Yesterday I was invited to London to meet Sir Richard Branson and receive a copy of his new book "The Virgin Way".  I won this by entering a competition to write about how Leadership Lessons Begin At Home. Here is the winning story.

I was lucky to have a mother and father who taught me different things. My mum was the effusive, sometimes brash "screw it let's do it" type, whilst my father was a reflective more socratic and spiritual figure. I did not have so much of an opportunity to learn from them as I was born when my mum was 45 and my Dad 67 – so they disappeared off this mortal coil in my 20's and early 30's – my mother used to tell people I was a virgin birth to explain the extraordinary circumstances of my late arrival, but then she was prone to exaggeration !!

My Dad – probably around 1910 when he was around 20 years old – Champion Cyclist of Kent

My dad worked in Chatham Dockyard as a fitter and turner for 50 years and retired when he was 69 – he was shortly "headhunted" in today's speak for a job in The Acorn Shipyard in Rochester, where he used to cycle 6 days a week (around 12 miles) until he was forced to retire by a bout of bronchitis when he was 79. I learned many things from him:

Curiosity – Tom was an inveterate tinkerer. By day he made prop shafts for submarines. In the evening people from our area would bring round watches and other items which needed fixing. He delighted in taking watches apart in the backyard on his bench and figuring out how they worked so he could put them back together again. I learned the joy of curiosity and figuring out how complex systems work through "helping" him. I subsequently transferred this quality into my life working in the metaphysical world of business leadership rather than the physical world of engineering.

Preparation – I could not comprehend the sheer difference in scale of Tom's day job of making prop shafts and his night time hobby of fixing watches. Yet both tasks required precision and patience (OK, I have not mastered patience yet!! -:) When I was about 7 years old Tom took me to work down the Dockyard to show me what he did for a living. I recall that he invested considerable time in setting up the machine and then hardly touched it from then on. The young apprentices used to call him "Sleepy Tom", as he could often be found in a somnambulistic state (aka sleeping) whilst his prop shafts took their 12 hour journey into the sea. They would sometimes try to throw cherries into his mouth as he appeared to doze on the 12 hour shifts. Yet, despite their attempts to choke him, every prop shaft he made turned out absolutely straight. This is not a oneupmanship tale of "My dad was the best fitter and turner in the Dockyard". It is simply a story of the so-called 10 000 hours effect. Tom had done this job for so long that he had what business gurus called "mastery" – in other words he could almost do it literally in his sleep. I think he knew the exact sound of the machine just before it needed adjusting – he would give it the tiniest of tweaks and then return to his dream state, pipe in mouth, whereas the apprentices would keep fiddling and overcompensate as a result. Preparation is the mother of high performance and I've taken this lesson into my professional life as a business person when designing client events and in my hobby as a musician.

My Dad bought me a Beatles' guitar when I was five – fortunately it only had 4 strings which made it 33% easier to play than John Lennon or George Harrison's!!

Let it be – At 79, my Dad could see that I had different hopes and passions – I was crazy about science and music. The greatest gift he could give me was NOT to assume I would want to follow him down his chosen lifestyle and career. He always encouraged me to be myself and follow my interests. So many fathers attempt to imprint their children with their lifestyle, careers and dreams, but I think he was old and wise enough to realise that he needed to let me be. I recall that my mum said towards the end of her life that "they decided to treat me differently" to their other children as I was the last of the line, letting me find my way in the world. I never quite found out what she meant by this. I don't think Tom understood my love of science or music but he was strangely comfortable with not understanding things. The concept of encouraging others to find their passions rather than attempting to imprint them with mine has stayed with me to this day.

In 1996, I wrote this dedication in my first book Best Practice Creativity:

"For my father, Tom, who was an inveterate tinkerer and taught me the art of curiosity. In the hope that my two sons, Thomas and James will find as much fortune in learning"

Thank you Mum and Dad – So many questions I still want to ask you

Thomas Cook 1891 – 1980 with my mum Doris 1913 – 1992, perhaps on their wedding day in our garden in Gillingham, Kent – I want to thank you for letting me be myself

The Virgin Way