Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd. Case Study

Read the Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, Ltd. case study located in Chapter 11 Describe Branson’s leadership style in terms of the leadership models addressed in Chapters 10 and 11.

Sir Richard Branson exercises an unconventional Leadership style. His style incorporates a variety of the components of the leadership models presented by Hellriegel and Slocum throughout Chapters 10 and 11 of the text. Branson’s position as founder and chairman of Virgin Group gives him legitimate power described by Hellriegel, 2011 as “an individual’s ability to influence others’ behaviors because of the person’s formal position in the organization.” In his position as founder and chairman, Branson has exercised his legitimate power to ignore advice and suggestions of top management. In these instances, employees have to accept his decisions, sometimes to the detriment of the company as was the case when the company suffered several setbacks due to Sir Branson’s actions or lack thereof.

Branson attributes his success as a leader to several factors such as treating people humanely, maintaining company standards and frequent visits, chats and communications with employees and customers. Branson contends, “the entrepreneur will only succeed if he/she has good people around them and they listen to their advice” Hellriegel (2011) He goes on to express how much he depends on and trusts his colleagues for guidance in business decisions and provides an example that illustrates how his failure to follow the advice of his colleagues cost the company a considerable amount of money.

In terms of Leadership Models, the consult individually and consult team styles most accurately describes Sir Branson’s leadership approach. The styles are components of the Vroom-Jago Leadership Model developed by Victor Vroom and Arthur Jago. Hellriegel (2011) defines the Consult leadership styles as follows: Consult individually style, in which the leader presents the problem to team members individually, getting their ideas and suggestions and then makes the decision without bringing them together as a group. Consult team style- the leader presents the problem to team members in a meeting, gets their suggestions, and makes the decision.

Both the consult individually and consult team styles designate the leader the ultimate decision maker, decisions may or may not reflect team or individual influence. Sir Branson welcomes communications via letter, e-mail and when he visits Virgin businesses on the road. He either personally addresses or assigns action to each concern, request or communication. The practice of maintaining a direct line for communications to any of about 50,000 employees is an impressive commitment. However, this practice is indicative of a consult individual style of leadership. Sir Branson may gather information from an individual communication and decide to move forward with action, without the influence or input of management team members, human resources staff etc.

Additionally, “In a recent visionary commitment, Branson pledged as much as $3 billion during the next 10 years (through 2017) to tackle global warming.” Hellriegel, (2011) While Sir Branson pledged personal profits in lieu of his visionary commitment, there was no mention in the case study of Mr. Branson’s efforts to involve the Virgin Group in the creation of or participation in new technologies associated with anti-global warming efforts. In this case he may have shared his vision with the management team however; there is no information in the text that indicates a discussion amongst colleagues regarding the Virgin Group activities and vision regarding global warming.

Evaluate the likely effectiveness of the Consult style in the U.S. today Who is blamed for the distress or failure of a major organization? While some may blame taxes or government, most people in the United States blame leadership when a company goes under. For this reason, many Leaders employ the consult style in U.S. today because they want to be aware of opportunities, concerns, and risks etc. While this style is popular, it is not 100% effective and will likely become less effective as technology continues to evolve and more people work outside the office. Virgin Group is a company with employees worldwide; if Sir Branson wants to retain and increase organizational success he must enhance his Leadership Style by including components of Global Leadership.

For example, Sir Branson recognizes the future trend of global warming and made a personal investment in anticipation of future opportunities. However, he may have missed an opportunity to include the Virgin Group team/organization in his personal vision. The Global Warming initiative could be an opportunity to for Sir Branson to inspire and lead his Global Team and effect positive, productive change within the organization on a global level. As the organization grows and technology advances, he may have fewer opportunities to respond personally to letters and e-mail communications daily. Face-to face visits with employees at Virgin Group locations may have to be replaced with a different method of personalized communication.

Recommend a different leadership style (or combination of styles) that would make Branson an even more effective leader. I would recommend a combination of the Facilitate and Delegate leadership styles for Sir Branson. (Brown, Finstuen, 1993) defines the CII and GII decision making processes as described by Vroom-Yetton and Vroom-Jago below. Facilitate Style/CII You share the problem with your subordinates in a group meeting. In this meeting you obtain their ideas and suggestions. Then you make the decision, which or may not reflect your subordinates' influence.

Delegate Style/GII You share the problem with your subordinates as a group. Together you generate and evaluate alternatives and attempt to reach agreement (consensus) on a solution. Your role is much like that of a chairman, co-ordinating the discussion, keeping it focused on the problem, and making sure that the critical issues are discussed. You can provide the group with information or ideas that you have but do not try to ‘press' them to adopt 'your' solution and are willing to accept and implement any solution that has the support of the entire group.

Sir Branson has an authoritative style of management. While he values input and ideas from colleagues and subordinates, final decisions are subject to his discretion. He personally addresses a wide range of matters from employees ranging from minor grievances about middle management to major proposals. Minor concerns can be delegated to trusted members of management. The Virgin Group management team is one comprised primarily of individuals who have been promoted within the company.

Sir Branson should empower his team respond to employee inquiries and complaints within the standard of quality that he made a habit for himself. Similarly, major initiatives such as taking on Coca Cola or becoming involved with the movement to prevent Global Warming require cooperation of a team knowledgeable of professionals who agree upon a vision and influence people worldwide to buy into that vision. Sir Branson must be willing to facilitate these actions or authorize someone who is willing, qualified and able to do. Leaders must employ a facilitation style of leadership when operating on a global level. Determine how Branson would develop and lead a global team working on a major project (e.g., space tourism).

Sir Branson possesses many of the qualities of a successful leader. He would need to identify and build a team comprised of individuals who are able to operate successfully within a global market. The global market is multifaceted and involves a range cultural dimension comprised of different practices and values. “Research evidence suggests that some cultures value leaders who are take-charge, visible, and assertive, while others prefer leaders who are less visible and operate behind the scenes. Some cultures want leaders who stand above the crowd and command respect, while others want leaders who are humble and remain part of the crowd.

In point of fact, the variety that can be found in some of the best-known leaders in the world, business or otherwise, mirrors the variety that can be found across all peoples and societies. This cautions against the assumption that all leaders are alike.” Steers, Sanchez-Runde & Nardon (2012) Sir Branson and his team could embark on a major project to decrease emissions in air travel that would align with his investment in a commitment to tackle global warming. Sir Branson has knowledgeable operatives worldwide and could begin the emissions decrease initiative in Southern Asia where the Virgin has had some success with the Virgin Cola brand.

Hellriegel 2011 describes the qualities of an outstanding leader in Southern Asia as determined by researchers as humane, participative, and charismatic. Sir Branson demonstrates all of these qualities. His style of leadership likely pairs well with the societal preference for a benevolent leader with a strong position of authority. Along with cultural beliefs and values, the Virgin Group global team would need to understand that assumptions about cultural values and, beliefs and behaviors cannot be determined by geography alone. Diversity within the team is important and successful team members would understand the importance of sensitivity to cultural, gender, physical differences. Each leader and organization is different and a successful team needs to understand how to adjust and operate effectively, comfortably and respectfully when interacting with others.

Discuss how you can incorporate some of Branson’s leadership qualities into you role at work or school.

I could incorporate Branson’s habit of making list for issues that require immediate action. I have committed to many methods for tracking and prioritizing tasks and issues for follow-up however; I fail to maintain them. Having worked in or around the health care industry for most of my career, I understand the importance of documentation. I would strive to make writing and organization of important information less of task and more of a habit as Sir Branson has for the purposes of organization, accuracy and reliability. Sir Branson’s leadership style allows him to take authority of some decisions, in my opinion he wants to address issues effectively and efficiently and move forward Four years ago, I headed a Toastmasters Public Speaking Club Charter at my organization.

However, there was so much interest in the group that individuals were coming from other divisions within the department. There were many attendees of different levels of authority within the organization. Fairly soon, the employees became politicians, pre-Madonna’s and militants. I attempted to facilitate discussions regarding the bi-laws, group structure, rules of etiquette etc. I learned that participants must be willing to function within and follow the structure arrangement and organization of a facilitated meeting/discussion. In addition, participants must share the same vision or the meeting goals will not be met. In this situation I would incorporate Branson’s consult team style in which the final decision is left to the leader with or without consideration of input from team members.

References Brown, F., & Finstuen, K. (1993). The Use of Participation in Decision Making: A Consideration of the Vroom-Yetton and Vroom-Jago Normative Models. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 6(3), 207-219. Hellriegel, D., Slocum, J.W., Jr. (2011). Organizational Behavior. Mason, OH. Steers, R. M., Sanchez-Runde, C. J., & Nardon, L. L. (2012). Culture, cognition, and managerial leadership. Asia Pacific Business Review, 18(3), 425-439. doi:10.1080/13602381.2011.640537