Write a report evaluating the leadership of a 21st century leader of an (business, government or not-for-profit) organisation.
For this assignment you can select a leader from a large or a small organisation. You can select a leader from your own organisation or one that you are familiar with. It could be a CEO of an international organisation whom you have read about in the newspapers/biographies, or a family member who runs a small business with a few staff members. The choice of leader and organisation is yours.
Using relevant theories and models, critically evaluate and analyse the leadership of the leader you have selected. If you were in the position of the leader, what could you do to be a better leader and make a stronger impact on the followers and on the situation?
In your report you must cover the following:
A clear description of the leader, the organisation/industry, and situation/context.
An evaluation of the leader by referring to concepts and theories covered in the subject (e.g. style, behaviour, traits, attitudes, power) and by referring to relevant examples and mini-cases in the textbook (where appropriate).
A discussion of how you would lead differently if you were put in the same situation(s) as the leader and how you could make a stronger impact on the followers and on the situation(s).
It is important to demonstrate your knowledge about leadership and to clearly reference your sources. Read about leadership in journal articles (using AIB Online Library), books (including the textbook), and business literature, etc. Note the sources and use them throughout the report.
Remember that pure description and paraphrasing is not sufficient. A good report will clearly take an analytical approach and demonstrate application of leadership concepts/theories.
In order to do well you need to structure your discussion well, use good references, and clearly link recommendations to description and analysis presented earlier in the report.
Table of content
Title page 1
Executive summary 3
Literature review: Theories of leadership 3
Transformational and transactional leadership styles 6
Sir Richard Branson leadership style 8
Conclusion and Recommendations 11
Leadership is the most important aspect that influences the strategic direction and success of an organization. It’s defined as ‘a collective and collaborative process focused on relationships and networks’’ that has a crucial impact on the attainment of organizational goals and objectives (Yukl, 2012). In this paper, we review theories of leadership, with a view of understanding the success story of Richard Branson, the founder, and CEO of Virgin Group.
Born in 1950, Branson is an English Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and Investor and founder of the Virgin group. His entrepreneurial journey started at a tender age of 16 when he formed the student magazine. In 1970, he started a mail-order record business, followed by a chain of record stores in 1972 called Virgin records. The 80’s saw significant expansion of his businesses to include the Virgin Atlantic and expansion of his music records business. Through his stewardship, currently, the Virgin group holds and manages in excess of 400 companies spread across the world. His business now covers sectors such as hospitality, airline, train, telecommunication and space tourism, valued at billions of dollars. His success in business according to Shawbell (2011), is attributed to his remarkable passion, leadership qualities and vision which have made him an exceptional entrepreneur
Literature review: Theories of leadership
Literature on this subject reveals that leadership has evolved from the theories of the ‘great man’ to the individual trait theories and finally transformational leadership (see fig 1). While these early theories focused mostly on characteristics and behaviors exhibited by successful leaders, modern leadership theories take a rather contextual approach, appreciating the role of teams and followers and the situations under which leadership thrives (Yukl, 2012).
Fig 1: Evolution of leadership theories. Source: Pillaiyan et al (2012)
According to Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy,( 2015), the ‘trait’ leadership theory arose from the ‘Great man’ theory and attempts to identify the main characteristics of successful leaders. It believed that through the identification of certain traits, certain individuals who possessed those traits could be installed in positions of leadership. Various studies have been conducted to try and come up with the characteristics of great leaders. While it’s not conclusive, there is a consensus that great leaders possess certain characteristics, skills and traits such as technical skills, teamwork, social skills, motivation, administrative skills, emotional control, general charisma and intelligence.
With the inconclusive nature of the trait nature of the trait theory, a new theory emerged; the behavioral theory. Douglas Mcgregor in his groundbreaking work grouped managerial perceptions of employees as either X or Y, depending on the managerial assessment of the worker’s attitude towards work and responsibility (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015). According to theory X managers, human beings have an inherent dislike for work, responsibility and have to be pushed and coerced to get things done, which differs with theory Y managers who believed that people loved work and actively sought responsibility, were capable of self-direction. Other behavioral theory researchers such as Blake and Mouton identified team management, which integrated the interests of the organization and employees as way of ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in leadership.
While behavioral theories identify certain behaviors that characterize effective leaders, they fail to take note of certain factors that influence leadership in different situations. Modern researchers in this field opine that it’s practically not possible to have one leadership style that can work for every manager and in every situation (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015). The contingency school of thought was therefore developed to in realization of the fact that the situation, organization, people and other environmental factors affected leadership. The fielder’s contingency model and the Hersey-Blancard model of leadership the leadership continuum model, and the action centered model are some of the prominent models that explain the contingency school of thought.
The previous discussion has dwelt mostly on the leader as some demigods, who are different from and leads other people, sort of a ruler or manager. Modern leadership theories identify and appreciate the important role of the relationship that subsists between the leader and his followers and appreciate the interdependence of roles in an organization. These theories identify the team leader, a servant, motivator and organizer, as opposed to the boss, master, and solo-leader. According to Boone & Makhani, (2012), the notion of servant leadership emphasizes the role of leadership in serving the followers. As such, servant leadership is a philosophy which supports those that choose to serve first and then assume leadership as a way of expanding their service to others.
Transformational and transactional leadership styles
James McGregor was the first person who introduced the concept of transforming leadership. He defined transforming leadership as a ‘relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents’’. He notes that transforming leadership happens when people engage one another in a way that lifts themselves to higher levels of morality and motivation (Buble, Juras & Matić, 2014). Transforming leaders, in this case, shape, elevate and finally alter the values, attitudes, goals and motives of followers and in the process achieve significant change. The power of transforming leadership is, therefore, nobler and differs from charismatic or heroic leadership, business or executive leadership.
Bernard Bass built on the concept of transforming leadership, into transformational leadership (Hargis, Watt, & Piotrowski, 2011). In this form of leadership, leaders transform followers, in transformational leadership, a facet of social change, which misses in McGregor’s version is incorporated. Transformational leaders transform the self-interest of followers, increase their self-confidence, elevates their expectations, encourages behavior change and motivates them to reach their potential and achieve higher levels of personal and professional achievements.
A more traditional approach to leadership that has its roots from organizational or business perspectives is the transactional leadership style. This is a leadership style that builds on the need to get the job done so as to make a living, is normally preoccupied with positions and power, politics and perks, often immersed in the daily affairs, is data and short-term oriented, focuses on technical know-how, is mainly concerned about efficiency, reinforces the short term and guarantees profits in the short run. Transactional leadership is also concerned with rewards and punishments, targets and bottom lines. Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy,( 2015) notes that transformational leadership, on the other hand, takes a more futuristic and humanistic nature in managing people. It builds on the intrinsic value of workers, often preoccupied with value and purpose, morals and ethics, is more futuristic, with a clear long-term goals without compromising on one’s principles and values and not concerned about daily affairs, identifies and nurtures new talent, redesigns jobs with the aim of making them more meaningful and finally aligns internal structures with organizational goals and values.
According to Darling & Heller (2011), therefore, the goal of transformational leadership is to change people’s minds, hearts, insight, clarity of purpose and understanding so as to make their behavior to be congruent with the values, principles and beliefs that bring permanent, momentum building and self-perpetuating changes. This takes leaders who take actions to increase their team members awareness of what is right or important and to increase their motivation to go beyond their own self-interests to a more holistic good of the team, group, organization or even society, which goes beyond a simple reward for efforts expended at the workplace. To do this, transformational leaders are proactive and attempt to optimize development and not only performance. Such leadership elevates the needs of employees from just security needs to higher needs of self-development and achievement (Penney, 2011). In essence, they convince their employees to strive to achieve higher level achievements and set higher levels of ethical and moral standards. By encouraging employees to strive to attain higher goals and reach their potential, they are also optimizing their organization’s development since high performing employees build high performing organizations.
Sir Richard Branson leadership style
It is not easy to point at Branson’s leadership style and philosophy, due to his many facets as a leader. In his latest book, the Virgin Way, Branson details all that he knows and has learned about leadership in his years as the chairman of Virgin Group. In an interview with (Shawbell, 2014) Branson explained that one of his main leadership principles is listening, which he calls ‘a virgin trait’. He notes that listening enables him to learn from his employees, the market, and guests. Unlike traditional managers who know everything, Branson admits that he loves learning from each and every one in his companies.
In an interview with Scrawbel, when asked about what he looks for when recruiting leaders at Virgin, he explained that he is more concerned about recruiting people who complement him, those who are strong in his weakest areas. He is basically not intimidated by talented employees and actually actively recruits those talents that lack in his companies. This is a leader who wants to mold talented people in his organization to achieve their potential while at the same time contributing to the success of Virgin Group. He goes on to explain ‘. I like to take chances on people, and whenever possible, promote from within – it sends a great message to everyone in the company when someone demonstrates a passion for the job and leadership skills at every step along the way and is rewarded with a leadership role’ (Shawbell, 2014). This explains his transformational leadership traits. He likes to promote and motivate his staff by giving them leadership roles which not only presents to them an opportunity to learn and grow but also sends a message to other that their hard work and commitment will pay off.
One of his main traits is that Branson is a great listener who talks less. In fact, legend has it that he grew up with dyslexia, which made him rely mostly on note taking as he forgot most things. This habit of listening and taking notes has become part of him even in his adulthood, which has endeared him to most of his followers who appreciate his listening attitude and accommodating their ideas. In fact, one of his mantras is ‘break the rules’, he goes on to explain that as long as an employee has an idea that is workable, he would support it as long as it furthers the interests of the company. This brings him out as a participative leader, one who encourages participation of his followers in decision making. In fact, in his book, he notes that great leaders ‘make room for a personal time through delegation’. His life is that of ease, fun, and sports. He has been involved in some extreme sports such as skiing, boating, and even biking and was recently involved in an accident in one of his bikes. The fact that the chief executive of a company that manages in excess of 400 companies can find time to engage in most of these extracurricular activities and succeed in business while at it, underscores his comfortable delegation measures. He explains that he tries to do as little as possible while delegating the bulk of his work to other executives. Once he feels that a company is on its feet and in the right direction, he has been known to leave it to his able executives and move on to form another one, which highlights his transformational and participative nature of leadership.
He writes that he believes that he can only be successful with others and that he can only become a great leader if he has great people to lead. His leadership style is mostly concerned about caring for his employees, giving challenges and the freedom to flourish on their own. He believes that a great leader must be genuinely interested in his employees and strives to bring out the best in them, which in turn translates to better service delivery to customers and ultimately business success. His strong belief in his employees is best exemplified by his famous statement that the most important person in his business is not the customer, but rather the employee. He believes that happy employees translate to happy customers and not vice versa. To achieve this, he is known to offer praise and appreciation generously to his employees, he trusts his employees a lot which makes them more confident and better at their jobs. This not only makes him a great boss but also a great team leader.
He is also known for his democratic leadership philosophy. It’s an open secret that Branson maintains a very healthy relationship with all employees. He is known to treat his staff with respects, to the extent of even inviting them for parties in his home. He gives his staff freedom to be creative and even encourages suggestions and feedback from his employees. To this end, his organization has no established procedures on how to get things done, with a more or less flat organizational structure which is less hierarchical. It thrives on clusters with staff given freedom to do their jobs with little interference from their superiors. His staff is given freedom to work without much interference from superiors. With all this in mind, Branson’s leadership style is more democratic and participative.
Finally, Branson borrows significantly from the contingency school of thought that notes that no single leadership theory works best in all situations. Branson has been able to adapt very well to different situations, environments, and cultures and still managed to steer organizations to success. His ability to successfully run so many companies spread across the world indicate his situational leadership ability which transcends any theories. He is always proactively looking for opportunities and has managed to create new companies and excel in many sectors, regions, and situations.
What I would change on Branson’s leadership style and Impact it would have on followers
One of Branson’s most famous maxims is ‘screw it, let’s do it’, a philosophy that encourages his followers to break boundaries and chart their own ways of doing things. This has been applauded for encouraging employee creativity and autonomy. In this maxim, Branson is known to okay almost everything that comes his way, any good looking proposal that landed on his desk was most likely to be okayed, at some point earning him the nickname ‘Dr Yes’, for his leissez faire approach to decision making. This is partly to blame for most of the bad business decisions that he has made so far, leading to failure of hundreds of businesses that he started, such as Virgin Cola, Virgin cars among others. Being more careful, comprehensive and duly diligent before making investment decisions would go long way in ensuring success of business ventures. A more hand-on approach to decision making also has the impact of ensuring that employees are more committed and more diligent in their work.
According to McGregors theory X and Theory Y, managers and leaders must understand their employees and exercise their leadership in a way that ensures that the work gets done. Branson’s vast business empire covers many sectors, with different categories of employees. While his democratic leadership style and fun personality may work well in some sectors, in others, it may not reflect well on work performance and employee attitude. In such a situation, I would differentiate my leadership style depending on the situation. This would ensure that employees, regardless of the nature of employees, I employee appropriate leadership skills so as to ensure that employees take maintain high levels of work performance and positive attitude towards work.
Conclusion and recommendation
Leadership is a key ingredient for the success of any institution. The theory of leadership has evolved over the years from environment (McCleskey, 2014) the focus on a super individual to a more holistic view that encompasses the leader, his followers, and the situation/environment. While there is significant literature in this area, scholars agreed that there is no single leadership style that would work best in all organizations, situations and environments. A great leader, therefore, is one who is able to leverage on his abilities, given the prevailing situation, to impress upon, and motivate his followers to better themselves, reach their full potential while at the same time contributing to the collective success of the organization, which clearly describes Sir Richard Branson’s leadership philosophy. His failures and triumphs reflect on someone who has incredible zeal and commitment for success, one of the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Fifty years of running successful businesses, despite many challenges are no mean feat and therefore I believe that Branson is a clear illustration of business acumen and great leadership all rolled in one.
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