Leadership: Carly Fiorina vs. Steve Jobs


You are responsible for selecting two leaders of your choice one who has positively impacted business or society and one who has negatively impacted business or society. You must compare and contrast their leadership traits, motives, and characteristics (refer to the various leadership styles and attributes discussed in the text). What made one a good leader and why and what made one an ineffective or bad leader; or you can choose both leaders, who may have been effective leaders but one’s mission was to promote good in society/organization and the other used their powers to promote a negative agenda in society/organization. You must identify the leader and the company or organization that he/she was/is affiliated with. The time period of the leader and what other major events were taking place during his/her rise to leadership; if the leaders possessed a social or ethical agenda as a part of his/her leadership tactics and what impact did that have on his/her business, organization or society. Why you chose these leaders and what personal impact did they have on you personally or professionally. What impact did they have on society/business/organization and is their mission still being carried on (identify the mission of the individual and his/her successors).

All writing assignments for this class should be typed, double-spaced, with Times New Roman size 12 font, left-justified, and 1” margins on all sides. Use APA formatting and style for all submitted work. The paper must be at a minimum of 3 FULL pages in length and must contain at least 5 concepts discussed throughout the semester ( http://www.dustindavey.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Chapter-1_6.pdf) you can use this page for the concept. It’s from the book.


Name of Student:

Institutional Affiliation:


Introduction. 2

Comparison between the Leadership Traits and Styles of Carly Fiorina and Steve Jobs. 2

Conclusion. 5

References. 6


            Leaders gain recognition for exerting a positive impact on the organizations they head as well as society. The ability of a leader to have a positive influence on his followers is determined by his or her leadership traits, attitude, characteristics, and style. Some leaders embrace participative leadership while others adopt autocratic leadership. Despite the choice of leadership style, there are certain task-related behaviors and attitudes that determine whether or not a leader will be effective (DuBrin, 2010). Some of these behaviors include a consideration, adaptability to changing situations, ability to set direction, and the pursuit of high-performance standards (DuBrin, 2010). Effective leaders also focus on followers’ strengths, take risks during plan execution, and adopt a hands-on approach to business operations (DuBrin, 2010).


            The aim of this paper is to provide a comparison between two business leaders: Carly Fiorina and Steve Jobs. These leaders impacted their organizations in different ways; Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, left the company a disgraced person while Steve Jobs, a former Apple Inc. CEO and co-founder left a rich legacy at the company by successfully working towards making it the most highly valued company in the world. This paper sets out to compare the leadership traits, motives, and characteristics of these two leaders. It also seeks to determine why Fiorina emerged as an ineffective leader and why Steve Jobs became an effective leader.

Comparison between the Leadership Traits and Styles of Carly Fiorina and Steve Jobs

            Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) between 1999 and 2005. Her tenure at the personal computer company was highly controversial. During this tenure, she was in the middle of a proxy fight within the company’s board of directors over the company’s merger with Compaq, another computer company. By the time Fiorina was abruptly ousted in 2005, the company’s stock value was 50 percent lower than it was during her arrival as the company’s CEO (Ginzl, 2007). During her tenure, HP lost its position as one of the most admired corporations in the world and instead became a target of public criticism and criminal investigations. As the top leader at HP, Fiorina was criticized for high-handedness, arrogance, and a domineering character (Ginzl, 2007). She was accused of casting the image of a high-flying superstar-executive who never attempted to make connections with the daily struggles and fears of lower-cadre employees (Ginzl, 2007).

            On the other hand, Steve Jobs was the co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Apple Inc.  He co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976, was ousted from the company’s top management in 1985, and then returned 12 years later as the company’s CEO. Since returning to Apple in 1997, Steve remained its CEO until his death in 2011. During this time, the company produced revolutionary computing products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. As a business leader, Jobs is famous for his hands-on approach, ability to pay attention to detail, and insistence on perfection.

            Carly Fiorina failed at HP because her leadership style did not fit into the environment in which she was working. Before taking over the leadership of HP, she had acquired nearly two decades of experience in sales and marketing at Lucent Technologies and AT&T. however, at HP, she was unable to bring about improvements in the company’s stock price and profits. By the time of her firing, the board of directors at HP had been convinced that she lacked the leadership skills required for the company to exploit emerging opportunities in the market. Her mistakes demonstrated that effectiveness in leadership not only depends on leadership traits but also situational factors and environmental influences (DuBrin, 2010).

            In contrast to Fiorina’s failure as a leader, Steve Jobs enjoyed tremendous success at Apple Inc. In fact, Jobs practically used his leadership skills to save the company from collapsing. Jobs exuded power and influence not only at Apple but also across the industry, and for this reason he was a big favorite of Wall Street. He had a unique, demanding, and highly aggressive personality. He blended his demanding character with egocentrism to ensure that the company’s employees designed products according to his idea of perfection. However, he is also considered a true leader full of charisma, courage, and enthusiasm. He was highly creative in the way he made decisions as well as his adaptability to changing conditions in the computer market.


            In contrast, Carly Fiorina was chosen for the top job at HP with strict instructions to rejuvenate the company and shake things up. During her tenure, she emerged as a big risk-taker. This is because she spearheaded the merger between HP and Compaq Computer, one of the largest in the high-tech industry. For this achievement, Fiorina greatly contributed to the digital age by enhancing the level of satisfaction among consumers. However, her job-centered style of leadership became her undoing. She went overboard by insisting on reorganizing the company within three months despite her top executives’ insistence that such a drastic strategy would take at least a year. Her followers literally struggled to keep pace with her directives, leading to dissent and turnover. In this way, Fiorina may be said to have neglected aspects of social and ethical agenda as part of her organizational transformation agenda.

            Fiorina also went wrong when she adopted a leadership style that strictly revolved around compliance with authority. She focused on asserting authority at the expense of addressing employee needs. Although she motivated the employees, she failed to establish personal connections with them. The consequent lack of employee equity translated into a situation where the company’s employees were simply not prepared for the shake-up.

            Steve Jobs adopted a radically different approach. He was both charismatic and creative. He not only had a vision for the company he co-founded but was also able to communicate it to his employees. Consequently, he ventured into the software business, leading to the launch of iTunes. Steve Jobs’ leadership skills can be understood in terms of both charismatic leadership and transactional leadership theories. He inspired employees through his actions, thereby bringing out his charismatic leadership qualities. He also rewarded employees based on their performance, thereby bringing out his transactional leadership qualities. By addressing employees’ needs, Jobs may be said to have integrated the social and ethical agenda into his strategy, albeit indirectly.


            The review of the performance of Carly Fiorina and Steve Jobs as CEOs provides insights into how different organizational circumstances call for different leadership traits. Fiorina was a motivational but seemingly dictatorial leader who failed to maintain a personal touch with her employees. In contrast, Steve Jobs succeeded in striking a balance between a highly aggressive and demanding approach and charismatic qualities that endeared him to employees and other stakeholders in the high-tech industry. In terms of social and ethical agenda, Steve Jobs seems to have performed better than Carly Fiorina.


DuBrin, A. (2010). Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills (Sixth Edition). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Ginzl, D. (2007). Rise and Fall of a Superstar. Commercial Lending Review. 22(1), 41- 59.

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