Richard Branson is known as one of the best and highly charismatic entrepreneurs with incredible leadership style in the world today. He overcame numerous difficulties in his formative years and went on to discover new business opportunities across diverse industries worldwide. He established and currently chairs the Virgin Group Ltd, a multi-billion empire of over 350 companies that include Virgin Atlantic airlines. He also has ventured into telecommunications, trains, cosmetics, credit cards companies and many other business ventures. A natural born leader with a shrewd business acumen, he is revered for his propensity to take risks and venture into unchartered business territories. Knighted in 1999, Sir Richard Branson began his first business venture, a student magazine, in the mid 60s after dropping out of school. He said that he had troublesome years in elementary school, being dyslectic and having poor school grades. He never looked back since starting the first entrepreneurship.

Branson’s personality and leadership style

Branson says that he learned leadership through trial and error and credits his parents for the early lessons of discipline and hard work they instilled in him. He sets an interesting precedent in leadership and business ethic that has made him a successful and enduring entrepreneur. According to Goleman (1998), leaders are gifted with a high degree of emotional intelligence and technical skills. However, successful leaders need to have more than just a high IQ and technical skills. There is a need for cognitive skills and presence of the five elements of emotional intelligence. These include awareness of the self, personal regulation, motivation, understanding of another’s feelings and interpersonal skills. Effective leadership needs persons who show energy, generate ideas, respond to others and take charge of situations whenever necessary. There is also a need for  encouraging a thinking culture among employees in an organization. A leader’s style can either be transactional or transformational. Burns (1997) says that transactional leadership involves leaders acting as a change agent, thus making meaningful exchanges that lead to productivity. Transformational leadership is about empowering workers to achieve set goals resulting in worker productivity, increased morale and job satisfaction, plus personal and professional employee growth.

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Leadership style in an organization largely determines how employees perform at the workplace and consequently their attitudes towards the leadership. This will immensely contribute to the long term survival of the organization. According to Mullins (2007), leadership style is all about how leaders carry out their duties and their relationship with the people they lead.  A leader is a person who can influence others in order to pursue certain goals. Therefore, leadership in an organization is of paramount importance to any company that has the notion of success in mind.

According to Stoner (1996), leadership and management are two different entities. Management is concerned with the planning, organization, staffing, directing, and controlling of an organization’s resources to achieve the set goals. A manager is responsible for carrying out these functions. A manager exercises these duties because he is bestowed with this authority by the mandate of his office. Leadership, however, involves the power to influence. A manager may not necessarily be a good or effective leader. A lot of factors determine the influence a leader yields besides his or her formal authority or position. According to Daft and Lane (2008), leadership is all about influence, occurring among people, and these people intentionally desire significant changes, which reflect the purposes shared by leaders and followers.

Sir Richard Branson: “You can’t be a good leader if you don’t genuinely like people”

He has been described as creative, fun-loving, anti-establishment, opportunist, adventurer, a risk taker, warm, friendly, competitive, workaholic and a tougher negotiator. He is a brand. Branson’s approach to leadership is based on his core values and beliefs that are aimed at helping people achieve things they thought were beyond, being a role model and figurehead to his employees. His leadership is unique as it is based on his personality and personal style. Branson is known to change the style and approach in making decisions depending on the situation or context. For instance, he was known to be a shy and quiet in his youth, but he has personally been involved in publicity stunts that do not paint his early characteristics. He is known to use diplomacy when engaging with the government on important issues that affect businesses as a whole. Therefore, one thing is certainly clear when looking at Branson’s leadership style; he faces his challenges as they come. The fluidity of character is manifested in his various approaches to his employees and staff, the shareholders and government, all focused towards the success and growth of his business. Therefore, as much as personality and individual traits may be important, it is the context as well as the business needs that dominate in the case of Richard Branson’s style. Branson is known to be surrounded by a capable top management team, which he himself set up. He believes everyone is important to the overall success in any of his companies. He subscribes to the school of thought that someone else has certain qualities that he may be lacking, hence they complement each other. He selects his senior team when necessary according to the expertise each one could offer, something he is prepared to change when they no longer add value to the business. Branson allows his top management and senior staff more autonomy and has trust in them, thus allowing them to acquire own part of the business ventures through shareholding. Branson is known to make tough calls when necessary and this dominant style and ultimate autonomy in decision making around strategy has served as platform for his top management. However, in many decisions, Branson allows his team to make the decisions, which he follows and this has put Virgin Group on the path of success that it has achieved so far. Branson believes that delegating duties to your team plays a vital role in the growth of your company. As he points out “I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.”

Dividing time by Branson

On time management, Branson is believed to divide his time between philanthropy, scouting for new business opportunities and ideas, running his vast empire, attending conferences and giving motivational talks and opinions on leadership. A philanthropist and family man, he has time for all interesting activities, too. Employee happiness and satisfaction is also dear to Branson. He appreciates his employees and this is seen in the way he treats them with decorum, respect and by motivating them. He listens to his employees and gives them feedback, accommodates their ideas and usually has a fruitful interaction with them; an aspect he claims has set Virgin Group to be where it is today. He believes that engaging with your employees enables them to see your human side and this builds respect for you.

Branson has managed to delegate his duties to his top management and in the process building trust among his senior staff. He says that with the vast Virgin empire, you cannot be everywhere at the same time, hence there is the need to trust your lieutenants and give them room to make decisions for the group. Branson has managed to cultivate trust with his top managers and he therefore gives them leeway to make decisions that define the Virgin Group without himself feeling usurped all powers. He intervenes as little as possible and Virgin is at the top with the rest of the successful businesses. Leadership is about having a symbiotic relationship with your employees, and Branson has managed this through his sense of fairness and equality in how he deals with people, encouraging flat, non-hierarchical structures of management in his business empire. Therefore, Branson’s leadership style depends on the circumstances of the situation at a particular time. However, Branson’s charismatic style is one of the stems that detect from a huge transformational approach as by the way he influences those in his organization. His ability to read the emotions of other people and accommodate them shows a leader who believes in people as the foundation of success of any organization. His drive to succeed has been a principle element of his achievements. Being the chairman at Virgin has been due to his willingness to empower individuals within the group. He commands a lot of respect at Virgin and has unequivocal support from everyone.

Different circumstances demand that the style of leadership should fit the situation at hand. In situations that need immediate attention with no time to spare for boardroom dialogue, those with authority and with enough expertise may exercise an autocratic leadership style to save the situation. However, in a well-balanced and equally qualified team, a more democratic or laissez-faire style approach is recommended. The leadership style to be exercised should be one that addresses the issues at hand effectively and efficiently.

Efficiency of democratic styles of leadership and genuine laissez-fair

A human relation people-oriented approach can be effective in ensuring employees are motivated and adhere to group dynamics. There are many variables which underlie the effectiveness of leadership in work organizations. More specifically, these include organizational structure, characteristics of the subordinate, type of power of the manager and, lastly, the nature and influence of the external factors: government legislations, competition, financial capital, infrastructure, etc. Motivation and teamwork, education and training may influence the employee behavior. A good leader has the following traits: vision, communication, persistence, empowerment and organizational abilities. These characteristics can enable me to set goals on what I want to achieve in my life and effectively communicate to others that I may work with the realization of my dreams. Persistence is necessary because failure is never an option; it only teaches us one more way of not doing something. Empowering people will ensure that I have trustworthy team on my winning side.

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