Case Study: Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair

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Leadership & Organisations
6BUS1001 – 0901

Semester A (2012-13)

Case Study: ‘Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair’

Using relevant leadership, management and motivation theory, compare and contrast the leadership styles of Richard Branson and Michael O’Leary. Critically discuss the state of affairs in the two organisations that are created or impacted by their leadership styles and behavior.

Word Count: 1700

Your Name and Student number: Nathaniel Bryan 09199612

Date of submission: 3/11/2012

1 Introduction

Leadership and management style have proven to be important factors in the effectiveness and development of an organization. (Blake, 1991) argues that leadership and management style influences levels of motivation, performance and commitment within a business. This essay using Richard Branson and Michael O’Leary as case study examples, aims to discuss how the state of affairs within an organization can be attributed to different leadership styles and behavior.

There are many definitions of leadership (Smith et al, 2012.) There is however some ambiguity among definitions of leadership as researchers have drawn focuses from a perspective that most interests them. As a result, categorizing an individual within leadership theory can distort the view of what makes a ‘perfect’ leader in a broad sense because of the narrow approach to leadership style within studies.

2 Richard Branson Leadership style

2.1 Contingency and situational Leadership

Richard Branson is a figure head for virgin as a brand, (Avolio, 2010) defines charismatic leaders as “Those who could energize followers through their use of symbols, images, stories, and rhetoric to perform at extraordinary levels.” He is highly charismatic and willing to take risks to push boundaries, frequently uses himself, in media communications to promote his brand. Richard Branson possesses good leader- member relation qualities, encouraging employees to give feedback and contribute ideas regularly. He generally makes first hand decisions and is heavily involved within his organizations. These characteristics are consistent with (Fielder, 1964, 1967) contingency theory grouping him in a high style leader category who is task motivated but also relationship orientated.

(Hersey and Blanchard, 1972) theory states that effective leaders will vary their style of leadership at the readiness. Branson is a high-risk taker for example he adapted to a changing market and sold 49% of Virgin Atlantic to Singapore airlines in 2008. In 2010 he also switched from jet fuel to bio fuel (Virgin Atlantic, 2012). He has proven to be able to use his position to seek viable business opportunities whilst simultaneously empowering his workforce with responsibility, upon success. This element of trust maintains good leader member relations but also adopts a supportive behavioral leadership style approach (Burns, 2003)


(Turner, 2006) further explained that most contingency theories tend to follow the same

Logical sequence namely:
Assess the characteristics of the leader
Evaluate the situation in terms of key contingency variables •Seek a match between the leader and the situation

2.2 Transformational leadership

(Yukl, 1989,) states that “Transformational leadership is the process of influencing major changes and attitudes of an organizations objective” Branson is extremely good at turning vision into reality, building on the strength of others. One of Virgin Atlantic mission is “To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly and where people love to work’’ (Virgin Atlantic, 2012.) Through empowerment, self-awareness and proactive evolvement of staff and people, Branson has secured a loyal work employee base making him an exceptional transformational leader.

3 Michael O’Leary...
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