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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."

Leading

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Great Leader?

Because it takes everything you’ve got.

Raul Villacis

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I recently hosted the Next Level Leadership Summit in Connecticut, where the main focus was answering the following question: What does it take to lead?

The attendees were seasoned businessmen who ran multiple 7-figure businesses. They had a chance to hear from entrepreneurs in industries like real estate, finance, tech and health. The stories from each presenter gave proof that it doesn’t matter what business you are in – we all have similar struggles. But the biggest insight was the difference between the chase of success versus the pursuit of greatness.

A leader doesn’t chase success, because he knows the chase is never-ending. He doesn’t care what others think, because he knows judgment kills growth. A leader doesn’t worry about how he’s going to make things happen, because he’s focused on the why that drives him to find a way.

Anyone can achieve success, but it takes a certain type of individual to be crazy enough to pursue greatness. This message hit home for me because five years ago, I got tired of chasing success. I had hit a wall in my life, and everything seemed meaningless. The path I had chosen was no longer fulfilling, and I felt empty.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

It made no sense for me to feel that way. After all, I had everything anyone could ever want – a growing real estate business, a beautiful family and money in the bank. I thought I had reached success! So, what was wrong with me?

Was I being ungrateful? No. Was I depressed? I didn’t think so. Sometimes I would ask myself, “What if I ceased to exist?” Would anyone care besides my family? What impact have I made on the world?

It became clear to me that it wasn’t success I was seeking. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to join the ranks of those whose deepest desire wasn’t the chase of success, but rather the pursuit of greatness. The only way to do it was to become a leader.

Today, we oftentimes confuse financial success and leadership. Just because a man knows how to make money doesn’t mean he’s a good leader. I was making money, but I wasn’t a leader, and all my success didn’t mean I was making an impact.

Too many times as successful businessmen, we can’t figure out how to transfer the skills we use at work into the other areas of our lives. Many of us settle for an average relationship with our significant other when we could have more if we simply applied some of the passion that fuels us at our business. The same goes for our health. We often take it for granted. If the same low-maintenance approach were taken with our work, most of us would be out of business. And, what about making an impact – our higher purpose? Most of us settle for higher revenues and move through life like zombies without a purpose. We eventually burn out.

Greatness comes with a price. You have to be willing to lose it all. At that crucial point in my life, I made a decision to pursue my passion.

I decided to create the Next Level Experience. It was my passion business where I would help businessmen find the edge in their lives, and start living with purpose. I had to start from the beginning, and it was frightening and invigorating all at the same time. For the first time in long while, I felt like I was on the right path. My real estate partners thought I was crazy for putting so much time and resources behind it. They told me if I just put the same amount of effort, I would make 10 times the investment. But I was done chasing success. I wanted to create something that mattered, and I was willing to lose everything to make an impact. It was through that experience I learned I was ready to lead.

Related: What Kind Of Leader Are You?

There’s something about the fear of losing everything that shifts your focus. You turn the switch. I had no other choice but to lead. Five years later I’ve helped thousands of men find their edge and turned my passion business into multiple 7-figures.

So, what does it take to lead? Everything you have. The world doesn’t need more millionaires and billionaires chasing success. The world needs leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to help others along the way to greatness.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Leading

Albert Einstein: An Influencer To This Day

Say the word genius and immediately Albert Einstein springs to mind. To this day his influence remains across not only science, humanity and education but popular culture too.

Glenn van Eck

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Albert Einstein had the same mentality as an entrepreneur; he was a discoverer, an educator, a revolutionary and incredibly creative. Below are some of the few more reasons why entrepreneurs can learn from him:

1. Even geniuses get it wrong

Einstein wasn’t always right. The best example of Einstein getting it wrong, was when he had trouble accepting that the universe is based on probabilities, not absolutes. In a famous Einstein/Bohr debate, Einstein stated, “God does not play dice with the universe,” with Bohr retorting:

“Einstein, stop telling God what to do!”

2. One should read

When you find the right book, at the right time, it can have an incredible impact on your mindset. I have learned so much from books, and many have helped me as an entrepreneur. Not only does reading give you quiet time and space to look after yourself, but it’s also exciting to keep discovering incredible insights, and being surprised by their impact.

Now I don’t think I will ever dream up a concept that will have world-changing implications like Einstein did, but reading can open new doors for you and your mind, and take you places you never thought possible.

Related: 10 Leadership Quotes From The World’s Most Influential Leaders

3. Enjoy the challenge

Einstein didn’t pluck remarkable theories out of thin air. He made many mistakes, he persisted and proved his theories worked.

Einstein would ask challenging questions and ask them in different ways. By doing this, he was able to address the unknown from different angles and eventually unveil some of the most perplexing universal secrets.

4. Your weaknesses are your strengths

Experts such have hypothesised that Einstein might have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome; a condition where sufferers are described as socially aloof, emotionally detached and exhibit inappropriate social behaviour. But on the flip side, those with  Asperger’s Syndrome can display an obsessive interest in a single topic or object. So, while Einstein wasn’t the best at socialising, he relished solitude and made incredible use of his mind.

By embracing his playfulness, curiosity and laser-like focus, Einstein decoded the universe. Not so much of a weakness when you think of it like that, hey?

5. Find your tribe

His professors often criticised Einstein’s ideas; professors who were accustomed to conformity. It was only when Einstein worked as a clerk at the patent office that he made significant strides in his thinking within physics, mathematics and philosophy.  The point being, make sure you surround yourself with people who get your creative juices flowing and fuel rather than deplete you.

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Leading

Your Narcissism Is Killing Your Employees’ Productivity. How To Avoid The Pitfalls

The key is to understand how your narcissism is affecting others and actively work to adjust and adapt your behaviour.

Joel Carnevale

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Narcissism appears to be on the rise among today’s business and entrepreneurial leaders, if you read the business pages and academic research on a regular basis. And this isn’t always a bad thing: Narcissists can be compelling leaders capable of executing grand strategic visions.

But all too often they are described as highly self-absorbed individuals who believe they are superior to those around them.

And while successful entrepreneurs tend to have high levels of self-confidence and an intense drive for success, often they’ll fall prey to the problems associated with the darker aspects of narcissism: Specifically, they take unnecessary risks, hold too tightly to their vision when change is needed and fail to recognise the work and sacrifices of those around them.

In our new study, which was published in May in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, my research partners and I sought to gain a better understanding of just how problematic narcissistic leaders are, and what they might do to lessen the negative outcomes. We surveyed 262 employees and their (262) direct supervising managers over a four-week period at a large Chinese technology company.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

Overall, we found the harmful consequences of narcissistic leaders to be wide-ranging.

Just how harmful is a harmful narcissistic leader?

We began by asking leaders at the tech company we targeted to complete a widely used Narcissistic Personality Inventory test. Employees, meanwhile, were asked to report on their organisation-based self-esteem, meaning the degree to which they felt they belonged in their organisation.

As researchers we were operating on the understanding that the need to belong is a fundamental human need and motivator, but that narcissistic leaders fail to satisfy this need among their employees because of their high levels of self-concern.

Those high levels mean leaders like these ignore the feelings of others. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, for example, was often described as highly self-absorbed and inconsiderate of others. She was often criticised for being habitually late to meetings and dismissive of her constituents’ ideas and suggestions.

elon-muskElon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is also said to be highly abrasive, and to tend to berate employees who fail to live up to his impossibly high standards. One former engineer at the company referred to critical interactions with the SpaceX CEO as an “Elon ass-kicking” and said some employees felt “crushed under the weight” of those interactions. Not surprisingly, both Musk and Mayer have been recognised as some of the most narcissistic CEOs in the tech industry.

Our study found that 51 percent of employees with narcissistic leaders disagreed or strongly disagreed with statements asking if they felt valuable in the workplace. Moreover, this diminished sense of belonging had wide-ranging consequences on these employees’ behaviour. Specifically:

  • 34 percent of employees surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with statements asking if they helped other group members with their responsibilities
  • 31 percent of employees disagreed or strongly disagreed with statements asking if they spoke up to their leader about their own improvement-oriented suggestions
  • 37 percent of employees agreed or strongly agreed with statements asking if they badmouthed their leader to their coworkers
  • 18 percent of employees agreed or strongly agreed with statements asking if they intentionally tried to disrupt task completion by ignoring their leader’s requests.

Such behaviours are troublesome enough for established companies, but for start-ups – whose survival depends on quick action and cooperation from all employees – the consequences can be dire.

Related: 5 Work Productivity Hacks Used By Rockstar Entrepreneurs

How can narcissistic leaders avoid the pitfalls of their personalities?

We asked employees to report whether their leader consulted with them before making decisions. While this kind of consultation is an influence tactic leaders use to gain employee support, it can also signal to employees that their contributions are valued.

We found that among narcissistic leaders, 27 percent frequently consulted with employees while another 43 percent consulted with employees to some extent.

Importantly, we found that when narcissistic leaders consulted with employees, the detrimental outcomes stemming from such leadership were not simply reduced, but eliminated completely. Here are three takeaways:

Actively listen

Active listening means that you concentrate on the message being communicated; you don’t just passively “receive” the message. Unfortunately, most narcissistic leaders have difficulty focusing on what others are saying and often ignore their advice.

One classic example of a narcissistic leader who altered his behavior to more attentively listen to others was Steve Jobs. Much of Jobs’ success upon returning to the helm at Apple in 1997 was attributed to the drastic change in his interpersonal behavior from his prior tenure in 1985.

Not only was he more willing to listen to his employees, but he was described as someone who “seemed to relish other people’s ideas.” Our research indicated that employees are likely to discount their narcissistic leaders’ more abrasive qualities when those leaders take the time to actively listen to their suggestions.

Invite involvement

Don’t just listen. Invite employees’ involvement in the making and development of decisions. Our study demonstrated that when narcissistic leaders invite employees to participate in leadership processes, those employees experience a sense of ownership in the process that can help alleviate the leader’s more harmful tendencies.

In particular, such behaviour signals to employees that their narcissistic leader is not only willing to listen when they, the employees, have concerns or suggestions, but actually desire to receive those employee contributions.

Related: 7 Productivity Beliefs That Get You Nowhere Fast

Be accessible

According to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, the best leaders “make a religion out of being accessible.” Likewise, our research emphasised the importance of narcissistic leaders making themselves accessible to individual employees.

Despite his narcissism, Welch often sent personal notes to his executives and met one-on-one with employees at all levels. Such behaviours were part of the programs Welch instituted to enhance employees’ “feelings of ownership and self-worth” in the GE culture. We found that the individual attention employees receive when they’re consulted provides the interpersonal interaction they crave, but rarely receive, from their narcissistic leader.

Due to the dynamic environment of the typical entrepreneurial venture, communication and cooperation from employees is a necessity for continued growth and survival. Although entrepreneurial leaders may be more narcissistic than their counterparts in non-entrepreneurial vocations, the pitfalls associated with their tendencies may be avoidable.

The key is for such leaders to understand how their narcissism is affecting others and actively work to adjust and adapt their behavioir.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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