How Sir Richard Branson Wins Loyalty – the 3 R’s of Trust…

There are three things that galvanize trust. In our research, we identified 37 different variables of trust, but three things stand out more than the others. We call them the 3 R’s of Trust – Responsibility, Reliability and Responsiveness. When something goes wrong – as things inevitably do in any business – we have to be RESPONSIBLE for it. We have to step up, take responsibility and then take action to make things right. RELIABILITY – An admired brand should have an ‘implied guarantee.’ Customers expect high quality products, products that a company will stand behind, so RELIABILITY is key to trust and customer loyalty. A new PhD at Stanford did a study on the difference between “guilt” and “shame”. People who expressed “guilt” when they made a mistake were the first ones to get up and do something about it. They are the first ones to make something happen, make it better, be responsible. This impulse to take action is the third key factor in trust – RESPONSIVENESS. Shame, on the other hand, is saying, “Circumstances were out of my control,” or, “It was out of my hands…it’s her fault…or their fault”. Shame is the “blame game”.

From the outset, when Richard Branson suggested that he was going to start an airline, people didn’t believe that he would succeed. Branson said that his Board of Directors was “apoplectic” when he set out to start Virgin Atlantic, but in his heart he knew that someone must be able to make traveling on airlines a more pleasant experience.  On the first flight of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Sir Richard Branson had the plane packed with dignitaries, press and VIP’s. The plane had just arrived from Boeing, hadn’t gone through full inspection and less than a minute into the flight one of the engines exploded with a bang and the plane had to make an emergency landing.

A couple of days later, Richard’s banker appeared at his home and told him that he was pulling all of the funding and going to put the airline out of business. “I just shook,” Branson said, “I couldn’t believe he was willing to put 5,000 people out of their jobs and out on the street so quickly.” When the crisis first hit, Richard said that he put all of his energy into finding out who to blame – but quickly realized that no matter how much he blamed the banker or the explosion or anyone else, he still had to deal with the issue. As a leader, your top priority has to be to solve the problem – to accept the guilt and try to save the day. So he focused instead on setting things right and finding the best solution.

Leaders who respond with a sense of guilt were more prone to be admired and maintain long term success. They are the ones who walk the walk when they say “the buck stops HERE!” No one expects you to be perfect as a leader or a team member; in fact many people are just waiting for the boss to screw up so that they can take them down a notch. The difference between Good and Great leaders is not perfection – it’s a commitment to finding solutions without focusing on blame. Blame won’t solve a crisis. But, if you dedicate yourself to being responsible, reliable and responsive – that’s how you solve difficult crises, build trust and gain loyalty. Richard showed a loyalty to his cause – creating a better flying experience, a loyalty to the team of thousands who joined his cause and has Virgin Airlines today is one of the world’s top ranked airlines.

Three Things You Can Do Today To Be More Valued & Admired…

Most people can’t recall ever feeling “overvalued” in their lives, can you?  Even the world’s most successful people—like Charles Schwab—remember plenty of times that they haven’t felt valued. Here are three things you can do today (and a few things he had to do) to build a great company!

1. Do your Values-based Homework: When we explored the idea of being admired in our research, we realized that while people are usually quite clear about their own values and what they admire, they rarely know much about what the people surrounding them value most.  It’s ironic:  How can you be admired and valued by those around you if you don’t know what they value? When we asked people nationally in our research whether they felt fully valued – overall, people gave that about a 4 or 5 on a scale of 10. The next natural question is, “How well do you know what the important people in your life actually need and value?” This reveals the disconnect. The respondents gave this only about a 2 or 3! We all expect to be admired and rewarded for our contributions, but we haven’t stopped to consider those who are most critical to us in our lives and whether we know how to be relevant and valuable to them. So in order to become more valued and admired, it’s imperative to ask, “How can I be more valuable to my MVPs?

2. Create your List of MVPs. Being admired is really something that each of us can take on as a mission in our work and personal lives, and it starts with understanding the “MVPs” – Most Valuable People – in your life. Who is it that really matters to you in your life and work? Think about that short list… Who is making you valuable at the office? Who supports you in your mission each day? Who are these people in your personal life? That list may include people that you report to, those who work for you, a team that supports you, your family or friends – it’s the people who enable you to do what you do and be successful. In other words, who would you like to be valued by? And what do these people need from you and value most?

3. Be Relevant. It’s important to understand your MVPs – their motivations and their definitions of success – in order to be relevant and valued in their lives. We often act in alignment with our own personal values and expectations without finding the common ground between our values and the needs and values of the most important people in our lives and work. These questions are pertinent whether you are talking about your relationship with a boss, your company’s customers or your kids. It’s a transformational concept – when you understand what you admire vs. what the MVPs in your life value – and that you understand both the overlap and the differences.

Mark Thompson and Chuck SchwabI had an amazing day last week – I rode with my mentor Charles “Chuck” Schwab, who I worked with for over 12 years in the early days of Schwab when the company was growing rapidly and we took the company public. I was accompanying him on his private jet to visit locations where he has been highly involved in museums and arts education – a cause that is important to both of us. I’ve also spent time with him on causes like dyslexia – another common cause which we are both passionate about. Chuck is dyslexic – in fact, he was almost kicked out of college twice. He had incredibly difficult challenges early in his career starting businesses and keeping them afloat until he realized that the key to his success would be reaching out to others who had strengths that complemented his weaknesses.

Many entrepreneurs think that they are brilliant at everything and can do everything. He admits that even though he thought that he was a pretty bright guy, it was humiliating to nearly get tossed out of business school. As a dyslexic, you realize very quickly that you need to surround yourself with a great team in order to get everything done. It’s a reality check that everyone learns in business at some point – unfortunately, it’s not until we have head handed to us or we are humiliated in a difficult situation that we realize that we really can’t scale something on our own.

Chuck decided to figure out the MVPs that he would need – he assessed his own skills and those that he would need to add to his team in order to be able to scale his business quickly. When he opened the doors at Schwab, he knew that he needed people who had a passion for the things that he was not good at and to give them ownership of those aspects of his overall vision. And under his leadership, each of us felt that we were an integral part of the success of the company, and Schwab has grown to become one of the largest and most ADMIRED companies in investment services.

Each of us has to figure out who our MVPs are, what they value, and what would really “flip the switch” and make them want to own and grow a business. This is when the magic happens – when you find other people who share your values and vision and are willing to join your cause. It’s what enables an entrepreneur to scale a business, or enables you to create a family and positive life together with others. By identifying your MVPs, understanding their values and criteria for success, and giving your MVPs “ownership” (whether it’s tangible or metaphorical ownership) – not only will they feel valued and rewarded – you will become more ADMIRED as well.

Listen to Mark’s entire interview at “Money for Lunch” on BlogTalkRadio.

The Willpower Instinct

The Willpower Instinct by Dr. Kelly Mcgonigal is a great primer on how to make a change or climb a mountain. Mcgonigal covers the latest research on what it takes to set a goal and achieve it. There are so many surprising ideas in this book regarding more effective ways to get to the top of your mountain. Here are some of my favorites…

1) Plan for Failure –
To prevent the emotional high of setting the goal and the crash of having to implement the goal, researchers have found that people who plan for failure are less likely to give up when the first setback comes. Planning for failure isn’t self-doubt–it’s determination.

2) Getting Distracted From Our Goals is Due to a Lack of Meaning –
“We live in a world of technology, advertisements, and twenty-four hour opportunities that leave us always wanting and rarely satisfied. If we are to have any self-control, we need to separate the real rewards that give our lives meaning from the false rewards that keep us distracted and addicted,” writes Mcgonigal in the book. The key to a determined mindset is to focus on the meaning of the goal. When we get distracted, we need to remember the rewards and stay in the game.

3) Practice Willpower –
Like most things in life, stronger willpower comes from practice. Willpower is a skill that can be learned. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Like a weak muscle, we run out of willpower when we aren’t working it.
This book is like your willpower personal trainer. I really enjoyed its helpful, practical advice. The Willpower Instinct is well researched and friendly, a refreshing approach to setting and achieving goals.


What’s worked for you in sticking with your goals?

Third Edition of Coaching For Leadership: Writings on Leadership from the World’s Greatest Coaches

An excellent new edition of the book Coaching For Leadership, edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence S. Lyons and Sarah McArthur, is now out and available for purchase.

This version features writing by Frances Hesselbein, John Baldoni, James Kouzes, Barry Posner, as well as myself, Bonita Buell-Thompson and many outstanding others. The chapter Bonita and I penned, “Double Your Value”, is an iteration of the successful webinar we did with the AMA last year.

Warren Bennis calls the book, “the single best collection of writings and writers on executive coaching.” It’s an incredibly valuable, well put-together resource for anyone interested in coaching and leadership, and it was an honor to contribute to. Order your copy here.

Richard Branson Selects Mark Thompson as One of 5 Judges in the World

Sir Richard Branson has selected me to join him as one of only 5 entrepreneurship expert judges in the world for the Virgin Global SBAU Entrepreneurship Competition.

The panel of judges also includes Jane Tewson (Igniting Change), Creel Price (Co-founder of Blueprint Management Group), Peter Boyd (COO, Carbon War Room), and Tony Banks (CEO, Balhousie Care Group).

 The Screw Business As Usual competition, launched in November 2011, was designed to find ideas from around the world that are truly screwing business as usual and making the world a better place. They have had a wealth of brilliant ideas, ranging from an ethical football Soccket that harnesses and stores energy from play for use as a power source in resource-poor areas to Rapanui, an eco-fashion brand that makes casual wear in line with the latest trends from sustainable materials, to an idea to introduce a ‘Thinking Class’ for air and train passengers to opt into, where passengers can donate their time and generate ideas through a virtual community platform.

 Sir Richard Branson and this great group of entrepreneurs will be responsible for judging the Top 10 ideas, as voted by the public. The winning idea will be announced on 14th May 2012. The lucky winner will join Richard on a money-can’t-buy Connection Trip to South Africa with Virgin foundation, Virgin Unite. As part of the prize, the winner will get to meet frontline leaders who are making a difference, share ideas with young entrepreneurs at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and get to spend several days with Richard and the rest of the group, experiencing the beautiful wildlife of South Africa at Ulusaba, Sir Richard’s private game reserve.

The contest is open until April 17th 2012, so there is still time to vote for your favorite idea to help find the winner of the 2012 Screw Business as Usual competition.

Read more about it here.

Create Value at Any Job

Floodgate co-founder Mike Maples has been responsible for helping to kick start some of the most revolutionary new companies around: Twitter and digg, just to name a couple. His secret? The ability to recognize talent and value in even the most wild sounding ideas and business plans.

“Great value creation is fundamentally a creative act. Part of that is taking the current job you’re in and doing the best you can at it. But the bigger part is taking only jobs that you’re passionate about. If you don’t have a job you’re passionate about, you’re flunking a cosmic IQ test,” he imparted.

As Mike says, most of us here in the U.S. have more choice than we think about pursuing the things we’re passionate about.

You have to have an authentic voice for what you do. You can be entrepreneurial at any job,” he shared emphatically. “If you think about your product and what you do not as convincing someone to buy something but rather as propoagating the truth because you care about it so much, than you’re more likely to succeed and you’re more likely to create value.”

Creating something valuable that people will be attracted to and want to be a part of first comes from your belief in it, so why waste your energy on something you don’t think matters? True value comes from the pursuit of your passions.

Watch the video version of my interview with Mike Maples below:

Actions That Stop Depression

Depression is 10 times more common than is was 50 years ago–particularly among our teens.  Here are some actions you can take that not only stop depression, but have been found in studies to be as effective as antidepressants.  These are from the book Flourish by Martin Seligman.

1) Do a kindness for someone.This action has the greatest increase in self-reported well-being.

2) Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has changed your life in a positive way (or visit the person and tell them how much they mean to you.)

3) Keep a diary of the top 3 greatest blessings that happened that day and why they happened. For example:
Husband ran to the store for me – I have a thoughtful husband.

Daughter did really well on a test – My daughter is a hard-working student.

I organized a closet so it is much more peaceful – I enjoy peace and am willing to work for it.

It’s important to physically write these down, and keeping a log helps you to review what’s right about your life when you are feeling low. This is great activity to do before going to sleep.

4) Focus on your strengths and tell a story of how you use those strengths.  You can even use a “Strengths Finder”, found at

5) Forgive by acknowledging how negative events strengthened you.  

6) Focus on increasing satisfaction rather than maximizing satisfaction.  What can you do to increase your satisfaction in a situation?  Don’t expect perfection but rather increase.

7) See bad events as temporary, changeable and local.

8 ) Plan pleasurable activities and practice truly savoring them when you do them.  Savoring is a skill.

9) Exercise – Get oxygen to your brain.

10) Set goals that are achievable and achieve them.

11) When you have problems, brainstorm their solution.  Brainstorming helps you focus on the solution rather than the problem and it also helps you recognize that there may be many possible solutions.

12) Acknowledge when you have given value to others.  We’re taught it’s not OK to praise ourselves, but it’s actually very healthy to do this, even if it’s just in private.

World Business Forum 2012

Announcing that Mark Thompson, Jack Welch, Jim Collins, Richard Branson and many more will be featured at Radio City Music Hall, NYC, for the Oct. 3 World Business Forum. You can register here.

The Banjo Player: Steve Martin’s Diligence

Most of us know Steve Martin as comic, actor, and occasional author and director. His role as banjo player, however, has been one of the most informative of his career.
In his 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, Steve recounted his experience learning to play the instrument.
“I remember getting my first banjo, and reading the book saying ‘this is how you play the C chord,’ and I put my fingers down to play the C chord and I couldn’t tell the difference.”

“But I told myself,” he continued, “just stick with this, just keep playing, and one day you’ll have been playing for 40 years, and at this point, you’ll know how to play.”

In 1960s California, the banjo was an interesting choice of instrument–there weren’t a lot of lessons being offered if any. Instead, Steve would take Earl Scruggs records and slow them down from 33 RPM to 16 RPM and then tune down the banjo to match the slower speed. He’d then tediously pick out the notes, one by one.

Later, when Steve began his stand up comedy career, he decided to make the banjo part of his routine.

“The reason I played [banjo] on stage,” he explained in an ABC interview, “is because…I thought it’s probably good to show the audience I can do something that looks hard, because this act looks like I’m just making it up.”

50 years after Steve began his attempt at playing banjo, he released his first album, “The Crow” in 2009 and it won a Grammy. He’s since been nominated for another. It’s not far off from the 40 years he’d told himself as a teenager it would take to learn how to play.

Steve’s memoir, Born Standing Up, defines diligence not just in terms of persistence, but also the integration of seemingly unrelated pursuits.
Steve was of course exagerrating when he projected it would take 40 years to get good at the banjo, and was obviously playing at a high-level after 5 – 10 years of taking up the instrument when he began using it in his act. But his resolution reflects a deeper truth: getting good at something is not to be taken lightly, and skill is to be developed over the course of a life.

Jack LaLanne’s Story: Would You Be Willing to Change if It Saved Your Life?

Failing an attempt at suicide at age 15, Jack LaLanne dropped out of school. He had suffered a never-ending rollercoaster of depression and illness that left him secretly hoping that his life would end. There were no antidepressants, no magic prescriptions for Jack’s condition. Suffocating migraines would send him into a panic in which he would lash out helplessly at everyone and everything. He once tried to set the family home on fire and, during another episode, he chased his older brother with a butcher knife determined to kill him.

His family did their best to help. They had moved twice at the advice of doctors first to drier, then to wetter climates, in search of an environment where the sickly teen could recover and grow.

Upon the advice of a friend, his mother took young Jack down to her ladies club for a lecture on improving one’s health naturally. Embarrassed, he dragged his feet. By the time they arrived, though, the meeting hall was full.  Jack felt relieved until the lecturer, nutritionist Paul Bragg, set two chairs out on the stage and said, “We don’t turn anyone away.”

Bragg focused on the trembling teen. “Do you want people to stop bullying you?  Do you want women to admire you?” Jack was captivated, and that message would become his life’s mission.

But Bragg recommended something that medical doctors at the time warned would cause heart attacks, hemorrhoids and even impotence: it was called daily exercise.

This was 1929, and the teen chose to change his life despite the warnings.  As America’s Great Depression deepened, it was perhaps reckless to start a business that conventional wisdom cautioned against. He would have to invent news ways of eating and new types of equipment that would make his exercise regimen possible. It was the beginning of a seven-decade career that, regardless of Jack’s passing last year, is still going strong today. Jack LaLanne became the father of a revolution in health.

Yet when I met him, LaLanne still claimed to hate exercise! He said he couldn’t “wait until it [was] over every day,” but knew that he’d be “miserable if [he] didn’t do it,” he said.  So why did he?

“Would you be willing to change,” the feisty 92-year-old shouted back, “if it saved your life?”

LaLanne pursued a path that ultimately revolutionized the health care and fitness world, but it didn’t start out as a revolution: it was all birthed from one, small lecture at his mother’s ladies club. Yet, he followed the advice and regimen and doubled not only his personal value–losing weight, feeling empowered and saving himself from suicide and depression–but he eventually improved the lives of millions of others.

Jack LaLanne decided to take something that increased his value and relentlessly encourage and show others the way to make it happen.

Listen to my interview with him here: