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Richard Branson was born in 1950 and founded Virgin Records at the age of 22. His Virgin Group now consists of more than 350 companies and he is reputed to be worth more than 3 billion pounds. Branson, a dyslexic, did not shine academically and left school at the age of 16 years. He set up his first business, a magazine called Student, later that same year and in 1970 set up a record mail-order business, which he named Virgin because most of his employees were new to business (Don & John, 2007). Two years later he opened the first Virgin Records store in London and set up a record label, with Mike Oldfield’s eventual best seller Tubular Bells as its first release. Branson was a millionaire at the age of 25.
Sir Richard’s Style
Branson’s success as a businessman and leader has its roots in his ability to connect with people, and his willingness to take risks. His leadership style is often described as ‘transformational’, because of his informal style and lack of emphasis on hierarchy within his companies, and ‘charismatic’ because Branson and Virgin are so inextricably linked. Branson pays great attention to staff management and argues that all leaders hold a sense of moral responsibility to their employees.
He believes strongly that you get the best out of people by treating them well, and with respect. During the recession of early 1990s, he talked of how he tried, whenever possible, to move employees temporarily to a different part of the business rather than make them redundant during difficult trading conditions, and said that this resulted in employee loyalty that was far more valuable than any short term savings he could make by laying people off (Grout & Liz, 2011 ).
Sir Richard Branson is a believer in positive reinforcement. He holds the opinion that if a flower is watered, it will flourishes, if not it shrivels dries up and dies. This principle is based on the fact that as a leader one ought to be always on the lookout for the best in people. Only then will the employee be able to perform tasks in an effective and quality fashion. Branson appears to be a leader who is an approach in his style of affairs. For instance, he takes time to read the emails from his employees daily and chooses to approach them means that he is in a position of ensuring that he gains complete loyalty and trust from his employees. If you bump him in the streets, you might be surprised. He is casual, he is smiling, and he is fun; he is also considered to be brilliant when it comes to business and leadership. His goal is to build Virgin into the most respectable brand in the world.
About leadership, he holds the view that caring about people is very important. This is because a person can be a perfect leader if he/she generally loves people. That is how he brings the best out of his employees (Schermerhorn, 2011). As a leader, Branson regularly uses the Measured Connector role. He is said to be a herder of cats rather than a leader of the sheep. He gets to know people, gets to trust them and then creates a challenging environment for them. What he does not do is breathing down their necks or tells them what to do. He helps them to get set up, connecting them with others and providing key resources.
This role is demonstrated by his great belief in working with family and friends. Even his ex-wife is included in the roll – call of colleagues. Many of us would see huge risks in this; he only sees advantages. This makes him a truly measured connector, who thrives on bringing trusted, energetic people together and connecting different worlds to create something new and vibrant. The structure he has created at Virgin is unusual. It consists of more than 500 small companies around the world operating independently. This is similar to the Japanese keiretsu system in which many small companies interlock within a collaborative network (Cameron & Mike, 2008).
Elements of leadership
Several elements make Branson be a great leader. One of the elements of leadership which he bears is that of trust. This is where the leadership of the company believes in both its people, as well as the innovation process itself. It also requires that the employees believe in themselves to possess the ability to plow through obstacles and keep the vision but to also remain open to new ideas and questions along the way. Also, leadership is about a balance of responsibilities at the top.
While most business analysts agree that innovative companies tend to have strong leaders, some business analysts have gone deeper into the characteristics of successful leadership. This has been typified by the innovative quality that Branson has upheld within the Virgin brand. As a leader, a quality which is important in current America, the creative director is a right-brain individual who is imaginative and possesses the ability to continuously churn out new ideas that cater to the wants and needs of the company’s target audience. The business director, on the other hand, is a left-brain individual who possesses the ability to make hard decisions based on thorough analysis.
The bottom line however is, that leadership must not be distracted by clutter and noise that takes up time and energy, leaving little or nothing to pursue innovation. Additionally, the leadership must not allow the organization to become so used to the routine and systematic way of doing things that they are unable to see the benefits possible through even slight deviations, in terms of innovation. Within traditional workplaces, the silo effect can truly become a limitation for innovation, just as do fixed roles and rigid disciplines.
Sir Richard Branson is one clear example of supportive leadership within the airline industry relating to innovation. Virgin is a reputational brand, based on the reputation of Sir Richard Branson and, in turn, on his focus on the customer in all of the businesses within the Virgin Enterprises, from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Brides. He believes that customers need more than just value, but also a choice, particularly where choice does not exist. He believes s in customer service and customer experience, and that the key driver behind these two related concepts is innovation. Innovations, relay on superior customer understanding, and that, in turn, comes primarily from employees.
Leadership has been broadly defined as the ability to influence others. A leader can use his or her power to affect the behavior of others. Leadership is different from management in that a leader strives for voluntary cooperation, whereas a manager may have to depend on coercion to change employee behavior.
Some experts make a distinction between formal leadership and informal leadership. Formal leaders have legitimate power of position. They have authority within an organization to influence others to work for the organization’s objectives. Informal leaders usually have no such authority and may or may not exert their influence in support of the organization. Both formal and informal leaders make use of several kinds of power including the ability to grant rewards or impose punishments, the possession of expert knowledge, and personal attraction or charisma. Informal leaders who identify with the organization’s goals are valuable assets to any organization. However, a business can be brought to its knees by informal leaders who turn workgroups against management.
Styles of leadership
For many years, leadership was viewed as a combination of personality traits, such as self-confidence, concern for people, intelligence, and dependability. Achieving a consensus on which traits were most important was difficult, however, so attention turned to styles of leadership behavior. In recent years, several styles of leadership have emerged, including autocratic, participative, and entrepreneurial.
Autocratic leadership is very task-oriented. Decisions are made confidentially, with little concern about employee opinions. Employees are told exactly what is expected from them and given specific guidelines, rules, and regulations on how to achieve their tasks. Participatory leadership is common in today’s business organizations. Participative leaders consult workers before making decisions.
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This helps workers to understand which goals are important and fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to reach those goals. Participative leaders can be classified into three groups: consultative, consensus, and democratic. Consultative leaders discuss issues with workers but retain the final authority for decision making. Consensus leaders seek input from almost all workers and make the final decision based on their support. Democratic leaders give final authority to the group. They collect opinions and base their decisions on the vote of the group. Communication is active upward and downward in participative organizations.
Coaching, collaborating, and negotiating are important skills for participative leaders. Entrepreneurial leadership is personality dependent. Although each entrepreneur is different, this leadership style is generally task-oriented, driven, charismatic, and enthusiastic. The entrepreneurial personality tends to take initiative, venture into new areas, be visionary, and focus on the next deal. Their enthusiasm energizes and inspires their people. Entrepreneurial leaders take responsibility for their success or failure of the firm, and often don’t understand why their employees don’t always share their passion for their work.
Leading the Project
Today most management experts agree that no “best” managerial leadership style exists. Each of the styles described – autocratic, participative and entrepreneurial – has advantages and disadvantages. Participative leadership can motivate employees to work effectively because they are implementing their own decisions. However, the decision-making process in participative leadership takes time that subordinates could be devoted to the work itself. Although hundreds of studies have been carried out to establish which the best leadership style is, there are no definite conclusions. The “best” leadership seems to occur when the leader’s style matches the situation. Each of the leadership styles can be effective in the right situation. The most effective style depends on the interaction among employees, characteristics of the work situation, and the manager’s personality.
In the case of Sir Richard Branson, the most appropriate leadership style would be a participatory style of leadership. However, it is important to note that it will not always be applicable in all cases. Rather, each approach of leadership will be defined by the prevailing circumstances. In the case of the global project, it is worth noting that the project will bring together people from across the globe that have different views on how things should be run. In this case, Sir Richard Branson would best use the participatory approach where every stakeholder has an opportunity to share their views on how best to deal or realize the objectives set out.
Lessons and conclusion
In conclusion, many lessons are or have been outlaid by Branson’s leadership. These range from being charismatic to participatory style and then to the entrepreneurial approach. Essentially, these approaches form a formidable approach in the running of any organization. As a leader, I would opt for the stated approaches bearing in mind the fact that situations and circumstances are not the same. However, from what has been outlined from Sir Richard Branson, these styles ensure results are realized (Pride, Robert, & Jack, 2011).
Cameron, E., & Mike, G. (2008). Making Sense of Leadership: Exploring the Five Key Roles Used by Effective Leaders. Philadelphia: Kogan Page Publishers.
Don, H., & John, W. S. (2007). Organizational behavior (11th ed.). California: Cengage Learning.
Grout, J., & Liz, F. (2011 ). What You Need to Know about Leadership. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Pride, W., Robert, J. H., & Jack, R. K. (2011). Business (11th ed.). California: Cengage Learning.
Schermerhorn, J. (2011). Organizational Behavior. New York: John Wiley and Sons.