Richard Branson’s Guide To True Leadership For CIOs

Richard Branson has become successful by being a great leader
Richard Branson has become successful by being a great leader
Image Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões

When it comes to management, things are actually pretty easy. You have people who work for you, they need to do what you tell them to do or you’ll fire them. End of story. However, then there is that pesky leadership thing. I view management as being something that your staff does while you are in the room to improve the importance of information technology and then they may kick back and stop doing once you leave. However, I see leadership as being something that people do because they want to and even after you leave the room a well lead group of people will keep working. Sir Richard Branson with all of his Virgin companies has learned how to do leadership well. What can he teach us?

It’s All About The Ears

One of the first things that Sir Richard Branson likes to point out when he’s talking to CIOs about leadership is all too often we tend to think of leadership as consisting of us telling our staff what to do. This can include such things as telling people what we think about an issue or handing out directions. The problem with viewing things this way is that our most valuable employees really don’t want us telling them what to do, they simply want to be heard.

Richard Branson believes that in order to be a good leader we need to be a good listener. As the CIO you need to take the time to listen to your people who spend their time on the front line. If you can get good at this listening thing, then you are going to be able to learn from the market, from the people that you work with, and from any failures that happen along the way.

Failure Is Your Friend

I can only speak for myself, but I hate to fail. However, as a CIO you always have to be trying to innovate and grow. What this means is that every time you try something new there is the very real possibility that you may end up failing. As a CIO, you need to become comfortable with the idea of failing.

As the CIO you need to learn how to not be embarrassed by any mistakes that either you or your team makes. You have to be willing to give new things a try. Every time that you fail, you need to take the time to learn from it and then pick yourself and your team up and go out there and try, try again. CIOs need to understand that making mistakes and experiencing setbacks are the hallmark of any successful IT department.

It Turns Out That Employees Are More Important Then Customers

Careful – it’s a bit of a trick question. What’s more important to a CIO: customers or employees? The gut answer is often customers, what could be more important? However it turns out that the right answer is employees. Why pick your employees over your customers? Sir Richard Branson explains it this way “If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of your shareholders.”

As the person with the CIO job, you want to have an employee-first mindset. The more engaged you can make your staff, the more loyal they will become and the better their work will turn out to be. All of this comes together with the IT department being able to deliver a better overall customer experience. In the end, happy employees result in happy customers.

What All Of This Means For You

Anyone can be a manager – that’s just telling people what to do. It is a lot harder to be a leader – that’s convincing people to do what you want them to do. The person in the CIO position needs to learn how to become an effective leader. It turns out that Sir Richard Branson is a very successful leader and he’s willing to share with us his secrets for how we can become better leaders.

The first thing that Richard Branson wants us to know is that being a leader is not about telling our employees what to do. Instead, it’s about taking the time to listen to them. You need to listen to the people who are interacting with customers so that you can learn what they want. Next you are going to have to find a way to make failure your friend. It’s not going to be easy, but if you want to grow and expand your IT department, then you are going to have to get used to failing occasionally. Finally, Richard says that we need to put our employees above everyone else, including customers. The thinking is that if you have happy employees, then you’ll have happy customers.

Richard Branson has been very, very successful. It’s important to note that he has also failed at a lot of different things that he has tried to do. However, he’s never let these failures get him down for long. He always picks himself back up and tries something else new. It’s this kind of ability to lead a team that we as CIOs need to learn from. If we try hard enough, we can be just like Sir Richard Branson.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there is a wrong way to go about failing?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As everyone in the CIO position knows, keeping the company’s systems and applications secure is a top priority and has a lot to do with the importance of information technology. However, just exactly how to go about doing this has always been a bit of a mystery. One of the most powerful techniques that is currently being used is something called “two factor authentication”. What is this security technique and how many different flavors of it exist?