This sample essay explores the leadership style of Virgin Group’s founder and executive, Richard Branson, as well of an analysis of what made him successful.
Richard Branson’s successful leadership
Richard Branson has proved to be a strong and successful leader. He has built his company into a global empire that brings in over $20 billion a year. Although he has made some very public business mistakes, his successes have far outweighed his business failures. One of his many successes has been creating a company where employees at all levels feel valued within the company. He has eliminated the need for unions by providing for his employees and keeping them happy.
This has also enabled him to successfully promote from within and build the business leaders he needs to run a globally successful company. Branson’s methods and philosophies have been widely criticized because they are quite different from many of his counterparts. However, it cannot be disputed that Branson has built a highly successful business. Although he runs things differently than many others, he clearly demonstrates that different can produce great results.
A leader with an eye for the future
Branson can be described as both a visionary leader and a coaching leader. This type of leadership quality is one that can motivate others to work towards a shared goal. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (2004):
“Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks.”
Branson has proven himself to be a visionary leader by consistently projecting his dreams for the company and providing it with the resources to work toward those dreams. He encourages his employees to think outside the box and to come up with their own ideas and solutions. This is demonstrated by his consistent practice of reading and responding to employee emails each day (“Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd.”).
Branson’s refusal to stagnate
Branson has been described as a man who enjoys being confronted by challenges in business. He finds fulfillment in being able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. It is a part of who he is and it shows through his leadership of others. This form of leadership has been highly effective in the US which traditionally rewards entrepreneurs. Being able to differentiate a product or service while solving problems will gain high customer loyalty in the US.
However, many are accustomed to the status quo and often times people who present a different way of doing things are rejected. Branson has nevertheless elicited a cult-like following which has helped propel him into success (“Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd.”). This following was gained through his seemingly unconventional methods. Overall, Branson has found success in the US with his own leadership style, despite his critics.
Leadership by coaching and mentoring
Branson can also be described as a coaching leader. Leaders who show the qualities of good leadership are those who:
“focuses on developing individuals, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping to connect their goals to the goals of the organization” (Murray).
He appreciates the fact he needs solid leaders in order to maintain a successful company. Virgin is simply too large for him to micromanage. Janice Caplan, author of Coaching for the Future: How Smart Companies Use Coaching and Mentoring (2003):
“coaching as a leadership style can be applied to almost all the functions of management: day-to-day issues that need attention, persuading individuals to take on added responsibilities, dealing with problems, addressing improvement of an organization’s services, etc.”
Motivating teams through communication
As mentioned earlier, Branson responds to all employee emails directly. He uses these emails as a method of proposing solutions, encouraging new ideas, and motivate employees to solve problems. In addition to reading and responding to employee emails, he strongly supports promoting from within (“Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd.”).
As a leader, he believes that great leaders are developed. He looks for people who have the natural ability and drive to lead others, and then he encourages those individuals to work their way up through the company. He supports those he sees strong potential in. More importantly, he sees potential as individuals that are able to lead and inspire others, opposed to dictate and “manage” (“Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd.”). This has proven to be a successful form of leadership.
In the US, many people are accustomed to feeling unappreciated and micromanaged within the work environment. Branson offers an alternate form of leadership that makes employees feel appreciated and valued. This is an effective approach to leadership within the US. In some cases, coaching leadership can feel like micromanagement, which is how it may be interpreted in the US.
However, the difference between motivating employees and micromanagement is that coaching is intended to improve employees, while micromanagement is simply micromanagement. Additionally, employees who respond well to the coaching and improve as employees are rewarded with promotions. When being micromanaged, even the best employees may be overlooked when promotions are available. Being recognized and rewarded for hard work is well accepted in the US.
Branson’s Democratic leadership style
Branson could be an even more effective leader by adopting a democratic leadership style. Although he has shown he is capable of this style of leadership in some situations, overall he has relied on his own intuition to make business decisions. According to Lawrence Gitman and Carl McDaniel, authors of The Future of Business Essentials (2008):
“democratic leaders solicit input from all members of the group and then allow the group members to make the final decision trough a voting process.”
There have been clear situations where Branson’s leadership could have and should have relied on the knowledge and skill of others, but instead decided to do his own thing. For example, Branson was advised to close his Virgin Megastore by his top management, which he decided to ignore (“Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd.”). As a result of his decision, the company lost a great deal of money. His top management is comprised of business people with years of experience.
They have been raised up through the company and have gained trusted positions within Branson’s operation. He should have trusted their opinion and followed their advice. Instead, he lost an unnamed amount of money. The disadvantage to a democratic leadership style is that you risk losing control of decision making. However, recruiting and developing team members that are committed to the shared vision will ensure that all votes are made in the best interest of the company, opposed to individual interests. In the situation of the megastores, the management team was looking out for what was best for the company.
Caplan, Janice. Coaching for the future: how smart companies use coaching and mentoring. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2003.
Gitman, Lawrence J., and Carl D. McDaniel. The future of business: the essentials. 4th, student ed. Mason, OH: South-Western Cenage Learning, 2009.
Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 20042002.
Murray, Allen. ” Leadership Styles – Management – WSJ.com.” How-To Guides from the Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-develop-a-leadership-style/ (accessed March 2, 2013).
Trump, Donald, and Robert T. Kiyosaki. Midas touch: why some entrepreneurs get rich– and why most don’t. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Plata Pub., 2011.