“Having a personality of caring about people is important,” says Branson. “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.”
Branson is often criticized for his management style – or lack thereof. He holds no regular board meetings, has no business headquarters, and has no idea how to operate a computer. But, with his brand name licensed to over 250 companies, Branson has had to develop the necessary leadership skills to ensure his survival.
His overall leadership principle rests on the need to treat other people with respect but the nuts and bolts of it are much harder to pin down. Branson stresses the importance of time management skills, saying he spends roughly one third of his time on trouble shooting, one third on new projects – both business related and charitable – and one third on promoting and marketing his businesses. In between, he also makes time for his family and vacations.
“I’ve had to create companies that I believe in 100%. These are companies I feel will make a genuine difference,” says Branson. “Then I have to be willing to find the time myself to talk about them, promote them and market them. I don’t want to spend my life doing something that I’m not proud of.”
Branson hires bright people, gives them a stake in his ventures so that they are motivated to be even more successful and then delegates. While his staff often takes care of the daily operations of a company, Branson focuses his time more on the end user experience, doing publicity and promoting his products.
Part of being a good leader, according to Branson, is also the ability to know when to back away from a task. “As much as you need a strong personality to build a business from scratch, you also must understand the art of delegation,” he says. “I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.”
But, for Branson, the most important factor of good leadership is relating to other people. “If you’re good with people…and you really care, genuinely care about people then I’m sure we could find a job for you at Virgin,” he says. “The companies that look after their people are the companies that do really well. I’m sure we’d like a few other attributes, but that would be the most important one.”
Treating his employees as important team players is crucial to the success of Branson’s Virgin Empires, putting employees first, customers second, and shareholders third. “A company is people…employees want to know…am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.”
With one of the most licensed brands in the world, Branson has demonstrated perhaps better than any other entrepreneur of the 20th century how good leadership skills can make the difference between success and failure.