How to successfully delegate like Richard Branson

Despite the fact business leaders need to be good communicators, able to inspire their team, have lots of confidence and a positive outlook on difficult situations, they must also possess the ability to delegate. This particular skill is absolutely crucial when it comes to running an efficient organisation, as even the most adept and experienced individuals cannot complete every necessary obligation or duty.

How do you give responsibility to another member of your team? How can you ensure they are capable enough to complete the task in hand and fully understand what is required? And how can you support as well as encourage those who have been delegated responsibility?

To answer these questions, we are using Sir Richard Branson as inspiration. This world-renowned businessman and investor definitely knows a thing or two about delegation, as Virgin Group consists of more than 400 companies around the globe.

Empowering employees

Even though Branson’s vision has meant Virgin is now an internationally recognised brand, he is the first to admit that this was only possible by handing over responsibility of daily operations to somebody else. In fact, he believes taking a step back, allowing another employee to take control and thus gaining a broader perspective of the business is the advice other entrepreneurs thank him for the most.

“Early on in your career, find someone better than yourself to run the business on a day-to-day basis,” says Branson. “Remove yourself, maybe even from the building, and from the nitty-gritty. That way, you’re going to be able to see the bigger picture and think of new areas to go into.”

But how can you convince a colleague to take on this kind of critical responsibility? For Branson, it is all about employee empowerment. “If you can give somebody a good title, they’ll be happy to deal with it and (run the business)… and give you the time to spend doing the things that really, really matter,” he notes.

Branson also believes that handing over everyday tasks is a far more effective and much easier way of managing a business. “In some ways it’s easier today for me to oversee a few hundred companies than it was when I was hands-on running the business myself,” he reveals. “Learning the art of delegation is absolutely key.”

Understanding your own weaknesses

In addition to certain personality traits, successful entrepreneurs will also possess a great deal of business acumen and commercial skills. However, prosperous tycoons are not perfect and understanding your own weaknesses is yet another significant aspect of delegation for Branson.

When asked what is the secret to success, Branson cites people like Jack Clayden, his first accountant. Members of staff that have specific and specialised skills need to be delegated work and trusted to deal with issues you may not be overly familiar or confident about. However, these individuals also need to share your outlook on where the business is heading and what you hope to achieve.

“When my friends and I started up Virgin, I knew that I was lacking vital knowledge on some subjects, and so I started learning this skill [delegating] very early on in my career,” says Branson.

“I was never any good with numbers. Rather than act as our business’s accountant and do the job badly, I found Jack, who shared my vision for the business and wanted to get involved, but who also understood the difference between net and gross!”

As for finding the right people to delegate to, Branson believes in employees with the ability to push things forward rather than passively accepting orders. “Look for people who understand your passion, want to add to your ideas and can envision ways to make improvements,” he cites.

“Keep in mind that you do not want yes-men or clones: you want people on board who have strong views on how to scale up the business over the long term, along with the skills and presence of mind to push the company forward in the short term and the ability to manage crucial day-to-day tasks.”

Remember your role as leader

While removing yourself from the front line and delegating to others can provide you with a more comprehensive overview of how the business is performing, this doesn’t mean to say your own responsibilities as a leader diminish.

For Branson, delegation is also about stimulating staff and lifting the spirits of those with heavy burdens. Along with hiring great people, businesses leaders must “find ways to keep them on your team for the long term” too.

“Encourage them to pursue their ideas and give them the tools that they need to succeed: promotions, assistance, or perhaps a new company! If you get this right, you will also have more time to look after body, mind, family, friends and children. Basically, you’ll have the time to have a blast.”

As you can see, Branson thinks that delegation is not limited to business objectives and financial targets, it also concerns individual well-being, as trying to juggle the multitude of tasks an organisation faces can be both time-consuming and stress-inducing.

Striking the right balance

Despite founding a company that employs more than 50,000 people around the world, operates in over 50 countries and recorded global branded revenues of £15bn in 2012, Sir Richard Branson admits even he isn’t the finished article.

“Five decades after Virgin’s launch, I’m still learning. In fact, when I get really enthusiastic about one of our new products or companies, our Virgin CEOs probably wish I was a little less hands-on sometimes!”

In response to this, he believes another pivotal aspect of delegation is striking the right balance between ownership and empowerment.

Branson explains: “While you absolutely must delegate, if you become too disconnected from your business, it can quickly spiral in a direction you never wanted. But if you hire incredible people to lead your companies, your departments and your teams, you can have the best of both worlds.”

Branson quotes about delegation

“As much as you need a strong personality to build a business from scratch, you also must understand the art of delegation. I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.”

“If you delegate, you’ve got to be very careful not to second guess people. You’ve got to accept…let them make mistakes without jumping down on top of them all the time.”

“I learned to delegate early on and I think that for people in this room who are building businesses I think quite early on it’s worthwhile in trying to find somebody better than themselves to do the day-to-day running of their business so they think about the big picture.”

Richard Branson image credit: D@LY3D via Flickr

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