From (arguably) the most Successful Entrepreneur of all time – [he’s created >300 companies] on his private Island in the Bahamas.
Playful, Listening, Equals, Amazing, your Rhythm, Entrepreneurial Solutions, Delegation, Generosity, Legacy, Take-Away
In April of 2015, I joined a group of 25 Successful Entrepreneurs from Maverick 1000 for a week on Richard Branson’s legendary private island – an idyllic place to cook up bold ideas – while meeting in the same room as world leaders. Richard makes himself available to this group for most meals, several strategy sessions + some fun adventures & parties, at least partially because he believes that successful entrepreneurs — especially the out-of-the-box maverick types — can truly change the world.
What’s the real Richards Branson like? While I had just a few personal conversations with Richard, I nonetheless soaked up many stories and witnessed him at work & play. One of my main motives in coming on the trip was to receive a template for enlightened business & life leadership from someone who has forged a wildly un-orthodox path to success. I love the story of how he started Virgin Airlines. A plane in the British Virgin Islands was grounded and he needed to get to Puerto Rico, as did others. He created a sign for Virgin Airways and started selling tickets and once he had sold enough he chartered another plane to take them. A new company was born through a spontaneous entrepreneurial solution to a long delay.
I want to share with you 12 key insights for life and business I got from being in the presence of this truly remarkable man – one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time.
1. Keep your “playful” side alive – I was truly struck by just how playful and sometimes silly Richard would be. He was game for anything, from a first night demonstration of “twerking” to throwing people in the ocean to planting incriminating evidence on the opponent’s team after our “Amazing Race” & making them “walk the plank” so his team could win. Richard was always looking for a good laugh and a bit of mischief. He laughed that you could never get away with this in America.
2. Good leadership is about Listening – Richard is like a sponge – soaking up information & ideas – always asking penetrating questions long after most people would be bored. He is deeply curious and makes it clear that he feels he can learn from anyone. His staff comments that he’s always asking questions, so that whatever decision he makes is informed by sufficient information. Richard said that many world leaders are on the council of Elders he helped create agree with him on this point: The art of good leadership requires excellent listening. Richard even commented that he can spot a good leader by the quality of his or her listening.
3. Treat everyone as an [=] – As a global jet-setter hanging out with the world’s elite, it would be easy for Richard to see himself as above others, but the veteran entrepreneurs who had spent time with him for years said that he truly sees us far-smaller entrepreneurs as peers. We’re dealing with the same challenges, he says, just with a different number of zeroes attached. And this applies not just to the guests, but to the staff on the island. They become your friends, an attitude that begins with the way Richard treats them all as equals rather than servants.
4. Find what is “amazing” in people – One fellow at the retreat had a company that creates robots for optimizing traffic signals – which has an impressive effect on reducing accidents. While I had thought this was moderately interesting, Richard became very animated talking to him, emphasizing just how many lives it would save globally and that he ought to get the Nobel Prize for it. His excitement was genuine and he brought the entrepreneur back into the conversation later to make key points using his example. Underneath this is a real desire to find what is unique & wonderful about people. This relates to his philosophy of trying to praise people as much as possible, rather than critique them – which brings out their natural gifts.
5. Follow your own Rhythm – In his younger years, Richard said that he was often one of the last people standing at the end of a party. Now, though, he tends to bow out early most nights, so he can get a good night of sleep & play tennis early. He has a very natural way of following his own rhythms without seeming rushed or pressed – always having a good time – but also not lingering if it isn’t in his rhythm. This clearly applies to his life as well. He doesn’t make a strong line between work, play & service – letting them all seamlessly blend together. In the middle of a “work” day, he might abandon what he is doing to watch the playful 96 Lemurs preserved on the island. In this way, he follows a much more natural, instinctive rhythm.
6. Seek innovative Entrepreneurial Solutions for everything – One thing I love about Virgin Unite, the non-profit wing of the Virgin Group, is that they are very focused on empowering the businesses that can change the world. Richard is quite optimistic that we can address the major planetary challenges we face, setting bold goals like being off carbon in the global economy by 2050 and putting his confidence in entrepreneurs to drive the solutions. I was struck by the staff saying that: “Everything Richard does is a business.” The island itself, while perhaps the most spectacular private retreat in the world, is itself a break-even business. His other residences around the world are all businesses. By turning his private homes into businesses, he frees up more resources for the non-profit work as well.
7. Delegate more “minors”, so you can focus on the “majors” – If there is one thing most leaders are bad at that Richard has mastered, it is delegation. It’s simply impossible to create a large number of companies [>300] and influence the number of industries that Richard has, while living an extraordinary lifestyle, without becoming very, very good at delegation. He said the key is to find great people and then give them a lot of slack. Let them make mistakes without criticizing them (they know they made them), and let them do things their own way. If they do 80% as well as you at first, that’s good enough. Most of all, “Get out of your building, because people always want to talk to the highest ranking person in the building.” By refusing to make decisions for people and literally leaving the building, he creates a power vacuum in which others take responsibility. His philosophy is really about, creating the room for other leaders and not trying to script them on how they do things, just providing useful ideas & input. With that said, there are strong guidelines for things like Branding & principles for deals that everyone follows, but there is a lot of latitude for creativity within those parameters.
8. Give back – Stories from veterans from the island were striking – in illuminating just how often Richard would go the extra mile to be generous. From offering to have a 10-minute, life-changing talk with a dyslexic teen – just before going on-stage in front of 5,000 people, to offering to have one person’s wife & kids come down to the island for their 10th anniversary, to his asking one Maverick 1000 repeatedly, “What can I do to help you?” and ticking things off one by one (all of which were done within a day). It’s clear that Richard takes many opportunities throughout the day to just be helpful. With everything I heard and personally witnessed, it’s clear he practices servant leadership & real generosity.
9. Be more Humble – I expected a bit more serious & solemn from such a powerful leader in the world, but he’s much more humble than I would have imagined. The boat driver told me that while he was driving the boat one day that he was buzzed by Richard’s private jet, and when he looked up, Richard was mooning him from the plane. I can’t imagine there are a lot of other billionaire global leaders mooning folks!
10. Richard’s Legacy – I found him modeling a very interesting way of doing business and living a lifestyle that is balanced with important relationships. There were, of course, many other lessons besides these, both from witnessing Richard in action and hearing stories from others who knew him much better.
Take-Away. What I came away with – perhaps more than any other single thing – was his humanity: playfulness, compassion for others, generosity, curious mind, attitude of service, & indomitable optimism about what is possible if we put our minds to it. It offered me a beautiful glimpse into how to change the way business is done and build breakthroughs in industry after industry, all while having a fun & challenging good time.
Comments: What has impressed you the most about Richard Branson?
from Huff Post 24 April 15 enhanced by Peter/CXO