Best Advice: The Wisdom That Made All the Difference in 60+ Influencers' Lives

February 3, 2015


If you could ask the smartest person you know for advice, who would you ask? And more importantly, what would you do with that advice?

In the third installment of our Best Advice series on LinkedIn, we asked some of the top minds in business to think back: What’s the best advice you ever received? Who imparted those words of wisdom? From family members and first bosses to influential books and teachers, the source of the advice is only one part of the story. Even more revealing is how these 60+ Influencers internalized this advice — and what they did next. Advice is, after all, so easy to receive and extraordinarily difficult to implement.

YOUR TURN: What piece of advice has changed your outlook on life? What inspiring message has transformed the way you work? Write a post; please include the hashtag #BestAdvice in the body — not the headline — of your post.

Here is some of the priceless advice that led to Influencers’ epiphanies and in some cases, lessons of self-acceptance and self-confidence:


Listen more than you speak.

Richard Branson remembers his father as a calming presence in his life: “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.”

Years later, Branson strives to preserve that balance in his own life: “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.”

listen quote



Talent only goes so far. Hard work does the rest.

From an early age, Mary Barra’s parents encouraged her “to work hard and pursue [her] early love of math.” Were it not for this emphasis on doing what you love, Barra may not have gone into engineering and spent 30-plus years climbing the ranks at General Motors. This advice still rings true as Barra is now the one dispensing advice as GM's CEO: Given all the smart, talented people in the world, there really is no substitute for hard work.




“The elephant keeps walking as the dogs keep barking.”

For whatever reason, critics love to hate Suze Orman — and she knows it. While the criticism stings, the personal finance expert credits a wise teacher from India with this memorable mantra: "Be an elephant."

You may not be able to tame the barking dogs, Orman writes, but you can learn to tune them out.




Refuse to play in the baby pool.

When your father happens to be a highly-decorated general, you probably sit up a little straighter whenever he offers a piece of advice. Michael Powell recounts how his father, Colin Powell, always told him: “I do not worry about my race. I make race the other guy’s problem. 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.“

The takeaway?




Remember: 95% of your pain is caused by your own stupidity.

As tempting as it might be to shift the blame, the first step to solving a problem is to understand your role in the whole issue. As a mentor told Tom Hood, CEO & Founder of the Business Learning Institute, always remember the 95% Rule before you spin your wheels trying to find solutions.




The best feedback is sometimes the hardest to accept.

Sometimes the best advice you receive isn’t something you even asked for. Just ask Beth Comstock, General Electric’s CMO. She got a rude awakening when she once overhead colleagues describe her as “too negative.”

Hurt and a tad defensive (do you blame her?), Comstock writes: “I didn’t recognize myself as the negative woman that my colleagues described. But it was me. And I’ve had to work hard since then to open myself to different ways of doing things and alternate interpretations, especially in new settings.”

If you found yourself in a similar situation, how would you have reacted? What would you have done next?




Never ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself.

Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh traces his best advice to lessons learned during his army days. From barracks to boardroom, the front lines taught him how to be a better leader.

real leaders



You can't put a price on passion.

Serial entrepreneur Marc Lore learned this piece of advice the hard way — through trial and error. Before founding last year and before that, Marc Lore launched games for kids. Among one of his clever cost-cutting changes, he reduced the size of the game board. No one seemed to notice.

“After analyzing the numbers I went on to make a dozen or so insignificant changes to the game, driving up profitability even more," Lore writes. "What I completely missed was that although every decision in isolation clearly penciled out, I was, little by little, draining gamers’ passion until eventually the magic was gone.”

The painful lesson of alienating his customers made Lore take a different approach when later launching



In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing more Best Advice posts — and showcasing some of yours:

“Pick Your Battles”Lora Cecere, Founder & CEO of Supply Chain Insights (with a companion post by Tim Windham, the boss who once fired her)

“Leave the Executive Fast Track to Become an Entrepreneur”Don Tapscott (with a companion post by Del Langdon, the business partner who lured Tapscott off the executive track into a life of entrepreneurship)

“Tell Me Your GQ (Guts Quotient), Not Your IQ”Toby Cosgrove, Cleveland Clinic's CEO and President

“Poke Your Nose Out. No One Is Going to Invite You.”Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs (The source of this advice? Handley’s driving instructor once upon a time)


Write a post here; please include the hashtag #BestAdvice somewhere in the body — not the headline — of your post. Be sure to credit the person/source of your advice. If appropriate, why not ask him/her to write a companion post explaining where they first heard that advice?

If there's one thing we've learned about receiving great advice, it's that we should pass it on.