22 August 2017

People: Richard Branson plays chess with Lawrence Jones great leadershipAs I said yesterday, the key to business success is people. It would be easy to assume that’s stating the obvious – employ people who are great at their jobs and the business will be great.

But what would happen if you treated every person you and your business reach with the same regard as your best employee?

The way you treat your customers, people you meet networking, the postman, ultimately everyone you encounter, has a huge bearing on the success you will achieve in business.

It should be obvious to treat the office cleaner with the same regard as you would the CEO. Often, though, that’s not the case and it’s an area where people fall down, especially leaders. There’s actually a quote doing the rounds on the internet attributed to Albert Einstein, saying:

“I speak to everyone the same way whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

 Equally, Barack Obama became renowned for his equal treatment of everyone he encountered, even showing courtesy to Donald Trump, a man who had mocked and ridiculed him throughout Obama’s presidency. That’s the behaviour of a great leader.

That’s the difference between a good and a great leader

Treating people in this way is a lesson I learned many years ago from Sir Richard Branson. It’s a tale he recounts in this week’s Entrepreneur podcast series. In describing the importance of not having enemies, he says: “Ring the person or people up and have them over for lunch even if you feel like it was their fault and not yours. Make up and be friends.”

Astonishingly Branson took this approach after a famous court case with British Airways. BA had spent a huge amount of time and energy on what Sir Richard calls a ‘major dirty tricks campaign’ against Virgin.

“I actually decided that if I am going to stick with this rule that I have in my life about not having enemies, I must ring up the Chairman of British Airways and have him to lunch, which I did. If you’re really going to make up and be friends with someone, that’s not something superficial, you really must go one step further. So, I asked if he would he chairman of the charitable foundation that we ran. He politely declined but we have become friends. It really is and does good to let bygones be bygones.”

That’s the difference between a good and a great leader, and a good and a great entrepreneur.


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