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Richard Branson on Embracing Failure

Richard Branson on embracing fear in business.

Richard Branson

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Q: I have always been fearless, and gone after everything I wanted. I launched a business selling my designs a few years ago, and it succeeded, but I had to close it due to the recession. Now, having just earned a master’s degree, I have decided to launch my own design firm rather than look for a job, and for the first time in my life I find that I am paralysed with fear. How can I face down this fear in order to go after my dreams?

Fear is something everyone must learn to cope with when tackling life’s challenges, but this is especially important for entrepreneurs, who are likely to face many hard choices in the process of getting a business off the ground. And in the early stages of running a new enterprise, the way you handle pressure can often make the difference in whether it survives.

Making tough decisions

You may need to make some tough calls. During Virgin’s early years, one difficult decision we had to make involved Virgin Records, which at one point was in desperate need of cash to sign bigger artists.

My partners, Nik Powell and Simon Draper, were split on what to do: Nik wanted to conserve our resources and slowly collect money through our retail operations; Simon wanted to invest heavily in Virgin Records, betting on the notion that we could find the next big artists that way. We needed quick growth, so I took the riskier gamble, following Simon’s advice over Nik’s. It turned out to be the right decision, but it took a lot of courage – and not just from me, but everyone on staff.

I’ve always found that the first step in overcoming fear is figuring out exactly what you’re afraid of. In your case, I wonder: Is your anxiety a reflection of doubts about your business plan? Or is it rooted in your experience with your previous venture?

Face your fears

If it is the former, and you are having doubts about your idea, why not take your concerns to a key friend or mentor and carefully run through your business plan?

Talking everything through with a trusted confidant, from your business’ unique selling points to how it will stand out among competitors, is a good way to help calm fears and give you some perspective and confidence. Sometimes even the simple act of discussing your plan will highlight things you’re unsure about – often, small, unresolved issues can be at the root of an entrepreneur’s anxieties.

But if your previous venture’s end is what is making you so hesitant, try to take some comfort in the fact that most entrepreneurs fail when they launch their first businesses. Failing doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out to run your own business.

In fact, many venture capital investors evaluate potential partners on how they reacted to a failed business, seeing it as a test of character, rather than a mark against them. The key to bouncing back is to learn whatever lessons you can from the experience so that you can avoid making the same mistakes in the next launch. This will help you to overcome your fear, take a leap of faith and try again.

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Are You a Terrible Leader? Here are the Signs

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Learn from the experience

The experience of launching one of your first businesses reminds me of the adventures and challenges I have embarked on over the years to promote Virgin and put our businesses on the map. There were countless times during our record-breaking hot-air balloon trips when I wondered whether we were going to make it back down to earth alive. But every time, I learned lessons from making mistakes during previous trips and was able to adapt.

Another example: A few years ago I was helping to launch Virgin America’s new route from San Francisco to Las Vegas – and upon arriving at our casino hotel, I was taken to the top floor, given a harness and told I was going to jump off the side of the building.

It was dark and windy, and I knew I should go back inside and tell everyone we needed to postpone the jump. Instead, I was persuaded to go through with it. The wind was up, and within seconds I found myself banging down the side of the building, ripping my trousers and bruising my backside.

It was an extremely painful lesson, learned the hard way. But learning from mistakes (and a combination of good fortune and adrenalin) is what has gotten me through on many occasions.

Get back on the horse

Overcoming fear is not necessarily as easy as jumping off a building, but it might be easier than what you’ve done: Watching a business fail after putting your heart and soul into trying to make it succeed. But don’t be too hard on yourself.

Starting a new enterprise from scratch and gathering the nerve to take risks that are similar to those you took last time can be daunting for any entrepreneur. Just remember that picking yourself up from a failed business in order to try again is the bravest choice you can make.

Have you had a business fail? What did you learn from the experience? Let us know in the comment section below…

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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Salome

    Jan 15, 2014 at 09:45

    I failed. And I learnt a lot from that experience. To keep it short: If
    it is not your ‘passion’, leave it. If you don’t have the knowledge,
    ‘get it’, if you only know one side of the business and leave the rest
    entirely up to the other partner, ‘get to know it’! It took me a long
    time to ‘get over it’ after, but I brushed myself off, started
    ‘studying’ (after I learnt where my shortfalls lie) and got the guts to
    start again. I have a LOT of studying to still do, but you’ve got to
    start somewhere! You only ‘fail’, when you give up. Never give up! Start
    again!

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Business Leadership: Leading A Culturally Diverse Business Team

The question every successful business leader needs to consider – How do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?

Dirk Coetsee

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As I witnessed the rain dancing against the window panes of the Mega mall in Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I started reflecting on how to lead a culturally diverse business team.

Thousands of Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans passed me in the hallways of this gargantuan construction and the Dalai Lamas’ wise words reminded me that at the core of it all, irrespective of what your nationality is or what your belief system is, in general:

“We all want to experience joy and avoid suffering”

A key question that every team leader should carefully consider is how do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?

How can we as a diverse team be united in the joys of experiencing an expanding and successful business with a wonderful and constructive culture and avoid the suffering of a failing business and the negative experience of a toxic culture?  These are of course ‘loaded’ questions because inherent within these questions are the birthing of other key challenges –

How can we as Leaders create a relatively stable and inspirational environment from within which it is easier for each individual to unlock their vast potential when vast differences in upbringing, schooling, world views, and religious beliefs exists within one team. Especially when considering the ever changing and evolving business environment within which we operate?

Fulfilling the role of a Business Leadership coach, trainer, or life coach as the situation demanded over several years I have coached, Lead, or trained Pilipino, Chinese, Malay, African, and European people. A very key learning from my experiences is that a “cross cultural and shared understanding” can be created that transcends any spoken language or any national culture.

Related: Leadership – Lead Your Team To Dizzying Heights Of Productivity And Business Success

This common language and culture has many elements but for the purpose of this article I will focus on the three key aspects:

Have a united and focused purpose

When a united and focussed purpose exists for the business team that they collectively place higher than themselves the barriers of differences in upbringing, schooling, and world views can dissolve within their shared purpose. As business leaders we cannot refer to purpose too much, even more importantly that that, we must be living, walking and talking examples of the businesses’ purpose.

Related: Leadership: The Principle Of Authenticity

To simplify the concept of purpose it can be said that purpose is the highest intent for, or the very good reason why we do what we do. That reason is or should be even more important than ourselves. When we really love what we do and sincerely so our performance is likely to be very good, on the other hand if we totally dislike the line of business that we are in or totally despise our role within an entrepreneurial venture we are likely not going to unleash our unlimited potential.

It could be argued that the sole purpose for having a business is to make a profit. Through this article I argue that that is not a strong enough reason to sustain you and make you thrive even through difficult times. The strange thing is that when you truly live your purpose with all your might and tirelessly inspire your team to do the same the money comes anyway…

 Servant heart and attitude

Rabindranath TagoreRabindranath Tagore famously said:

“I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.”

A servant heart is universal and transcends cultural difference, a sincere and giving smile is a beautiful language of its own that needs no translation. If that ‘servant heart and smile’ is underpinned by well-developed people and technical skills it multiplies into a potent combination of character, experience, and wisdom that has great influential power within any culture.

Related: Leadership: What Is Your Why? (Read Purpose)

Whether it is through the use of interpreters, and even if it takes great patience, even when a lot of mistakes are made, persevere until everyone in the team understands that servant leadership is the key to winning the minds and hearts of others.

When all in the team becomes aware that we were only ever meant to master ourselves and thereby become better servants to all, this heightened awareness can unlock the unlimited potential within individuals in the team.

Respect for people and their worldviews

poet RumiMy favourite poet Rumi said:

‘The wound is where the light seeps in’

Respect all as we could not understand each individuals’ pain and hardships unless we went through it ourselves. Have compassion for all as we, in general expect compassion when we go through hardships. We can only imagine what sets of beliefs we would entertain where we to grow up in a completely different culture.

Related: Leadership: Honesty Is The First Chapter In The Book Of Wisdom

My endless curiosity and determination to learn has served me well as a coach for when your interest in others is sincere they tend to ‘open up’ to you and share and thereby you fasttrack your own learning and gain insights into your co-team members worldviews which in turn greatly enhances the team dynamics.

Be authentic and acknowledge your vulnerabilities, ‘wounds’ and shortcomings and be proud of your strengths for then your team members will help you to overcome your weaknesses and learn from your strengths.

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15 Ways To Command A Conversation Like A Boss

If you’re the one talking, it’s your responsibility to make sure others are listening.

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Conversations can elicit a range of emotions. They may be daunting, or they may be dreaded. They may be awkward, or they may be monotonous. The good news is, you, as a participant in any conversation, have more control than you think about whether these emotions overtake the dialogue.

Having a successful conversation is about striking the balance between preparedness and flexibility, between explaining your thoughts clearly and knowing when to pause or check in. It’s about being upfront about your preferences and ideas while being open to adapting them based on what comes of the discussion.

A fruitful conversation stems from establishing a rapport with someone. Show them you know where they’re coming from. Clarify that you understand what they’ve said. Be respectful of their time and don’t dictate back to them how you perceive them to be thinking or feeling. Keep questions open-ended. Experiment with new conversation settings or styles. And don’t give in to the internal voices that try to convince you to defer too much or suffer in silence.

To help you get your points across and help others convey theirs, read through the following 15 tips, which expand more on the ideas above.

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Being A Born Entrepreneur Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re A Born Leader

The person who has the vision to start a company might not be the person to grow the company.

William Harris

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More often than not, we tend to think of entrepreneurship and leadership as synonymous qualities.

Entrepreneurs are expected to break new ground, be innovative, start something new. It only stands to reason they would naturally take charge of what they’ve created and lead it.

However, it turns out that the required skills of an effective entrepreneur are almost entirely different from the required skills of an effective leader. As many CEOs of growing companies can tell you, there’s a vast difference between creating a business and growing one.

One of the primary reasons great entrepreneurs including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were so influential was precisely because they were both master entrepreneurs and leaders.

Related: Leadership: Honesty Is The First Chapter In The Book Of Wisdom

To successfully grow a business, an entrepreneur must learn how to become an effective leader. Here are the five leadership skills every entrepreneur must master:

Delegation

Entrepreneurs, and especially solopreneurs, who run growing businesses are eventually shocked to realise it is impossible to do everything by themselves. Most entrepreneurs are uncomfortable with the idea of delegation. They want to do everything themselves because they have a natural sense of ownership over their work. They find it difficult to believe anyone else would do what needs to be done. After all, they were the ones who built the business from scratch all by themselves.

The reality is, though, as a business grows, so does the amount of work that needs to go into running it.

Leaders understand their own time and energy are finite resources. Great leaders understand that, to be most effective in the company, they must play to their strengths and delegate their weaknesses to others who are more qualified.

Steve Jobs famously played a very small part in building the OS and designing the original Apple computers. He knew how to grow a business, so he focused on what he could do and wisely left it to Steve Wozniak and his team to execute his vision.

Communication

lone-wolfThe perk of being a lone wolf is that you know exactly what needs to be done and the right way to do it. But, that has to change when you find yourself a leader.

We all have horror stories of working for a manager who didn’t communicate instructions effectively, which inevitably leads to confusion and frustration from both parties. As a leader, you’ll need to clearly and succinctly explain everything from your vision to administrative tasks to your employees.

But, communication is not a one-way street. You need to know what to say and how to listen. Effective leaders don’t simply give orders. They accept feedback and criticism, as well.

A constant bridge of communication between a leader and an employee not only reduces inefficiencies but also leads to a healthier and more productive workplace for all.

Related: The One Leadership Trait That Will Ensure You Succeed At Anything You Do

Inspiration

Entrepreneurs seldom lack in the inspiration department. They were passionate enough to start a business themselves, but not everyone shares their enthusiasm. A key skill of any good leader is to inspire the people around them.

It’s not enough to simply tell people what their job is and expect them to do it. To get the most out of your team, you have to make them believe in your vision and feel like they’re actively making an impact in their role. This is especially important when working in a start-up.

The good news is that anyone can become an inspiring leader as long as they create a clear culture around the company’s vision, values, and beliefs.

When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO, he quickly realised the majority of his employees were no longer focused on providing customers with a positive experience. This led him to shut down 7,100 stores one day to retrain all baristas on making an espresso. This bold move not only sharpened his employees’ technical skills, but also quickly brought Starbucks’ ultimate vision back into focus.

Coaching

As an entrepreneur, you should be well aware of just how powerful a mentor can be to personal and professional growth. As a leader, if you want your employees to be as effective as possible, you need to do more than just give them orders.

Along with giving them the resources they need to do their job well, you also need to be able to help them move forward in their own careers.

This can be as simple as offering them training in skills they are interested in, giving them more responsibilities, or spending more one-on-one time with them. Leaders should be able to do more than just lead from the front; they have to be able to provide support from behind as well.

By adopting a coaching mentality, you can be assured of your employees’ loyalty to you and your vision. Plus, helping your employees achieve their full potential means they’re more likely be an asset to you and your business.

Related: How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Adaptability

It should go without saying that being innovative and adaptive is key for entrepreneurs. But, instead of only using their knack for problem-solving on market opportunities, leaders are also focused on providing solutions for problems within the company.

A large part of running a growing company is learning how to deal with internal problems like employee disputes, disorganisation, or a lack of motivation. Employees will always look to the leader to solve these issues.

When no clear-cut solutions are present, leaders need to be able to think outside the box. One surefire way to quickly lose both the respect and trust of your employees is to outsource the solution to someone else or avoid responsibility by blaming others.

Last-minute changes and mishaps happen in any business, so it’s up to the leader to adapt quickly and show everyone else the right way to handle these situations.

If entrepreneurs who have the passion and innovation to start their own businesses can develop these five skills of great leaders, they will be most effective in leading those businessess into growth and a bright future.

Read next: What Kind Of Leader Are You?

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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