Sir Richard Branson may not see himself as an entrepreneur, but the rest of the world does. The billionaire traced his journey from when he created his first business at 15 to his latest passion project, Virgin Galactic, during a chat with Esquire editor-in-chief Jay Fielden on Tuesday.
"I've never seen myself particularly as an entrepreneur," Branson said at the event that also showcased his new autobiography, Finding my Virginity. "I've seen myself as somebody who loves to dive in and make a difference in a particular field."
Branson got his start selling Student, the magazine he created as a teenager to campaign against the Vietnamese War. In the early 1970s, he launched the record business Virgin, which grew into a music shop, record label, and then later an airline. Virgin Group now runs more than 400 companies, including Galactic, which Branson hopes will soon take him and other astronaut want-to-be's to space.
At the talk with Fielden, Branson outlined some of the most important leadership lessons he's learned throughout his extensive career.
1. To successfully manage a full day, you must know how to delegate.
Branson likes to start and end his day playing singles tennis. In order to do that--and be able to manage his work at the same time--he must delegate.
"I learned from a young age the art of delegation and that is absolutely, utterly critical in my life and I believe it should be critical in anybody's life," Branson said. "Whether you're a manager in a big company or department head, you've got to be able to think about the bigger picture and move the company forward on the bigger areas that matter."
2. Hire emotionally intelligent leaders.
Virgin employs tens of thousands of workers across the world, but to keep those ventures running, Branson said he hires leaders who love people. "I look for people to run our companies who are good with people, who don't jump down people's throats," Branson said. "Who draw out the best in people and who know how to praise."
Once you find these leaders, it's important to retain and keep them happy by allowing flexible work environments. Branson said Virgin staffers can work from home, experiment with jobs shares, and go on long paid-holidays.
"Obviously we ask them not to let the company down. But if somebody wanted to go on sabbatical for three months, we would let them do that," Branson said. He added employees who utilized that option returned with a stronger work ethic that made up for the missed hours of work.
3. Make time for creativity and humor.
Branson said he enjoys taking baths and "having a good think." Since that's not conducive to the office, he suggested carrying a notebook and pen to write down ideas, questions, or problems.
"Keep your eyes open and there will be so many things that you'll want to scribble down." Branson said, adding that "the most wonderful ideas get lost because people don't write them down."
Branson's creativity also comes out in humorous ways. When asked if he'll appear on Shark Tank again after he splashed Mark Cuban with a glass of water, Branson asked if he should do the same to Fielden. He took a poll of the audience and lobbed his water on an unsuspecting Fielden (who clearly isn't caught up with the ninth season of Shark Tank), proving that a sense of humor can be strong asset to any leader.