Sir Richard Branson is an English Billionaire, business magnate, investor, author, and philanthropist. In the 1970s he founded the Virgin Group, which today controls more than 400 companies in various fields. He has continued to evolve with the times transitioning from mail order records in the 1970s all the way through to space tourism in the 2000s. He has also been named in the Time 100 Most Influential People in The World list. So, what can we learn from his leadership?
There is no better example of how to solve problems then the story of how Richard Branson came to start an airline. In the now famous story, the idea for Virgin Airways came from Richard Branson’s own frustrations when he was travelling to the Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico and his flight was cancelled. They had cancelled the flight as they had apparently not sold enough tickets. So, spotting an opportunity, he hired a plane himself and sold tickets to all of the passengers who had their flight cancelled alongside him. One of the passengers joked that this was now “Virgin Airways” and the very next day he picked up the phone Boeing to enquire how much it would cost to buy a 747. He has said:
“To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening”
The best Leaders solve problems. Look at your own department and the problems you and your teams face. What would make your life easier? What is on your mind? Hidden within these problems you will find opportunities waiting to be discovered. By solving those problems, you create value just like Richard Branson.
Put your employees first
Richard Branson has always put a strong emphasis on looking after his people. For example, in UK, he famously won a large court case against British Airways and was awarded £500,000 as a settlement. Rather than keep this money himself, he donated the amount in full to his employees. For those who know him, this is not a surprise as he has said:
“Clients don’t come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”
Richard Branson has also always been a strong advocate of training staff, so they are good enough to leave but treating them so well that they don’t want to leave. Success in Leadership is never the work of one person, it requires a team of people who are willing to work as hard, if not harder than you are. So, you should treat your people with respect and ensure they feel valued, as your success as a leader depends on them.
One of the most common pieces of feedback about Richard Branson is that he is unaffected by his fame or fortune. He does not insist on hierarchy or distance himself from his junior ranks. He will often interact with all of his employees and speak to them as equals. Many leaders let their ego get in the way and try to show people that they are the boss. But the best leaders keep their ego in check. They don’t have anything to prove to anyone and they know that when you try to do so, it doesn’t enhance how others perceive you, it diminishes. Nothing speaks more loudly than someone who is at home in their own skin and doesn’t need to assert their authority over others.
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