The most successful people in the world didn’t get where they are on their own.
Along the way, they received some guidance that changed their views and, inevitably, got them to the top.
In its latest “Influencers” series, LinkedIn asked 70+ top professionals in banking, real estate, public relations, energy, technology, and media to answer the question: “What is the best advice you’ve ever received?”
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was advised not to “correct people when it matters little” and Gallup’s Jim Clifton was told that “your weaknesses will never develop while your strengths will develop infinitely.”
From T. Boone Pickens to Martha Stewart to Richard Branson, here are the lessons that changed the top minds in the world. We’re publishing the highlights with permission from LinkedIn.
T. Boone Pickens, Chairman of BP Capital Management
“If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.
“Here’s how she put it: ‘Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.’ After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy.”
Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
“The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen. He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose.
“This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children. It is a very necessary part of growing up.”
Jim Kim, President at The World Bank
“… I received some great advice from Marshall Goldsmith, one of the preeminent authorities in the field of leadership. He told me this: ‘If you want to be an effective leader, listen to and accept with humility the feedback that comes from your team.'”
“The most fundamental commitment you have to make as a leader is to humbly listen to the input of others, take it seriously, and work to improve. Again, it sounds simple, but it’s not easy. Leadership, as Marshall always says, is a contact sport, and one has to constantly ask for and respond to advice from colleagues so you can improve.”
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
“The best advice I ever received? Simple: Have no regrets. Who gave me the advice? Mum’s the word.
“If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it is a safe bet that most would say it was their mother. I am no exception. My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made.”
Sallie Krawcheck, former President of Merrill Lynch, US Trust, Smith Barney
“One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me, in a voice that I thought of as her ‘telephone voice’ (meaning, reserved for grown-ups), that I should ignore the girls [from school]; the only reason they were treating me poorly was because they were jealous of me. Therefore I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course.”
Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn
“As a child, I can’t recall a day that went by without my dad telling me I could do anything I set my mind to. He said it so often, I stopped hearing it … It wasn’t until decades later that I fully appreciated the importance of those words and the impact they had on me.
Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment co-owner of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Dodgers
Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, told Guber to never visibly show how upset you are:
“You are going to lose a lot! A lot! Get used to it! It’s a crucial part of the process! That behavior doesn’t help you or your team. You’ve got to always remain visibly positive! Managing losses is a challenge you must be up to! You can never give in to it!”
Vivian Schiller, Chief Digital Officer at NBC News, former CEO of NPR
“You’re never as good as your best review, and never as bad as your worst.’ I was given this advice by a former boss, and it has since stuck with me as a guide for getting through the best of times and the worst of times.
“Looking back on my career and all of the places I’ve been, there have been incredible highs and lows at each point along the way. What I’ve come to learn is that life is cyclical and the best way to stay focused is to ignore the swings and instead focus on the long run.”
Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place
At a conference in 2006, President Clinton gave Agassi some advice on pricing for market disruption:
“‘By the time you will convince the rich folks in Israel to try it, then get the average folks in Israel to try it, then bring it to the U.S. for our rich folks … the world will run out of time. You need to price your car so that an average Joe would prefer it over the kind of cars they buy today — an 8-year-old used gasoline car, selling for less than $3,000. As a matter of fact, if you can give away your car for free, that’s a sure way to succeed.’
“Pricing for market disruption is very different than pricing for a few early adopters. You have to plan your pricing from the target customer’s perspective, within the boundaries of your costs.”
Tom Keene, editor-at-large for Bloomberg News and host of Bloomberg Surveillance
“Everyone can read a book. Some read two books on a topic. Several read three books … As a general rule, to get up to LinkedIn speed on any topic, read five books.
“By now (four books) you have figured out exactly how dumb you are. So, the fifth book can be anything that floats your LinkedIn boat, say, Kent Osband’s hugely under-rated ‘Iceberg Risk.’ (I can just hear Taleb screaming, “Tom, they really should read my ‘Anti-fragile’ or at least ‘Dynamic Hedging’ as the fifth book.”)
“Get past the one-book and on to the next topic habit. Do the Rule of 5. All of these ‘risk’ books are important. Taken together, they get you to the power of not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but, rather 5 … books. Discuss.”
Beth Comstock, CMO at GE
“Moving fast and being organized were my strong suits. The more there was to do, the more I felt alive.”
“Who better than me, then, to land a plum assignment working for Jack Welch, Mr. Speed and Simplicity. Imagine my surprise when he called me into his office that day and admonished me for being too efficient. My zeal to do everything on my to-do list — along with my reserved, even shy nature — made me come across as abrupt and cold. I started every meeting by jumping right in and left with every action under control.
“‘You have to wallow in it,’ he said. ‘Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you.’ I heard Jack loud and clear. But honestly, it took a long time for the impact of his words to sink in, and even longer to change my behavior. After all, those same attributes had led to my being in the role in the first place.”
Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow
“The best advice I have ever gotten was to always hire people who are even better than you.
“You have to try to be comfortable enough with your own position that you hire people beneath you who are extraordinary. Too often middle managers — subconsciously or consciously — hire mediocre people beneath them in order to look good by comparison.”
Brad Smith, President and CEO at Intuit
Smith’s dad gave him career advice when he finished college:
“He advised me that choosing the right job was not a sudden lightning bolt of realization, nor was it for most of us something we knew we wanted to do since we were kids (oh, how I envied those kids). Rather, it was a process of trial and error – a voyage of discovery.”
Ilya Pozin, founder of Ciplex
“Most of us are trained to believe that practice makes perfect; but the best advice I’ve ever received preaches the exact opposite: Don’t be a perfectionist. Today I embrace this, but when I first heard this 7 years ago, I refused to accept it.”
Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, Inc.
“… I had access to the best guidance available: We all do. In the era of blogging, many of the leading thinkers in the web industry were publishing their thoughts online for free.
“I learned about venture capital thanks to the insights of Fred Wilson, and got my first look at the world of digital marketing thanks to Edelman’s Steve Rubel. Charlene Li of Forrester Research was unknowingly my mentor in the realm of web trends.
“Now many of these industry experts have moved to newer platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where they continue to distill their invaluable advice and insights to the world. And everyday (sic), without knowing it, they are actually giving me the best advice: Keep listening.”
Caryn Seidman Becker, CEO of CLEAR
“When I was 13, I had a problem that seemed like an absolute disaster (as most things do when you’re young). Tired of hearing me whine, my grandfather said, ‘Caryn, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and move forward.’ Today they call that being resilient, and it’s the single best trait needed to succeed through tough times.
“I now live that advice multiple times a week. Throughout both my personal and professional life, his words have helped me overcome obstacles big or small. There will always be issues and setbacks, but the worst thing you can do is get hung up on a problem. Instead, you have to be resilient to find a good solution.”
Michael Moritz, Chairman of Sequoia Capital
“‘Follow your instincts’ was the terse, three-word suggestion I received 25 years ago from Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia Capital.
“‘Follow your instincts’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘trust your gut,’ ‘ignore reality,’ ‘rely on your sniffer’ or ‘go for glory.’ The rough translation is ‘do your homework well, analyze things carefully, assess the options but eventually trust your judgment and have the courage of your convictions – even if they are unpopular.”
Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup
“The best advice I ever received came from my dad, Don Clifton. It was actually a piece of simple, yet profound wisdom that has shaped my life. ‘Your weaknesses will never develop,’ he told me, ‘while your strengths will develop infinitely.'”
Michael Fertik, CEO at Reputation.com
“‘You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.‘ This is from Pirke Aboth, or “The Ethics of the Fathers” … a collection of wisdom from the Jewish Talmudic sages, in this case, Rabbi Tarfon. This particular instruction has resonated with me for years. It’s something I think about nearly each day, and I find myself applying it to everything: My day job, my family life, my long-term hopes, even my sense of responsibility as a citizen.
“It’s a beautiful concept. It says you have an obligation to labor, to continue trying and making your way through the world, in essence, making a difference. At the same time, the instruction also focuses you on the effort, not the outcome. The main idea is the project, not the success.”
Zach Coelius, CEO of Triggit
“As a startup founder I can honestly say I have lost track of how many times I’ve wanted to quit. The job is simply too hard not to regularly feel dispirited.”
“Throughout these trials and tribulations I have found the best place to turn for counsel is from those who have gone before me as fellow travelers on the entrepreneurship path. … Through their words and deeds, through the stories they shared and the feelings they bared, they taught me that regardless of how bad things might be, I should always remember how insanely lucky I am to get do this and I should enjoy it while I can.”
Paul Kedrosky, Investor at SK Ventures
“You can’t push on a rope. A fourth-year engineering school professor told me that most of engineering could be reduced to two things: F=ma, and you can’t push on a rope.
The former, while important, is computational and self-explanatory; the latter, however, is weirdly helpful even when you don’t have a calculator around. Because you can’t push on ropes, whether physical, relational or metaphorical.”
Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local
“My father-in-law, the Honorable Steven W. Fisher … taught me this essential business paradox: when you want something from someone, give them something instead, with no strings attached or expectations. Ask how you can be of service. Act like a true friend, even before you’ve established a friendship. Are you guaranteed to be able to leverage this later? Absolutely not. But that’s not the point – the point is that when you act unselfishly – when you behave as you would to a great friend – trustworthy and trusting, respectful and kind – then more often than not, good things will come in the relationship.”
Nilofer Merchant, HBR Writer and founder of Rubicon Consulting
When I was 20-something … I walked into my boss’s office, the division leader … I told him that I felt like on any given day I was facing a tsunami of things I could pay attention to, and there was no way I could work any harder to make stuff happen. I was asking for more resources, as the answer. And he sat me down as he might one of his many kids and gave me this advice: Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys.
Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you.
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist
“I’m a nerd, seriously hard-core, and sometimes that translates into being a know-it-all. People got tired of that while I worked at an IBM branch office in Detroit in the eighties. My boss told that that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers.
“However, he said that my saving grace was my sense of humor. When trying to be funny, well, didn’t matter if I was funny or not, at least I wasn’t being an a**hole. The advice was to focus on my sense of humor and worry less about being exactly right. For sure, don’t correct people when it matters little.”
“It took a while to get noticed, but it did get noticed, and some tension got less tense. That felt pretty good.
D.J. Patil, Data Scientist at Greylock Capital Partners
“I had the good luck as a young doctoral student to have the famous Jim Yorke (yes, those are his shoes) as one of my Ph.D. advisers … One of the things that Jim is best known for is naming the field of Chaos Theory.
“Late one day in the empty, long hallway of our department, I ran into Jim and seized the opportunity to impress him. I quickly launched into the explanation of the problem I was thinking about, talking fast and gesturing wildly. Jim waited patiently until I was done. Then: Silence. Fearful that I hadn’t been clear, I started up again. Finally, I was out of breath and energy. My reward? More silence. Jim just looked at me with an intense look and slowly nodded his head up and down. I thought to myself; yes, I’ve said something awesome! Then he said: Simple problems quickly become hard. Complex problems become intractable. He nodded some more, raised one eyebrow, and turned and walked away.”
Anand Chandrasekaran, Entrepreneurial Product Leader at Yahoo
“A few years ago, I received J. Krishnamurti’s ‘The Book of Life‘ as a birthday gift. In it was one of my favorite pieces of advice: Always cultivate a beginner’s mind. In typical JK fashion, the book does not spell out *exactly* what that means — except that in the beginner’s mind, the possibilities are endless. In an expert’s mind, the possibilities are few.
Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo
“I received one of my most valuable and sustaining pieces of advice from my mentor Bill Moggridge soon after I started working with him in the late 1980’s. He had something called the ’10 day rule’ that he applied religiously to his own life and suggested strongly that I did the same to mine.
“The 10 day rule dictated that he was never allowed to travel away from his wife, Karin, for more than 10 days at a time. He would go to whatever lengths necessary to make it back home within the 10 days even if it meant flying the next day to another client meeting. His view was that this design constraint made him more efficient with travel and also reminded him to keep a balance between home and work life. I have found both of these to be true and have applied the 10 day rule throughout my career. I am convinced it has helped me maintain a great relationship with my own wife, Gaynor, for the last 27 years.”
aomi Simpson, founder of RedBalloon
“The greatest piece of advice I had more than a decade ago – when my business was tiny – was simply: ‘If it’s meant to be, it is up to me.’“
“To me this does not mean that I have to do all the work … in fact what a bad leader I would be if I toiled 20 hours a day. What it means to me is that I am accountable. And I can live in a world without blame.”
Jordy Leiser, co-founder of STELLAService
“The best advice I ever received was not really advice but more of an approach to living. It applies to several aspects of life: careers, relationships, sports; health and wellness, and probably many others: The harder you work, the luckier you get.
“There’s some debate about who first made this statement. Ben Franklin apparently once said ‘Diligence is the mother of good luck,’ although more recently people think of legendary South African golfer Gary Player as the person who coined the phrase. That’s probably how it was eventually passed along to me, as my Dad started teaching me golf and its many truisms at an early age (there are conveniently plenty of great life lessons learned by analogy on the golf course – one shot at a time; you can’t control a bad break; manage the highs and the lows; forget your opponents and play against par).”
Randall Rothenberg, CEO of Interactive Advertising Bureau
Here are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten; each told to me personally:
On management, from U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley (D – N.J.):
Never eat before a big game.
On marketing, from Joe Nemec, senior partner at Booz Allen Hamilton:
You put your suits in the window, but underwear is the revenue driver.
On leadership, from John Harris, senior partner at Booz Allen Hamilton:
A leader must not be afraid to repeat himself, until everyone in the organization can channel the leader’s point of view, objectives, and mission.
On patience, told to me by my dad, Marvin J. Rothenberg, when I was 2 years old.:
“Hey, you can only put your pants on one leg at a time.”
On finance, from Manuel Fives, my grandfather, in response to my question, asked at age 8, “Pop Pop, is a penny a lot of money?”
Well, if you got a penny, it’s not a lot of money. But if you don’t got a penny, it’s a hell of a lot of money.
Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.com
“Probably the first piece of advice that really resonated with me was from an old guy that was selling a business to my parents when I was about sixteen years old. [He said that] if someone ever asks you if you can do something and is willing to provide you an opportunity, just jump on it. You can figure out how to deliver after you get the job! I didn’t go to CEO school. I just seized the opportunity and then figured out what to do later.
“Too many capable people limit their options because they think they don’t have enough experience or feel that they need to work their way up the corporate ladder by visiting every single rung on the way up. Too many people tell me that their dream is to leave their boring cog in the machine day job and start their own business, but they couldn’t possibly think of doing that because they’ve never had experience running one – well that’s a bit chicken and egg! Carpe diem! The time is now! Time and tide waits for no man. No one is going to hand you your future on a plate.”
Inge Geerdens, founder of CVWarehouse
“If you want a partnership to flourish, it needs to be a win-win. If you come out of a meeting with the feeling that you’ve won and the other party has lost the negotiations, you will also lose in the end. Nobody will truly invest time, effort or money in a deal when there’s little or no gain to expect. Drop the deal.”
Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at Bitly
“I’ve heard and read quite a lot of good advice, most of which I’ve probably ignored, but one thing that I did internalize was a bit of advice about, oddly enough, travel: pack half as much stuff as you think you’ll need, and twice as much money.
“The more I travel this way the more I bring the same attitude to every new project. You can’t know what’s going to happen, so don’t worry — just take what you need, and jump in.”
Bill Drayton, CEO at Ashoka
“The worst kind of advice can sometimes come with the best of intentions, from those who really care for you. The best advice then is the advice you give yourself – to stop listening to the naysayers and to trust your vision. The worst advice I (and almost everyone) have received and still receive, dose after dose, is: ‘Don’t do that.’ The supporting arguments vary little: ‘It’s not practical. It won’t work. You can’t make that fly. It will cost too much. It’s a crazy idea.’ “
“Here’s my advice: The first step to becoming a changemaker (the only secure job going forward) is to give oneself permission, i.e. to ignore — politely, of course — all those who say ‘Don’t do it.’ “
Kevin Chou, CEO of Kabam
“At [a] difficult juncture I remember a piece of advice I received from a VC colleague: “Business change is never popular and a messy affair, but survival depends upon it.” In the world of business, I believe corporate Darwinism is playing out in increasingly rapid cycles. It is neither the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
Gretchen Rubin, author and blogger
“My father: ‘If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility.’ This was perhaps the best advice for the workplace I ever got.”
Christopher Schroeder, writer and angel investor, former CEO of HealthCentral
“In my recent incantation as a temporary writer, I needed all the help I could get on my book Startup Rising — The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, which will be published by MacMillan and Palgrave this summer. I asked my friend; the great Washington Post investigative journalist, editor, author, and now also documentarian David Hoffman, to review my book proposal.
“‘Look,’ he wrote me, ‘This isn’t a board memo. Stop trying so hard. Show us what you’re seeing and experiencing, don’t tell us what you saw. Show, don’t tell! Make us feel we are there with you!’ ” My great editors and every writer I spoke with subsequently gave me the same advice. All had received it themselves at some point in their careers. And it makes all the difference.”
Nicholas Thompson, senior editor at The New Yorker magazine
Thompson’s former soccer coach, Bruce Cochrane, told him that losing doesn’t matter:
“It sounds like a trite lesson now: another version of ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’ But it was much more powerful. He was explaining that there was a certain artistry to what we were trying to do, and a certain dignity that we had upheld even in defeat.”
Olivier Fleurot, CEO of MSLGROUP
“‘Be brave, imaginative and decent’: this is how Dame Marjorie Scardino signed her first letter to all staff when she took the helm of Pearson in 1997.
“What many managers lack most, when their businesses are confronted with profound transformations, is bravery. Most of them find excuses not to face reality. They just try to manage their way through the storm, hoping that good times will come back and business will go back to the good old ‘normal.’ “
Jeff Selingo, columnist and author
“The advice came from Clint Williams, an editor at the paper. Near the end of the summer, many of the fellows were figuring out where to focus our job search or weighing job offers. Many of us didn’t know what to do next. What would make us happy?
“Clint had a rule of thirds for happiness in life. He told me to ask three questions: Are you happy with your job? Are you happy where you live? Are you happy who you’re with (depending on your circumstances that could mean friends, spouse, partner, etc). If you answer Yes to at least two out of three, you found your spot for the moment. If not, you need to make a change to one of them.
Charlene Li, founding partner at Altimeter Group
“In my second year at Harvard Business School, I took a career management course because I had no idea what I was going to do upon graduation. At the start of the course, the professor gave me the best advice: That the most important asset I would ever manage would be my career and because of that, I should give it the proper time, attention and investment that it deserved. No other asset I would ever manage would ever come close to the net present value of my career.
“His specific advice was to evaluate my career status about every 18 months. It’s 18 months because that’s about how long it takes for a person to master a job — and begin to look for new challenges. Either you find those challenges in the existing job or you have to and find new opportunities. Regardless, that regular evaluation keeps you honest about managing your career, rather than passively going along with the situation that you are currently in.”
Michael Schrage, researcher at MIT’s Media Lab
“Both as a teacher and advisor, I’d grow frustrated and even angry that my students and clients often didn’t seem to care as much about solving their important problem or really understanding a mission-critical issue as much as I did. In spite of my best efforts to inform, cajole, persuade, threaten and / or beseech, they were resolute in their relative indifference.
“Reading the truly excellent work of service counselors and consulting gurus Peter Block and Gerald Weinberg on ‘flawless consulting,’ authenticity and accountability, one key admonition leapt out: Don’t care more about your client’s problem than the client does. This advice transformed how I relate to clients and students alike. I make it clear that I will make every professional effort to align with their level of passion, commitment and caring. But I will not care more about their problems and challenges than they do.
“Caring too much can be as professionally destructive as caring too little. I’ve learned that my clients, my students and I have healthier relationships when I recognize and respect their levels of caring and commitment. They’re more productive relationships, too.”