Sir Richard Branson in drag. How an entrepreneur wins even if he loses

May 13, 2013

Richard Branson Air Hostess

Richard Branson is an entrepreneur who prefers to gamble when he wins whatever the result

A wager is reported between owners of two competing airlines, Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airways and Tony Fernandes of Air Asia.

Charity Bet

The charity bet was over the performances not of airlines but of two Formula One racing teams. Did I mention that the two were sufficiently wealthy to own their own racing teams? The owner of the team performing worse would dress as an air hostess and serve passengers on his rival airline. Yes, serve actual travelers with actual refreshments dressed as what the Press called a trolley dolly.

Branson frocks up

Branson’s airline lost. A suitably frocked- up Sir Richard paid his debt. [Reported May 2013]. It was very much a mile high dare..

Who loses wins

So here’s the thing. The story revealed the ‘loser’ of the bet camping up his role on Asia airlines. The publicity was not invaluable but far from damaging for the company. Sir Richard ‘lost’ by doing what he most enjoys, being the centre of attention. Go figure. There must be a leadership message in the story somewhere.


LWD subscribers in England may remember another recent gamble by Mr Fernandes. His football team, Queen’s Park Rangers, was relegated from the football Premiership. The gamble of switching manager with ten games to go did not pay off.

Ugly Betty OK to run as conservative MP: Official

August 30, 2009

Ugly Betty

A senior Conservative politician has apologised for suggesting that only attractive female candidates should apply to become candidates for Parliament. An explanation is offered based on social identity theory

What can be made of this story [Aug 21st 2009]? It seems that the original opinion was offered by a constituency chairman, Mr Alan Scard, who was quoted as saying that women should only become MPs ‘if they were attractive’. Even in the early reports, it seemed he had been suggesting that beauty as well as brains would be taken into account in selecting new Members of Parliament.

The story made headlines, closely followed by political flak and an unconditional apology.

Gosport Conservatives Association chair Alan Scard, 63, said the comments were “tongue in cheek” and he thought that a [Channel 4 TV] interview was over. His association is tasked with finding a new parliamentary candidate for the town, after MP Sir Peter Viggers stood down during the expenses row [who famously claimed] £1,645 on expenses for a floating duck island. His gardening claims totaled £30,000 and [Viggers] retired at the direct request of party leader David Cameron.

When the curtain comes down: The compulsion to confide

An Aha! moment for me. Where had I come across this sort of behaviour before, and what might it mean? Answer. It occurs regularly when a performance ends and one of the actors steps out of role. For example, when an interview has ended, a reporter switches off the recorder, experienced enough to know that for some interviewees this is the time when a compulsion to confide kicks in.

It’s as if the actor (or politician) needs to deal with a residual concern that the other may have failed to distinguish the on-stage performance from the ‘real me’.

I’m arguing that such remarks can be interpreted as signals of a social identity struggling to express itself now that it has been released from the confines of being on the record, and subject to public scrutiny. This line of argument suggests that Mr Scard tried to present the public persona in the interview and permitted a glimpse of privately-held values once he believed it to be over. Once that ‘mistake’ was revealed, the highly public apology inevitably followed, as part of the necessary cover-up of the earlier expression of authentic but privately held beliefs.

There are newer theories, but I still find the ideas of Goffman on the presentation of self in public life to be instructive.

The Changing Face of Leadership Development: From Capability to Capacity

February 20, 2009


Since the turn of the millennium there has been a shift towards a perspective through which leadership is viewed more as a distributed or dispersed phenomenon, as opposed to just a leader-follower relationship. A conference on developing leadership capacities [July 2009] explores these concepts

This post has been contributed by Dr Gareth Edwards, of The Leadership Trust Foundation

As Ian Palmer and Cynthia Hardy, have suggested:

The argument that we are witnessing a shift from old to new forms of organising parallels a similar shift in the leadership literature regarding the need to move away from authoritarian to dispersed or distributed modes of leadership.

In principle, the concept of distributed leadership promotes the idea that the capacity to lead is within us all and therefore leadership or the potential for leadership is apparent in all facets of an organisation. This philosophy is built upon the notion of emergent leadership through which leadership develops through one’s personal power as opposed to one’s positional or authority power.

In addition, another broad perspective is emerging, which presents leadership as a socially constructed phenomenon.

The social identity approach regards leadership as a process that is influenced by the group or community in which it resides.

Never before has leadership been viewed in such breadth – so what does this mean for organisations? Well for one thing, it highlights the need for organisations to identify and develop leadership capability in a different light and in a broader sense. It means organisations understanding their leadership capacity as well as the leadership capability of certain individuals within the organisation. Leadership in this new post-heroic era needs to be viewed as a network of leadership ability, not just as high-potential people. With this renaissance, therefore, comes the need to re-think how we view leadership development. It no longer can be merely about developing individuals through self development processes. We need to look at how we develop ‘communities of practice’ to enable the development of leadership capacity throughout organisations, communities and society.

Leadership capacity

How do we know where organisations have leadership capacity? What methodologies should be used to develop this capacity? And, how do we evaluate leadership development initiatives, interventions and programmes? – are questions that may need to be redressed.

Furthering this line of research, The Centre for Applied Leadership Research at The Leadership Trust Foundation along with the Bristol Centre for Leadership and Organisational Ethics (BCLOE) at the Bristol Business School, will be holding a one day conference on Developing Leadership Capacity on 16th July 2009.

To go more deeply

Palmer, I., & Hardy, C., (2000) Thinking About Management, Sage,

Ellemers, N., De Gilder, D. and Haslam, S.A, (2004) ‘Motivating Individuals and Groups at Work: A Social Identity Perspective on Leadership and Group Performance’, Academy of Management Review, XXIX, 459-78

Haslam, S.A. (ed.) (2004), Psychology in Organisations: The Social Identity Approach, 2nd edn, (London: Sage Publications, 2004)

Hogg, M.A. (2001) ‘A Social Identity Theory of Leadership’, Personality and Social Psychological Review, V, 184-200.

Etienne Wenger. (1999) Communities of Practice, Cambridge University Press.