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Leadership is one of the most discussed issues in the contemporary society. According to Liz & Grout leadership is the ability to hold and exercise power and control over subordinates (2011, p. 23). Authority that comes with leadership positions grants the holders a sense of dominance that accords him/her the ability to make decisions (Liz & Grout, 2011, p. 57).
It is important to note that leadership applies in many situations; differently according to the context it is applicable. For instance, there is religious leadership, political leadership and corporate leadership. This paper will focus on corporate leadership with special emphasis on Sir Richard Branson’s leadership of Virgin Group and how his leadership applies to corporate America.
Corporate leadership that will be the special focus of this paper gained momentum in the last three decades of the 20th century with the growth the productivity law. Under this law outstanding employees got rewards or honor for their stellar performance. A subsequent evolution of productivity law to the management law laid emphasis on better management of people to increase productivity effectively evolving to the leadership law.
Most of the leadership styles and models that exist apply across the board (Green & Cameron, 2008, p. 84). In other words, there are only slight changes in the models when applied especially to political and corporate leadership. Otherwise, the concept is more or less the same.
Most scholars contend that models of leadership fall in either democratic, autocratic and laisez faire. Under these models, there exist different styles that mainly stem from the approach an overall leader takes in administering an organization.
These styles include transformation leadership, participative leadership, situational leadership and charismatic leadership. Sir Richard Branson belongs to one of the above models and styles.
Sir Richard Branson’s Leadership and its effectiveness
Branson is the leader of virgin group that comprises of 200 companies with varying business interests. Besides his entrepreneurial spirit and huge appetite for risk, many analysts agree that the Chairman of Virgin Group has distinct and exceptional leadership qualities that clearly distinguish him from other business leaders like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
According to Deresky, Branson believes that all people regardless of their position in the organizational structure must participate in charting direction of the business entity (2008, p. 187). Branson therefore displays qualities of a democratic leader with a firm belief that his employees are the key to his success.
Though Branson controls his entire business empire and also makes most of the decisions, transformational leadership qualities come out through his appreciation of his employees input effectively inspiring them to perform better. The optimal performance of Virgin Group is thanks to Branson’ inspirational democratic leadership that makes his employees feel part of something through words and actions as well as rewards.
Branson’s businesses traverse different territories including the United States. The US has traditionally believed in individual freedoms both in public and private life. Democratic principles that grant people space to make decisions to their convenience are highly cherished in the US.
Though there are various other factors like political affiliation and government regulation with considerable effect on democratic principles, effectiveness Branson’s style of leadership is almost guaranteed in the US.
With the US now turning its attention to small and medium enterprises, only an inspirational democratic leaders with a firm belief in employee’s ideas is likely to cobble together a successful business group like Branson’s Virgin group. It is important to note that Branson’s leadership is far from perfect.
Despite the benefits associated with openness and belief in employees, strict and near autocratic leadership has also resulted in corporate successes such as Microsoft and Facebook. The above entities have a more established chain of command and only a select few make most of the decisions. Adopting their style is not necessarily going to make Branson a better leader.
According to Fletcher however, there is not a single leadership model or style that is going to produce optimum results for an entity (2002, p. 199). It is therefore wise if leaders can incorporate other leadership styles and qualities to complement their weaknesses for optimal performance.
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Different styles and approach
Branson already has taken a people centered approach in running his vast business empire. However, it is necssary to expand on his current style to increase its effectiveness and the eventual long-term success of Virgin Group. Given the dynamism that characterizes businesses in the 21st century, it is almost a requirement for any leaders including Branson to employ situational leadership.
This dynamism coupled with possible change of personnel creates ample space for the making of varying decisions. Different situations call for different approaches in decision-making (Green & Cameron, 2008, p. 68). Green & Cameron further say that; situational leadership comes in handy when seeking solutions to the different problems (2008, p.70).
Virgin group for instance comprises of 200 companies, most of which belong to different industries and sectors (Nahayandi et al, 2008, p. 79). Branson’s group therefore is likely to gain more from increased situational leadership because of the nature of their business operations.
Because situational leadership calls for versatile leaders Branson can easily add this approach to his leadership given that he has already demonstrated the ability to wear many hats and be open to a variety of solutions.
Additionally, it is necessary for Branson to expand on his participative leadership approach. Nahayandi et al. says that participative leadership allows personnel from all levels of an organization to make important decisions (2006, p. 93). Furthermore, participative leadership aims at encouraging ownership of the company’s mission and everything else it stands for.
Already, Branson’s leadership greatly encourages employee input into the running of the company. However, most analysts agree that he makes most of the decisions unilaterally after care consideration of employees input. While his approach is welcome, Branson will find it easier to include participative decision-making when making important decisions about his companies as well as new ventures.
This is because several people making decisions are likely to make better informed decisions compared to only one person. Also, it is proven that there is more collaboration and less completion when making joint decisions. Additionally, joint decision-making helps improve understanding among those people who are directly involved in implementing the arrived decision.
Leadership on Major Global Project
Virgin group for a few years now has been developing a space tourism project that will tap into the increased interest in space tourism among the elite. Besides, it is almost guaranteed that Sir Richard Branson will most likely venture into new projects thanks to his entrepreneurial nature. Given the magnitude and the eventual goal of the project, Branson’s leadership qualities must come in handy.
First he will need to come up with an idea mostly from his interactions with people. Typical of his approaches, he will assemble a team of like-minded people who will brainstorm through the proposed idea to determine if it is workable or not. According to Northhouse, most of Branson’s businesses are mainly as a result of ideas he seeks from people and the input of his employees regardless of their rank (2012, p. 139).
Branson normally makes unilateral decisions based on the input from employees and if he feels the risk is worth it. One of the hallmarks of Branson’s approach to entrepreneurship is research and development (Northhouse, 2012, p. 50).
Given that mostly he delves into different fields with little or no experience, research and development comes in handy in mitigating the negative effects that are likely to come along the way.
Branson would then finance the development and trial stages of the project before he decides whether or not to make the venture part of his group. It is important to bear in mind that throughout the development stages of such a venture, his characteristic openness to ideas and input from employees plays an important role.
For instance, the Galactico Space tourism project is still in its trial stage and Branson has entrusted his team with all the resources they need to make it a success (Deresky, 2008, p. 35). In fact, it won’t be far from the truth to characterize some of his leadership traits as laisez fair (Deresky, 2008, p. 40).
Incorporation of Branson’s Traits
As earlier said, leadership traits apply across the board. Both school and workplaces need distinct leadership qualities to increase performance. In school for instance, Branson’s leadership qualities will be crucial in leading a study group where members will be free to determine the direction the group will take concerning its functioning and existence.
The group is likely to perform optimally and achieve its goals if there will be participative decision-making and belief in the importance of every member. Branson’s approach when applied in a school group will boost every member’s confidence besides helping them all feel equal.
At work, Branson’s traits can to everyone in the position of leadership. In the 21st century, only a few business and work places still believe in autocratic rule. Rule by fear is highly unlikely to succeed in the long-term.
Employing Branson’s traits will help boos employees’ confidence besides helping them feel part of the process. Incorporation of Branson’s approach is possible through granting of extra freedom to different units in the workplace. Also, continuous implementation of ideas generated by employees will foster the aforementioned ownership feeling effectively increasing loyalty to the company.
The above discussion hardly delved into the details of Branson’s leadership qualities and his successes as a business leader in Virgin Group. Despite his success in running Virgin Group, Branson is not the perfect business leader.
However, there is consensus that his approach is unique and is largely responsible for the enormous success so far experienced. Many scholars agree that the kind of leadership displayed by Branson is what both business and politics need. It is therefore not drastic to suggest that Branson’s leadership approach be replicated in other areas of the society, especially in business.
Deresky, H. (2008). International management: managing across borders and cultures. London: Sage Publishers.
Fletcher, W. (2002). Beating the 24/7: how business leaders achieve a successful Business. New York: Spinger.
Green, M. & Cameron, E. (2008). Making Sense of Leadership: Exploring the Five Key Roles Used by Business Leaders. Chicago: Springer.
Liz, F. & Grout, J. (2011). What You Need to Know about Leadership. New York: Routledge.
Nahayandi, A. et al. (2006). The art and science of leadership. NJ: Springer.
Northhouse, G.P. (2012). Leadership: Theory and Practice. New York: Cengage Learning.