By Marcel Schwantes - Principal and founder, Leadership From the Core
Sir Richard Branson has modeled an unconventional leadership approach that has attracted a cult-like following, as evidenced by some of his best-sellers -- Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School and, of course, Screw Business As Usual.
While his most valuable lessons are too numerous to list for one article, three really stand out for me (cited below). They have to do with understanding the human experience at work -- that there are certain traits people are innately wired to receive by their leaders in order to feel valued as workers and human beings.
Richard Branson understands that when his employees' needs are met on a human level, it ultimately impacts his businesses to a greater degree.
He should know. These are his principles for success, and they've obviously worked for him. According to Forbes, he is now worth over 5 billion US dollars.
1. Communicate with your ears.
How often we think of communication as "telling more," giving more directions, and sharing more of our point of view when all our most valued employees want is to be heard.
For Branson, the best of leaders instinctively understand that communication is a two-way street. Here's Branson:
2. Accept that failure is the foundation for success.
At Virgin, they encourage and even celebrate failure. There's an underlying theme there that, without trying something new and failing, it's virtually impossible to innovate and grow.
And Branson has certainly failed over the years. Remember Virgin Cola? Or even Virgin Brides (with Branson donning a wedding gown for publicity?) How about Virgin Pulse and Virgin Digital -- which couldn't stand up to Apple's iPod and iTunes? Branson has horrifically failed with the best of them.
Here's Branson on failing for success:
3. Put your employees first, even ahead of your customers.
Branson says, "If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of your shareholders."
That's the culture Virgin has built over the years -- it starts and ends with having an employee-first mindset. If managers engage their employees, they'll become more loyal and produce better work, which leads to a better customer experience and, at the end of the road, more profits.
Here's what Branson said in an interview with Inc.'s editor in chief, Eric Schurenberg: