Recently in New Zealand “The Rebel Billionaire” – the Richard Branson “Apprentice” style show – has been broadcast. I have been glued to my TV screen each week, anticipating what crazy twist will be revealed. And while I won’t deny that it has all the hallmarks of entertaining reality TV – there were some interesting points that came to my attention. Now I won’t spoil anything for those of you who haven’t yet seen it …but I have to say, it leads nicely into my topic of discussion: Management, leadership and the powers that be!
Branson is super cool. I sat there watching the show thinking – that is who I want to work for. Not necessarily the man himself – but someone who possess similar qualities. Branson puts a lot of stock in dare devil stunts physically moving you out of your comfort zone – and I have to admit … I’ve never been one for bungee jumping. But he also puts a lot of emphasis on how you treat people. Whether the person be a colleague, a boss, a client – or even the person who serves you coffee – you should treat everyone with the same respect and courtesy. Bravo! Integrity, honesty, challenge, creativity and family/community all came across as key ingredients in the show. The thing is, what impressed me the most was that Branson didn’t just talk the talk – he walked it. What ever he expected of the contestants, he was willing to do himself. And most often he did. And by the end of the series you saw the kinds of relationships he had formed with the contestants … and I thought to myself that if only all management could follow suit. What kind of a work place would we have? It would be a revolution.
I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more Branson style leaders? I’ve come across one or two – but they appear to be a rare breed. It seems to me, that one of the biggest hurdles in the path to Rebellious Revolutionary Leadership is that dirty little secret: Office Politics. It’s really such a widely encompassing description of all those uncomfortable problems that rise to the surface of corporate life and threaten to disrupt a harmonious and productive environment. There are those sticky situations where people just don’t get on. Personal priorities and agendas conflict. Sometimes too much power is not a good thing, and it gets abused. We’ve all heard of the classic expression “empire building” in reference to someone who’s trying to gather or amass power and control. It happens every day … and so many of us are affected by it.
Another observation I made while watching Rebel Billionaire was transparency. Branson was quite clear on what the Virgin brand is and is not. The values of the company are intrinsically tied into the brand and his behaviour reflects that. He is the brand. If we think about office politics as conflicts that stem from differences (is it really any more complicated that that?) then maybe we can make some headway in dealing with it more effectively. I think it’s really important that management teams start to talk openly about this, and recognise what the true impacts to the organisation are. If a company can define it’s corporate values then the behaviour of individuals within that organisation should always reflect those values. And when that isn’t the case, there needs to be repercussions. Because otherwise you lose your credibility. You see, when your management team don’t live, breathe, eat and sleep those values – its just becomes lip service. Not that I expect that will eradicate office politics completely, but – imagine what would it be like to encourage everyone to be the brand?
A colleague recently sent the following joke around our office. Its an oldie but still familiar as he put it. While I hope you have laugh and appreciate the humour … I also hope that you recognise the office politics that really underlies the situation as a serious threat in business. Personally, I like the idea of implementing a zero tolerance policy towards office politics! I think that is one step towards Rebellious Revolutionary Leadership!
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, butI don’t know where I am.”
The woman below replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”
“You must be in Information Technology,” said the balloonist.
“I am,” replied the woman, “How did you know?”
“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I’ve no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”
The woman below responded, “You must be in Management.”
“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”
“Well,” said the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going.You have risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

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