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Make Great Decisions

As a business leader, avoid day-to-day operational choices and focus on the decisions that can change your business.

Richard Branson

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Most good chief executives or entrepreneurs only make three or four key decisions every year. Running your business’s day-to-day operations and managing your team can take much of your time, so there are usually only a few that stand out — the game-changing decisions that can make or sometimes break a business.

Looking back over my career, which now spans more than four decades, there were many occasions when I got it right and a few when I did not. A few guiding principles helped; these are the things I would have liked to have known when I was just starting out.

1. Trust your instincts

There have been many occasions when I have led our team into markets that industry experts told us to avoid because the competition was too fierce or the cost of entry too high.

This was the case when we launched our airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Blue (rebranded Virgin Australia), in 1984 and 2000. My fellow directors were nervous about our chances of survival, given the strengths of our competitors — namely their market share and fleet sizes and experienced personnel. But I felt that our competitors had become complacent; that passengers wanted something different. With the right energy, focus and flair, we could make our mark.

2. Focus on your customers, not your critics

Over the years, our critics fretted about Virgin’s expansion into airlines, financial services and mobile phone services. What did our company know about these industries and how would we manage the complex issues?

I rarely paid attention (which also drew criticism from some analysts). My answer was always to focus on the customer experience, ensuring that we offered the best service, most innovative products and
best value.

This worked especially well in mobile services, where most companies still require customers to sign contracts that are difficult and expensive to exit. We revolutionised the market by offering a pre-paid model, exactly what a number of younger and newer users wanted. Our businesses grew quickly in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, South Africa, the US, and more recently in India, expanding our customer base and brand far and wide.

3. Always support your team

Day-to-day management has never been my forté, and my early decision to step back from operations gave me the freedom to focus on our main challenges and opportunities.

This meant that I had to learn to trust the management teams, and to support them when they saw an opportunity. When Matthew Bucknall and Frank Reed came to us in 1999 with the concept of a family friendly health club, we decided to invest. Very quickly, they impressed all of us with their innovative approach to customer
service and team building.

Soon after we opened the first few clubs, Nelson Mandela called me, asking if Virgin could rescue a chain of South African gyms. That seemed a stretch, because we had only a handful of locations in Britain, but Bucknall and Reed were confident, and such was our trust in them and their team that we signed onto the deal. And they were right: Virgin Active South Africa is one of the key drivers of that business’s growth.

4. Know when to say goodbye

It can be very difficult to know when to sell, since as a founder and entrepreneur you become very attached to your business and your team. Look into whether selling will be good for the overall health of your company, or if you need objectivity, ask trusted advisers to do this. But brace yourself — the answer might be yes.

We have sold a number of Virgin companies over the years. Probably the most notable occasion was in 1992, when we sold Virgin Records to EMI and used the cash to expand Virgin Atlantic and other companies in the group. It was a very emotional day for me — at one point, I broke down in tears. Looking back, it’s clear that we sold at the right time and the decision made sense for Virgin as a whole. That secured our group’s future and gave us a war chest for investing in new businesses.

Selling is difficult, and you will be tempted to hold on too long. This is one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur or chief executive can make.

I held onto Virgin Megastores for too long. Despite the warnings of my management team, I could not bring myself to sell the business until a few years ago. By that time, DVD sales had collapsed and the whole industry had been revolutionised by Apple’s iTunes store. You can’t get them all right!

Finally, when you are facing a difficult choice or must make an important decision on behalf of your company, keep in mind that the answer might not always be yes or no — sometimes there are other options. Your job is to lead your team in the search for the best solutions, which are not always the easiest ones. n

Richard Branson is best known for his Virgin Group of over 360 companies, including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Money. He is the author of several books, including Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life and Business Stripped Bare.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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Leading

How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Dirk Coetsee

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“Trusting one another, however can never mean trusting with the lip and mistrusting in the heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“Self-trust is the first secret of success” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Rapid decision-making

Harvard research has identified amongst other key traits of the most successful CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies the ability to make decisions quickly and act on them at a rapid speed albeit with the inherent acknowledgement that they might get it wrong forty percent of the time.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Why is speedy decision making and a rapid pace of execution so critical? Top leaders know that making quick decisions combined with swift execution creates a much better chance of success as opposed to very slow and bureaucratic verdicts underpinned by little or no action.

When there is a high level of distrust amongst the stakeholders in any entrepreneurial venture literally everything slows down as negative arguments ensue and takes up an enormous amount of precious time. Forced action underpinned by distrust loses quality and speed and can potentially bring a business to its knees.

“The speed of trust” is therefore an extremely valuable principle that all Leaders should live by, that is if they wish to serve a higher purpose than themselves and others. Those Leaders whom have developed a high level of self-trust and have earned the trust of their team members have put themselves in the very advantageous position of being empowered to move towards their vision at a rapid pace through quickfire decisions positively multiplied by confident and competent execution.

“The speed of trust” does not mean that decisions are made without careful consideration and stakeholder input putting the level of quality of execution at imminent risk. It simply means that the decision-making process is quicker than most as mistrust does not cast unnecessary shadows of doubt over the intentions and ambitions of all the stakeholders.

A Leader or Leaders whom has fostered self-trust within themselves will not go through lengthy spells of procrastination that those whom lack self -awareness and suffer from severe self- doubt has to go through.

How do I execute at the speed of trust?

How do I practically bring the principle of the “speed of trust” to fruition within my business? Firstly, ensure that this critical principal is applied throughout all business processes which starts with hiring trustworthy people and by working those out of the business whom cannot be trusted.  Secondly, as  a Leader your actions and words echo throughout every aspect of the business therefore do what you say you are going to do. Admit to your mistakes and fix them.

Thirdly be authentic in your pursuit of the vision of your business. One of the possible ways to achieve that is by being a visible and living example of the business values that you advocate as a leader.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Lastly in order for you to be trusted as a leader you must first show trust in others. Trust others by giving them more responsibility and verbalise your high level of trust in your team members. Passionately speak about this principle and its positive fruits at every opportunity. Make the practical display of this principle by employees or any other stakeholders known to all stakeholders and be lavish with your praise when anyone is willing to earn the trust of other team members.

A very good example of this principle in action was embodied by the Supreme Russian commander, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov whom never lost a battle and was respected by both his men and his enemies. He earned the trust of his men by being amongst them as often as he could, by sharing their hardships and by offering them the most authentic and quality military training known to man within that period of history.

Suvorov was a humble student of warfare and documented every detail of his learning experiences which included setbacks that he faced. He observed the morale of his men first hand and ensured that he inspired them not only through his inspiring speeches but by being a living example of discipline and bravery.

I will leave the reader with an important question to ponder, one that has echoed throughout history: Do you trust enough to be trusted?

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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Your effectiveness in scaling your business starts with the kind of leader you are. Here’s how you can build yourself up into a leader others will follow.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you are in start-up mode it’s tough to take a step back and think about the kind of leader you are or want to be. Most of the time you’re fighting to keep your business alive, never mind think about how you lead.

This is especially challenging when it’s faster and more efficient to just step up and do things yourself. It’s easier for you to make the decisions, do the work, check the work, follow up on the work, etc. However, it’s this situation that prevents young companies from scaling to the next level.

Ask More Questions

I work really hard every day to be quieter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail so dismally that I actually do more damage than good. You see, I like to talk. I like to hear other people talk and I like to bash around ideas until they become something bigger, something better and something that can move from idea into action.

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

Coupled with liking to talk, I also like being right. Who doesn’t? Add onto these two things the fact that I like to read and research and then throw in a teeny bit of ego or pride and it’s a recipe for leadership disaster.

If I am the most well-read, loudest and most opinionated person in a meeting then all that happens is that I end up pitching an idea, getting everyone to agree with this idea and then assigning the work on the idea to become a reality. Basically, I am working with, for and amongst myself. It’s an echo chamber that leads to bad ideas surviving and an unhappy team leaving.

The Collective Is More Intelligent Than the Individual

As a leader and founder, you probably feel like you are the person with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and the best person to solve the problem. This can lead to a dictatorial approach to leadership, team inclusion and problem solving. You have an idea, you tell your team and they do what you tell them.

If this is how you do it then I have to ask you a simple question: Why did you hire smart people? Just so you could tell them what to do? If that’s the case rather hire capable but cheap people, not the best.

Your best people are there to help you scale your business beyond your own thinking and time. There are a set amount of hours in the day. There are only so many emails you can answer in your day.

A good example in my business is customer support. We pride ourselves in our impeccable customer service online and offline. I can’t physically answer every question posed by customers but I can hire incredible colleagues, entrust them with my vision and views on our customers and then trust them to go out and use their good judgement.

Work With The Best

Here’s the kicker to being a good leader: You need to work with the best people.

This is not something I say as a passing statement. I want you to stop reading right now and think about the ten people you interact with at your company every day. Are they the best people you could be working with? If not, why not? How do you find the best people and bring them into your business? Go and do that.

Related: You’re The Boss, So Be The Boss

It’s important to work with the best for two very simple reasons.

Working with the best people pushes you to be better. If you are literally the smartest person in the room in every aspect of your business it means that you are surrounded by subpar players and you are not learning anything. The people around you are meant to educate you and push your business into places you didn’t even know were there.

Second, working with the best people attracts other incredible people. If you have a business full of average team members, can you guess what kind of people they pull towards your business? More average or less than average people. Why? Because average people don’t want to be surrounded by incredible people. If they are, they look worse and not better.

It’s incredibly difficult to be a good leader all of the time. In fact, it’s close to impossible. What you can do is try to be a leader who communicates, learns and grows with your team in an open manner.

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All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Combine the knowledge of the greatest entrepreneurs with your own hard earned lessons.

Brian Hamilton

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There’s a lot of deification of entrepreneur “personalities.” The truth is that a few entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are probably luckier than good. But, some of the praise and deification is warranted. There have been some fantastic business leaders in this country, and one can learn a ton from studying them. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the four entrepreneurs who have taught me the most over the years.

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