Why leaders should inspire, not belittle rivals

There are some leaders who strive to inspire their teams; there are other leaders who choose to influence by belittling others. As a leader it is incredibly important to praise people for doing great things. When people are given encouragement and support, they flourish. 

One of the best in the airline business is our partner Richard Anderson, the retiring CEO at Delta, who has built the turnaround at his company squarely on inspiring his people. In the process, he has taken it from Chapter 11 to being the most profitable airline in the world.

Another important lesson I have learned over the years is the power of forgiveness. Life is short and the world is much smaller than one realises. You will be surprised how often you come across people you would rather not meet. So rather than hold grudges and remain on unfriendly terms, it is far better to forgive and move forward.

This was certainly the case for me in the aftermath of the British Airways Dirty Tricks campaign against Virgin AtlanticWe had been subjected to an enormously negative ordeal at the hands of our larger rivals, which ended in the largest libel payout in British history being awarded to yours truly. We gave the money to our staff in what became known as the BA Christmas Bonus.

My first instinct was to feel aggrieved and angered by the bosses at BA. But rather than hold a grudge, I invited BA’s Chief Executive Sir Colin Marshall round to my house for lunch. We cleared the air and he left with us on friendly terms. We remained on friendly terms until he died a few years ago. I would urge everyone to befriend their enemies, go out to lunch with them, and let bygones be bygones.

With that in mind, it is disappointing that the current head of BA, Willie Walsh, is continuing to make childish comments directed at yours truly and others. More than three years ago, he bet me a “knee in the groin” that Virgin’s brand would disappear within five years. Since then we have been concentrating on constantly improving Virgin Atlantic’s service for our customers, by investing in our people, our close partnership with Delta and by continuing to evolve our brand.

Now, with his inimitable charm, Willie has stated: “I don't buy all the bullshit about him,” referring to me. Well, it won’t be long before we know who was and who wasn’t talking bullshit and we’ll see whether he’s willing to honour his bet.

Rather than attempting to deride our rivals, we will continue focusing upon ensuring our customers get the best service and experience in the skies. I feel sorry for anybody who revels in negativity. Here’s to more positivity, forgiveness, inspiration and success in 2016.


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