The traits of a purposeful leader

Virgin Media logo in the new Reading office entrance
Image from Virgin Media
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 15 June 2021

At Virgin we believe that all businesses – regardless of size or sector – should be led by purpose. This is why I’m so proud to see how Virgin Media is living up to its purpose of ‘building connections that really matter’. I spoke to Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Office of Virgin Media, as part of my Purposeful Leadership interview series and I was really inspired by what he had to say.

We talked about everything from accountability and authenticity; to making your purpose practical and evolutionary; to building a culture of belonging; balancing your personal purpose with a business purpose; involving your people; having brave conversations to create positive change; and so much more. 

Holly Branson in conversation with Jeff Dodds from Virgin Media

Jeff brought so much energy to the discussion. Every time I speak to leaders who are genuinely driven by purpose, I am always blown away by their passion and commitment to making every business decision through a purpose lens. It's this drive and focus that helps businesses reach such ambitious purpose and sustainability targets, and turn talk into action. As Jeff put it:

“When you start talking about being purposeful, people assume it’s at the expense of being performance-driven. This, for me, is an ‘and’ not an ‘or’.”

When you look at the impact the company has made over the last five years, and it's current Meaningful Connections Plan, the proof is in the pudding.

Virgin Media's Meaningful Connections Plan
Virgin Media

This solutions-focused, action-driven approach to business is ingrained in Jeff’s character, and is a wonderful trait in a leader. In his own words:

“My dad used to say to me: ‘I can’t hear what you’re saying, because your actions are deafening me,’ and I really believe that.” 

I just loved this... well said Jeff’s Dad! Speaking of character traits, Jeff also listed these six qualities as being particuarly important in becoming a purpose-driven leader:

  • being driven

  • keeping a focus on performance

  • being empathetic

  • being inclusive

  • making sure you listen

  • trusting others 

I was also particularly interested by Jeff's ‘cultural triangle’ theory. As he stated: “Leaders make choices, and choices determine culture.” It’s this understanding that your purpose and your values need to be embedded from the very top, that makes the Virgin Media O2 leadership team so effective. At Virgin, we often take a different approach to the traditional business norms and, as Jeff and I discussed, the triangle is often inverted to make sure culture is co-created by the people. This ensures that everyone has a say in driving change and in making business decisions.

Holly Branson on Virgin Media's panel discussion about creating a sense of belonging at work
Kami White

Jeff understands purposeful leadership better than almost anyone I’ve met, so I hope you find our discussion insightful. To close, I’d like to share Jeff’s personal purpose statement, which really says it all:

“My purpose is to realise my own potential, by helping others to realise theirs.” 

You can learn more about Virgin Media O2’s Meaningful Connection Plan here.