I loved this book (click here to pick it up for yourself). It took me a few weeks to read through it all, but I really enjoyed the wonderful stories that Richard Branson tells about his experiences in Entrepreneurship and leading the Virgin Group. He breaks down the book into four main categories: Listen, Learn, Laugh, Lead and then gives a nice recap of his top tips. Many of his insights and stories are from the Virgin group of companies and can seem a little like marketing or promotional material, or better yet, highlight reel for the companies he’s founded. Other stories come for various business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Elon Musk.
I love the way he openly and honestly points out the mistakes of some companies and leaders, but then also praises either their turnaround or other industry leaders who do it right.
In this section Richard talks about the importance of taking notes. I’m terrible at this… really terrible. All through college I didn’t take notes. I learned to listen and pay attention, without taking notes. It served me really well there, however, with the increased amount of information I’m taking in these days, I can’t keep up without notes.
Richard recounts many times where his note taking has saved him and he can look back and see ideas and commitments he’s made in the past. He also talks about how he believes people that take notes are better equipped to do their job and to be leaders.
“A really skilled listener not only takes in what has been said but will also hear what has not been said. The unspoken word.”
This quote shows me that there is more to listening than just hearing. Listening requires taking in the body language, facial expressions and tones that surround the words. Sometimes you can hear more in the silence than you can in the words.
“Simplicity wins every time.”
On my door of my office I have an equation that I stole from Todd Henry’s, “The Accidental Creative”. It states “1+1=[((27/3)/3)-1].” That reminds me to keep it simple. Everytime that I can remember picking a complex solution over a simple one, I regretted it in the long run.
“Keeping it short goes a long way”
I’m a huge fan of this. I even have a rule (that’s only mildly enforced) that only permits 4 sentences in an email form my team members. It helps them learn to get to the point and to understand that if it needs to be longer than 4 sentence, then we should probably talk about it.
“Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you’re going to live forever” (Gandhi).
I believe that learning is very important when it comes to leadership and just being a good employee, especially in the technology field. When I teach my students at the local university, I try to teach them how to learn, moreover, what to learn. If you understand how to learn, you can learn anything.
Richard uses a quote from Seneca in this book that I just love… “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It basically teaches you “how to get lucky.” For more information about that, check out episode 15.
As many of you know, Richard Branson hosted a reality TV show where he hired an apprentice. Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, competed on the show and gave this quote, “The smartest thing I ever did in the early going was to hire my weaknesses.” I’ve used this in previous podcasts and will probably use it again. I think it’s the most important thing a leader should do when hiring, but its also one of the hardest. We like to hire and work with people that are just like us. That doesn’t workout too well. We’re also intimidated by people who can do things better than us, but if they excel at my weakness, then together we can make a great team.
“One hundred per cent down to the people-first culture.”
If your employees come first, then the customers, then the shareholders you will be successful. One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders and businesses make is to put the customers first, and their employees second, or sometimes third. If employees are first, then they will love their job and put the customers first in their mind, because they love and want to do what’s best and right for the business and their fellow employees. “Everything begins and ends with our people. If we keep our employees happy and engaged, they will keep our customers happy who will then reward us with their loyalty. That repeat business helps our bottom line and creates value for our shareholders.”
“Sometimes, rather than sitting back and complaining about lousy service, it really pays to get out there and find a way to improve upon it by reinventing it yourself.”
Many people believe that being successful will make them happy. That’s so untrue. It usually works the other way around, but it really all depends on how you define success… and how you define happiness. I believe that happiness will determine success and we all know that laughing can help you be happy. I’m a believer that happy employees are more productive members of the team and of society. One of the things that I do with my team to encourage happiness is to encorporate service into our routine. We spend half a day per month serving together as a team. When we started this, it was only once per quarter, but we saw such a huge impact in happiness and productivity that I made it monthly.
“Leadership is the ability to hide your panic in front of others” (Lao Tzu)
In times of crisis, this is so true. But I believe that it also helps build resistance so that you don’t panic. What I do is try to pretend I’m someone that doesn’t panic and is calm. I pretend to be like Jack Bower from 24. He was always so calm in the face of extreme pressure. I also remind myself that no one will die… its only software, etc. For mote tips on dealing with and overcoming fear, check out episode 7.
Much of the leadership part of this book is pretty common sense. Its really about treating people well, and working hard to make sure your team is happy and knows your expectations. One thing that really stood out to me was the explaination of Virgin’s “No PTO” policy. Where they don’t track paid time off. I’ve seen many companies that did this and said that it was to make employees happy and that it saved the company money because they didn’t have to pay it out when employees quit, etc. But Richard explained that with technology and the fact that employees are nearly always connected to work with their smartphones, there is no way to track how much an employee works. If we can’t track their work time, we shouldn’t track their time off either.
There is a section in this book where Richard talks about giving speeches. You can find some of my tips on public speaking in Episode 14. He talks about keeping them short and sticking to Q/A formats. My favorite quote from the book about public speaking is from Winston Churchill, “A good speech is like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to create interest.”
Lastly Richard Branson mom advises this “You’re guaranteed to miss every shot you don’t take”.
So take that shot! Cheers.
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