Entrepreneurs

Donald Trump follows this rule for success—while billionaire Richard Branson does the opposite

Donald Trump
Olivier Douliery | Pool | Getty Images
Donald Trump

Richard Branson and President Donald Trump have a few qualities in common: They are billionaires, they have founded expansive companies and they both frequently take to Twitter to share their thoughts to millions of followers.

However, when it comes to one key leadership quality, the pair couldn't differ more.

Branson says that in order to be successful, a leader shouldn't criticize others: "If you look for the best in people, if you motivate people, if you praise people, if you don't criticize people — these are all the skills that are needed to be a great leader," Branson tells CNBC Make It.

Trump, however, writes in his 1987 memoir, "Trump: The Art Of the Deal," that he isn't afraid to "fight back" against people who have treated him poorly.

"Much as it pays to emphasize the positive, there are times when the only choice is confrontation," he writes. "I'm very good to people who are good to me. But when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard."

In a June briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it this way: "He's been very clear that when he gets attacked, he's going to hit back."

Branson, who is an outspoken critic of Trump, tells CNBC's "Squawk Box" he first got a taste of the President's aggressive strategy during a meal they shared in the 1990s, at a time when Trump was building his real estate empire and dealing with a bankruptcy for one of his companies.

"He invited me to lunch or dinner at his house," Branson says. "I thought we would have an interesting conversation about a whole range of issues, and he just spent the whole lunch talking about five people he rung up to try to get help from ... and how these people had refused to help him and how his life's mission was going to be to destroy these people.

"Literally that was the gist of this conversation of our very very first meeting," Branson continues. "I said to him, 'Look you're going to eat yourself up. You're going to destroy these people unnecessarily'...but he was fixated on this mission of his."

Branson has pointed to his and President Trump's differing leadership styles before. In 2004, both men had entrepreneurship-focused reality TV shows, with Branson hosting "The Rebel Billionaire" and Trump hosting "The Apprentice."

While doing press to promote his show, Branson was frequently asked how he differed from Trump. According to the account in Branson's 2017 book, "Finding My Virginity," the British billionaire often answered that he disagrees with two of what Branson calls Trump's "10 rules for success." Specifically, notes Branson, he rejects Trump's "advice for people not to shake hands — and [Trump's] advice that you should go all out to get your own back on anyone who crosses you."

Trump did not take kindly to Branson's observations and wrote Branson a letter criticizing the mogul's reality show and questioning whether he is actually a billionaire.

The White House did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Branson's leadership style may stem from an early lesson he learned from his mother, who had strict rules against speaking poorly of others.

"If I ever said anything ill about somebody as a kid, my mum would send me to the mirror and make me stand there for 10 minutes because she said it reflected so badly on me," Branson tells CNBC Make It.

"I think that upbringing taught me never to say ill about anybody, always to look for the best in people, and I've found ever since that by looking for the best in people — you get the best."

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