Sir Richard Branson is the Gladiator: Leadership lessons from the Virgin Unity launch!

Pic Source: CNET

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was the first sci-fi movie I watched in a theatre. As a young kid, I got enamored by its spectacular special effects, the spacecrafts, the Jedi, and the force. Since then, sci-fi movies have had a special place in my heart. I felt a similar excitement while watching the live telecast of the Virgin Galactic’s successful flight to space and back. The icing on the cake was that the spacecraft also carried Sir Richard Branson and an astronaut of Indian origin, Sirisha Bandla. The shining V.S.S. Unity blazing towards space is an image that I will not forget easily!

While we have all enjoyed the spectacle, here are a few leadership lessons that I derived from its success, which I have explained below by referencing some of my favourite movies

  1. The new role for the C.E.O is to behave like a Gladiator: In the movie, Gladiator, the soldiers were loyal to Maximus as he would always lead from the front and take care of his men. He could replicate the same magic with the other gladiators as they trusted him.
    By taking a ride in his rocket, Sir Richard Branson has also exhibited exceptional leadership. By leading from the front, he has laid to rest any doubts about the safety of his spaceship. Flashback: In 2014, the spaceship had crash-landed. For the last decade, the CEOs’ role has been transforming. The CEOs used to be primarily responsible for the commercial success of the company. However, now, they are also expected to be the public face of the organization. The increasing demands from corporate leaders are making it difficult for them. We will need to monitor how this gladiator role evolves in the future.
  2. Be like Matilda: The following quote from Matilda aptly summarises what Sir Richard has achieved. “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.”
    Everyone knows that Sir Richard is flamboyant. But the more important quality that I admire is his being outrageous and a big dreamer. He had competition from the poster boys (men) of technology, Jeff Bezos (whose net worth is more than 36 times that of Sir Richard), and Elon Musk, another maverick billionaire who has proved his mettle. Yet, Sir Richard decided to take them head-on and has beaten them to the finish line of the first round of the race.
  3. Learn from Rocky, the Italian southpaw who became the champion against all odds:If there is one lesson I have to derive from the Rocky franchise, it will be that of perseverance. From being a muscle man working for a local thug to winning the title of the ‘champion of the world’ several times, the story of every Rocky film showcases the merits of hard work, discipline, and persevering through the odds. It is about having the stamina to take beatings (failures) and getting back on your feet like a teeter toy (eventual success). The success of Virgin Galactic has come after years of hard work and facing failures.
  4. To create a market for your service, be clear like Harvey Spector from Suits about what drives people: I will make an exception here and talk about a TV series, rather than a film. In Suits, Harvey Spector can wriggle out from seemingly impossible situations as he knows what drives his opponents. He has a good sense of the triggers that drive people.
    There are 600 people in the queue to take the flight to space onboard the Virgin Galactic spacecraft. They were able to get these bookings even before the success of the test flights. Each one of them will pay USD 250,000 for a one-hour ride to space and back. This is a lot of money – one can buy a three-bedroom apartment in Gurgaon (National Capital Region, India) for that kind of money. It was difficult to imagine that such a huge market existed for such an exorbitant joyride! But, Sir Richard and a few others have that vision. That is what makes them great leaders, as they can see beyond the curve.
  5. Coach Carter does not need convincing, but his students do: I am a fan of Samuel Jackson. He is in the habit of converting regular roles into memorable ones. In this film, he has used body language, eye contact, and spoken words to constantly convey one expression. It’s the expression of conviction. Not only is he clear about what he expects from his coachees, but his actions also make it clear that he is not going to back down. He was able to pass on his conviction to his coachees.

To be convinced that you are right and to be able to pass on that conviction to your followers is extremely important for a leader. Unless the vision is shared by the team members, no endeavour of the scale that Virgin Galactic has undertaken can be successful.

Those were the five leadership lessons I have derived from Virgin Galactic’s space flight. In addition to the leadership lessons, you now also have a list of movies to watch over the weekend. Enjoy!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Pradeep Wadhwa
Co-founder & Principal at Kritical Edge Consulting
Pradeep is a seasoned communications professional, having witnessed both the client side as well as the consultancy side of life (in equal measures) for close to two decades.

Fortunate to be part of building and protecting reputation of leading organisations and brands across a variety of industry verticals, he has recently founded his unique C-Suite Consulting firm, Kritical Edge.

Previously he has worked in leadership roles with ReNew Power and PepsiCo India among other roles.

1 Comment on "Sir Richard Branson is the Gladiator: Leadership lessons from the Virgin Unity launch!"

  1. Amazing comparison. Enjoyed reading. I have not yet seen the footage of his flight. Wil do now.

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