Innovative and Creative Leadership Strategy: A Case Study Based on Leadership Style of Microsoft and Apple


The purpose of the study is to analyse the impact of innovative and creative leadership strategy in organisations considering the comparative study of Apple and Microsoft. The overall study has been segregated into five tasks. In Task 1, the benefits of innovative leadership strategy has been discussed with reference to the leadership structure of Microsoft and Apple. Also the alignment of applied innovative leadership with an overarching organisational strategy has been described relating the similarity and differences between Microsoft and Apple and the evaluation of innovative leadership strategy and the importance of it in context of organisational development is clearly discussed with respect to the example of Apple. In Task 2 evaluation of personal skills to achieve strategic goals and the techniques of assessing the professional skills are discussed in the context of achieving strategic organisational goals. In Task 3 the benefits of innovative leadership, developing the plans to achieve innovative leadership and the technical specifications are also been discussed with reference to Apple’s case study. Furthermore, in Task 4 the resource requirement and developing a schedule and adaptation of an exciting system has been clearly discussed. In the last phase in Task 5 practical implementation of innovative leadership strategy has been discussed. Monitoring the strategy to evaluate critical success factor and the impact of innovative and creative leadership strategy upon the strategic management in the context of organisational development has been identified.



The current report promotes the concept of innovative and creative leadership taking into consideration the comparative case of Apple and Microsoft. The leadership approach followed in two brands have been contradictory to each other however both the brands have been successful in achieving innovation in business..The study initially attempts to stress on innovative leadership approach considering the different tactics of Apple and Microsoft. Accordingly, the findings are evaluated in order to develop a real planning process regarding implementing an innovative leadership strategy in a real time business environment so that effective business competency could be ensured along with long term sustainability.

1.0 Task 1: Understanding the value of applied, innovative and creative leadership strategies:

1.1 Benefits of innovative leadership within Apple and Microsoft’s organisational contexts:

A systematic approach of innovative and creative leadership strategy can make an organisation best in business world. According to Steve Jobs, co-founder and ex CEO and chairman of Apple, innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower which does not require the workforce to get involved into it. Steve Jobs thinks that a company cannot ask the customers what are the requirements and then try to give that to them. According to Steve Jobs, if Apple kept putting great products in front of the customers, the customers would continue to open wallets. As opined by the Weinberg (2006), that innovativeness can bring a leadership position in market without involving the workforce into decision making process.

Wilson (2004) argued that implementing innovation management requires organization to create collaborative teams that go well beyond project lead which is being followed by Bill Gates in innovative and creative business strategy in Microsoft.

For both the companies, the style of leadership is different-one is following autocratic leadership while the other is following democratic leadership style. However, the common factors in innovative and creative leadership strategies are helping the organisations by increasing the ability to find more innovative approaches to solve problems and by helping to change habitual thinking. Furthermore, the strategy guides organisations to become more systematic in problem solving and decision making process.

1.2 Alignment of applied innovative leadership with an overarching organisational strategy as evident:

According to Amabile (2008), seven parts are needed in the application of innovative leadership. It provides a structured framework for an organisation to gather around

As per present scenario, divergence of the fortunes of Apple and Microsoft highlights perfectly the growth potential achievable from a combined approach of change and innovation.











Figure 1: Seven domains of innovative leadership

(Source: Amabile, T. M., 2008, pp. 78)


Strategic alignment:  Strategic alignment consists of 6 domains that are discussed below:

Culture: In Apple Steve Jobs followed a culture of “No compromise” where as Bill Gates incorporated compromise in Microsoft’s cultural strategy. In today’s scenario Apple’s culture stands strong in the context of alignment of applied innovative leadership with organisational strategy.

Environment: Apple took a refreshingly outspoken stance on climate change last year whereas Microsoft excels in the sustainability arena, with concrete goals including a plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% compared to 2007 levels by 2012. But the lagging of Apple is it just won’t set specific goal which is necessary in strategic alignment which is being followed by Microsoft making it victor in this domain as compared to Apple.

Language and communication: In the context of language and communication Microsoft allows language interface packs (LIP) that provides asset of tools in a number of languages for five Office 2010 programs. On the other hand, Apple has made display menus and dialogs in different languages.

Structure function: In this context Microsoft is following democratic leadership where as Apple is following autocratic leadership strategy. In today’s business environment it has been found that Apple’s leadership style is more focused than Microsoft.

Motivation: In motivational context, Microsoft is following strong structure rather than Apple. It involves the employees in innovative leadership process whereas Apple’s innovative leadership process does not motivate employee by involving them in decision making process.

Governance: Top-down approach is being followed by Apple whereas bottom-up approach has been followed by Microsoft in innovative leadership process. In today’s business scenario some part of bottom-up approach is necessary in the context of innovative leadership process.

1.3 Evaluation of the contribution of applying an innovative leadership strategy to the achievement of an organisation’s objectives considering Apple’s strategy:

Organisational objectives can be achieved by applying innovative features on particular product influencing enhanced customer satisfaction and organisational development as well (Avolio et al. 2004). It gives a clear picture of respective markets while the approach can help becoming more self aware. Adding to that, the initiatives can increase the leadership behaviour to become more generative in the target market.

Innovation is a part of Apple’s corporate DNA. Steve Jobs fostered a culture of secrecy at Apple and inspired employees to come with path-breaking products by thinking differently. According to Baron and Kenny (2006), the evaluation process helps to analyse key factors that contributes to the creation of a unique culture focused on innovation and creativity at organization. Apple led the global technology market by developing innovative products such as the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and the iPad that redefined the respective markets.

2.0 Task 2: Ability to assess own skills as an innovative and creative leader:

2.1 Evaluating personal skills required to achieve strategic goals:

It is necessary to know about how to coordinate with staff in the company and the people with different Government offices and private companies.

2.1.1 Courage:

Leadership character requires moral courage which means, standing up for one’s convictions and values while risking criticism, censure or ridicule. According to Conger (2009), moral courage inspires respect for several reasons: it is viewed as being a selfless form of behaviour; it is seen as a sign of having overcome fear; and it implies that leaders take responsibility for their own actions.

2.1.2 Caring:

Couger et al. (2003) opined that caring means showing sincere interest in and genuine concern for others. It includes consideration, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and nurturing. Leaders who are caring will likely be rewarded with cooperative and supportive behaviour in return.

2.1.3 Optimism:

Optimism is the tendency to take the most hopeful view and to expect the best outcome. Optimists see opportunities, possibilities and silver linings in every situation (Dvir et al. 2012). Optimists often contend that, with hard work, focus, resilience and a bit of luck, a positive outcome is possible.

2.1.4 Self-control:

Leaders can choose the way of doing a job and then accept the consequences of their choices. According to Elkins and Kellar (2003), self-control implies that as a leader a person has sufficient drive and initiative, as well as a clear vision and focus.

2.1.5 Communication:

Several methods of interpersonal communication are written, verbal, and nonverbal signs, attitudes and body language, as well as communication through actions and appearance. Listening is also an important part of communication as prioritising effective listening skills could help improving the inter-organisational communication process (Dvir et al. 2012). A leader’s communication gives a vision, establishes direction, and shapes goals and objectives. Communication makes the emotional connection that is so critical in effective leadership.

2.2 Techniques to assess the professional skills required to support the strategic direction of the organisation:

Several techniques have been developed to assess the professional skills required to support the strategic direction of the organisation.

2.2.1 Advanced professional development:

Advanced professional development process enables an individual to obtain personal and professional skills required to support the strategic direction of the organisation. The development is necessary to cope with career progression (Elkins and Kellar, 2003). APD can help innovative leaders to conduct a skills audit through which individual will be able to realise the current skills and compare with future requirements.

2.2.2 Performance potential matrix:

By using the below matrix assessment of professional skills can be made to support the strategic direction of the organisation.












Figure 2: Performance Potential Matrix

(Source: Wilson, I., 2004, pp. 113)

3.0 Task 3: Understanding the value of applied, innovative and creative leadership to organisations:

3.1 Benefits of an innovative leadership strategy in your organisation:

Innovative leadership approaches can provide a personalised toolkit of knowledge, skills and frameworks to transform business performance (Elkins and Kellar, 2003). The key benefits of innovative leadership strategy include:

Deriving long-term growth:

Innovative leaders have the ability to lead, develop and enhance innovation capacity of the total organisation thus driving long-term growth and corporate success. As in the case of Apple, Steve Jobs had the ability to develop the long-term growth by means of innovativeness.

Improve organisational culture:

Organisational culture can also be improved by innovative leadership. As in the case of Microsoft, the main strategy of Bill Gates was to engage the employees in innovative management process thus maintaining a flexible organisational culture.

Building up a tailored action plan:

According to Conger (2009), innovative leadership can build a tailored action plan for moving the organisation forward by facilitating continuous and sustainable innovation within the organisation. Furthermore, action plan can be achieved by communicating a broad definition of innovation to the employees as maintained by Microsoft.

3.2 Develop a plan for applying an innovative leadership strategy to gain a competitive advantage:

Getting a competitive advantage by the application of innovative leadership strategy would maintain a five-step process as maintained by the management of Microsoft.

Envision: As per Microsoft strategy, it is the first step in innovation management process which helps to achieve the innovation goals in the business strategy.

Engage: Conger (2009) opined that the key is to get closer to the customer, what they desire how they will make the lives better and how company’s product will displace something.

The main motto is to develop a digital innovation environment, such as Microsoft’s Innovation Hub, to systematically capture ideas and manage them, make it personal, brand the innovation environment with your company’s identity and terminology, and allow contributions to support ideas, develop profiles, capabilities, and communities to provide access to expertise and the ability to discover new innovations, evaluate the opportunity to collect ideas automatically.

Evolve:  It takes the output of the engagement process to the next level to increase the quality and value. Author opined that soliciting and capturing ideas is not enough, early feedback allows great ideas to be improved upon and issues to be raised so it can be resolved.

Evaluate: Evaluation is done to provide filtering to people to identify ideas that address areas of interest, track which ideas are getting the most attention, views, and comments, provide mechanisms to rate the ideas or to do validation on details like technical feasibility.

Execute: It is the last step. It takes the input from the previous processes and executes a formal project to develop further the idea or commercialise it. Another challenge in this step is to make right information readily available in a timely way which makes a huge impact on productivity.

3.3 Technical specification required for an innovative leadership strategy:

Technical knowledge:

In order to establish innovative leadership strategy, the leader has to be aware of the technical platforms in which the organisation is operating.

Technical infrastructure:

A sound technical infrastructure is required to get into new innovations and to get a sustainable competitive advantage.

Market survey:

A technical survey in the global market has to be operated by the leader to get the knowledge about actual market demand.

Statistical knowledge:

A statistical knowledge is required to know about the skill set of employees about a particular technology platform for last few years to get the understanding whether the employees can perform according to the new innovation plans or not.

Financial Consideration:

A major technical specification related to finance is required to judge the affordability of the firm to get into innovation of new product or to judge the risk factors associated with it.

4.0 Task 4: Planning the application of applied, innovative and creative leadership skills:

4.1 Resource requirements for implementing an innovative leadership strategy for the organisation:

Considering the case of Apple and Microsoft, both brands focused on the modification of the workforce and the leaders so that an innovative work culture can be achieved. While Apple preferred an autocratic style of leadership with proper delegation of authority to promote innovation, Microsoft prioritised democratic leadership to achieve product innovation (Frick et al. 2014). Comparing the approaches of these two brands it is assumed that resources like a learning work culture, several dynamic leaders and a balance between top down and bottom up data flow model is required to promote innovation within the workforce.

Learning work culture:

In the words of Williams (2006), it is always advantageous to have a learning workforce that can promote innovative ideas within the workforce. Therefore the organisation needs a learning work culture that would encourage the employees to promote new ideas that could contribute to the product innovation process,

Dynamic leaders:

In order to achieve an innovative culture, the organisational leaders are needed to be a bit dynamic in nature (Gabriel, 2008). Dynamic leaders are supposed to promote the strategies objectives effectively to the workforce and also engage in the teamwork activities along with the subordinates to complete assigned operations. Dynamic leaders are generally standout figures to the employees and motivate the employees to thrive for greater success.

Top down and bottom up data flow framework:

In order to implement an innovative leadership strategy, a specific data flow framework can be established that would support a blend of top down and bottom up process. While Apple used to follow a top-down information flow model, Microsoft considered a bottom-up model simultaneously with the top down model so that the feedback of the employees could be considered during strategic decision making. By this way, the organisation can consider empowering the employees and the employees can accordingly contribute to the innovation process. 

4.2 Development of an implementation schedule for an innovative leadership strategy:

The process of implementation of innovative leadership could be initiated with a one-week assessment program for the organisational leaders as well as the employees. On the outset, the organisational leaders would be engaged in a three-day executive level hands-on workshop in which the leaders could be made aware of the leading change regarding innovative leadership and how an innovative work culture could be achieved within the workforce. Employees can be made aware of the change in leadership approach through the seminar and classroom programs conducted each day of the week at the end of the working hours. As mentioned by Stumpf (2006), the organisational stakeholders are needed to make aware of the forthcoming change in order to develop a compatible environment for the change management process. A total of three such assessment programs can be conducted over the duration of 30 days so that the innovative leadership culture could be achieved within the workforce.   

4.3 Adaptation of exciting systems in order to accommodate the requirements of an innovative leadership strategy:

In order to accommodate the requirements for an innovative leadership strategy, a four-step system can be developed that has been discussed below.

Conducting rigorous scenario planning:

On the outset, the external business environment is needed to be assessed along with the change elements. Considering the case of Microsoft, the brand user intense market research procedure to assess the requirements of the business enterprises and developed the Windows products. Therefore, analysing the external change elements is important on the basis of which the innovative leadership strategy could be adopted (Abramson, 2006). The organisation needs to adopt at least 3-5 years outlook and develop the innovation strategy accordingly.

Analysing current business context:

During the phase, the present end-to-end business process is needed to be evaluated. The activities that create greater values are needed to be prioritised more and employees are needed to be encouraged more to stress on such activities. Herzberg (2004) acknowledged that in order to achieve product innovation, it is necessary to determine the activities that create greater values.

Developing value creating process:

Organisations need to standardise processes that are valued most for efficiency (Siegel and Kaemmerer, 2008). The organisational leaders need to be dynamic and involve in the teamwork activities in order to determine the areas where the process flexibility will create highest values. The organisational leaders can trigger the elements of innovation by this way and empower the employees to provide innovative ideas so that a certain degree of innovation could be promoted within the organisation.

Developing a flexible operating model:

A flexible operating model would examine the value creation model on a continuous basis in order to track the level of innovation within the work environment (Liedtka, 2008). The leaders need to establish linkage between the organisational innovative approaches and the workforce activities so that the relevancy can be maintained.

5.0 Task 5: Managing applied, innovative and creative skills

5.1 Practical implementation of an innovative leadership strategy:

The implementation process concerning an innovative leadership strategy would be comprised of three steps including idea promotion, communication and action plan.

Idea promotion:

On the outset, new innovative ideas are needed to be promoted not necessarily by the top management but also by the employees as well (Berry, 2004). The leaders could encourage the employees to share thoughts regarding potential innovative approaches that could be helpful for long-term future of the businesses.

Communication plan:

Once the idea of leadership being verified and approved by the top management, the probable initiatives are needed to be discussed with the internal stakeholders of the organisation in order to create enhanced awareness among the employees (Fairholm, 2004). The employees could be encouraged to share thoughts on the efficacy of the process in order to determine the probable impact of the leadership approaches on the workforce.

Action plan:

The final step of the implementation plan is a stepwise action plan approach during which the leadership initiatives can be applied one after another so that the employees could grasp the new system easily (Hamel and Prahalad, 2009). For creating greater values during the leadership process, it is advisable to stress on a continuous monitoring process emphasising on value creation.

5.2 Process of monitoring the innovative leadership strategy:

Despite implementing an innovative leadership strategy, the critical success factor involving the process might not always been achieved. Janssen et al. (2004) argued that a significant number of business organisations fail to achieve an innovative work culture due to lack of monitoring process. In order to resolve the issue, a 3-step monitoring process could be initiated including feedback evaluation, product innovativeness capability and employee creativity.

Feedback evaluation:

Employee feedback evaluation is a tried and tested model when it comes to monitoring leadership organisational leadership approaches (Woodman et al. 2003). Following the approach, the employee perception can be obtained regarding the innovative leadership approaches. Adding to that, employees can be encouraged to provide thought on how to enhance the innovative leadership initiatives. 

Product innovativeness:

Product innovativeness can be a determining factor promoting the innovative leadership activities. Creative leadership could lead to innovative product design and would ultimately promote an innovative culture (Sosik et al. 2009). Therefore, based on whether the organisation can manage to develop innovative products would determine the success of the innovative leadership approaches. 

Employee creativity:

Finally, an innovative leadership approach can be monitored with the level of creativity within the workforce. The performance of the employees can be assessed individually and collectively in order to track the level of creativity. A creativity workforce is likely to contribute to the product innovation process (Gabriel, 2008).  

5.3 Impact of the innovative leadership strategy on the organisational competency in a global market:

The innovative leadership strategy can impact on the organisational competency by contributing to the work culture and overall attitude of the employees. As mentioned by Stumpf (2006), an innovative work culture supports employee empowerment that would encourage the employees to share innovative ideas on a continuous basis. It is assumed that the learning work culture would help to achieve competitive workforce which would be hard to imitate by the rival organisations and therefore increased global competency can be expected in the long run.

Taking into consideration the case of Apple Inc, the brand is enjoying superior competency level in the mobile segment thanks to the innovative leadership of Steve Jobs while similar fact can be applicable for Microsoft also as Bill Gates had managed to develop an innovative workforce that has continuously contributed to the product innovation process. Thus, the innovative leadership approaches are supposed to be impacting on the organisational competency in the industry making the organisation a standout brand in the industry. 

Conclusion and recommendations:

Summarising the findings of the above investigation, innovative and creative leadership is turning out to be significant in the competitive business environment in modern era. In this context, the case studies of Apple and Microsoft have been analysed as both the brands have been benefiting from following innovative leaderships styles. Apple follows an autocratic style of leadership limiting the innovation to the top management only. On the contrary, Microsoft follows a democratic leadership style and engages the organisational employees in the strategic decision making process. Accordingly, the approaches of Apple and Microsoft have been applied in a practical business scenario in order to implement an innovative leadership strategy. On the outset, performance potential matrix can be conducted to evaluate the required skills of creative leaders. Resources required for implementing an innovative leadership strategy would be a learning work culture, a group of dynamic leaders and a combination of top down and bottom up data flow model. Finally, the implementation of the leadership strategy would be comprise of a three step model including idea generation, communication plan and action plan. The innovative leadership strategy is supposed to be providing enhanced competency in the respective industry while ensuring long tern business growth.




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