Leadership Requires the Fine Art of Listening.
By John Hendrie
Saturday, 25th October 2014

No matter what you think of Sir Richard Branson’s style, you must salute his entrepreneurial skills and leadership;

The Virgin Group has touched its' toes into many ventures, and most have been wildly successful.

Many of us have worked for men and women who are so bright and driven, yet are relentless for results and dismissive of the process.  They do not focus upon the praise and empowerment of their subordinates; rather, they belittle performance by constantly addressing the shortcomings.  What remains is a demoralized staff, rather than the best efforts flourishing.

On the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe” on September 10, 2014, Branson appeared to promote a recent book and to talk about what he has leaned and applied as the head of the Virgin Group.  Firstly, he is an active listener. 

That skill includes hearing, as well.  He interacts with his customers all the time, asking questions and noting those responses in a notebook.  He goes beyond the usual focus group and survey feedback mechanisms.  His listening is “…out there, living and breathing!”

He also spent some time talking about a company’s culture, which is stronger than any strategy devised.  He emphasized creating a fun environment, hiring and developing people with passion, always looking for the best in his employees. 

He also shared that attention to detail makes for the exceptional customer experience and gave two examples of new ventures which will further advance the Virgin brand " cruise ships and a hotel in Chicago. You just know these will be very special.  He has created a culture where all employees are brand ambassadors, proud of the banner, and protective of the message.

Will we in management do anything differently after learning from Branson some of the key leadership elements of his company?  Probably not.  Enculturation starts with us, and the journey to a new or even enhanced culture is a real slog. 

However, in Hospitality, we have recently learned that our customers and guests seek something different, something authentic and real, something memorable.  Just look at the impact of AirBnB, special programs at various hotel properties - new looks, feels and touches. 

Maybe, just maybe, our employees could be incentivized, too, with a distinct change in our behaviors and approaches to business.  Take a chance!

John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog, focusing on anything and everything about customer experience. LRA Worldwide is the leading global provider of Customer Experience Measurement services for multinational companies with complex customer interactions. For over 30 years, LRA’s innovative brand standards audits, quality assurance inspections, mystery shopping programs, research, and consulting services have helped ensure our clients deliver consistent, memorable, and differentiated experiences to their customers. Many of the world's preeminent global hospitality brands, as well as companies in the gaming, dining, healthcare, sports and entertainment, real estate, retail and travel industries choose LRA to help them measure and improve the customer experience. For more information, visit www.LRAWorldwide.com

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