The current business environment is getting increasingly competitive, and firms are forced to find ways through which they can remain competitive in order to survive. According to Winkler (87), firms have come to realise that the only way they can survive the harsh market environment is to embrace good governance that would enable internal environmental factors to conform to external environmental forces. Leadership has been considered the approach that may bring failure or success within an organisation. This has been demonstrated at the Virgin Atlantic, a British multinational Conglomerate that has been very successful in the airline and finance industries.
Despite the recent financial crisis that affected many firms in the United Kingdom, the Virgin Group remained strong in the world market, a sign that it not only had financial security, but also effective strategies that rendered the effects of inflation inconsequential in its operations. The firm has also been very successful in penetrating the market in both developing and developed economies. The success of this company has been attributed to the leadership style of its chief executive, Sir Richard Branson. In this research, the focus will be to critically analyse and discuss leadership dynamics at Virgin Atlantic and its relevance to the firm’s success.
The history of the Virgin Group under the leadership of Sir Richard Branson demonstrates that with proper management, a micro-enterprise can develop to become a large corporate organisation. It would be of interest to understand the avenue through which this firm was able to scale height to become one of the largest corporations with a strong global brand. According to Nohria (75), the growth of Virgin Group is attributed to the commitment of its chief executive officer. This scholar notes that Branson is one of the tactical managers of this century. He has managed to understand the needs and capacity of its employees perfectly well. He knows whom to assign various tasks, and how to improve their performance gradually. Winkler (87) describes this trait using one of the modern leadership theories known as Transformational Leadership. This scholar notes that transformational leadership takes a different approach from some of the traditional leadership approaches.
In this approach, a leader seeks to offer guidance other than to dictate employees within an organisation. At Virgin Group, the management has been keen on creating an enabling environment where they can understand themselves in terms of their skills and talents. Such talents are identified by the management and assigned tasks that match their skills. This has been very helpful in improving the efficiency of these workers. Branson has been credited for improving performance of his employees. As Nohria(75) observes, he has been creating time to interact with the employees at various management levels. He would challenge them to go beyond their current impressive scores. Making employees aware that their current output is appreciated is one of the best ways of keeping them motivated. With such motivation, it is easy to convince employees to adopt different work approaches that would improve their performance within an organisation.
One of the post-heroic theories that have been commonly used is the Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. This theory depicts what has been taking place within the Virgin Group under the leadership of Sir Richard Branson. According to this theory, although it is important to have high output from employees, this should not come at the expense of concern for people. The figure below is a representation of this theory.
As shown in the diagram, most firms have failed to balance between concern for people, and concern for the output. When the management is unable to focus on neither its people nor production, it is bound to fail in a near future. When the management emphasiseon production, the high produce may not be sustained for a long time because people will tire. On the other hand, when the emphasis is laid on concern for people at the expense of output, the firm may become unprofitable, and sustainability may not be achieved. The best way is to maintain high concern for the people as the firm seeks to constantly improve its output. This approach of management has been witnessed at Virgin Group. The management has programs that are meant to reward the best performing employees as a way of appreciating their effort. This has seen most employees strive to improve their performance in their respective areas in order to win the awards.
The awards are not only meant to offer those monetary benefits, but also a status within the firm. This has created an environment where employees get self-motivated because they know that their effort will always be motivated. Some of the employees would work for extra hours, not because they have been commanded to do so, but because they feel they owe them company a lot out of the good treatment they get. This is one of the secret weapons that this firm has used to become one of the largest airline companies in the world.
Path-Goal Leadership Theory is another contemporary leadership approach that has been considered appropriate in the current society. According to Branson (78), leaders play a very important role in defining the performance of their employees. The premise of this theory is that employees’ performance is greatly affected by how they perceive their leader’s behavior. For a long time, leadership has been considered as a source of power that one can use to dictate how things should be done within an organisation. However, this may not work in the modern society where talented employees can easily walk away to other companies where their interests would be protected. This servant leadership is best presented by this theory as demonstrated in the figure below.
Path-Goal Leadership Theory
This theory gives four leadership styles that a leader in the contemporary world should embrace in order to improve the productivity of employees. A leader should be directive when assigning roles to employees. He should explain to them what they are supposed to do, and how they should approach various tasks. According to Nohria (75), Branson has been very categorical when assigning top and middle level managers at Virgin Group various tasks. A leader should be supportive. During many live interviews that Branson has attended, he would always insist that it is the role of the manager to support employees in various fronts to ensure that they have an understanding of the tasks that is assigned to them. It is also important that the management ensures that employee work without any duress or stress that may affect their output. The third style would be the participative role of the leader.
Top managers entrusted with leadership within an organisation must understand that they are part and parcel of the organisation, instead of elevating themselves to the position of supervisors. They should take part in various activities. They should get involved as they try to show other employees the path that should be taken towards success. Northouse(24) says that it is common to find Sir Richard Branson in various departments with junior employees of this firm trying to address operational issues.
This makes employee develop a strong bond with the employee, a fact that does not only improve their motivation, but also makes them develop strong attachments and commitments with the firm. Lastly, a leader should embrace achievement oriented style of management. Although Chance (45), warns that it is dangerous to overemphasise on achieving success, the need for good performance should not be ignored.
The leader should always challenge the performance of employees positively as a way of making them expand their scope of performance. Richard Branson has developed various programs that seek to measure performance improvement of the employees. As Branson (90) notes, this program was developed by the employees as a way of testing their performance improvement. The program was endorsed by the top leadership of this firm. Employees have always been striving to go beyond their previous score-cards. Although there are no punitive measures that are put in place for those who fail to make higher scores, the management has developed rewards for those who record higher scores in their performance. This makes them aware that the program is not meant to punish anyone, but to encourage them to aim higher.
This theory also emphasise on the need for a leader to analyse employees’ characteristics and the working environment. It is important to determine the skills and level of experience before assigning them different tasks. This is an area that Sir Richard Branson has been very keen on when assigning his pilots different tasks.
The firm has minimal levels of experience that these employees must have before they can be allowed to fly the planes. Lastly, a leader must be able to understand the internal work environment and determine how it may affect employees’ morale and their output. The structure of tasks should be in line with the skills and knowledge of the employees. For instance, it would be unrealistic for anairhostesstake clerical duties simply because the need for a clerical officer has urgently arisen. Such an employee may underperform, and this may affect her psychologically even when addressing other issues in his or her area of expertise. Such mistakes are very rare at Virgin Group, a fact that is attributed to high employee morale.
Employees are very important assets to an organisation because they are the wheels upon which it moves towards its goals and objectives. This means that the management must understand the best way through which such employees should be treated in order to retain them within the firm, and ensure that they are constantly motivated. Leaders must use some of the modern leadership theories that advocate for servant leadership other than the dictatorial approach of managing employees. Sir Richard Branson, the chief executive officer of Virgin Group, is one of the contemporary leaders who have demonstrated true servant leadership in their management styles.
Branson, Richard. Screw Business as Usual. New York: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.
Chance, Patti. Introduction to Educational Leadership and Organisational Behavior: Theory into Practice. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2009. Print.
Nohria, Nitin. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An Hbs Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Print.
Northouse, Peter. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2010. Print.
Winkler, Ingo. Contemporary Leadership Theories: Enhancing the Understanding of the Complexity, Subjectivity and Dynamic of Leadership. Berlin: Springer, 2010. Print.