Richard Branson is a renowned entrepreneur and brand builder throughout the world. He is the founder of close to 200 companies and employs about 8,000 people in about 26 countries. He began his business empire from a very humble beginning of selling magazines in a university and this led to creation of the Virgin Records that we have today. He has a wide range of business empires from planes to drinks (virgin cola) and finance businesses.
The question arises of the particular leadership styles he did adopt and how he did manage to lead a global team. In order to answer these questions, it is important to analyze the various leadership theories, styles and models and apply them in Branson’s case. Leaders are people who often make an impact on our lives every day as well as in our future days.
There is a need for strong leaders in our society settings whether we are experiencing good times or otherwise. Whether a business would be successful or not is greatly determined by the person who is chosen to lead the business. Leadership is the process through which an individual is able to influence others in order to accomplish a certain goal and direct an organization in a way that will make it more cohesive. It is actually a process where one is able to influence a team to achieve a given and specified goal.
Leaders are able to influence individuals by using their knowledge and skills. Leaders are people who express themselves, know what they want and have various ways and channels to communicate with their supporters with a view to achieving a certain goal. Good leaders are often made not born. Through acquiring knowledge and skills, one eventually is a mould to become a good leader. Leadership differs from management in that leadership sets the direction and vision for a business while managers are primarily concerned with the control and directing people and resources in an organization in accordance with established values and principles within an organization.
Leadership style is the approach that a leader adopts as far as the provision of direction, implementation of plans and motivation of people he leads is concerned. There are different types of leadership styles which are based on the different leadership theories that leaders may adopt. These include:
In this style the ‘transaction’ involves the organization paying its employees for the work they have done; that is the relationship between the employer and an employee based on work only. In this style of leadership the leader has the right to punish employees if their work does not meet the standards agreed upon.
In this style of leadership the leader has the complete power over the employees and employees are not given the opportunity to make any suggestions.
Bureaucratic leadership style is a style where the leader follows the laid down rules and procedures to the latter and ensures that all the employees also follow the same.
Charismatic leadership style is close to the transformational leadership style in that the leader aims at making the employees more enthusiastic about their work and motivates them to put in their best in their work. The difference with the transformational leadership style is that while the transformational leader aims at transforming their teams and their entire organizations, the charismatic leader’s focus is not the organization or teams but themselves and may not change anything at the end of the day. Charismatic leaders tend to believe more in themselves than in the team in which they serve.
Democratic leaders engage their team members in decision making though they themselves make the final decision. The leaders who depict this style encourage their members to be more creative and more engaged in decision making processes.
This style of leadership often describes leaders who allow their employees to work on their own. Such leaders don’t get involved in what the employees do though they may provide resources and advices to them.
This is often described as the best type of leadership style that leaders can adopt in their business scenario. Leaders who adopt this style are inspiring as they endeavor to get the best from the employees as well as from themselves. This promotes productivity as everyone in the team is actively involved.
There are various theories of leadership that help in understanding of the concept of leadership. These theories include:
Great man Theories
These theories assert that leaders are exceptional people in the society. They are born with specific qualities that make them destined to lead.
These theories use various adjectives found in the dictionary to describe the characteristics of leaders. These theories list the qualities that leaders possess and that are continuously produced.
These theories concentrate on the behavior individuals depict that make or qualify them as leaders as opposed to the qualities they possess.
This theory looks at leadership as being specific to the situation which the leader is exercising. For example, some situations may require autocratic leadership while others may require a more participative leadership approach. The theory also advocates for different leadership styles at different levels that are found in an organization.
This is an improvement of the situational theory as it advocates for the identification of the most effective style to fit the various circumstances that a leader may be experiencing.
This theory emphasizes on the need for a relationship between the employer and the employee based on mutual benefits. The leader in this case rewards the loyalty and the commitment employees have to the organization by use of rewards as well as recognition.
Here the leader plays the role of implementing various transformations in order to improve the overall performance of the organization (Dennisson et al, 2003).
This is a model of leadership which helps in provision of understanding as to why various leaders behave in the manner and the way in which they do. The model helps in realization that every situation requires a leader to adopt a different approach or behavior. There are two models of leadership.
Four Framework Model
This model suggests that leaders should display their behavior in the context of four frameworks, namely: structural, human resource, the symbolic as well as the political frameworks. It is important for a leader to approach leadership based on these four frameworks. Leaders who are effective can use more than one of the framework approaches at the same time in order to achieve a specific goal.
Structural leaders adopt and implement processes that fit a specific situation or circumstances. This approach is more effective in situations where goals of an organization are clear and where there is a constant flow of information. The human resource managers, on the other hand, have the interests of people they serve at heart and they seek to respond to the needs of employees in the organization to gain their total commitment. This approach is necessary in cases where the morale of employees is low.
In the political framework the leader acts as a political leader where he understands the politics of the organization and deals with them appropriately. He understands the various interest groups within the organization, various conflicts that may arise within an organization as well as various constituents that may exist within an organization and deals with them in a skillful way. Lastly, the symbolic framework is adopted by leaders who always try to be visible in the organization and who strive to manage the organization by walking around and having a firsthand experience of the way an organization is being run.
The Leadership grid is a leadership model that requires managers to assess their leadership styles. It explains the amount of attention that leaders should have for their job and people who work for them.
In terms of the leadership style, Richard Branson can be best described as a situational, charismatic as well as a transformational leader. In the situational leadership he adopts various styles depending on the situation at hand. He is flexible and he is always willing and ready to listen to the employees. He is also a democratic leader.
This is evident in the way he is seen in various organizations with a pen and a paper writing down points on the various issues raised by the employees. He also reads and responds to the mails which employees send and in some cases reacts to them personally. He greatly values the input of the employees and responds to them in real time. Branson also possesses almost all the characteristics of the trait theory of leadership. He can be described by the use of the adjectives such as happy, jovial and charismatic among others.
He can be described in the models of leadership in terms of the four framework model. He is a symbolic leader since he manages his businesses by walking around his vast business empire and addressing the needs of the employees. He is also a structural leader as he addresses the various situations at hand as seen in the way he responds to the various employees’ grievances and he is also a human resource leader as he believes in motivating the employees first, then the customers and lastly the shareholders.
Situational leadership is likely to be effective in the US today, especially in the military setting. This is because of the various changes in technology and the downsizing strategies adopted by leaders in this sector. This requires the leaders to adopt qualities that fit the situation at hand in order to shape the behavior and the climate in the organization, thus improving the performance.
He also affirms the transformation and the situation theory of leadership and he is also determined to improve the organization by first listening to the employees as their feedback will contribute to the overall performance of the organization.
As a student, it is important to adopt Branson’s situational leadership style. Situational leadership model will help me to be flexible in leading my followers and not being just a ‘boss’ (Esther, 2011). Leadership style that will provide a proper match to the situation being faced will help me as a leader to develop with the employers, thus having and contributing to the mutual benefit of both the individual and the organization.
In order to be effective, Richard Branson would have adopted autocratic leadership style. This is because it would have helped the employees more easily adopt his school of thought as well as time saving. In any organization autocratic style of leadership helps the employees to face the reality of the leader and often define success of that particular organization. This style of leadership aided the Apple Company to propel to even greater heights as it was practiced by Steve Jobs in the Apple Company.
Space tourism is a major area of concern that earns businesses handsome revenues. Millions of people are willing and able to take a tour, for example, to the moon if this can be done with the ultimate safety, reliability and at an affordable cost (O’Neil, 1998). This would be a rewarding venture for Virgin Atlantic, especially because it deals with planes and aerospace activities.
However, space tourism is a major project that requires substantial investment in the essential equipments and personnel for it to commence and recoup the expected profits. In order to commence the project, Branson needs to establish and lead a global team. This will require the identification of talents among the various employees of Virgin Atlantic, cultural assessment of this, leaders since they will be leading a large team worldwide, analysis of gaps, development of individuals in a view to impact them with the necessary global skills in space tourism as well as a continuous review of the process to identify loopholes and reviewing performance.
An effective leader is the one who adopts leadership qualities and puts the leadership theories into practice. The personality of Branson largely influenced his leadership style and this makes his model difficult to copy. He has a strong charisma that makes people listen and follow him. He values the employees in the organization as he strongly believes that success of the organization begins with them. He appreciates the feedback that the employees provide and he is in constant touch with them as he reads their emails every day before starting his work and responds to them promptly. His leadership style is worth emulating by managers today as it has propelled his organization into one of the most recognized brands globally.