Management and leadership styles

‘Using a range of theories from across the HR143 syllabus compare and contrast the management and leadership styles of two major managers or leaders’ The management styles displayed by world leaders, figureheads and company managers are as diverse as they are interesting, with many of these individuals advocating unique management techniques that are aimed at inspiring, motivating and empowering employees. Branson and Maxwell are contemporary examples of managers running highly successful organisations.

Practices adopted by each of these influential businessmen will be compared to theory and ideology that has been presented decades to centuries ago by academics and theorists. However, the fundamental aim is not to state whether Maxwell and Branson conduct their operations by remaining within paradigms of theorists from the past, instead the aim is to provide valid information to show how management styles of the 21st century go far and beyond historical ideals to create the most effective and efficient business environment, which subsequently creates a successful, efficient and productive business.

Although Richard Branson and Robert Maxwell (before his death in 1991) appeared to possess and portray extremely different management styles and techniques, their start in life and progression into the business world was quite similar. Neither would be considered to have taken a conventional route into management. Maxwell claimed to be self-educated, he moved into a life of publishing after the war. His move was to Berlin, to start publishing scientific journals and the place in which he founded ‘Permagon Press’ the first branch of the Maxwell Empire, in 1940. Before becoming the owner of Mirror Group Newspapers, the organisation for which he was better known.

Richard Branson was a dyslexic child who was frustrated and confused by an education system, which was not sympathetic enough or responsive to his condition. Branson believed that school was not sufficiently challenging to him and left school at the age of fifteen. Both Branson and Maxwell entered the corporate world with no practical experience of being managers but their introductions to this world were relatively unproblematic building success upon success. Neither are qualified managers, despite their notable success.

A new initiative set up in the UK (Management Charter Initiative) set about providing widely accepted qualifications confirming a persons competency as a manager, an attempt to combat the increased competency and success of overseas managers compared to British managers. The Virgin Brand was created in 1969 with the opening of a mail order music shop in Oxford St, which offered consumers the latest in musical entertainment at lower cost than competitors. 1972 saw Branson plough into the recording business, signing talent such as Mike Oldfield and later The Sex Pistols and Janet Jackson. It was with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ record that Branson made his first million.

In his autobiography ‘Losing My Virginity’ (2001), Branson states ‘Success is not a formula, and it doesn’t just happen’. This comment was in response to commentators suggesting that if certain techniques are followed then success will result, of course this could not be further than the truth. He also stated that “To be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running, and if you have a good team around you and more than a fair share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it just by following someone else’s formula.” These points illustrate clearly that management is not as simple as following guidelines, techniques and formulae, being successful is down to creating your own luck, being in the right place at the right time and working and working to make things happen for your business.

Observing from Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s ‘leadership continuum’, the management credentials of Branson and Maxwell can be clearly defined. The continuum ranges from the autocratic to the democratic, and respectively the two styles reflect a ‘boss centred’ and sub-ordinate centred leadership style. The aftermath of Maxwell’s death found him to be an autocratic boss, who was in charge of everything. However, Richard Branson’s extensive media coverage has identified him as a democratic leader who shows a willingness to delegate authority, a true democrat according to Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s theory.

Many different interest groups have long debated what makes Branson and Maxwell excellent managers, with some suggesting the two were ‘born’ managers while others suggest that these managers possess characteristics that command loyalty, can motivate and ‘mould’ employees into a collective way of thinking, ultimately benefit an organisation. Branson and Maxwell are no different, they too can make their employees listen and do as they are asked. The important element to understand here however, is that Branson and Maxwell use enormously diverse approaches to meet their objectives.

Robert Maxwell, a once confident, charismatic leader could have without doubt been described in Mintzberg’s (1973) leadership style theory as an ‘interpersonal’ manager, he acts only as a figurehead of the companies he owns, does very little to eradicate conflict in the workplace and did not compromise or negotiate with employees involving matters of pay or conditions. Maxwell simply disregarded any employee requests and conducted business and behaviour the way he saw fit, he saw himself as a sole decision maker and project co-ordinator, answering to nobody. His approach to business and dealing with his employees was an autocratic one, as Maxwell effectively demonstrated minimal interest in the requests of his employees and managers, simply doing, as he believed best. Maxwell demanded respect, obedience and power all of which he refused to delegate to others.

The senior management style adopted by Richard Branson is one of ‘Management by walking about (MBWA)’; this is an extension of ‘human relations’ theory and provides the model way to increase productivity and success is to express interest on the shop floor, make oneself visible for informal visits and also to invite complaint and ideas, this seems to cut through the complex management structures and communication prospers.

Richard Branson holds a relationship to Mintzberg’s (1973) theory of management styles but is less clear-cut. Branson could be described as possessing interpersonal, informational and decisional qualities. The Virgin founder is an open, honest manager who makes himself publicly visible as a figurehead and leader (interpersonal), but also delegate’s responsibility and workload. Branson leads by example; as he is aware of his limitations as a manager, therefore employ individuals whose skills can compensate for the skills and experience he lacks. In doing so, the business attains highly qualified experts who can bring new ideas and expertise into the company, maintaining the highest quality service and production.

Branson is also an ‘informational’ leader has he can successfully monitor the present business environment and make relevant changes to meet the requirements of existing and fledgling markets, in doing so Virgin and Richard Branson can stay one step ahead of its competitors. Fiedler’s ‘contingency theory’ stated that that you can’t change your style, but time and time again it is evident that Virgin move from strength to strength, penetrating markets and can (contrary to Fiedler’s belief) modify or change within an ‘alien’ situation and make the best of that situation.