford, C.B., Gould, L.V., & Scott, R.F. (2003). Transformational leader as champion and techie: implications for leadership educators.  Journal of  Leadership Education, 2 (1), pp. 1-12.

Nguyen, T. T., Mia, L., Winata, L., & Chong, V. K. (2017). Effect of transformational-leadership style and management control system on managerial performance. Journal of Business Research70, 202-213.

Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage publications.

Organizational Dynamics, 13, pp. 26-40.

Steinwart, M. C., & Ziegler, J. A. (2014). Remembering Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a” Transformational Leader”: Implications for Pedagogy. Journal of Leadership Education13(2).Wellman, E. M., & LePine, J. (2017). Laissez-Faire leadership and informal leadership behavior. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2017, No. 1, p. 11499). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

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