Richard Branson offers staff autonomy over vacation times and duration. Simples?

October 3, 2014


Richard Branson has announced a revolutionary self-managed policy for his personal staff. At first sight it seems a step towards the idealistic dream of worker autonomy and self-managed work groups. So let’s look a little more closely at the emerging story

This week [september 24th, 2014], Richard Branson was reported as announcing a new policy for his 170 personal staff. They are to have full rights to setting vacations [‘holidays’ or ‘leave periods’ in British vernacular].

Empowerment

‘Empowerment’ of workers has been a theme in OB courses and popular leadership writing for a few decades. This seems to be a further example, with the added weight provided by the authority of Richard Branson.

The basic principle is easy to grasp. The notion has libertarian and emancipatory aspects to it. So what’s not to like about it? And why have such initiatives been the target of Critical Theorists who have tended to dismiss it as a managerial fad?

Behind the headlines

Branson hopes the plan will be rolled out to subsidiary divisions. He has been reported as being influenced by his daughter who told him of a similar scheme at Netflix. The back story begins to take shape.

As one admiring report put it, Billionaire Richard Branson may be the coolest boss ever.

Two ‘maps’ of the story

One perspective is to interpret the story as an example of subtle exercise of power masquerading as enlightened leadership. The scheme is at present on offer to the 170 personal staff of Richard Branson. In his own words, the workers have obligations to act in the corporate interest so as not to damage the company or theirs own careers. The benevolence conceals the power structure on organizational life. The majority of employees are not directly influenced.

Another perspective is to consider Branson to be an authentic leader whose moral compass is towards a happy and autonomous work force. He avoids the dilemma of enforcing democracy by inviting change rather ordering it. He shares a generally non-coercive style with some of the most successful modern entrepreneurs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who have built creative organizations

Oh, and one more thing …

The story breaks as the engaging fun-loving Branson is launching his new book. The Virgin Way: Everything I know about leadership.

Simples?


Teresa Amabile talks on Leadership, Employee engagement and The Performance Principle

October 18, 2011


Professor Teresa Amabile summarises fifteen years of research into creative leadership in terms of her concept of the progress principle

Creativity researchers consider Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School as the most distinguished and influential researcher into creativity of her generation. Her recent book with husband Steve Kramer distils this into The Progress Principle. The TED video captures the evidence reported in the book.

How creative leadership makes a difference

In productive organisations it is the everyday actions of managers and co-workers which made the difference. In unproductive organisations there is a risk-aversion and fear of making mistakes. On the contrary in productive organisations, mistakes are lived with ‘as long as we learned from what we did’.

Inner work life

For long-term development, inner work-life is supported and reinforced by everyday interpersonal exchanges. “Support people and support their processes every day” Amabile argues.

The unobserved progress principle

Most managers do not think consciously of the importance of small wins. [I have a recollection of such a point being made within the new leadership literature, but more typically leaders we more influenced by the virtues of setting ‘great hairy goals’ and inspiring visions.]

Challenges

However, an organisational crisis may release great organisational, team and individual creativity. A crisis and positive leadership support can work but “You can’t just turn this on and off”.

What can you do?

“Think what you can do to help co-workers feel good about what they are doing”. [Catch someone doing something good]. A simple and effective principle we can all apply at work.

We are all creative leaders

When I updated Dilemmas of Leadership earlier this year, I introduced one additional chapter. It examined creative leadership. I selected Teresa’s contributions as a core example of a shared ‘Platform of Understanding’ in the field. The Progress Principle was published just a few months too late for inclusion in the chapter. It is just about the first amendment for a future edition. It implicitly supports writings on distributed leadership, and enriches our maps of creativity and engagement in the workplace.


Leading in theory and practice

February 11, 2008

death-of-nelson.jpgThere’s an old joke about how academics view the world. On learning of some leadership achievement, they are inclined to remark ‘That’s all very well in practice … but does it work in theory?’

Theories of leadership abound. It’s finding ones to support leadership practice that turn out to be the more challenging assignment …

Here are four topics explored at Manchester Business School [February 13th, 2008] by Vice-Admiral Charles Style with an audience of business, military, and sporting leaders. I’ve provided a few of those ‘does it work in theory’ footnotes to go with the rich mix of shared experiences of the practitioners.

Leading in dynamic and challenging circumstances

The buzzword here is turbulence. For much of history, great leadership has been mythologised as the exercise of exceptional skills under extreme and unclear circumstances. More recently, the theories have explored the nature or turbulence, with attention to unpredictability under so-called chaotic conditions.

The mathematical models sometimes gave way to middle-range theories such as the Tipping Point at which an old system flips over to a new one.

One of my favorite books came from The Center for Creative Leadership, and Stan Gryskiewicz who described Positive Turbulence. Stan has more recently founded an institute for the study of the subject.

Delegation and empowerment in others

Delegation became a cornerstone of modern management theories. Perhaps wrongly, I assumed it had seen somehow sidelined from Business School courses, perhaps dismissed as too trivial a concept to be worthy of mention any more. Perhaps it is mentioned in the behavioral model of Tannenbaum and Schmidt

The practicing leader must find pause for one of the toughest questions ‘what must I do do myself, and what am I better leaving to others to do?’. This is what T&S suggests. Another question might me ‘If I don’t do it myself, how can I influence others to do it?’ This is a question to which the model doesn’t give too many answers.

Empowerment remains a buzzword, but to me there is too much rhetoric, and insufficient encouragement to accept that empowerment poses leaders with similar dilemmas to that posed by the delegation questions.

The human dynamics of leadership and strategic implementation

After a hundred years of trait theories ‘what leaders are’ we became interested in the dynamics of leadership ‘what leaders do’.

One of the more important issues is what effective leaders do. Strategic leadership is a particularly important arena in which these matters are played out.

The leader’s personal value added

This brings us the last question. What price can we put on good leadership? The Resource Based Theory (RBT) of the firm has brought a fresh perspective to the question.

RBT teaches us that an organisation succeeds by utilizing ‘hard to copy’ resources, which usually refer to skills and knowledge residing in its people including leaders.

Leading in theory and practice

The Manchester Business School has directed its attention on a leadership approach which combines theory and practice. Whether this comes under the rubric of Manchester Method, Action Learning, or Leadership development is less important than a commitment to leading in theory and practice.