How Background Shapes Personality Psychology Essay

The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the personality of Sir Richard Branson while applying the roles of social perception and attribution theory. The various approaches to the study of human behaviour in organisational contexts have been examined along with the case study of Sir Richard Branson who is an iconic personality in the business world today. He owns ‘Virgin’ which is the top leading group of companies in the world and added to this is the personality of Branson which has several facades of a successful entrepreneur, a good leader, an adventurer, a family man and a great role model. His personality and his entrepreneurial skills have been guided by his background and his experience in the past. Branson is an unconventional businessman with extra ordinary capability to connect with the people which supported him throughout his life.

The main objective of this case study is to understand how an individual’s background helps in framing the ‘Personality’ and the various aspects have been discussed comprehensively. Branson’s personality is an amalgamation of various levels of the Big Five Personality Trait forming the basis of our study. He is a high level of ‘extravert, emotionally stable, conscientious and open to experiences’ whereas he sports a medium degree of agreeableness.

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It is also inspected that how ‘Social Perceptions’ are responsible for framing out the personality and the how barriers confine their subjective importance in an organisation. The author is very impressed with Branson’s accomplishments and has framed a very positive picture about him. It is evident in the study that barriers to perception have affected the writer in some terms viz. selective perception and first impression errors. Stereotype, projection and self-fulfilling prophecies have not influenced the writer much. Since the study is based on limited sources only selective information has been filtered and his personality is formed on that selective knowledge. The author is immensely stunned by his persona and his charisma so there are chances that this could be a first-impression error. Briefly, if a manager is aware of the social perceptions and the barriers in an organisation, it makes the formulation of personality easier and reduces the chances of errors.

The attribution theory is also well explained with the example of Branson and his background. As per the case study his childhood experiences have nurtured his personality and are exceedingly responsible for his success and his out of the world personality. Attribution theory provides a great source of information in an organisation to the managers to understand the reason of an employee’s productivity and should be highly accentuated. The study concludes that the assessment of an individual’s personality, the perceptions of the perceiver and the implementation of the attributions are inevitable for the growth and development of an organisation.

“Every individual in an organization is motivated by something different”- Rick Pitino

We all are different creatures with difference in the way we think, we act and the way we react to different situation in many stages of life. These differences make us very unique in their own way. They influence our thinking, our work, our personal life and our spiritual side as well. These are various characteristics which affect a human behaviour which in turn is affected by the environment in which it lives. These differences could be because of the culture, race, religion, environment, background, family upbringing, personal experiences or physical challenges faced in a person’s life. These characteristics of a person form its ‘Personality’ which is unique and is not similar in any way with the rest of the humans in the society. (King, 2010)

“Personality is a dynamic organisation, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create a person’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts, and feelings” (Carver & Scheier, 2000). Personality is a constituent of the distinguishing outline of opinion, feelings and behaviours which are responsible for being a unique human being. This term personality is generally referred to the exterior of a person and is very narrowly used. Personality originates from the inside of a person and remains more or less the same as long as the life continues.

There are numerous people who take birth, live and die and there are others who live life in such a way to make a difference in the lives of millions. Such is the personality of Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Empire who is also responsible for moulding the world of airlines and travel industry after being successful in the entertainment. Apart from these, his ventures include finance, money, health, social environment and retail industries. He said once, “I don’t go into ventures to make a fortune. I do it because I’m not satisfied with the way others are doing business”. This clearly defines his aim of being in the business. He started Virgin Atlantic airways because he was not happy with how the airlines served in those days and thought he could make it better. In 1984, when he started Virgin Airways, he was hugely discouraged by others as British Airways was a humungous threat and was well established to compete with. There were many examples of companies who tried and failed in airlines business because of the competition. But Virgin Airlines was there to make a difference in terms of giving better services to its customers and revolutionising the industry which demanded ‘Change’. The urge to change was Branson’s agenda and he proved himself soon by introducing new services like in-flight massages, hydrotherapy baths and seat-back video screens. After the success of the business within twelve months of inception and a soon boom in the following years, Virgin Atlantic had to face a setback in the nineties with selling 49% of Virgin Atlantic’s share to Singapore Airlines. But it has retained its position as one of the world’s finest airlines and as trendsetters in the present day scenario.

There have been various analyses on the personality of Sir Richard Branson and all are different in their own sense. These different viewpoints are basically dependent on the ‘Perception’ of the perceiver. It is a process of identifying and interpreting information about the subject guided by its background. Perceptions are most of the times reliant on the partial and unconfirmed information but human behaviour is immensely guided by it. Human beings have a habit of summarising their behaviour on the basis of some reasons and situations. We all try to make sense out of our actions and our behaviour. These reasons and explanations are called the ‘Attributions’. Perception and Attributions form an inevitable part in an organisation and being a part of human ‘behaviour’ contributes a critical element towards the development and change in an organisation. They are key issues for an organisation because all key decisions and their actions are subjective to how they interpret things around them. They are also responsible to understand how and why people behave in an organisation and how and why they react to the behaviour of others (Free Books Online, 2010).


There are several theories and characteristics which help in analysing and evaluating the personality trait of a person. To analyse the personality of Sir Richard Branson it is important to comprehensively understand the theory. The Big Five Personality Traits model has been classified into five major components on which personality is described. The Big Five traits include ‘Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience’ (Nelson & Quick, 2011). These are broad, universal qualities that are related to behaviour at work.

Researchers have examined extensively the relation between the big five personality and performance at work. The results have shown that people with agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability are better performers than the rest who are deprived of these traits (Hellregel & Slocum, 2009).

A person with higher degree of the trait ‘Extraversion’ is social, friendly and talkative. They are often assertive and energetic. They also have a skill of multi tasking, have good leading skills and are charismatic. They also trust people without knowing much about them and are often fit for politics, sale and public oriented careers. People with lower degree of extraversion trait are loners, serious, quite and sceptic, they keep their secret to themselves and prefer to work alone. They are most suited to careers like production management, science and art related trades (Zhang, 2002).

‘Conscientiousness’ decides how you regard your work as and how reliable are you. The people with high degree of conscientiousness are hardworking, organised and dependable. They are focused and achieve their goals on time. They follow their plans and goals strictly and do not get distracted easily. They are self-disciplined, confident, dutiful and reliable. People with lower degree of conscientiousness are careless, relaxed and unorganised. They work without plans and lack a consistent approach towards achieving goals in life. They are impulsive and spontaneous and not considered good for projects where deadlines are to be met (Zhang, 2002).

‘Agreeableness’ is the individual’s tendency to differ to the rest. They are considered as warm, good natured and sympathetic. They are forgiving, have patience and are considerate. They also prove to be outstanding team associates and maintain a harmonious environment in the team. They are friendly, amenable and pleasing. They do not form great leaders as they prefer to work at backend. They generally avoid conflict by keeping their views to themselves. They are born social reformers, fine teachers and do great in the field of psychology. On the other hand people with lower degree of agreeableness are critical, analytical and cold. They are expressive people and do not hide their reactions. They want their work and efforts to be recognised and would not mind to challenge. A highly lower degree of agreeableness leads to people with discourteous, heartless and self-eccentric characters. They are not cooperative and enjoy power. They do well where there is freedom of exercise. Military, public administration and management are a great profession for these people.

The next trait is ‘Emotional Stability’ which means a person’s ability to bear stress. The higher degrees of emotionally stable people are strong, calm and strong nerved. They are optimistic and know how to maintain their cool. They recover easily from depressions and are satisfied from life. They like peace and security in their life. They are best suitable for careers like air traffic controllers, airline pilots, finance managers and engineers. People who have low degree of emotional stability are often nervous, unstable and fickle minded. They are never happy with life and are vulnerable to negative emotions. They also do not recover from depressions easily. In worst case scenario these people often need psychiatric help.

The last trait as per the big five personality theory is the ‘Openness to Experience’. This states the person’s array of interest, lure towards originality and acceptance for new ideas. Individual with the superior degree of these traits are curious, creative and original. They believe in change and love to modernize. They take pleasure in difficult situations and to find a way out of their difficulties. They can accept newness in technology, systems and tools easily. They are generally suitable in careers with creativity, novelty and originality. They focus on the picture and sometimes miss out the minute details. Alternatively, persons with an inferior degree of this trait are unwilling to accept changes. They follow a traditional approach. They like to follow what has been done from a long time. These people have an attention to detail and execute plan very well. They do well in careers where rules and regulations are to be followed like judges, accountants, finance managers and auditors. (Description of Five Factor Model, 2010)

After analysing the Big Five Personality Traits, Sir Richard Branson’s personality can easily be drafted out. The first trait being the extraversion, Branson has a ‘high’ degree of extraversion. He is always excited about his new ventures and makes a grand entry in the market. He is a social person and there have been instance when he was spotted wearing the flight attendants uniform and serving the customers on aboard. This proves his love to be with people and towards his work. He is also famous for giving his interviews in very informal settings like in swimming pools, bedroom or gym in a relaxed mood. He considers his employed very crucial part of the organisation and also likes to send them personal messages every few months. He is also very friendly and talkative. He handles many companies at the same time which assures his ability to multi-task. He also puts an effort to learn and remember the names of his employees and like to spend time with them.

Branson is an individual of ‘medium’ degree of agreeableness. As per him, “I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying yes than by saying no”. He is warm, cooperative and helpful but he is a rebel also. He relates a lot with his employees. In the words of Branson, “I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me” (How To Lead Like Richard Branson, 2009). This statement means that he believes in empowerment of others and is happy to be involved in helping others. On the other hand he loves to challenge his competitors and is very verbal about it. He once said, “I want Virgin to be as well-known around the world as Coca-Cola” (Parker, 2006). He also likes to take challenges very sportingly and like to revolutionise things in the way no one has done it. “Records are made to be broken. It is in man’s nature to continue to strive to do just that”. This shows that he is extremely expressive and does not bother about the reactions.

Also there has been evidence that he has a high level of conscientiousness in him. He himself admits that he work very hard, in one statement he said “I have no secret. There are no rules to follow in business. I just work hard and, as I always have done, believe I can do it. Most of all, though, I try to have fun” (Gallo, 2009). He has a very efficient manner of working and is much organised at his work. He follows his plans well and carries them as long as they are not accomplished. “Everyone needs something to aim for. You can call it a challenge, or you can call it a goal. It is what makes us human. It was challenges that took us from being cavemen to reaching for the stars”, Branson (Finest

The level of Branson’s emotional stability through various incidences can be judged as of high level. “Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more, and it sends out terrible messages to the people who work for them. It would be so much better if that money was spent in Africa – and it’s about getting a balance” (Richard Branson’s top 20 Virgin inspirational insights, 2010). Branson always make his employees relate with the organisation and him. He is also good in managing his mood while working in the organisation. He is aware of his flaws as a person and is able to elicit what people think about him. He is also very empathetic towards people who work with him and can read the emotional status of the organisation too. He has seen ups and downs in the business which he terms the period of ‘Naughties’, when he had to sell Virgin Record to make to the expenses of Virgin Airways. According to Branson, “Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them”. A lot of his statements and his business moves have shown us that he was very stable in his personal and professional life.

Richard Branson has an elevated scale of the trait Openness to Experience. It is most evident in his saying, his decisions and his work culture. He said, “So I’ve seen life as one long learning process. And if I see – you know, if I fly on somebody else’s airline and find the experience is not a pleasant one, which it wasn’t in – 21 years ago, then I’d think, well, you know, maybe I can create the kind of airline that I’d like to fly on.” This show how eager is he to make a change in everyone’s life. He also enjoys new technologies and is very open to adapt the, in his life. “I love the freedom of movement that my phone gives me. That has definitely transformed my life”, Branson said. He is an explorer and has no boundaries. He loves adventures and has done many exciting and dangerous acts to promote his brand and to elicit attraction. In his word, “I have always lived my life by thriving on opportunity and adventure. Some of the best ideas come out of the blue, and you have to keep an open mind to see their virtue”. In spite of not being able to clear university, he always challenges himself to achieve better in life. Once he admitted, “My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long University education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new”.

Question 2

As per the personality analysis of Richard Branson, the author has formed some ‘perceptions’ about him and how his characteristics as a perceiver have influenced the process. His work, entrepreneurial skills and his background is read thoroughly, and it is observed that he is fun loving, enjoys meeting new people and lives life to the fullest. He doesn’t regret much in life and believes in moving on with life. He is a family oriented person and has been raised in a family where they had a lot of respect for each other and their opinions. He was inculcated with the entrepreneurship skill by his family and it is perceived that they are genetic to some extent. Whereas there have been some incident where he agreed that he did not intend to be an entrepreneur and rather wanted to be an editor of the magazine, but it came naturally to him as he needed business skill to make the magazine successful. He is enjoys looking for new goals and challenges, likes to get out his comfort level and like to face the problems. He gives a lot of due to his employees and likes to be surrounded in the company of great people. He is a little calculative too in his business and learns from his mistakes, experiences and other’s mistakes too. He reads books and spends a lot of time and energy in learning ne w things. He enjoys throwing up challenges to others and is an attention seeker too. He is very fond of breaking records and doing things out of the box. He likes to prove his competitors incorrect and have the last laugh. He takes pride in what he has achieved in life and is very verbal about it. He also takes pleasure in serving the people and likes to talk. He has often mentioned about his dyslexia and his failure to be a graduate and has had a very deep impact of his childhood in his life. He is also a day dreamer and likes to indulge in deep seeding thoughts. He is strongly backed up by his teams which take care of the implementation of his goals.

Social Perception is affected by the characteristics of the perceiver which is the author of the essay, the target which is Branson and the situation. Since it is an essay for an academics purpose the characteristics of the authors and that of the Sir Richard Branson are important to be described.

The five characteristics on the basis of which the author has drafted its perception are familiarity with target, attitudes, mood, self-concept and cognitive structure (Nelson & Quick, 2011). Familiarity with the target means if the perceiver knows the subject very well and has well known his behaviour. In this case, as Branson is an iconic personality, he is mostly in lime light because of the nature and scale of his work. The author has well read about him and is well versed with its personality. The author belongs from an entrepreneur family and has seen and acted as business closely. This makes it very obvious for the author to relate with the Branson and draft his personality and understand his behaviour at various situations. The perceiver had heard of Branson before but never read about him in so much depth. His study has made a very deep impression of Branson and is extremely inspired his success story. His study has influenced the mood of the writer in a positive manner and his personality has been evaluated very deeply and favourably of the subject. The author finds Branson a very interesting, exciting and charismatic person and endorses an exceptionally positive self -concept. This is evident in the flow of the writing being very constructive about him. The author is fascinated by his lifestyles, his achievements and his way of living life to the fullest and finds Branson a very attractive and down to earth personality. Apparently the author has summed a lot of traits of Branson and given elaborated description about him.

The characteristics of the Branson being the target can be judged as per his physical appearance, verbal and non-verbal communications and his intentions. The author finds Richard Branson a very good looking and charming man. “Richard is good-looking and very smart, which is sexy to start with. He also makes a billion dollars before breakfast-and still knows how to have fun.”- Ivana Trump. Richard still looks very young and energetic. He performs various adventures. Richard Branson has that unique quality about him. Richard still looks very young and attractive, it is noted that he is mostly dressed in formal or semi-formal clothes. He has a the good looks and charm of a boy and his several traits of good mannerism , his kind heart and his passionate eyes makes his very appealing. His verbal communications skills are amazing and he verbal sentences make remarkable inspirational quotes for the world. He speaks well and fluently, his accent is clear and most of all he always sound exceedingly unpretentious. He inspires a lot of people by saying what he wants and is fearless in his speech. He did not have these skills since birth and he has had terrible moments in his life fumbling and nervously shaking. But he has managed to overcome this weakness and has given many motivating speeches in his life span (Marks, 2004). Branson is a very humble man in spite of all that he has achieved in his business. His actions and his gestures talk louder than his words. He is easy to relate with and the author like the way he carries himself. Richard Branson remains a tremendously motivating and interesting personality for the author as they are not interfered by any intentions of the subject (DeLamater & Myers, 2010).

It would have been great if we all thought alike and similar judgement for the Branson. There are few barriers which lead us all to form a different perception towards the same target. These factors are selective perception, stereotype, projection, self-fulfilling prophecies and impression management. The author is also been influenced by these barriers to some extent. It is perceived that the author is highly emphasised on selective perception, like all human, Branson is not perfect and has been involved in many controversies, but the author has framed only his positive outlooks and has not researched about his flaws. The author is not influenced by the stereotypes of the ‘entrepreneur group’ that Branson belongs to and highly thinks that he is different from the many of the chairmen and successful entrepreneurs in the world. It is depicted that the investigator is highly influenced by the first-impression of his looks and has out shadowed his various aspects on the basis of the first case-study given as a guideline. Since the writer is all praises for Branson, it is also assumed that there are more people who would support author’s perspective. There are no self-fulfilling prophecies involved in the author’s study as there is no direct contact between the target and the perceiver. It is based only on the study done by electronic media and the course material.

Question 3

As per our human behaviour we always look for the reasons to support our behaviours and actions. These reasons and supportive explanations are called ‘Attributions’ and they could be either external or internal. In the context of Branson’s study it is found that external attributes have contributed more for his success. To begin with Branson being a dyslexic never let his weaknesses come in between his dreams and aspirations. He was well-supported by his sisters and his parents and that made him give the confidence of pursuing his goals despite of so much of criticism in the school. He was inculcated with entrepreneurial skill by his mother and Aunt Clare which led to the start of his first magazine called ‘Student’. It is a truth that Branson’s frustration towards the systems made him start his career. It started with a thought to challenge the school systems as nobody noticed his sports skills and only academic studies were given importance in those days. He proved himself and then thrashed the idea of schooling and went ahead to chase his career. He is a very calculative man, as he knew that music was very expensive in those times he challenged the music industry and launched a discount store called Virgin records. He then tried his hands on the Airline business with the same belief to revolutionise things. He got successful because of his clever moves which very measured properly. He has researched the industry well before investing in it and he knew to learn from other’s experience. He did not repeat the same mistakes as others and became a success story within 12 month of opening the business. By now it was clear and evident that his ways of work were working for him. He was showered with much adulation and became an icon. Because he proved everyone wrong right from his school, being unconventional became his strategy. He does dangerous acts to grab attention regardless of his age or his health which is admired by youth. He has maintained an updated physical appearance which had made his employee and a lot of young folks to follow him. He has an independent nature of living life, be it in his actions or his speech. This is backed by his childhood when his mother would drop him away from home and told him to find his way out himself. Branson has amazing leadership skills and enjoys being with his employees. He puts a lot of effort to create team spirit and keep Virgin Group as a family. This is supported by his the nature of his family, they were a close knit family and would kill for each other. So he learnt most of his entrepreneurial skills from his family and kept on self- improvising.


The study of Sir Richard Branson’s character, his personality and his background has made the author find some interesting findings. Like Branson a lot of other individuals can also be studied and their character and personality can be depicted. It is learned that every person has some guiding force which exists deep inside in the subconscious mind which makes him responsible for his behaviour. There are several incidents and experience through which makes an individual becomes skilled at self-improvising. There are various people who leave a strong impact on our personality like in Branson’s case his mother and his rest of the family members have a left a life lasting effect on him. His study shows that it is from an organisation’s perspective it is very important to understand the concepts of ‘personality, social perception and attributions’ which really help to analyse an individual’s behaviour. There are four ways by which an organisation can measure the personality of the team member. The first one is projective test where an individual’s repose to abstract situations is noticed, second is behavioural measure wherein the response in measures in controlled situations, third is self report questionnaire where the employees are made to fill the form on their own and the personality is depicted by their response to the questions and the last one is Myer-Briggs Type Indicator based on the Carl Jung’s theory where it is formed that every individual has similar traits but in different ratios, so the combination of preference is found. The examination of personality of an individual helps to decide which department they are most suitable of and the field in which they might need training. It helps in avoiding conflicts between the managers and the subordinates as the manager in already aware of the person’s personality. It helps in deciding the style of the management and also in various important decision makings processes. (Nelson & Quick, 2011)

But it is apparent that personalities are also formed on the perception of the perceiver so it is very important for the perceiver to know the characteristics and the barriers of the social perceptions because if the concepts are clear it become easier for the perceiver to control its otherwise irrepressible bias.

Attribution theory is very important to know by a manager as it helps to figure of the reasons behind good or bad performance. The managers should also be aware of the attribution errors and self serving bias so they can judge the right cause of the behaviour of the employee at work. To put in a nutshell the author sturdily accentuates the role, importance and implementation of the personality, perceptions and attribution in an organisation for its development and progress.

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