When he was in school, many of Virgin chairman Richard Branson’s teachers considered him stupid and lazy.
His mind was quite active, but he had a difficult time focusing, which in retrospect he attributes to not having his dyslexia accommodated, he told the Washington Post in 2012.
But as he grew older and began building his empire of businesses, he learned about the mechanics of his learning disability and adapted his management style to it. This actually made him a better manager, he wrote in his 2012 book “Like a Virgin,” and it became what he considers his “greatest strength.”
Dyslexia is a cognitive rather than intellectual condition that causes difficulties with reading comprehension. Scientists estimate that dyslexia affects anywhere from 3% to 10% of the global population, but as Malcolm Gladwell points out in “David and Goliath,” a seemingly larger percentage of powerful businesspeople were born dyslexic and partially credit overcoming its challenges to their success.
Branson recently told Bloomberg West’s Cory Johnson that his dyslexia has helped him keep communication efficient, and showed him the importance of delegation. Branson explained:
I need things to be simple for myself. Therefore Virgin, I think, when we launch a financial service company or a bank, we do not use jargon. Everything is very clear-cut, very simple. I think people have an affinity to the Virgin brand because we don’t talk above them or talk down to them…
If you have a learning disability, you become a very good delegator. Because you know what your weaknesses are and you know what your strengths are, and you make sure that you find great people to step in and deal with your weaknesses.
And actually, whether you are dyslexic or not, I think delegation is such an important thing for a good leader to be good at doing. Too many leaders want to cling onto everything themselves and do everything themselves and never let go. Therefore, they never grow a group of companies like Virgin.
He credits dyslexia with another of his signature management techniques: the habit of always taking notes. He writes in his 2014 book “The Virgin Way” that he learned as a child that if he ever had a chance at remembering anything, he’d need to jot it down. To this day, he says he carries a notebook everywhere.
The handwritten note habit has come in handy in management, negotiation, and even legal situations — he’s submitted his notebooks as evidence in lawsuits, he says.
It’s one of the “most powerful tools” in his “bag of business tricks,” Branson writes.