Richard Branson — Leadership Style & Principles
Today, I’m going to talk about the leadership style and core principles of the famous british entrepreneur Richard Branson. Over the years Richard Branson has been recognized as a successful leader turning Virgin group into one of the worlds most successful companies. When we look into his successes we can find leadership lessons that every leader can benefit from.
Sir Richard Branson isn’t just an authority on entrepreneurialism, he knows a thing or two about leadership skills as well.
Throughout his long history of running businesses, the Virgin Group founder has been a well-respected employer — someone who has created thousands of jobs for talented people around the world. He is known for his rule-breaking approach to leadership, one which encourages every employee to become an innovative thinker, who can add value in their own way.
Richard Branson is not your typical CEO — he has an entrepreneurial, adventurous, and sporting spirit.
His success in multiple industries can teach avid learners many effective leadership lessons you can apply to your own career. The quote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” summarizes the essence of who Richard Branson is.
Billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group, Richard has never been a typical businessman.
He has always been a bit unconventional in his business approach and leadership style, preferring experimentation and rule-breaking to idleness and maintenance of the status quo, favoring employee autonomy and flexibility to micromanagement and rigidity.
In his books, Richard Branson has given us some insight into his leadership style and principles.
In this article, I will share seven of his lessons, that I found very interesting, with you so that you can learn some important leadership lessons that you’d only learn after experimenting and taking chances for as long as Richard Branson has done.
For the rookie leaders and entrepreneurs, he is a source of inspiration that they can look up to and learn something from.
As an organization, the Virgin Group has been of great interest to the public and business experts worldwide, especially given Richard Branson’s creative leadership style in running and growing the enterprise. Let’s explore seven key lessons for entrepreneurs and leadership.
Principle #1: Treat People As People
The Virgin Group of companies have always put a strong emphasis on people. When he won a large case against British Airways, instead of keeping the money he distributed the £500,000 award between his staff. Richard Branson has always believed in the philosophy of training staff so they are good enough to leave but treating them so good that they don’t want to.
I have always thought it refreshing, and sensible, for leaders to get right among their people.
That way you get to know them, hear their ideas, build stronger ties and create relationships in a way you never can sealed off behind a closed door. I wish more businesses really did run like families. When things are going well, everyone has an even better time celebrating together. When things are tough, you can rally around and help each other get through it.
Treat people like people. Find out what excites them; know their names, how old their children are, what makes them tick, show a real interest in your team.
If they need unpaid leave, give it to them. If their kid has a soccer game, let them work the time in later and go make the game. Empathy (this doesn’t equate to being a walk over) and true care go a long way to getting the best out of people.
Show your employees that you genuinely care about their well-being — and they, along with your business, will prosper.
Richard Branson grants all of his employees a full year of paid paternal leave. He also gives all salaried workers unlimited vacation. Of course, not all companies can afford to do this — and that’s fine. What’s important is that, like him, you show your employees that you genuinely care about them.
From the get-go, Richard Branson was focused on creating an environment that provided a sense of belonging, more than high financial benefits for his staff.
From providing food and a place to sleep during his teenage entrepreneurial ventures with the Student magazine, to Virgin’s flexible working approach, job rotation, opportunities for promotion and even providing his residential phone number to all airline staff — people were always a priority. In his own words, “Staff first, then customers and shareholders.”
Don’t make your employees feel like prisoners. The modern workplace is quickly changing as technology continues to evolve. More and more people are working remotely.
For the traditionalists, this is seen as a very unwelcome change. They prefer the old-school approach of being in the office 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday. It should not come as a major surprise that Branson does not subscribe to this worldview. He is a firm believer in not making your people feel like prisoners in your workplace.
Principle #2: Do What Lights You Up
Money is a great resource to have. It can help you in taking advantage of opportunities that you otherwise could not have. It also contributes to your happiness by helping you to live a comfortable life. However, happiness is an independent thing. Richard indicates that you should first seek a business that brings you happiness and the money will follow.
If you don’t want to put your heart and soul into your business, you shouldn’t start it in the first place.
When Branson sold the Virgin record label to EMI in 1992, for £500 million, he was brought to tears. A lot of people would probably cry tears of joy if they just made that kind of cash, but Branson was crying because he was emotionally invested into his record label.
As a leader, you must stand for something. And you have to clearly articulate what you stand for.
Saving the environment is a big thing for Richard Branson. He is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the B Team. The B Team is a not-for-profit initiative formed by a global group of business leaders to catalyze a better way of doing business, for the wellbeing of people and the planet.
Richard Branson’s passion shines through whenever he approaches a new venture. And he sustains his passion because he does things that he believes in.
When the Spaceship Two crashed, and people asked for refunds, which would cost him millions, he didn’t give up. His passion for space tourism enabled him to forge ahead. He is passionate about finding ways to save the environment, and find solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems, so he takes action. He doesn’t just talk about things. Great leaders put their hands where their mouths are.
Have passion for your work and you can pass this onto your colleagues who can help progress your organization.
Do you know what Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson all have in common? Their love for work. Even at the age of 70, Richard Branson still does as much work as a teenager can do. Ultimately, business leaders need to be passionate about what they do — making strategic decisions, building team and motivating employees to give their all.
Principle #3: Have Fun
Richard Branson is known for goofing around and setting some pretty wild April Fool’s pranks. He has created a company culture in which his employees are encouraged to have fun and joke around. In practically every photo I see of him, Richard Branson has a smile on his face. He always seems to be having a good time.
Happiness and good energy is contagious. A happy leader makes happy employees.
Sir Richard Branson said the best candidates take their roles seriously and lead from the front, but are also quick to see the lighter side of life. Looking for leadership who are eager to have fun a work will pass that on enthusiasm on to other employees in the company, supporting a positive work environment.
You may have come across many situations where people working together look very serious and even intimidated.
Fear is mostly attributed to failure and that stresses out managers, which at times gets passed on to their teams. You as a manager or a subordinate can work on getting your daily tasks completed in a relaxed way so that team-related stress can be avoided.
Being worried about successfully completing your tasks is a genuine concern, but over-worrying is not going to work.
Stressing more than it’s warranted is not only detrimental to your performance at work but also results in straining relations with your friends and family. Therefore, taking a chill pill as well as being on your toes is a winning formula for you to successfully get mission-critical things done minus the stress part.
If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
In everything you do, you should find ways to enjoy and appreciate your life. In other words, instead of working to live, you should live to work — because work is fun and enjoyable. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else. So stop wasting time doing things you hate or dread, as that will only suck the joy and happiness out of your life.
Principle #4: Carve Out Your Own Path
It is well known that Richard Branson is a trailblazer. He enjoys outdoor challenges and he bid for the world record in sailing the Atlantic in 2008. It is always important to ensure that your life is always fresh and new everyday. One of the ways to do this is by being yourself and finding new ways to solve day to day challenges.
Find methods to think outside the box, take risks and innovate. This will put you on the fast track to success.
One thing that has made him so successful as a leader is not only his humility, but also his open-minded attitude and love for learning. If you want your company to continue to grow, then you have to cultivate a learning culture. Create a culture that accepts mistakes and failure, but also encourages growth to emerge from it.
Almost nothing Richard Branson has done in his entrepreneurial journey has been by conforming to the mainstream.
This is something he not only believes has been key to his success, it’s part of his identity. A good example of this non-conformist attitude at play lies with the company’s attitude towards researching competition. The business textbook says this is crucial to surviving in the marketplace. Richard Branson would beg to differ.
Leadership doesn’t have a secret formula; all true leaders go about things in their own way. It’s the leadership skill of being able to think differently that sets them apart.
You can contrast his own leadership style — which is collaborative and democratic – to that of the late Steve Jobs, who was known for his autocratic style. Despite their differences, both have experienced great success with their own philosophy and approach. There are no hard and fast rules about which leadership skills work the best; it is all about choosing a style that fits the organization and optimizes the talent available.
If you want to make it big in anything you do, you need to challenge yourself to go beyond the limits you’ve set for yourself.
Always aim higher than you can do and then make every effort to achieve that target. This is the key to securing your place amongst the best or making a name for yourself in any field. You can go to the next level only when you are going against all odds and have a never-say-die attitude.
Richard Branson’s business strategy was to look for market opportunities where he was being underserved as a customer.
He despised his airline experience, so he created an airline. He didn’t like his mobile phone experience, so he started a mobile phone company. He didn’t like riding commuter trains in England, so he created a train franchise. There are hundreds of additional examples of this.
Richard Branson doesn’t have the Midas Touch, where everything he touches turn to gold.
He wins some, and he loses some. But he knows that opportunities are everywhere. Therefore, he is not discouraged if a business venture doesn’t turn out like he hoped. Great leaders have to know what’s going on in their industries, so that the organization can sustain itself. For Richard Branson, going into unrelated industries made sense for him, and timing is everything.
📚 Additional reading
Principle #5: Embrace Failures Like a Friend
With the many business successes that Richard Branson has achieved its easy to forget that there have been failures as well. One such failure was Virgin Cola. Richard Branson realized that he couldn’t enter well established markets unless he brought something innovative and with Virgin Cola he didn’t and this lesson can be seen in his future business ventures.
Every leader fails. The important thing is how you deal with that failure.
If you can take away lessons from the failure then you understand that success can never be achieved without some kind of failure beforehand. Live life to the fullest and never fear failing. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need planning. Of course, it is necessary but people tend to hide their fears before the planning phase and some never start a work ever. So, try to start at the earliest and take the lead and make the rest of the herd follow you.
Fear of failure is one of the biggest factors holding back many entrepreneurs out there today.
The perception is that if a venture fails, the entrepreneur will be saddled with the stench of failure for eternity. Of course, this is an irrational fear and one that never stood in Richard Branson’s way. For all of his successes, he’s also seen his fair share of failure.
The best way to learn is by falling and learning how to avoid that in future.
Children learn how to walk by getting off the seat and stumbling until they can make steps on their own. Breaking the rules is one of the most effective ways to learn. Strive to question the accepted formulae, rules and prescriptions of modern life. By being so inquisitive, you learn a lot and fill your life with excitement and purpose.
Great leaders know that they will win some and lose some, but they do not allow fear to prevent them from taking risks.
All through his life, Richard Branson took risks, and that’s one of the reasons why he is so successful. He created a record, crossing the Atlantic and Pacific in a hot-air balloon in 1987 and 1991 respectively. Things could have gone terribly wrong. Most people wouldn’t take the risk, why bother? He formed the Spaceship Company, entering the field of space tourism. Over 800 people bought tickets, but a few requested refunds following the Spaceship Two crash in California’s Mojave Desert.
Principle #6: Stop Being a Control Freak
Rather than always looking over his employees’ shoulders, Richard Branson gives them the freedom to make decisions without him. In turn, they are happier, more confident and better able to become leaders themselves. And a business full of leaders? Now that’s a healthy one.
The common perception of the modern CEO is they have their fingers in every decision and are on top of every happening in the company.
No decision can be made until the boss gives it the okay. While there may be some who adhere to this practice, Branson is not one of them. He believes that the only way to be an effective CEO is to let go of the reins and trust the people you have around you. Too much control can be a bad thing.
Don’t micromanage! Unless it is going to cost the company thousands of dollars, let people do things their way, don’t insist they do it your way.
And if you need to correct your team, do it privately – NEVER discuss an employee’s performance in front of their peers. People are human. They will mess-up. Allow it. How often do you punish people or make them scared of making mistakes? Stop it! You must address repetitive mistakes, if they occur, but do allow mistakes.
Any manager who punishes their staff for expressing an opinion hasn’t got the faintest idea about leadership. People in charge should empower their employees, not scare them into silence.
If you want to be a leader, you should know how to get along with people. You should also know how to bring out the best in them. Encouraging them is one of the leadership responsibilities that is pointed out by Richard Branson. His guiding principle is that you should be a good friend to be a good leader.
Successful leaders master the art of delegation, helping to reduce their own workload and give opportunities to ambitious employees.
Whatever the philosophy a leader has, they must give other people the space to thrive. Employees want to know if they are being listened to or if they are a cog in the wheel. People really need to feel wanted. One way people can feel valued is being provided the opportunity to learn and take on new tasks.
Principle #7: Get Rid of The Titles
In Richard’s view, qualifications are far from the be-all and end-all, when it comes to leading people. His philosophy is personality before CV — ensuring people who want to work at senior level have the soft skills required to unite and direct staff as well as strong leadership skills.
Be someone people find it easy to be around.
People can sometimes be quite out of touch with how others perceive them and some even get a kick from being intimidating. So put yourself in the shoes of the people you interact and consider whether you are someone people feel safe to speak to openly and candidly. The higher you climb, the more important this is.
If you don’t know the answer to something, speak up. If you messed up, take responsibility for your actions and don’t try to cover it up.
Your employees will be able to relate to you and respect you more if you show that you are human, too. Remember that even as a leader, you can learn from the people around you — even if they happen to be your subordinates.
Successful hiring is not just hiring the person with the most experience or fancy degrees.
It’s about hiring well-rounded individuals with personalities that will fit in well with your company. Reward those who have paid their dues and worked hard at your company by promoting them. This will encourage all of your other employees to work hard too, knowing that there is a possibility of promotion down the line for them, as well.
Savviness is the ability to accomplish tasks using unique talent and skills.
These are rarely found in school books or instructional material. It is learned through practical application. By engaging in volunteer work, business ventures or other enterprising activities, you can learn how to be savvy. Savviness is not meant to replace the formal education that you get in school. It is simply meant to amplify it.
There are many other leadership lessons that one can learn from Richard Branson. But the seven listed above, are a great place to start. The extraordinary success of Richard Branson is a result of his risk-taking ability, business tactics, and, of course, his insightful leadership skills.
Without question, Richard Branson is truly one of a kind when it comes to successful entrepreneurs in modern times.
He has continually progressed in the world of business and finance by being an innovator and a unique leader. These eight leadership principles are what separate great leaders, like Richard Branson, from the herd. You can learn a lot of tips from his life and work habits.
He is one of the most respected billionaires in the world.
Sir Richard Branson manages more than 400 companies through the Virgin Group. Above are some of the leadership principles we learn from him. By applying them in your life or business, you can also etch your name in the annals of history.
Good leadership is not just showing up and telling people what to do.
As Richard Branson has shown, it’s about being open-minded to new ideas and listening — to your employees; clients and customers; and anyone else who might have something to teach you. It’s about being humble and abolishing strict hierarchies. And for organizations that are inherently hierarchical and difficult to change, good leaders at least give all their employees the freedom to exercise their opinions. They give them autonomy.
Moreover, successful leaders are emotionally intelligent, and they continually show their employees that they care. And at the end of the day, they know how to have a good time — and they make work a fun place to be.
Those are my leadership principles from Richard Branson. He’s achieved a lot in his 70 years and there’s a lot to be learned. He’s not just lucky, but chose to do things differently and challenge the norm. I’ll try to do likewise in my own way. How about you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!