Since the 1960s, one name in particular has become synonymous with power, charisma and success: Sir Richard Branson. He’s become famous not only for his entrepreneurial ventures, overwhelming successes and bizarre public stunts, but for his ability to inspire others as well. Many of us look to him for leadership guidance, but how exactly can we learn from him?
Let’s take a look at Richard Branson’s leadership style – and some of his more famous pearls of wisdom – and interpret them into practical advice for the modern leader.
There are many different types of leaders among us, but we can broadly categorise them into five leadership styles: authoritarian, democratic, laissez-faire, transactional and transformational. Based on Branson’s behaviour and personal philosophies, he can be classified as a democratic leader (also known as a participative leader), which is principally founded upon collaboration and participation between all members. He strongly believes (and invests in) the welfare of his employees, extolling the benefits of listening and learning from others.
He also possesses many of the common leadership qualities like extraversion, although he says that he had to force himself to become that way. ‘Before we launched the airline, I was a shy and retiring individual who couldn’t make speeches and get out there,’ he says in an article for strategy+business. ‘I had to train myself into becoming more of an extrovert.’
So if he can teach himself to become an extrovert, what can he teach the rest of us? How can we adapt the Richard Branson mindset?
Here are five aspects of his leadership you can adapt for yourself to improve your professional (and personal) life.
1) Enjoy yourself
“My number one rule in business, and in life, is to enjoy what you do.”– from the Forbes’ article ‘Richard Branson’s Three Most Important Leadership Principles’
That gleaming grin is as clear as anything: it’s obvious Branson well and truly loves what he does, and when that enthusiasm is genuine, it’s contagious. Others will be drawn to your passion and your enthusiasm will energise others into action, be it inside or outside the workplace.
2) Include others
“Nobody can be successful alone – and you cannot be a great leader without great people to lead.” – from Branson’s Telegraph article ‘Apple boss Steve Jobs was the entrepreneur I most admired’
Branson is a huge believer in paying attention to the individual. Learning from those you are leading is an incredibly important part of his philosophy. While it’s tempting to isolate yourself for whatever reason (it’s a lot harder for some to let others help them than you might think), you need to be open and inclusive with your staff.
3) Break the rules
“Don’t sweat it: rules were meant to be broken.” – from the Forbes’ article ‘Richard Branson’s Three Most Important Leadership Principles’
A common Branson phrase is: ‘Screw business as usual.’ If you find yourself tangled in questions of propriety – what you ‘should be doing’ – then untangle yourself. His entire career has been leveraged on taking extreme risks, and look how well that’s turned out! Although it’s much easier said than done, try not to get too caught up in what you should do and focus on what you actually want to do.
“Personally, I have always believed in the art of delegation – finding the best possible people for Virgin and giving them the freedom and encouragement to flourish.”– from Branson’s Telegraph article ‘Apple boss Steve Jobs was the entrepreneur I most admired’
This is very closely related to #2, but another part of Branson’s philosophy involves delegating – and giving people the space to do their job. He believes that by stepping back (rather than involving yourself in every little detail) you let that individual step up to the task at hand and by doing so, you encourage them to build their own leadership skills.
5) Stay humble
“As a leader you should always be listening. Be visible, note down what you hear and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.” – from the Robert Half article ‘9 leadership skills Richard Branson can teach you’
This one is pretty self-explanatory: never assume that you’ve learned enough, or that you’ve learned everything there is to know. Because you haven’t. Branson’s readiness to credit others, like in this quote from a Forbes interview, with his success demonstrates how important humility is to him: “Too much credit goes to me for what we have achieved at Virgin but the successes happen from working and learning with some of the world’s most inspiring and inspired people.”
So there you have it – the basic ingredients for becoming a Branson (goatee optional).