Describe Branson's leadership style terms leadership models addressed Chpts. 10 & 11 evaluate effectiveness style U.S. today. 2. Recommend a leadership style (combination styles) make Branson effective leader
Richard Branson: Leadership style
Richard Branson is the charismatic CEO of the Virgin Group Ltd. Branson is internationally famous for his iconoclastic approach to leading his organization. Branson can be characterized as a transformational leader, intent upon using his somewhat unsystematic personality to inspire success amongst his followers. Branson's success came early in life and he continues to prove himself to be an adaptable leader who inspires devotion. "Sir Richard Branson had his first jolt of entrepreneurial success when he published a magazine at 16. Since then, he's become a respected leader of cutting-edge enterprises and an inspiring pioneer of humanitarian projects" as well as Virgin (Adonis 2010). It is important to note that although Branson could be characterized as a transformational leader, he refuses to label himself. "I'm happy to say I've never read a book on HR theory or people management" (Crush 2010). But "few companies have so publicly revolved around one man; Virgin is Branson and Branson is Virgin. It's through the cult of Branson that Virgin has grown to what it is today -- a £10 billion revenue per year business empire, employing more than 50,000 people worldwide" (Crush 2010).
Transformational leaders primarily lead through visionary approaches. "Transformational Leadership starts with the development of a vision, a view of the future that will excite and convert potential followers. This vision may be developed by the leader, by the senior team or may emerge from a broad series of discussions. The important factor is the leader buys into it, hook, line and sinker" (Straker 2012). The leader does not micromanage the approach, but rather knows the ultimate goal of the organization and encourages subordinates to follow willingly. Branson is careful to create a consistent brand. "We have a group people team, who are in essence the custodians of the Virgin people brand, ensuring there is consistency throughout the group in key values, behaviours and policies" he says (Crush 2010). But he also makes sure that employees believe in that brand identity.
An integral part of Branson's philosophy is that good leadership is about choosing the right people. Branson knows the values he wishes his organization to embody and selects people who agree those values and who possess the technical experience and capabilities to 'make it happen.' First, Branson advises other leaders to "assemble a great management team that has a vision, passion and a real sense of ownership...Look for leaders who listen -- both to employees and customers...what results in brilliant customer service and innovative product development are leaders who seek the feedback of their employees and customers" (Adonis 2010). Transformational leaders are not democratic leaders in the sense that they do not poll everyone around them and make decisions based upon 'majority rules,' because they have clear objectives in mind. But they do consult with followers and respect them, to gain new ideas about how to realize their dream. "It is their unswerving commitment as much as anything else that keeps people going, particularly through the darker times when some may question whether the vision can ever be achieved. If the people do not believe that they can succeed, then their efforts will flag. The Transformational Leader seeks to infect and reinfect their followers with a high level of commitment to the vision" (Straker 2012).
The opposite of transformational leadership is said to be transactional leadership, in which leadership is achieved merely by the exchange of material goods -- workers receive salaries and bonuses for obeying the leader and are sanctioned for disobedience. Although this can be effective in the short run, in the long run this is an ineffectual way to sustain momentum and to generate a healthy, productive organization.
Transformational leaders like Branson believe that praise can be equally motivating as taking people to task. Branson says: "Fostering employee development through praise and recognition starts at the top...It helps stamp out the fear of failure that can stunt a business, particularly in its early days. When mistakes inevitably happen, take the position that you have to learn from them. Try not to dwell on what went wrong" (Adonis 2010). Focusing on positive achievements encourages people to take risks and also fosters organizational loyalty. Transformational leaders, as focused as they may be upon their vision, are also fundamentally people-oriented. They understand that good people are essential to ensure that the organization follows through in reaching its objectives. "Small changes get big hurrahs, pumping up their significance as indicators of real progress" (Straker 2012).
Although the outer trappings of Branson's Virgin are distinctly UK in style (during the height of the Austin Powers craze, Virgin decorated its airplanes with pictures of the 1960s 'swinging' British spy), Branson's leadership would be equally effective in an American context. His desire to learn from his employees and tolerance of different points-of-view (Branson explicitly says that he wants employees around him that share his commitment to Virgin's ethos but not always think exactly like him) seem like a precursor to Google, a company which has a famously freewheeling organizational culture. Both companies reward employees with many perks to make them feel at home in the office and deliberately blur the line between fun and work. "Find the fun in your business...Try to ensure that both your staff and customers feel a real sense of warmth and affection" (Adonis 2010).
A different leadership approach
Branson's transformational approach has become so inexorably associated with the worldview of Virgin, it is difficult to imagine him adopting another. However, the Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model is an approach which could be complementary with transformational leadership. The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model stresses the need to suit the leadership style to the different personality types of the individual followers. Depending on the importance of the decision, the commitment of the subordinates, and the time constraints of the decision, the leader can adapt his or her leadership style to the needs of the moment (Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model, 2012, Mind Tools).
For example, in some instances, when time is of the essence and the followers are inexperienced, an autocratic leadership model may be required. However, in other instances, with highly experienced followers; with more time to make the decision; and a need for team members to 'buy into' the solution, a more collaborative or consultative approach might be recommended. Branson deliberately selects very experienced and committed staff members so collaboration and consultation are likely to be more appropriate in most instances than they would be at other organizations. "The model defines a very logical approach to which style to adopt and is useful for managers and leaders who are trying to balance the benefits of participative management with the need to make decisions effectively" (Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model, 2012, Mind Tools).
How Branson would develop and lead a global team working on a major project
Branson is already extremely comfortable engaging in global leadership initiatives, thanks to the nature of his multinational organization. Were he to lead a global team on a project such as space tourism, he would no doubt deploy a similar approach as he does at Virgin. He would select top-quality people who shared his vision for the organization and surround himself with them when making decisions, delegating authority as necessary. Branson might select a diverse team or he might not. He would likely operate upon instinct rather than a predetermined theory when selecting employees.
The newness of the enterprise would likely not faze him, as Branson enjoys embarking into uncharted business waters. Although he has a clear idea of the Virgin brand, he also knows that it is essential to be able to change with the times. "All…