There's no doubting Richard Branson is successful! You'd listen to any leadership advice from him (or listen to advice from his mentors) to help you fast-track your leadership career, wouldn't you?
Well, he says the best leadership advice he ever got was:
... my mother, Eve, always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. I have had fun running all of the Virgin businesses, so I never see a setback as a bad experience; it is just a learning curve.
My mother also told me not to openly criticize other people. If she heard me speaking ill of someone, she would make me stand in front of the mirror for five minutes and stare at myself. Her reasoning? All my critical talk was a poor reflection on my own character.
Fun is a piece of leadership advice that, whilst not actually stated, is the theme that runs through the entire article and which absolutely drives the Virgin Culture and his life.When you keep things light and fun it enables you to unleash both your own and others creativity.
One of the best work environments I ever had the delight to be a part of, was filled with a lot of laughter and unsurprisingly following on from Richard's comment above, it was a workplace where talking about others negatively or behind their backs wasn't tolerated. And, for many years, it received national and international recognition as a high performance workplace.
Certainly if someone was under-performing their performance was addressed - but it was done using the skills that I outline in the training Successful Feedback. People were crystal clear about the performance levels required and if for some reason their performance needed to be improved it was always done in a way that ensured that the person came away feeling empowered to step into their best.
Because people mostly felt good about themselves, their colleagues and the environment in which they were working the performance was high AND the spirit in there was infectious. Very few visitors could walk into that workplace and not 'get', that the people there were having fun and feeling good.
Seriously, do you really think you can expect peak performance from people who are dragging themselves into work feeling glum and overwhelmed? Creativity is a right-brain activity and laughter triggers your right brain - what workplace doesn't need its team members to be creative and intuitive?
Certainly you want to make sure that any humor in the workplace is appropriate ... and not overly contrived or forced on people - if someone doesn't want to participate in "silly hat day" - then that's their choice and they may quietly on the inside be enjoying watching others have fun - you don't want to force' people to comply .... "YOU WILL HAVE FUN". We've all seen workplaces that try to force it and that is SO not fun!
Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results
Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow and
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
are all great books that show wonderful examples of engaging people through fun. Whilst Fish is a fictional metaphor it still has a great story, Peak and Delivering Happiness are both non-fictional, auto-biographical type books of how two leaders (Chip Conley and Tony Hsieh respectively) have inspired their people, through building a culture that performs - and each book has awesome leadership advice.
Richard's Mum's second piece of leadership advice "to not openly criticize" is an absolute gem. People who do a lot of criticizing, often have low self-esteem. So check out the series of articles listed at the bottom of this page, to make sure that your self-esteem isn't getting in the way of great leadership.
But for the moment let's focus on the impact of criticism on individual performance. Anyone who is criticized becomes defensive. When people become defensive they become more immersed in defending their character and their position than on focusing on improving performance.
Sure as a leader there are times when you have to give people negative performance feedback - but the way in which you deliver the feedback can be critical to your long-term relationship and the performance of the individual. Am I the only person who has walked out of a performance appraisal thinking 'screw you buddy!'? And, I can think of many times too, when I've received feedback that whilst uncomfortable to hear - was delivered in a way that I was more focused on improving, than on justifying myself or feeling diminished in any way.
You may want to read more about how to provide people with critical feedback and have them walk away still on your side!
So heed Richard's leadership advice: keep it fun and don't tolerate people criticizing or gossiping about others. And if you haven't been getting it quite right - again Richard's advice hits the mark: - don't look back in regret - just move forward and do it better next time.
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