Three vital leadership lessons from Richard Branson for when times are tough

Richard Branson

Richard Branson threw water at fellow entrepreneur Mark Cuban after a misunderstanding.

For ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners, there will likely come a time when things aren’t going to plan and the outlook is bleak. No successful venture has been without its share of challenges, and overcoming these dark times can be key to building a better and stronger business than before.

High-flying entrepreneur and Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson recently took some time away from his usually jubilant blog posts to share his tips on how leaders can stay strong in the face of adversity.

Branson has seen his fair share of failures while at the helm of Virgin, including the launch of a Coca-Cola competitor “Virgin Cola” in the early 1990s, and a failed foray into the automotive space.

Sharing these experiences in a blog post from last year, Branson recalled how his team “faced so many dark days that it would have been easier to quit than to go on”.

“We didn’t quit — instead, we held our head high, took on new and innovative approaches to marketing and doing business and learned to never, ever, underestimate the competition.”

Here are three of Branson’s tips for entrepreneurs on how to overcome those dark days.

1. It’s all about the journey

Referring to a quote from author Ann Brashares — “Being happy isn’t having everything in your life be perfect. Maybe it’s about stringing together all the little things” — Branson says it’s less about the end goal and more about what happens along the way.

“When I think back over the moments that made me smile in business, it’s not the IPOs, the end of year profit, or the awards. It’s celebrating the launches, milestones and special moments with staff along the way,” he says.

“I’ve always been one to live for the journey, not the destination.”

2. The glass is half full

A self-proclaimed “incurable optimist”, Branson believes this attitude has helped him see the good side in any bad situation and it can help entrepreneurs keep a bullish outlook even when emotionally attached to a business.

“All entrepreneurs and business leaders have an emotional attachment to their businesses — if they don’t then they shouldn’t be in business. But despite the hardship felt when things don’t go to plan, it’s important to keep a positive attitude,” Branson writes.

“I’m an incurable optimist, and I like it that way. It’s enabled me to remain hopeful and future-focused. Attitude is everything in life and in business.”

“Those swimming in a glass half empty are more likely to drown then those swimming in a glass half full.”

3. It’s not always over

“We have had hundreds of businesses as part of the Virgin Group, but that doesn’t make things any easier when one closes down. But closing one business can be necessary to keep the rest of your organisation healthy,” says Branson.

“As an entrepreneur’s brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses — and we will not stop.”

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