LinkedIn recently asked the top minds in business to reflect on the best advice they ever received and what they did with those words of wisdom.
Here’s what Richard Branson, Suze Orman, and six other super-successful people had to say.
Richard Branson: Listen more than you speak.
“I thought I would share a simple tip from another person who had an enormous impact upon my life — my dad,” says the Virgin Group founder.
Growing up, Branson recalls being in a home where his mother was “dreaming up new entrepreneurial schemes left, right, and centre,” while he and his sisters ran wild. “Amidst all the fun and chaos, Dad was always a supportive, calming influence on us all. He wasn’t quiet, but he was not often as talkative as the rest of us. It made for a wonderful balance, and we always knew we could rely on him no matter what. Within this discreet support lay one of his best and most simple pieces of advice for me: Listen more than you talk.”
Today, Branson writes, he tries to spend as much time as possible listening to the people he meets. “I am fortunate to travel widely and come across fascinating characters from all walks of life. While I am always happy to share my own experiences with them, it would be foolish if I didn’t listen back.”
Suze Orman: The elephant keeps walking as the dogs keep barking.
“I’ve built a successful career around giving advice,” writes Orman, a TV host and personal finance guru. “And that very success has often made me a target of criticism. Not helpful, constructive criticism, but nasty feedback entirely disconnected from facts.”
She says when she first encountered the blowback, she was angry and perplexed. But then she learned to be an elephant.
“A wise teacher from India shared this insight: The elephant keeps walking as the dogs keep barking,” she says. “The sad fact is that we all have to navigate our way around the dogs in our career: external critics, competitors, horrible bosses, or colleagues who undermine. Based on my experience, I would advise you to prepare for the yapping to increase along with your success.”
She says it’s important to remember that although you can’t tame the barking dogs, you do have the ability to tune them out.
“While the world would definitely be a better place without vindictive and misinformed dogs, I have learned to make peace with their existence. And used it to my advantage,” she writes. Being an elephant has made Orman stronger and more resolute, and has helped her become more compassionate.
“It delights me to turn the dogs’ vitriol into my virtue.”
Michael Powell: Don’t play in the baby pool.
“I heard my father [Colin Powell] say it first: ‘Refuse to play in the baby pool.’ … I have no interest in playing on the minor league field. I want to play on center court. If you are going to win, you are going to have to beat me there,'” writes Powell, the president and CEO at NCTA.
This is more than bravado, he explains. “It is a challenge to others to treat you fairly and let them know you are wise to the inferiority game. It is also a challenge to yourself to be excellent and not to allow others to move you to perform off Broadway, or accept comfortable consolation prizes.”
Mary Barra: Talent only goes so far. Hard work does the rest.
The best advice Barra ever received came from her parents, who always encouraged her to work hard and pursue her early love of math.
“This was great advice for two reasons,” writes the GM chief executive. “First, it led me to do something I really loved. In my experience, in work and in life, there are lots of smart, talented people out there. But talent alone is never enough.”
The second reason this was great advice, she says, is that it steered her toward a career in engineering at a time when few women were pursuing work in science, technology, engineering, or math.
“What advice would I give to someone thinking about careers today? The same advice I got: Do what you love and work hard. And if you love math or science, get ready to love what you do.”
Chip Bergh: It’s better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision at all.
Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. and a 28-year veteran of Procter & Gamble, spent his “formative” years as a US Army Officer in a combat unit in Germany during the peak of the Cold War.
“In many ways, it was my military experience that shaped who I am and how I think about leadership,” he explains. “Even though those days in Germany were 35 years ago, the lessons have stayed with me all of these years.”
One of those valuable lessons: It’s better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision at all.
“Indecision can paralyze an organization,” he writes. “Strong leaders are not afraid to make decisive decisions. They take a stand. But, they also know when to make their decisions — they don’t do it based on emotion, in haste, or without enough data to be well-informed.”
He says all leaders face times when they have to make tough or unpopular decisions. “Strong leaders remain visible during these challenging times.”
Maynard Webb: Don’t feed the barking dogs.
“The worst thing you can do to quiet a barking dog is give him what he wants,” writes the Yahoo chairman. “Every time you do that, you make yourself irritated, and you make him more empowered.”
Webb says we’ve all had to deal with barking dogs in our personal and professional lives. “These are the folks who make their needs very clear and who have little regard for what’s good for you. Sometimes it comes in the form of people making demands of you that aren’t yours to fill, sometimes it’s dealing with someone else’s self-inflicted drama, and other times it goes as far as defending yourself from an attack. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with barking dogs.”
Just as important as dealing well with barking dogs is never becoming one, he says. “Sometimes you get what you want. But people are pretty quick to this game and will feel resentment or frustration.”
Beth Comstock: The best feedback is sometimes the hardest to accept.
When the GE CMO overheard two colleagues bad-mouthing her at an offsite meeting, she felt frustrated and defensive.
“Clearly they didn’t know what they were talking about. They didn’t get me. They were mean,” she writes. “But as the sting faded and what they said sunk in, I had to ask: Was there some truth to their indictment?”
Sometimes, she says, critics don’t mean well or aren’t well-informed. “But negative feedback often illuminates something that stands in your way. You have to be ready to ask yourself: Is this feedback meaningful, and is it from someone who is credible? Is it important for me to change whatever behavior is being challenged?” Then, use that feedback to motivate yourself to make positive changes.
Robert Herjavec: The worst thing you can do is nothing.
“Time and time again we hear the analogy between climbing a mountain and the road to success,” writes the “Shark Tank” investor. “Assuming you want success badly enough, you start climbing, taking risks along the way. You plot each step, consider each handhold, and measure each crevasse to make sure you can leap safely to the other side. Each step you take brings you closer either to success or failure.”
But there may come a point where you have to make a tough decision about your next move. Herjavec says it’s all too common for people — those who aren’t fully committed to success — to freeze at this point.
“Unable or unwilling to back down, and unable to take the risk that will keep you moving upward, you remain somewhere in the limbo between total success and ultimate failure. One is inaccessible, the other intolerable.”
But if you stay on the mountain and do nothing, you will freeze to death, he writes. “You have to try, fail, learn, do it over in order to grow. You have one life to live and it’s time to stop making excuses and start making progress. The best advice I’ve ever received, and the advice I’ll share with you: Get out there and do something. Take action.”