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Developing and Empowering Leaders – Richard Branson (Part 1)

Sir Richard Branson at the eTalk Festival Part...

Sir Richard Branson at the eTalk Festival Party, during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Branson recently stated that coaching senior managers can be difficult for various reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty in finding an uninterrupted period of time to conduct and review. Branson and his senior leaders spend time together each year at his home on Necker Island to discuss the opportunities and challenges the Virgin business group and leaders currently face.

I am certain this is a great opportunity to solve the business issues, share and learn from each other, however equally sure this is only part of the development story for individuals and future of the Virgin group and other companies in general.
Sharing and learning from others is one aspect of coaching and leadership development, however knowing something or having additional information about a situation or about oneself does not equate to a change in behaviour or enhanced skill in application.
The purpose of this blog is to draw upon and respond to a set of guidelines Richard Branson highlighted in a recent article in the Business Review Weekly magazine titled, 7 Rules For Managers, focusing on effective leadership, coaching and empowering leaders.

Keep Your Team Informed
It is crucial to set objectives for each period according to your business’s strategy – and then make sure all employees know about them.
Sally told us that when she was working for the British government, every summer, ministers appointed to cabinet received a note from Blair that outlined his strategic approach for the year and set clear objectives for each department. Cabinet met for a week to discuss these before members of parliament returned from holidays and had the chance to analyse and challenge the approach. Thereafter, the team received a note from Blair every Sunday, which was discussed at a meeting next morning to agree on key actions.
Communicating your objectives regularly will help ensure your team has a framework for making decisions. It is important all feel welcome to discuss the group’s objectives – that open debate is encouraged – because everyone will have a responsibility to follow through.

CoachStation Thoughts:

The ability to strike the balance between providing objectives, context, setting standards, parameters and keeping your team members informed as progression occurs is a fine line. I believe that the best outcomes derive through providing more detail rather than less, always balanced between keeping confidential information confidential, but sharing what is appropriate providing context and clarity.

  1. People respond more openly to feedback, accept change and are generally more willing to contribute when they have the necessary detail and information to feel connected to the business, engaged and empowered.
  2. Alignment to/with direction and goals is critical, although too often a company vision, mission statements and goals are seen as just words written on a page. Appropriate detail and context can help to make the vision a reality.

Define The Rules Of The Road
It is important to define core values for your business, which you and your employees can refer to when making decisions. In assessing investments and new directions at Virgin, we have always considered whether the proposed business meets our core values, which helps us manage our diverse portfolio and maintain consistency. We look at whether it will do something different to most or all companies in the industry or sector; whether it will provide real value, great customer service and retain the sense of fun and pride that distinguishes a good from a great business. Recently we added a new core value: we test whether a new business will have the legs to go overseas and can be scaled up within about three years.

CoachStation Thoughts:

Values are critical for both individuals and businesses. Values provide a base for alignment between yourself and the business that employs you. They allow an individual to feel connected and maintain a clear view of the reasons for doing what they do. Understanding what is important to you personally and at work also assists to motivate or re-clarify, providing direction. For an organisation it is important to be nimble, efficient and flexible in structure and design however it should also be clear in its identification and delivery of its core values. This clarity provides a clear view of what employees, customers and other stakeholders can expect when working with the organisation.

  1. Core values are most often ‘non-negotiables’, meaning that you are most likely to walk away from a relationship, workplace or situation when there is a disjoint in alignment.
  2. Shared values encourage a high level of trust within a team and organisation, strengthening commitment and the likelihood for higher levels of equity, honesty, fairness, sharing, respect and other positive aspects.
  3. Values are core to a brand – that of individual’s and businesses. Most importantly, to be effective and meaningful, values must be more than words!

Focus, Focus, Focus
It is tempting to try to do too much; for ambitious managers and their teams, there are always too many projects and too little time. But successful organizations know what their priorities are: They tackle the really important projects and the rest falls into place.

CoachStation Thoughts:

One of the most important skills for a manager or leader, particularly when starting out is to know where to spend your time. Often time management skills are emphasised or provided as a necessary development area during feedback sessions, however few people actually find the optimum balance. The ability to prioritise is even more crucial. In most roles an individual could work 24/7 and still not achieve all that is possible (or sometimes expected!), so identifying what are the most important tasks and strategies that will provide the ‘biggest bang for your buck’ has to be one of the first steps.

  1. One tip is to consider the Pareto Principle or what is more commonly known as the 80 / 20 rule to assist in determining the ‘right’ things to focus on.
  2. The ideal situation occurs when you think ahead and have a strategic mindset, tackling issues before they become urgent. The ultimate control occurs when your time is being spent on tasks and actions that are high impact but low urgency.
  3. Many people will make demands on your time – it is important that you control where you spend this time, not have it dictated to you by others.

Next week I will conclude this blog with the final four guidelines highlighted by Sir Richard.

Let me know what you think of the points made in part 1 of this blog and whether you believe they have relevance in modern business and leadership development.

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