Best Advice: The Wisdom that Shaped 80+ Influencers [INFOGRAPHIC]

February 25, 2014

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This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share the best advice they've ever received. Read all the posts here.

When we asked our Influencers last year to write about the best piece of advice they had ever received, they shared some of their most touching and insightful stories and thousands of you responded with your own. Martha Stewart explained how her father's faith in her had allowed her to grow a small pie-baking endeavor into a global lifestyle empire. Martin Varsavsky recalled the poignant words of his own father, an Argentinian exile who enjoined him to never look back. And Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman wrote the seminal essay: What I Learned from a Sex-Crazed Short-Order Cook.

Hard to top that. Yet, many more leading voices in businesses have joined us since and we thought you'd like to hear from them too. We sure do. So we asked LinkedIn Influencers – top thought leaders in every field from pharma to technology, law, recruiting or philanthropy – to mull the question over again: What's the best advice you ever got?

For many, the question leads back to youth, when a parent or teacher shared a nugget of truth that would only make sense years later. "The important thing is that you work for yourself, not for my approval. Not for my praise," a first-grade teacher told Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. She then never forgot to "follow her own compass". Angela Ahrendts' father had nothing to say – only let a bored teenager observe while he worked. The poem on the wall of his study helped the Burberry CEO and soon-to-be head of retail at Apple forge her way. As for Angie Hicks, she pondered as she was graduating college whether to go for a comfortable consulting job or partner up with a mentor on a risky startup. "What have you got to lose?" her grandfather asked. "What’s the difference between being 22 and looking for a job and being 23 and looking for a job?” And Angie's List was born.

Others learned to question these authority figures – a bit of rebellion can't hurt. For data scientist DJ Patil, there are no such things as rules, only guidelines. Back in graduate school, he fought his way into the computer lab (and hacked a server or two) in order to advance his research. As a young doctor, World Bank CEO Jim Kim learned too that – respectfully – breaking hierarchies can save lives.

But when you're already a rebel, sagely heeding wise advice can be its own challenge. Richard Branson, a gutsy entrepreneur if ever there was one, learned from his father to edge his bets. "When I was 15 and wanted to leave school to start a national Student magazine, I remember him telling me that I couldn't do so until I had sold £4,000 worth of advertising to cover the printing and paper costs of the first edition of the magazine, so we knew the sales would be all upside." That same philosophy was behind many of his later ventures, including the launch of Virgin Airline.

At another airline, one Influencer found that it is often from the toughest moments in life that essential wisdom surfaces. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, then COO at Delta, learned the power of telling it straight when the company declared bankruptcy and he had to demand tough sacrifices of the employees. When the New York Stock Exchange plummeted and Gurbaksh Chahal's family's savings disintegrated, all seemed lost too. "He had never been an overtly emotional man, but my father broke down sobbing," Chahal wrote. "I had never seen him shed a tear before and here he was sobbing in front of the whole family. He seemed defeated and I was terrified for him." Yet in these dark days, his father found the strength to go on and Chahal found the inspiration that would drive him to build a $300-million startup. In those moments, writes entrepreneur Christopher Schroeder, it's important to remember that "life is not an arrow, it's a sine wave. One hopes it arcs upward, but in reality it is a series of amazing highs and terrible lows."

And then there's advice you just have to sit with for a while. Ponder this one, from music biz legend Jimmy Iovine to Translation CEO Steve Stoute: “When the shit gets bigger than the cat, you’ve got to get rid of the cat.”

What has been your best advice? Share with us in comments or by writing your own story. I'll highlight the best ones in a future post.

Photo Credit: Thomas M. Barwick INC / Getty Images

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