Motivations From Branson’s Mom

Business leaders–whether of start-up or large businesses, should possess certain qualities in order to lead their organizations well. In the domain of emotional intelligence, these characteristics often include empathy, social skills, motivation, self awareness and self regulation. In a recent blog post on, the following question was asked:


Q: Is self-motivation an innate quality or is it something that can be learned and improved upon?
– Chris Prior, Liverpool, England


Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin (Records, Airways, Mobile, etc) offered the following response:

If you aren’t good at motivating yourself, you probably won’t get very far in business – especially as an entrepreneur. When you’re starting up a company and for the first couple of years afterward, there are a lot of long nights and stressful days, and the workload is heavy. You have to be able to give the job everything you’ve got every day, or it will easily get the better of you.

The ability to tap into your determination and grit is not just an innate skill. You can teach yourself to get up every day and try to keep a new business going despite long odds, partly by structuring your life and job to make sure you are working toward your larger goals.Branson Virgin Brands

(My mother) feels that shyness is very selfish, as it means you are only thinking of yourself, and so she was very insistent that I look adults in the eye and shake their hands, and carry on conversations with guests at dinner and at parties — no excuses. (She) also taught me to dive into situations even if I wasn’t completely sure about my own abilities, and then solve the problems that came up as I went along. When I was almost 12, she once sent me alone on a long bike-riding expedition to another town, knowing that I would be fine, but also that I’d have to find water and ask for directions along the way.

Before I left school at 16, I was already working on launching what became one of my first businesses, Student magazine. Then when my friends and I put ourselves in a position that forced the issue, by moving into a basement in West London that served as both our office and our living quarters, we really gave our magazine everything we had.

There were times when we struggled to pool together enough money to afford a proper meal — that in itself was a great motivator to follow through on calls to potential advertisers. In the larger picture, we were willing to live with such uncertainty because we wanted to give our generation a voice on issues that we felt strongly about, such as the Vietnam War; this shared goal meant a great deal to everyone involved.

It’s important to understand what your main motivation is so that you can focus your efforts on reaching those goals. Then structure your job – perhaps by delegating some work – so that you can spend as much time as possible turning this energy to your company’s advantage.

Above all, you should work on building a business you’re proud of. This has always been a motivator for me, from my Student magazine days, through to our latest start-ups today. I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If money is your only motive, then I believe you shouldn’t launch the business at all.

Once you know what your own motivations and aspirations are, talk to your employees and colleagues about theirs, if you haven’t already. Then structure their jobs in a way that allows them to tap into this energy, too. With you and your employees approaching your work with renewed energy and commitment, you’ll find that there’s little that you can’t accomplish together.

Good advice, indeed, from one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs on the planet. Branson understands what it takes to be successful. As you evaluate your own level of motivation and how you inspire others to be self-motivated, hopefully you can take notes from him on some best practices and the proper mindset.



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