Leadership And Empowerment At Virgin Group Commerce Essay


Having an able leadership in an organisation determines the future of the organisation to the extend of its ability to withstand future problems and compete effectively.

On personal view, leadership is the driving force behind the working of all the other stakeholders in an organisation.

Leadership can hence be discussed in terms of what it is and what it can do, and bearing it in mind that leadership can only be applicable to the relationship that persists between human beings and not any non-living things.

In this discussion, an attempt shall be made to develop the practices and importance of leadership from a corporate perspective and provide suggestions as to what needs to be done in the event of leadership failure for the sake of rescuing the organisations from collapse.

The organisation that will be discussed will be the Virgin group but the writer will also present personal experience situations to highlight the points being discussed. The writer is of the view that by using both a corporate example and personal experiences, a successful attempt to develop the case for leadership in the organisation will be made.

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This discussion will therefore take a critical view of leadership and how it is practiced in the company and consider ways of improving leadership.

Leadership may be described as the ability to influence the actions of others, in other words it is related with the decisions or actions taken by someone or a group of persons and which have an impact in influencing the decisions taken by the other persons. According to Peter K., (2002) and also Robert N., Christopher A. (2009), leadership is the ability to make things is done in an organisation. Leadership therefore enables the persons in the organisation to do what they are expected to do in the company. On personal view, leadership in an ability to achieve the objectives which are known to the leader either with the help f the workers or through the unilateral decision of the leader. The leader's position cannot be usurped by the involvement of any other stakeholders in the process and the leader should remain the important figure in developing the objectives and creating influence. According to George W., (2003), the leader must lead, by knowing what must be done and informing the workers about it.

The Virgin Group.

Virgin group is one of the well renown group of companies in the UK permeating most of the sectors in the UK economy including, Communication, Transport, Service provision and in the recent past the leisure industry.

Richard Branson who is renowned as the main figure whenever Virgin Group is being discussed is an established venture capitalist and entrepreneurs and whose description normally includes the words like; eccentric, consumer oriented, disregard for hierarchy, respect for workers, disregard for formal authority and a sense of fun (Grant R., 2004) .

Could these words describe what a good leader is or could these just be any other words?

Yet the success of Virgin group is viewed as a combination of factors as quoted below: "Once a Virgin company is up and running, several factors contribute to making it a success. The power of the Virgin name; Richard Branson's personal reputation; our unrivalled network of friends, contacts and partners; the Virgin management style; the way talent is empowered to flourish within the group. To some traditionalists, these may not seem hard headed enough. To them, the fact that Virgin has minimal management layers, no bureaucracy, a tiny board and no massive global HQ is an anathema. But it works for us! The proof of our success is real and tangible." Source < http://www.virgin.com/about-us/ >

Leadership styles:

Effective leadership depends on the styles that have been used by the leader and the prevailing circumstances which have necessitated these styles.

There are various styles which a leader can use including (Miner J., 2007):

Authoritative leadership

Democratic leaderships

Laissez faire leadership style

These styles have been discussed in appendix (i).

Source < http://innovatus.com.sg/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/participative_leadership-e1261923007909.jpg>

In the writers' opinion, the discussion about leadership and empowerment should include the levels of management in an organisation which include (Drucker P., 2007) (appendix ii):

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Corporate level

Tactical Level

Operational levels

Of the above leadership styles, probably the most preferred by the employers is the autocratic leadership style yet the one preferred by the workers is the democratic or the free-reign style.

According to UPX Success (2009), the top level management (Corporate level) at Virgin, including the Chairman, Sir Richard Branson, have adopted an extensive transformational leadership style yet the middle level managers (Tactical managers) have continued to demonstrate innovative practice aimed at making the efforts of every employee to contribute to the benefits of the organisation in a way that as organisation7253

Benefits, so does the individuals benefit. Therefore, what is being encouraged in the company, is that the employees must be innovative and free to demonstrate their ability in their work (UPX Success 2009)

However, it has also been noted that that as the managers who are hired to run the division in the company have to have a very thorough background of their fields and that strict specialisation in encouraged across the entire organisation.

From the above description we can say that that the leadership style at Virgin is a range of strict authoritative and free-rein style where workers are encouraged to work innovatively, (assuming they are given the freedom to come up with ideas and contribute to the success of the organisation and at the same time, they are expected to perform their duties without failure.

On personal view, by allowing the workers to devise innovative ways of working in the organisation, Virgin group, understands the importance of Democratic leadership or Leissez Faire leadership, however, this is not the recipe for success.

According to Tannenbaum and Schmidt (Ricky W., Gregory M., 2009), leadership depends on the situation which the organisation finds itself in.

Source < http://finaldownload.com/graphicsfile/screenshotimages/leadership_continuum_software-94714.gif>

The figure above, demonstrates the different styles of leadership depending on the company's position. For instance, if the company is in a crisis (when targets have to be met or changes are imminent), the management may consider wielding more powers by making all the major decisions and denying the employees to powers to decide what is to happen. However, in situations of normality, the management may allow workers to decide what they would wish to do. This is based on the premise of situational theory (Peter G., Peter G., 2009), which states that effective leadership can only be based on the situation where the organisation is at as explained above.

Other theories of leadership include (appendix iv);.

Contingency theory

Situational leadership

Behavioural theory

Trait theory

At Virgin group, we can therefore deduce that by the virtue of Richard Branson's free style which is seem to have developed the company, we can see a combinations behavioural and situational leadership styles.

Leaders, are expected to give directions to the workers and delegate to them the duties and responsibilities, therefore, this may call for empowerment whereby the workers will have to be given full authority over the tasks which they have been entrusted with.

The decision by the management of Virgin group to allow the workforce to be innovative cannot be successful without them being given sufficient power to run their work-floor, this is because, on personal view, when the workers are allowed total control over their actions, without the fear of loosing their jobs or being reprimanded for their actions, chances are that they will end up performing much better and even becoming more innovative. According to Handy C. (1990), leadership is very important and it can only succeed where the workers are allowed total freedom in whatever they are doing.

But empowerment cannot just be practiced in any kind of work environment or culture, which is defined by the kind of workforce in the organisation, because, suppose, as noted earlier, that at company has allowed employees to be innovative, then we have to opine that these must be very good employees either from the time they get hired to work at the company or through the training which they will have received.

According to Shari N., (2001), empowerment needs a qualified workforce who fully understands what they need to do in the organisation. And therefore on the basis of this, if the workers are not qualified, there cannot be any form of empowerment. On personal experience, an effective leadership is one which enables the employees to feel comfortable performing the tasks which they have been given, and therefore, this means that the tasks must be predetermined by the management, therefore, the management should set out the objectives to be met by the workforce and they (workers) must then work towards such objectives.

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On personal view, effective leadership is one where the objectives are set and rules for achieving these objectives are also set, but employees are awarded some degree of freedom in determining how they shall achieve such objectives. This is a more democratic form of leadership, as denoted by (Ciulla J., 2004). The reason why a democratic form of leadership is favoured above the other forms of leadership is because, this form of leadership is featured by the following (Spillane J., 2005);

The leaders involve the workers in decision making process.

Leaders set the objectives and allow the workers to discuss these objectives.

Decision making process is often longer because of the participative nature of the management and leadership in the organisation.

Workers will often have a sense of belonging in the view that they have contributed to the decision being made at the company and therefore, the chances of success of the tasks is likely succeed.

According to Hansey and Blanchard, leadership depends onto the kind of employees in the organisation and as such the leaders may consider one of the following circumstances;

Source< http://sourcesofinsight.com/2007/12/25/situational-leadership-ii/>

In the figure shown above, a company that can be identified at position D4, is among the best companies in the industry where the leaders show great concern to the welfare of the workers, who in turn are well qualified to work. We can place Virgin group at this position because;

It is one of the most admired companies in the UK. Most people view this company as a success story in many a industry as opposed to the struggles faced by other organisations.

It is the market leader in various sectors, and as noted in the quote above, Virgin group allows for talent to be empowered.

There seem to be well qualified workforce who can be allowed to innovate and hence participate in the development of the company.

In Virgin group, it has also been seen that there are few management levels and hence this can be termed as a flat organisation (Cole G.,2003) shown in the figure below;

Source < http://www.nipponbeechemical.jp/english/img/company/09/image.gif.>

This diagram shows the flat structure of management where the management levels are few as maintained at Virgin group and therefore, there is a wide span of control and therefore, it is considered that the management would not be in position to direct all the activities to be undertaken by the workers and so they may tend to delegate, but at the same time, the management cannot also delegate too much without empowerment which will lead to lack of accountability.

Therefore, for a large organisation to adopt a large span of control with fewer management levels there must be internal structures in the organisation which facilitate this style of management to have led to the success of Virgin group. If we return to the figure on situational leadership, it can be seen that where the workers are well qualified and are able to perform the task laid for them with little or not difficulties. It is therefore evident that the leadership style used in Virgin is a more democratic form of leadership, because, the employees are given the opportunity to come up with new ideas for the benefit of the company.

But leadership should not be paternalistic (John A., Anna T., Robert S., 2004), especially where the company is big the size of Virgin group. This is based on the premise of one leader knowing better than everyone else and as such the leader appears to be more elevated to other members of the company.

On personal view, the fact that Virgin is always almost fully associated with Sir, Branson, is very worrying, because, god forbid, but should anything happen to this 'one' leader, i.e a scandal, then this could be the end of the company.

While such personal elevation may work for small organisations and firms, and to an extend for the larger organisation in terms of the names of the leader, it is also a risk for the organisation and hence not be encouraged. For instance, while for all of us, the mention of the word 'virgin group' almost instantly brings the thought of the chairman, Sir Branson, the mention of British Airways, does not at all lead to the knowledge of its chairman, Mr. Martin Broughton or its CEO, Mr. Willie Walsh, but its sense of class, for the kind of customers being served on this flight.

Although, someone may argue that the mention of Virgin, elicits quality, adventure, daring and innovation, this is not a popular view, than, first the names of its chairman (Debra N., James Q., 2007). Therefore, if there is any thing that an organisation would seek to be known by, it should be its ability to create a sense of either quality or brand to the client (Johnson G., Scholes K., Whittington R., 2008) and also, Brian A., Adrian B., (2009).

Effective leadership

The view being held by the writer about effective leadership and empowerment in such an organisation is such that it should;

Allow for individual participation in innovative practices and initiative at all the levels but within the set corporate objectives. Because, by allowing the workforce to be innovative without setting the scope within which they can work, will most likely lead to chaos or conflict of purpose (Morton D., Coleman P., Eric C., 2006). The importance of the leaders, in their functions of facilitating an environment where the workers are willing to go by the rules cannot be underestimated.

Leadership style used in the organisation should not be rigidly held on a certain principle, for instance, being held consistently as a democratic leadership or laissez faire. The leaders have to be flexible to practice different styles at different times depending on the circumstances which the organisation is at (Don H., John S., Richard W., 2001) and (Jeffery S., Caron H., 2009). By incorporating different styles of leadership, the leader and the workers will be used to the different styles and an adoption of a particular style at some time will not be viewed as a change and so will not be met with suspicion.

Leadership should seek to create leaders and not subject the workers to the same level all the time. Effective leadership is determined by how many more leaders are created (Timothy P., Kathy M., 2003). By doing this, then the continuity of the organisation is almost guaranteed, and in the long run, it is cheaper to source leaders from within the organisation than from outside the organisation. At Virgin group, this can be done through practices like Job training and further delegation of work and authority to the workforce (Cooper C., Burke R., 2006).

Leadership can only be effective it is accommodates the popular views of the workforce who are the working 'hands' of the organisation. Of course, there cannot be an underestimation of the fact that leaders must from time to time make unpopular decisions, but they should incorporate the views of the workers as much as it is possible (Curtis K., Manning G., 2002). At Virgin group, this can be done through general meetings or departmental meetings between the leaders or managers and their subordinate. This can be referred to as the 'Worker participation in the management (WPM), process and it is within our preferred observation of Democratic leadership, where objectives are set by the top management yet other decisions are participative.

By maintaining a wide span of control at Virgin group, the management must always get qualified staff members to work in the organisation such that the managers or leaders will have less trouble in trying to influence their action, however, this can not only be expensive in terms of seek to find the most qualified staff members or training the workers to be qualified, but also may erode the sense of accountability among the team members or departmental workers under a single chain of command. The management should consider developing a tall structure (appendix iv) by Cyril O., Koontz H., (2008).


From the above discussion, it is clear that the leadership practices at Virgin group are as robust as the company itself an the management has tried to ensure that the image portrayed outside is the same as the culture that is being practiced within the company where the workers are allowed to demonstrate their ability to work innovatively and to develop the organisation.

Effective leadership is demonstrated by the ability of the management or leaders to influence, but, we opine that this should be within some scope beyond which the leaders should wield total control. This is not to say that the leader is authoritative in any way, it is to mean that the democratic style being used incorporates the objectives and guidelines set by the leader, and at the same time takes into confidence the views of the workforce or the followers.

A total free-rein leadership style may not work under all the circumstances facing the organisation and yet, total authoritative or democratic styles may also fail, and so there is a need to move along a continuum, and adopt leadership styles that go with the situation or circumstances which face the organisation. While the styles of leadership being practiced at Virgin group are hailed as the cause of success of the company, holding that, leadership is important for success, it has been found out that the personality elevation in such a big venture capital is not leadership and needs to be changed. The management of Virgin must consider if they would prefer to be known as daring just because, the chairman is portrayed as such or as effective leaders.

Virgin Group must consider changing their leadership styles and ensure that the views of the workers are taken into confidence and that corporate culture is elevated above a single individual. Leadership is an art and this must hence be subject to learning and changes.