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Richard Branson with Mark Thompson, his daughter, Vanessa Thompson, and his wife, Bonita Thompson, taken in August, 2013, in Utah.
Richard Branson with Mark Thompson, his daughter, Vanessa Thompson, and his wife, Bonita Thompson, taken in August, 2013, in Utah.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Three principles Richard Branson uses to keep his focus on success Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Two years ago, Sir Richard Branson’s home of 30 years burst into flames after it was struck by lightning on his beloved private island, Necker, in the British Virgin Islands. During that fateful night, Sir Richard lost one of his greatest business treasures, his handwritten diaries from 30 years of globetrotting.

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You will rarely see him at a meeting without taking notes – one of his secrets to staying sane with 350 companies in the Virgin Group. He’s had many failures and defeats over his spectacular career, and now he’d lost his most cherished home, a place he had worked for decades and where he raised his kids.

We asked him what keeps him on track in the worst of times. Turns out that Sir Richard, like most of the leaders we interviewed for our book Success Built to Last, relies on three principles to keep himself focused on success against all odds. We call them the 3Ps.

1. Purpose

Embrace the challenge. Face the brutal truth. How do you want to make a difference? What purpose will get you up in the morning so you can have impact on the world for your customers, or for your community? This is all about getting back into business – taking action to serve the world generously in ways that serve you, too.

You have to live for something. Many of us fall in the trap of expending priceless energy railing against your last defeat. You have to shift from thinking about what you do for a living – to what you are for in your life. You will get what you focus on.

2. Passion

Despite setbacks, there are things that get you personally excited in your work and in life. Remember what flips your switch on even when you’re tired, disappointed or sad. Do more of that.

3. Performance

It’s normal not to feel successful in each and every moment. To our shock and surprise, when we asked successful leaders whether they felt successful, a third of these incredibly accomplished people said no. So if you’re suffering right now, you are in good company.

Their best advice

Focus on what you are good at, and start with what you can deliver today. The world’s most successful people – from the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to billionaire investor Charles Schwab – told me flat out that they felt flawed and imperfect, but that wasn’t the point. If you’re trying to make a difference, you will fall flat on your face with greater frequency than those who don’t try. The best question is, how can you get better every day?

The “balance” that successful people look for in their lives is an even blend of all three of these principles. The tendency for most people is to lean toward one of the three, and that can be successful in the short term. But those leaders who were built to last – who enjoyed 20 years or more of success, despite the chaos – focused on finding the intersection of all three Ps. That’s the struggle worth fighting for.

Sir Richard’s new house rose from the ashes of his last disappointment. But the new one is bigger and more beautiful. It’s so much better, in fact, Sir Richard says it “makes you wonder whether it’s worth burning down your metaphorical house once in a while so you can come up with a better one.”

Mark Thompson (@SuccessMatters) is a founding patron of the Branson Entrepreneurship Centres, co-founder of the mentor hub for Virgin Unite(@VirginUnite), a former partner with Steve Jobs and senior executive with Charles Schwab, a New York Times bestselling author, and a thought leader on growth and innovation strategies.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Careers

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