With Leaders Like Branson, No Need for Crisis Managers

Sir Richard Branson at Mojave, CA

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson at a press conference in Mojave, California Nov. 1, salutes the bravery of test pilots. Image: Associated Press.

Sir Richard Branson doesn’t need to prove anything. Yet events have conspired that would test the constitution of even the most fearless of entrepreneurs. So why is it that what could be perceived as failure is looking a lot like courage and integrity in action?

Not all of us aspire to lead billion-dollar companies. But the lessons inherent in Branson’s initial response to the recent Virgin Galactic tragedy are as useful to world leaders as they are to personal coaches. Following are a few.

Be human. Thus far, Branson has handled the tragic event as a leader imbued with humanity and compassion. First, he promptly acknowledged the shock and sadness of the loss and its impact on the families and friends of those affected – -as well as the impact on the dedicated, hard-working individuals who are working to make commercial space travel possible. His foremost concern was for others.

“Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.” -@richardbranson, Oct. 31

Remember Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol crisis in 1982? CEO James Burke reached out to national news organizations to put a human face on the crisis, and responded with empathy — while outlining steps that were taken to protect public safety. In doing so, J & J was able to reestablish the Tylenol brand name as one of the must trusted over-the-counter consumer products.

Be present. Like a concerned parent, Branson went to the scene as quickly as possible to provide support to those involved. He demonstrated accountability by keeping the public informed of the facts surrounding the event. He has in no way attempted to assign blame, and affirmed his willingness to cooperate with authorities such as the US National Transportation Safety Board.

If Branson hadn’t already immersed himself in the trenches of his businesses, this would not have been nearly as effective as it was. Branson has become an omnipresent force on social media through profiles for Virgin companies as well as his own profiles, which collectively illustrate his involvement in Virgin businesses. So, when he rushes to the scene of a tragic accident, he is perceived as someone who wants to be integrally involved – not as a CEO rushing to contain damage. Moreover, his presence on social media allowed his fans and followers to express their support.

Richard Branson at Dallas Love Field. Credit: Virgin America

RIchard Branson at Dallas Love Field. Credit: Virgin America

 

Ask for help. Great leaders know when and how to ask for help. They understand that doing so is a sign of strength, rather than weakness. Remember how Chilean President Sebastian Pinera asked the US and other nations for support to rescue 33 miners who had been trapped nearly one-half mile underground, three miles from the San José copper–gold mine’s entrance? A potential tragedy grew into a triumph of the human spirit.

In this case, NASA promptly issued a supportive statement, noting the impact of the loss on “the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.”

By the morning following the event, there was a post on Branson’s blog about the status of the situation, what has been done, and what will be done – in his own words. In response, the blog post was flooded with supportive comments — offering condolences to the team at Virgin Galactic and hope for the future of space travel, so that this loss will not be in vain.

Unite others. True leaders are able to bring people together in support of a common cause. Branson’s heartfelt response – through his words and actions – has tapped into a fundamental human emotion – hope. And hope that perseveres through crisis and calamity, ever pushing the limits of what is seen as possible, is the kind of hope we can all aspire to.

With leaders like this, who needs crisis managers?

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