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Richard Branson on the Business Benefits of Volunteering

Combining your employees’ volunteer work with sport and exercise is great for business and the community.

Richard Branson

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Richard Branson on Volunteering

In many parts of the world, spring is in bloom and people are getting off the couch and going outside. This is the perfect time for you and your team to start planning which charity sporting events your company is going to be involved in this year.

Combining your employees’ volunteer work with sport and exercise is great for business and the community, boosting relationships, health and morale all round.

I started thinking about this because I have been on the road a lot lately, visiting Virgin businesses and raising money for our non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite. The travel can be gruelling, and I find that I can keep my energy levels up by exercising as soon as possible after I arrive.

Bike riding in the towns and cities I visit has been one of my favourite ways of getting out, and so, on a trip to South Africa in March, I competed in the Pick n Pay Cape Argus bike race with my son-in-law Freddie Andrewes and some members of the Virgin Group’s senior team.

It was a stunning 109-kilometer ride from Cape Town to a distant point in a national park and back along a different route. There were a lot of people doing the circuit – it is the world’s biggest mass participation ride, with more than 35 000 competitors taking part in 2013, and raises a great deal of money for charity in South Africa.

The race’s management model is fascinating. A small team works full time organising the event, persuading companies to sponsor it and collecting entrants’ fees. Once the race is over, organisers give all the proceeds to charity, starting the next year with a zero balance.

The companies that sponsor the ride are encouraged to provide financial support, but also to ask their people to volunteer to man the course, which furthers the connection between their brand, their employees and the great causes that the tour supports.

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You can grow your business by becoming a community builder. Branson explains how.

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Spending the weekend together and doing that ride got our team talking about how we at Virgin can use the power of sport and business to promote good causes and raise money for charity. It also set my mind whirring about the possibilities for other entrepreneurs to use such events to make an impact on their communities.

First, as our experience showed, it’s important that everyone in your business be involved, including the leadership team – no one should be so busy that they can’t take part. Everyone needs to be able to take breaks for fun and exercise, and your company needs to have a healthy, engaged and creative workforce if you’re going to get ahead of your competition.

Make sure that your employees have options to choose from: Some will want to join a corporate team to compete in a race or challenge, others will want to help organise events, and others may simply want to help raise money.

While some of your competitors may dismiss your efforts as a distraction, such cooperation outside the office will be a key builder of your company’s culture, creating a real competitive advantage for years to come – we at Virgin have found this to be the case.

We sponsor a number of large sporting events in Britain, such as the London Marathon, the Cyclone ride and the London Triathlon. All of these events increase the awareness of the Virgin brand in one form or another, but importantly, they raise money for charity and connect our companies to local markets and communities.

More than that, volunteer work can stimulate enterprising ideas, some of which may be applicable to your business someday. One of our partners in Australia is the mobile and broadband group Optus, and its team, led by the CEO, Kevin Russell, just completed this year’s Tour de Cure, riding more than 1,500 kilometers in Australia from Adelaide to Canberra through the Snowy Mountains.

The Tour de Cure is a cycling charity that raises money for all types of cancer research, awareness and prevention. The event has raised millions of dollars over the past seven years, which is quite extraordinary considering its beginnings: two guys chatting in a Sydney coffee shop.

What makes this charity ride really special is the grass-roots nature of the community involvement along the ride. The riders didn’t just speed through the towns; on the recent tour, the Tour de Cure team visited schools along the route, spreading the message to kids about making healthy choices early in life, as one-third of cancer cases have been found to be preventable.

What better way to reach out to the community and learn about its concerns and challenges?

So volunteer! If you are an entrepreneur running a start-up or small business, now is the time to get started, when you’re forging ties with the community and building a corporate culture that focuses on how your business impacts the planet.

Whether you organise your own small event or work on something that’s already happening in your community, such efforts will signal to everyone that you are building a company and a commitment for the long term.

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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