5 leaders, 5 different takes on modern leadership

Arianna Huffington Steve Jobs and Hilary Clinton
Chris Niarchos takes leadership inspiration from the wise words of prominent leaders past and present.

There are many different types of leaders and leadership styles, but the ability to inspire others to achieve individual success is common among the best of the best.

Mentoring others to develop and achieve their personal and business goals has been a focus throughout my career. It is also the entrepreneurial philosophy at the heart of many of the businesses I have set up and/or been involved in.

As I look at my own leadership role for 2018, these five quotes have really resonated with me because they remind me that leadership is a balancing act, that mistakes are part of the road to success, and that guiding the way is not just about talking, but is also rooted in being able to listen and learn.

Arianna Huffington, founder and editor of HuffPost“We need to accept that we don’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes. Understand that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.”  

Winston Churchill, UK Prime Minister, 1940-45 and 1951-55: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Steve Jobs, co-founder Apple Inc.: “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.”

Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and public speaker: “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”

Hillary Clinton, American politician and former First Lady of the United States: “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”



3 essential traits every salesperson needs

There are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes a great salesperson. In my long experience, they come in all ages and personalities, from all backgrounds and with a variety of different skills and experiences.

Great salespeople have their own influencing styles, their own strategies, and their own ways of approaching opportunities and challenges – that’s how you make interactions genuine and meaningful. However, I believe that there are three traits that every great salesperson needs to possess and continually hone.

Listening skills

We talk about the importance of having the “gift of the gab”, but as a salesperson, being able to talk at someone is simply not enough. Engaging in two-way communication is essential.

Truly listening allows you to pick up on vital cues from potential customers so you can understand their particular needs and concerns, and gain their reactions to – and feedback on – your presentation and the product your promoting.

It’s not just about their words, it’s important to acknowledge facial expressions and body language too. If you listen to both the verbal and non-verbal cues each customer is providing you can create a truly personalised customer experience for them. And that should be the aim of every salesperson.


Empathy – the ability to understand another person’s situation and feelings – is an absolute must for any salesperson.

One of the biggest challenges in a sales role is to establish trust in others that you genuinely believe in the product (or service or brand) you’re promoting and care whether it’s right for the person you’re talking to. The best salespeople understand that no one product is going to be a fit for everyone, and they know this because they have empathy – whether they realise it or not!

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes enables you to more clearly assess their situation and what is most important to them and then provide them with the information they need to make the right purchasing decision for them.

The lovely by-product here is that, in avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach, you demonstrate your respect for and knowledge about the product. And that’s a great way to foster trust.

Product knowledge

While listening and empathy come more naturally to some people and others have to work at them, there’s absolutely no excuse for not having excellent product knowledge.

A salesperson must know everything about what they are selling. Always. There is nothing more off-putting and trust-crushing for a customer than asking a question and getting an “umm… I’m not sure”, or worse, a complete deflection from the salesperson.

A salesperson is a brand ambassador entrusted with, quite literally, embodying a given product or service. You must be a walking, talking, living, breathing version of it and, therefore, the absolute authority on the subject.

It comes down to making sure you’ve done your homework. Yes, that means taking in all the training provided, but it’s also about finding your own connection to the product – how do you relate to it? This will help you understand it on a more personal level, which will help you retain information, and create meaningful messages, about it.

Chris Niarchos is founder and chairman of The Cobra Group of Companies, a diverse portfolio of businesses, including direct sales and marketing specialist Appco, which has independent operations in more than 20 countries.




Why people are the key to great marketing

I’ve seen every form of marketing in action, and regardless of the method or whether it’s a big or small campaign, I don’t believe anything beats having people at the heart of it.

With multi-media advertisements dominating the marketing sector, and an ever-increasing dependence on social media strategies, the immense value of one-on-one connections can be forgotten.

Emphasis is often put on reaching the largest audience possible, but in doing so, the messages that businesses are trying to get across can be diluted. The selling points of a product or service are generalised in a one-size-fits-all approach so that a lot of people don’t hear about the features that are most relevant to them.

Face-to face marketing, however, opens up a two-way communication, giving marketers the ability to better convey passion for a product and establish connections with potential customers.

Right place, right time, right person

We’ve heard it said a million times: “You had to be there.” As far as marketing goes, this couldn’t be more accurate.

Second-hand information is rarely as good as hearing it straight from the source. This is the theory behind great direct marketing. The product information is tailored specifically for the person the representative is speaking to, the representative’s knowledge is excellent, their enthusiasm is real, and so their ability to educate, motivate and inspire is so much stronger.

Without a doubt, digital marketing has its place, but as it increasingly becomes the way of the world, direct human contact is all the more important.

People appreciate the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation – the chance to be treated as a person and not just a faceless consumer in front of a screen.

It’s that personal connection that also makes this type of marketing so much more valuable in the long-term. A conversation leaves a lasting impression – at the end of the day, people remember people.

Chris Niarchos is founder and chairman of The Cobra Group of Companies, which has a diverse portfolio of businesses, including direct marketing specialist Appco Group.

What do top sportspeople and entrepreneurs have in common?

port and business might be two separate realms, but in fact it takes many of the same characteristics to rise to the top in both of these arenas. I’ve been thinking about this lately and, from the late, great boxer Muhammad Ali to high-profile entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, there are a few things these people tend to have in common.


An insatiable hunger for success

What separates a decent sportsperson from a true icon? There are, of course, a lot of factors that feed into this, but one of the things that propels the big sporting names to the very top and keeps them there is an insatiable hunger for success.

When these people win a trophy or break a record, they don’t sit back and think their work is done. Instead, their triumphs fuel their desire to enjoy future successes. From Serena Williams’ staggering seven Wimbledon championship wins to Chris Hoy’s 11 world championship victories and six Olympic golds, the brightest stars in the sporting world strive to continually improve themselves and achieve their next goal.

The same can be said for leading business stars. Take Virgin founder Richard Branson. There are now over 100 Virgin companies globally and the group employs around 60,000 people. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg grew the social network from a small directory for his fellow Harvard students into a global phenomenon that has helped him amass a fortune. People like this aren’t content to sit back in the knowledge they have achieved ‘enough’. Their drive and passion always keeps them reaching higher.


A tough work ethic

A tough work ethic is a must in both the sporting and the business worlds. While lots of people would love to cross the finish line in first position or land lucrative contracts, it takes a certain kind of individual to actually put in the hard graft required to turn these dreams into reality.

For sportspeople, this could involve spending long hours in the gym or on the training field pushing their bodies to the limit. For entrepreneurs, it could mean working around the clock to set up and keep their companies on track.

As well as the mental and physical strain, this often means making sacrifices like cutting down on holidays and time with friends at the pub, but I have always tried to set aside family time, no matter how hectic work gets.


A passion for what they do


Because of the level of commitment needed to get to the top, passion is an essential part of the mix in both sport and business. The best athletes and entrepreneurs have a zeal for what they do and this helps to sustain them when things get tough. Having a genuine enthusiasm for their sport or business keeps them motivated to keep doing what they’re doing day after day.

The fact is, in both of these spheres, high profile successes are only a small part of the story. The on-going reality is hard work, much of which goes unnoticed. In many cases, it’s unwavering passion that enables people to keep this up.


Founder and chairman of The Cobra Group of Companies, Chris Niarchos knows what it takes to achieve success as an entrepreneur. He set up his first direct sales company at the age of 22 with the goal of building it into an international sales and marketing company. Appco Group, which is the sales and marketing subsidiary of the Cobra Group, now operates in 25 countries around the world.

How ParalympicsGB embody the principle ‘Be Something More’

Recently, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Manchester and London to watch parades celebrating the extraordinary achievements of Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic stars.


These events came just weeks after ParalympicsGB recorded their best-ever performance. They ended the competition in Rio with an impressive 147 medals, which was 27 more than they picked up in London four years earlier and 26 above the target set for them by UK Sport.

What really astounds me about this feat is the adversity that many of the competitors have overcome in their lives to reach the top in their respective sports. To me, this embodies the principle of ‘Be Something More’, which is something I base my working and personal life on.

Amazing stories

One of the biggest names in ParalympicsGB is Dame Sarah Storey. The most successful Paralympian in the modern era, she won three gold medals at the Rio games, taking her career total to an incredible 14 Paralympic golds.


Born without a functioning left hand, Storey refused to let this stop her from achieving great things. Starting her sporting career as a swimmer, her first foray into high-profile competition was the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when at the age of just 14 she took the podium top spot a staggering five times.


In 2005, ear infections forced her to stop swimming, but rather than retiring from sport, she switched to cycling to keep her fitness levels up. She has since achieved huge things on the track and the road. She was even the first para-cyclist to compete for England against able-bodied athletes at the Commonwealth Games.

Fellow Paralympian Kadeena Cox has another inspirational story. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Always a keen sprinter, she continued training despite her condition and in Rio she earned herself a gold medal in the 400 metres on the athletics track. She also secured the top position in the 500-metre time trial in the velodrome.

Like Storey and Cox, all of the people who competed at the Rio Paralympics have refused to let physical challenges and health issues stop them from achieving success.

Success means stretching yourself and overcoming obstacles

The perseverance and determination that these athletes have shown is a perfect example of the Be Something More principle. As you’ll know if you’ve read my previous blogs, this idea is extremely important to me.


Having first seen the slogan on a poster my mum bought for me as a child, it’s a motto I’ve tried to live by ever since. It’s about stretching yourself to do something worthwhile with your life rather than just going through the motions.

Hearing about the bravery and commitment of the ParalympicsGB team just drives home the importance of this message.

As founder and chairman of Appco Group, Chris Niarchos has adopted the Be Something More phrase as his company motto. He continually strives for excellence and helps others around him to do the same.

For every problem a solution: how to think about problems in business

Look at problems.

What do you see when you look at a problem? What if you were a dentist, and tomorrow someone invented something that gave everyone perfect teeth? What if you were a pilot and someone invented teleportation?

I realise these are slightly facetious examples, but we’re faced with problems and obstacles every day of our lives and how we respond to them says a lot about who we are as people and as business leaders.

Recognising a problem

All over the world, businesses are struggling to adapt to the challenges wrought by digital technology. Some industries have been hit particularly hard by the digital revolution. In 1999, for example, traditional record companies made US$14.6 billion, but only ten years later, that figure stood at just $6.3 billion. Music industry insiders call it the lost decade.

That isn’t to say that the music industry as a whole has suffered. Bands focus more on touring now and tech companies like Apple are reaping the rewards investing in innovative ways of music delivery. What the story does show, however, is the importance of meeting challenges. The successful companies innovated; the unsuccessful ones dithered.

So many industries have been hit hard by the digital revolution. How each has responded to it says a lot about how they operate.

There are exceptions to this story as well. Sometimes is pays to be conservative. When putting content online for free started eating into The Times newspaper’s subscriber base, they put up a paywall and increased both subscribers and revenue. Some papers that didn’t, like The Guardian, which has embraced free online content, are struggling and losing money.

Overcoming a problem

Technological innovation has always been both a challenge and an opportunity. I think the stories above reveal an important way for businesses to embrace problems.

Look at the music industry example. The companies that survived in that environment were the ones that innovated, that changed their practices and realised that the old regime was over. By innovating, they not only staved off failure, but they also created new, successful products.

The second important thing to learn is to play to your strengths. When you come across a problem, pause and think what unique capabilities you and your team have to solve it. This is what successful newspapers have done. They’ve created models that protect and monetise the unique parts of their business: their content, while harnessing the Internet’s ability to share it.

Every day you will come across small and large obstacles in life and in business — I certainly have as Founder and Chairman of Appco Group. Thinking innovatively and marshaling all of your unique capabilities and strengths to overcome those problems will help you succeed.

How can you be an inspirational leader?

There’s no one-size-fits-all model for being a successful business leader, but my experience has taught me that there are certain qualities entrepreneurs must have if they’re to really inspire the people around them. Here are just some of the traits that I consider to be especially important when it comes to motivating and enthusing colleagues.

A bold vision

The most inspirational leaders tend to have a bold vision. Whether this is outselling competitors, developing groundbreaking products or services that advance industry standards or meeting ambitious growth targets, being able to think big and articulate their goals clearly and convincingly helps to set the best businesspeople apart. By establishing a brave and ambitious agenda – and consistently reinforcing this – entrepreneurs can create excitement and inspire admiration and loyalty in those around them.

A positive attitude

Positivity is another essential characteristic. Being able to remain upbeat even when addressing potentially significant problems enables leaders to maintain high levels of morale among their colleagues and it contributes to a more positive company culture overall. This can help leaders to steer their companies through the bad times as well as the good and it makes it easier to recruit and retain the top personnel.

A focus on your people

The most skillful entrepreneurs also realise that lasting success doesn’t come from being selfish. They spend time and energy cultivating and nurturing the talents of the people around them, enabling them to fulfil their potential and harnessing their abilities in the best possible ways. This helps to maximise job satisfaction among staff members and, because it takes full advantage of people’s skills, it can boost the long-term success of businesses.

An ability to share your motivations

Many of the most skilled leaders take the time to explain to the people around them exactly what motivates them to strive for the top. By providing personal anecdotes and giving insights into their history and what they are seeking to achieve in the future, entrepreneurs can establish a closer connection with their colleagues. In my own case, I have made the concept ‘Be something more’ a corporate slogan within Appco Group. I first came across the idea as a young kid when I got a poster from my mum displaying this phrase. The concept reflected my late parents’ outlook on life – striving to achieve excellence in whatever you choose to do and helping those around you – and I think it perfectly encapsulates what our company and people do.

Sharing insights and personal motivations like this can promote cohesion and understanding within companies and it can play an important role in inspiring others.

Chris Niarchos is the founder and chairman of the Cobra Group of Companies and is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the many businesses within the group. He began his career as an entrepreneur at the age of just 22, when he established his first direct sales business, and has since gone on to achieve international success. You can find out more about Chris Niarchos’ background and business achievements online.

3 important lessons I’ve learned in business

To be successful in business, you have to be able to adapt and to pick up knowledge and skills as you go.

You learn from mentors, colleagues and competitors, and you take lessons from both your achievements and your mistakes.

Absorbing all of this information helps you to grow not only as an entrepreneur, but also as a person. Here are three important lessons I’ve learned during my career.

1. It’s impossible to control everything

No matter how much of a perfectionist you are and how tight a grip you want to keep on your company, the simple fact is you can’t control everything.

Trying to micromanage every aspect of your business can spell disaster for your strategic planning and it will cause your stress levels to soar. As a leader, you have to be able to take a step back and delegate tasks to the appropriate people.

There will also be a range of variables outside of your business that you have little or no control over, including the prevailing market conditions. This means you have to be flexible in your approach and ready to tailor your strategy to suit changing circumstances.

2. Patience is an important virtue

It’s true that a small number of businesspeople seem to propel themselves to instant fame and fortune, but the vast majority of entrepreneurs have to work hard over a sustained period of time to achieve their goals.

This means that patience is vital asset among business leaders. You need to have foresight and dedication to stick to your path and realise your ambitions. Anyone who has made it to the top thanks to hard work and perseverance – and that’s most people – will tell you that this makes the eventual rewards all the more satisfying.

3. Keeping your focus is crucial

You must also be able to keep your focus at all times. After reaching a particular target or milestone, there is a risk that entrepreneurs – who tend to always be juggling multiple things – will turn their attention elsewhere and lose their momentum. If you want to achieve sustained success and company growth, you’ll need to avoid this pitfall.

One of the things that has helped me to remain motivated throughout my career is my desire to ‘Be Something More’. This phrase was printed on a poster that I put up on my bedroom wall as a youngster living at home and it has helped me to shape my approach to work and to life more generally.

‘Be Something More’ reminds me to continuously strive to achieve the most for my businesses, myself and, just as importantly, for the people around me. This guiding principle is so important to me that I decided to make it the catchphrase for the entire Appco Group.

As chairman and founder of the Cobra Group, Chris Niarchos has achieved global success as an entrepreneur. His journey began at the age of just 22 when he started his first direct sales company in Sydney. He had a vision of growing the business into an international organisation and, through hard work and skill, he has succeeded in his ambition.

Your guide to harnessing the potential of your personnel

My experiences in business have taught me that having a skilled, dedicated team around you is essential if you are to achieve your goals. Without talented and effective people by your side, it can prove impossible to realise your ambitions. With this in mind, I’ve put together a brief guide to help you harness the potential of your personnel.

Invest in training

All the best business leaders understand the crucial role that effective training plays within companies. By providing your personnel with all the support and coaching they need, you can help ensure they are able to perform their roles effectively and confidently. Bear in mind that training opportunities shouldn’t be reserved for new starters. It’s important to offer employees the chance to enhance their knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis.

Reward good work

Rewarding good work is also essential. People are much more likely to stretch themselves and go above and beyond the basics of their job requirements if they know they will be recognised for their efforts. As well as praising people on an informal basis, it’s useful to have official procedures in place to recognise good work, such as employee awards and prizes. Providing people with opportunities for promotion and pay rises that reflect their diligence and skill is vital too. If workers feel as though their input is valued, they are more likely to remain focussed and loyal.

Put effective communication procedures in place  

Another way to nurture talent within your company is to set up effective two-way communication procedures – and regular appraisals should play an important role in this. These sessions can help people to identify their strengths and weaknesses and they foster a culture of accountability and openness. People are likely to feel happier and perform better if there is an established system in place for getting guidance and feedback. Your personnel should also feel confident about approaching their line managers if they spot any problems. If they know they can raise concerns with senior members of staff, employees can help ensure that any issues are tackled before they escalate and potentially do damage to your business.

Provide a clear company message

Providing personnel with a clear company message that they can relate to and get behind is vital. When people understand that they are working towards a common goal and feel as though they are part of a team, they tend to be more enthused and energised about their work. Having a clear brand message and communicating this to your staff members is essential if you are to achieve this – and you can reinforce the sense of cohesion by organising team building days and other corporate events.

By following guidance like this and harnessing the full potential of your personnel, you stand to make your business stronger and more successful.

Chris Niarchos is the founder and chairman of the Cobra Group of Companies, which includes AGS Global Fundraising Services. You can find out more about Chris Niarchos’ charity fundraising by visiting the AGS Global Fundraising Services website.