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 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?”
1. 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.”
2. 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.”
3. 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.”
4. 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 regretsstands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made.”
5. 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.”
6. 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.
7. 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!”
8. 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.”
9. 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.”
9. 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.”
10. 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.”
11. 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.”
12. 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.”
13. 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.”
14. 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.”
15. 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.”
By Vivian Giang and Max Nisen