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Richard Branson on Taking Risks

When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

Richard Branson

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It’s easy to get stuck in a routine, especially at work (more so if you’ve been doing the same job for a while), and taking on a new challenge is a great way of getting out of that rut. At Virgin, I use two techniques to free our team from the same old routine: breaking records and making bets. Taking chances is a great way to test myself and our group, and also to push boundaries while having fun together.

I have always loved a challenge. When my family and I went to the British county of Devon on holiday when I was four or five, my Auntie Joyce bet me 10 shillings that I wouldn’t learn to swim by the time we returned home. And somehow I didn’t learn while thrashing about in the sea.

I was determined to prove her wrong, so when I spotted a river during the drive home, I asked my dad to stop the car, then ran out and jumped into the water in my underwear. At first, I sank and started swallowing water, but I kicked upward and, to my amazement, soon began to swim downstream. My reward for passing the sink-or-swim test was a crisp 10-shilling note – the most money I had ever held in my hands.

If at first you don’t succeed…

That and later challenges taught me that it is important to try things that might not work, and then improvise solutions along the way. I’ve found that attempts to break records can result in technological leaps forward.

For instance, the businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett flew our Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer nonstop around the globe in 2005, becoming the first person to complete such a flight solo and without refuelling. Our plane was built using carbon fibre, at a time when other plane manufacturers relied primarily on heavy materials.

Following the GlobalFlyer’s success, Boeing and Airbus both started using carbon fibre in the manufacture of some aircraft. This technology will make planes lighter and is likely to dramatically reduce the carbon output of the airline industry in the future. (The plane is now on display at the United States National Air and Space Museum.

Related: Effective Leaders Eliminate Fear

Healthy competition

When you need a boost, it can be a lot of fun to pit yourself against one of your competitors. The most recent bet I lost was with my friend Tony Fernandes, who now runs AirAsia, but used to work with us at Virgin. In 2010, we both owned Formula One teams that were doing badly and decided to perk things up. It was agreed that the owner of the team that finished lower in the standings would work as a cabin crew member on the other’s airline.

In May I honoured the bet on an AirAsia flight from Australia to Malaysia, putting in a shift wearing the full stewardess’s uniform, which took a few hours of preparation.

Although I’ve always wanted to help out on a cabin crew, I’ve never had a boss, so I didn’t enjoy it when Tony ordered me around. I ”accidentally” spilled a tray of drinks over him, and was sacked when we landed. (On the other hand, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a passenger aboard the flight, described me as “voluptuous,” so I must have gotten something right.)

Business owners and executives usually take themselves very seriously, so the story of our wager was widely circulated in the media. Everyone had a good laugh, and nothing was lost on either side (except my pride). It was the right approach:

The publicity helped both AirAsia and Virgin to build customer bases in new markets, while the charity flight on which I served raised more than $300 000 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which provides support for sick kids and their families.

Learn to face risk

One of the great benefits of taking on challenges in your working life is that you and your team learn to confront risk together – and also to lose sometimes, because when you make a good wager, the odds are not going to be in your favour.

The calculated risks you and your team take should be strategic judgments, not just blind gambles: Protect the downside by figuring out the odds of success, working out what the worst possible consequences would be, then deciding whether to accept.

You need to hone these skills, because you and your team are going to face adversity at some point. No matter what industry you work in, the nature of business is change, and so while you can prepare for every possibility, some new, unexpected circumstance is likely to thwart you.

The only thing that’s meaningful about such setbacks is whether you bounce back. In 1998, Steve Fossett, Per Lindstrand and I had to abandon our attempt to fly around the world nonstop in a balloon. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, we at Virgin continued working on some of the problems we had encountered through our other businesses.

Related: (Video) Unusual Lessons for Leaders

And have fun doing it

But aside from any business concerns, one of the main reasons my colleagues and I undertake any adventure is because it’s fun, whether it’s a bet that ends with me serving drinks to passengers in a skirt or whether it’s one that leads to the creation of a company that transforms the space industry. Should you say yes the next time somebody proposes a challenge? You bet!

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

Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones

Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.

Rob Jardine

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Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.

Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.

Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.

In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.

When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.

The Social Brain

Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.

We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.

The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.

When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.

Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.

Barriers to Inclusion

A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.

The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.

Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.

Creating Inclusion

We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.

If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.

It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.

We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.

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To Get A Job Or Not Get A Job. What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Remember the days where if you went to school and studied a degree, you got a job and built a career that enabled you to retire comfortably? I don’t, in fact I’m not sure those days ever really existed. If they did, they are long gone.

David Wilson

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Today STATS SA tells us only 1 in 3 of the youth in South Africa have a job, even worse still – 34% of graduates aged 15-24 are unemployed1. The bottom line is that there are not enough jobs to cater for every child that finishes school. Our children need to learn entrepreneurship. If we want a brighter future for them, we need to nurture, teach and develop the skills and behaviours required to create jobs of their own.

With no intention of knocking the school system it would seem for the most part it discourages entrepreneurial thinking on a fundamental level; it prepares students to become good employees. Tuck your shirt in, sit still, stand in line, do your homework, focus on the task, check this box, you get the picture. Three decades ago this may have worked but it won’t work when we are trying to teach our children to survive the forth industrial revolution and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist!

It may sound like a cliché, but kids are our future. As a parent I believe one of the most important duties we have is to give our children the best possible start. We need to prepare them on how to live, survive and thrive in a world that is rapidly changing, mostly unpredictable and often unforgiving. This starts by identifying the skills and nurturing the behaviours that will give them the best chance for success.

Related: Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

Teaching entrepreneurship prepares our children for the future

Entrepreneurship encompasses so much more than starting and running a business. It’s a shift in mindset, a different way of thinking. Entrepreneurship views problems as opportunities and fuels creativity in the pursuit of solutions. All these skills can be applied to life.

Successful entrepreneurs are resourceful, self-confident and tenacious. They are great communicators and marketers, good at identifying and understanding risk. They have learnt from failure and made mistakes. Entrepreneurs are financially literate, understand cash flow and how to manage money. Again, these are skills that every child and student can benefit from.

To make it in the workplace of the future you will need to be self-confident, innovative, creative, motivated and curious.

Employers will need to hire staff that have the creative ability to innovate and ensure the longevity of their organisations. Those people that show entrepreneurial flair will be in demand in a world that is ever and more rapidly changing.

Exposing our children to entrepreneurship, teaching them the fundamental skills and behaviours required to start a business, and letting them know it is a career choice should be a requirement in all schools and endorsed and supported by all parents.

References:

  1. Youth unemployment still high in Q1: 2018 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11129

Read next: Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

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How To, In Practice, Distinguish Between Executive, Non-Executive And Independent Directors And Their Functions

Learn more about the differences in executive and non-executive directors.

RSM

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Definition of a director in terms of the Companies Act

Section 1 of the Companies Act 71 of 2008 (Companies Act) defines a Director as “a member of the board of a company, as contemplated in section 66, or an alternate director of a company and includes any person occupying the position of director or alternate director, by whatever name designated”.

Powers of directors

Section 66 of the Companies Act determines that the business and affairs of the company must be managed by or under the direction of its board and that the board has the authority to exercise all of the power and perform any of the functions of the company, except to the extent that the Companies Act or the Company’s Memorandum of Incorporation provides otherwise.

The board of directors, for the first time in our current Companies Act has been assigned the legal duty and responsibility and play a very important role in managing the affairs of the company and making vital decisions on behalf of the company.

Related: What You Need To Know Before Transitioning From Business Owner To Director

Number of directors required on a board

In the case of a private company, or a personal liability company, the board must consist of at least one director and the case of a public company, or non-profit company, the board must consist of at least three directors. A JSE listed company requires at least four directors. The company’s Memorandum of Incorporation may however specify a higher number, substituting the minimum number of directors required.

How to distinguish between executive, non-executive and independent directors and their functions

A clear distinction is noticeable between the different types of directors in practice, even though the Act does not distinguish between executive, non-executive and independent directors.

The below table gives a clear understanding of the differences between executive and non-executive directors:

Executive directors

Non-executive directors

Member of the board of directors with directors’ duties.

Part of the executive team, as an employee of the company and generally under a service contract with the company. Not an employee of the company.
Involved in the day-to-day management of the company. Not involved in the day-to-day management of the company.
In addition to a salary, does not receive directors’ fees. May receive Directors’ fees, but does not receive a salary.
Shareholders are not involved in approving their salary packages. Shareholders must approve their fees by way of special resolution, in advance.
Employee entitlements apply, such as annual and sick leave. No entitlements apply.
Has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the company. They contribute to the development of management strategies and monitor the activities of the executive directors.
They carry an added responsibility. Entrusted with ensuring that the information laid before the board by management is an accurate reflection of their understanding of the affairs of the company. Plays an important role in providing objective judgement, independent of management on issues the company are facing.

 

Independent, non-executive director

An independent, non-executive director does not have a relationship, directly or indirectly with the company other than his or her directorship. They should be free of any relationship that could materially interfere with the independence process of his or her judgement and they do not represent the shareholders of the company.

An independent, non-executive director should be evaluated on an annual basis to determine if they are still considered independent.

Related: The Role, Responsibilities and Liabilities Facing Non-Executive Directors

The role of these directors

All directors should apply objective judgment and an independent state of mind, regardless of the classification as an executive, non-executive or independent non-executive director.

Executive directors may be appointed as non-executive directors on other boards if this does not influence their current position and is in accordance with company policy.

Before a director accepts the appointment, they should be familiar with their duties and responsibilities and be provided with the necessary training and advice.

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