Paul Tizzard December 2 2020

Great, tell me some more...

Paul Tizzard writes about the valuable lesson he learnt from Richard Branson about empowering your teams to become a better leader.

In October 1996, whilst employed as a Virgin customer service trainer, I phoned the management offices and asked to be put through to Richard Branson. I had an idea.

Possible replies:

  • Run it through the chain of command
  • Put it in the suggestion box
  • We have done this before and it won't work
  • Who the hell are you?!
  • I haven't got time
  • Great, tell me some more...

Which would you do?

Richard Branson said, 'Great, tell me some more...' 6 minutes later, I was told to email Steve (CEO). I did. His options:

  • Run it through the chain of command
  • Put it in the suggestion box... (you get the idea)

He said, ‘send me a one pager, no more, with a few bullet points.’

Imposter syndrome put to one side, he met me and listened to my ill formed but, well intentioned ideas. Long story short, 6 months later, the Virgin Atlantic Flying Without Fear programme was born. Since that date, it has helped over 30,000 people to beat their fear of flying. Think about that for an airline. 30,000 people now flying with their families and more than once, every year. They will experience a feeling of transference to the people that helped them = loyalty.

This story is not about me or even those amazing fearless flyers. It is about leaders. Maybe it is about you.

Everyone wants agile, empowered teams that operate for the good of the business. Empowered teams are made up of empowered individuals which are created by empowering leaders. Is that you?

Great ideas for improvement tend to come from front line hoovers - those people closest to the customer. They hear the customer pain points. Great ideas for improvement rarely come from an offsite meeting with top brass! To be brutally honest, you are too far away from what is really going on now. Fair enough, you have bigger fish to fry.

I believe that your organisation is stuffed full of ideas people are just sitting on. At some point, normally when new, people are inspired to make a difference and share their ideas. Then, you dare to share. But, you haven't earned your stripes so, no-one pays much attention. By the time you are deemed worthy to be listened to, you have forgotten what you noticed. Now, you are part of the problem.

However, if Richard Branson can make himself available to an uncertain, junior member of staff like me, why can't you? I often think about other companies I have come across and how unapproachable senior people can be. The rhetoric of 'agile teams, empowered individuals etc. etc.' counts for nowt...unless, you loosen the reins, lend an ear and take a risk on the ideas that might scare the hell out of you.

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