9 min read ⌚
How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead
Entrepreneurs of tomorrow, lend us your ears:
Richard Branson reveals his way of running things.
Who Should Read “The Virgin Way”? And Why?
If you want to become the leader of the future, then Richard Branson is undoubtedly one of your idols; he is just too colorful and vibrant to not be.
Unsurprisingly, most of his books share this description; true, none of them is as exceptional and interesting as his first one, his autobiography Losing My Virginity – not even its sequel, Finding My Virginity.
But The Virgin Way is as close as it gets to being that good.
So, it’s almost a must.
About Richard Branson
Richard Branson is a British entrepreneur, one of the wealthiest people in the world (worth over $5 billion) and certainly the most colorful and unusual among them.
A high-school dropout, Branson set up a mail-order record business in his teenage years. In 1972, he teamed up with Nik Powell to open a record store, dubbed “Virgin Records,” because he was new at business.
The brand grew rapidly during the next few decades, and currently controls over 400 companies in many different spheres.
In 2000, Branson was knighted for his services to entrepreneurship; two years later, he was voted the 85th Greatest Briton in history and in 2007, one of Time’s Most Influential People in the World.
Find out more at virgin.com.
“The Virgin Way PDF Summary”
Published in 2014, The Virgin Way seems to have more subtitles than the Virgin Group has companies: “Everything I Know About Leadership,” “If It’s Not Fun, It’s Not Worth Doing,” “How to Listen, Learn, Laugh, and Lead”…
We chose the last one because that’s how the book is organized inside: four parts, each containing about five chapters, framed between a preface and an epilogue.
However, the other two subtitles should do as well.
In fact, most of the preface Branson dedicates to uncovering “the worst kept secret in entrepreneurship,” aka the second of the three subtitles listed above.
As you know full well, Branson left school when he was sixteen to found his own magazine-publishing company.
The reason why he did this is that the latter was his dream, and the former seemed an obstacle to it.
However, to his surprise, many people follow conventions rather than dreams and always hope that their lives will miraculously change in the future.
The simple point is: if you want to do something, then do it; and don’t look for excuses in the way society is organized or other people; your dreams are your own responsibility.
Achieving them is a four-step process, best summed up in four L-imperatives: listen, learn, laugh, and lead.
Let’s have a look at them.
Part One – Listen
“I believe,” writes Richard Branson, “that listening is one of the most important skills for any teacher, parent, leader, entrepreneur or, well, just about anyone who has a pulse.”
Branson acquired this skill through the good parenting practice of his mother, who, ever since his earliest days, urged him to interact with people, and banned him from spending too many hours in front of the TV.
This influenced the young Richard to the point that he started carrying with himself a small notebook in which he regularly took notes; sometimes clever sayings, sometimes things said at a meeting or during a casual conversation.
It may have seemed a bit strange at first, but, soon enough, people grew accustomed to the notetaking Branson.
Listening, as far as Branson is concerned, is where it all starts: every great leader was a great listener beforehand.
After all, none of us is smart enough to know everything and many of us have come to some understandings or developed ideas which should be taken note of.
And that’s why listening is so essential.
It’s much different from hearing, which is what you do when you are annoyed by a baby crying on an airplane; you’re merely registering the information and doing nothing with it; however, listening is something else: it’s understanding what that info stands for and what you should do with it.
In addition, listening is not sitting quietly for 20/30 minutes in front of the person you’re talking to; that may be a good start sometimes, but unless you’re actually absorbing the information, contrary to what other people say, you’re not a great conversationalist, but a great would-be psychiatrist.
The point is to speak with people, not speak at them.
And that’s the first lesson Branson wants to share with you.
Part Two – Learn
Listening is the foundation of learning.
According to Richard Branson, everyone can be a leader; and, in a way, almost everyone is – in his or her own orbit. Someone is a leader of his family, other of his football team, and yet a third one of his office.
But, as we have told you numerous times, great leaders – the ones capable of leading companies and countries – are usually the ones who can be something more than that.
How has Branson achieved it?
Well, first of all – and paradoxically – by learning that the more exceptional he is, the less exceptional he needs to be.
Leaders who don’t want to dine with their subordinates are not leaders – but feudal rulers with antiquated beliefs which will result in their ruin; in fact, as Simon Sinek says, real leaders eat last.
This is basically how the Virgin companies function – Branson doesn’t want to present himself as someone precious who is not interested in his employees, but the other way around.
And he does this by always finding new territories for his companies to conquer. That’s, in his opinion, the most important job of any leader: to venture forward into the unknown.
Standing still, in the dynamic age of today, is basically the same as writing your own death’s verdict.
Case in point: Kodak.
In the 1970s, Kodak was an industry giant and the first company of its kind to discover the digital camera. However, its executives didn’t want to embrace this new inventing, fearing that it would mean the end of their business model.
So, instead of further investing in developing digital cameras, Kodak spent large sums of cash into pointing out the flaws of digital cameras.
Other companies used this mistake, and they corrected them.
Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
Part Three – Laugh
Let us guess:
The first that that comes to your mind in the early hours of the last day of the workweek is a “thank god it’s Friday!” And, just like Brenda Ann Spencer, you too don’t like Mondays (OK, not as much).
You know what the underlying message of it all is?
You don’t like your job, aka you are on a path of spending a third of your life doing something you don’t want to.
Richard Branson didn’t want to do this – and was willing to pay any price not to repeat the mistake of the majority of the population.
So, he decided to do something he is passionate about and wants to work with people who share this passion.
You know, people who, instead of being grumpy, are actually laughing and enjoying the office parties because they like where they work.
“I believe that hard-wired passion,” writes Branson, “for giving customers… a better work environment or service experience that they can’t find elsewhere is at the very heart of what the Virgin brand and I stand for.”
This is why Branson is always involved in the process of hiring, which he thinks is the one thing you should never delegate.
Even if you are Google and you’re hiring about 4,000 people a year; case in point: Larry Page still insists on having the final word whether someone is fit for his company or not.
Richard Branson is no exception:
If you think you are too big to be involved in the hiring process, think again. I demand to be involved in the hiring process for leadership roles and even it if means flying out applicants all the way to Necker island to spend time with me.
The bottom line: CVs don’t matter; people do.
Part Four – Lead
“When I started out with what was to become Virgin more than four decades ago,” writes Branson, “I genuinely wanted – and still do want to – change people’s lives for the better.”
The Leaders of the Future, according to Branson, are the ones who share this belief of his. You can’t be a good leader if you are only in it for the money; but you can be a great one if your goal is to make a difference, to make the world a more beautiful place for the future generations.
Speaking of – Branson firmly believes in collaboration as a way of achieving this.
Gone are the times, according to him, when collaboration was deemed detrimental to the successes of an entrepreneur at the market.
Now, it’s the other way around: collaboration is the only key for success.
In fact, Richard Branson reiterates a point many people have made several times during the past few decades (think Isaacson’s Innovators or Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything): nobody has ever operated alone; and great innovators and entrepreneurs are just the last in a long line of collaborators across time.
The future belongs to those who collaborate across space.
Key Lessons from “The Virgin Way”
1. “You Are Guaranteed to Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take”
2. “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
3. “Great Leaders Are Almost Always Great Simplifiers”
“You Are Guaranteed to Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take”
Richard Branson indicates several times throughout his book that he owes a lot of his success to the parenting methods of his father and mother.
For example, one time, his mum asked his dad to spank him on the backside for not adhering to her orders in Sunday church. His father took to the other room and clapped his hands together to simulate beating.
Branson thinks that he learned an even better lesson when, one day, after an abysmal performance in a cricket match, he returned home depressed and ashamed of his abilities.
“Ricky,” his mother said, “even though we both know that this wasn’t your best performance, you should never forget that you are guaranteed to miss every shot you don’t take.”
Life is an experiment.
Try everything once. Except incest and folk dancing.
(Even though you can find it in The Virgin Way, that funny quote is not by Richard Branson, but by Sir Thomas Beecham, the famous conductor).
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was the very first release of Virgin Records, founded in 1972 after Branson realized that he was earning enough money from his record store to realize a childhood dream.
Even though the album was a chart-topping bestseller in the United Kingdom, Richard Branson had problems selling it overseas.
Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder, and president of Atlantic Records didn’t believe that an all-instrument album would be any kind of success in the United States.
However, he agreed to see what all the fuss was about.
The very day he played the record, William Friedkin, who was filming The Exorcist at the time, entered his office.
The rest, as they say, is history – which sounds like this.
The moral of the story is in the title of this section.
The Romans had an even more pithy saying: “fortune favors the bold.”
Try – and eventually, you’ll get lucky.
“Great Leaders Are Almost Always Great Simplifiers”
As inferred by Richard Branson, companies evolve in much the same manner as people, and leaders should act accordingly.
Startups are all about trying to find your feet – as you know full well, half of the companies don’t even survive this period; so that’s your only goal at the beginning.
The ones who do are like teenagers: they think they know it all and are full of vigor and energy, investing 24 hours a day into something much bigger than anyone can understand; of course, the teenage years come with many mistakes; the point is not to make a fatal one.
Because, if none of the mistakes in a company’s teenage stage is fatal, then the mature stage arrives when as a leader you should be smart enough to correct all of your mistakes.
Even though everything is quiet and well at this point, the mid-life crisis is lurking around the corner and many leaders, at this stage, spend most of their time looking in their rear-view mirrors.
Don’t do that.
Whenever you can, find the time to listen, learn, and laugh – and you’ll be able to lead better than most!
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“The Virgin Way Quotes”Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. (Via Churchill) Click To Tweet Listen – it makes you sound smarter. Click To Tweet If only we had the power to see ourselves in the same way that others see us. Click To Tweet Acquiring the habit of note-taking is therefore a wonderfully complementary skill to that of listening. Click To Tweet Always look for the good in people instead of assuming the worst and trying to find fault. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Described as “a book on leadership from someone who has never read a book on leadership in his life,” The Virgin Way doesn’t contain everything Branson knows about leadership and is a bit of a letdown.
Not because it’s a bad one, but because its author is Richard Branson.
Paradoxically, that may be the main reason why you should read it.