Fortune magazine asked 19 people for the best (and sometimes worst) advice that most influenced their lives. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Larry Page, Co-Founder and President, Google:
In graduate school at Stanford University, I had about ten different ideas of things I wanted to do, and one of them was to look at the link structure of the web. My advisor, Terry Winograd, picked that one out and said, “Well, that one seems like a really good idea.” So I give him credit for that.
Mark Hurd, Chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard:
Nine years after starting at NCR, I moved to a head-office job in Dayton in 1988. An NCR executive was giving a presentation; he had great slides and an even better delivery. The CEO, Chuck Exley, listened to the entire presentation in his typically gracious, courteous manner. At the conclusion, he nodded and said something brief but profound: “Good story, but it’s hard to look smart with bad numbers.” And as I reflected on it, the presenter, articulate as he was, as good as his slides were, simply had bad numbers. That comment has always stayed with me. You have to focus on the underlying substance. There’s just no way to disguise poor performance. I’ve tried to follow that advice throughout my career. Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you.
Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsico:
My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.” So “assume positive intent” has been a huge piece of advice for me. In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they’re saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, “Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they’re reacting because they’re hurt, upset, confused, or they don’t understand what it is I’ve asked them to do.” If you react from a negative perspective – because you didn’t like the way they reacted – then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, “Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.”
Sam Palmisano, Chairman and CEO, IBM:
Some of the best advice I ever received was unspoken. Over the course of my IBM career I’ve observed many CEOs, heads of state, and others in positions of great authority. I’ve noticed that some of the most effective leaders don’t make themselves the center of attention. They are respectful. They listen. This is an appealing personal quality, but it’s also an effective leadership attribute. Their selflessness makes the people around them comfortable. People open up, speak up, contribute. They give those leaders their very best. When it comes to specific advice, the best was from a former boss, who told me, “Don’t view your career as a linear progression.” He advised me to take horizontal rather than vertical steps: to try out situations that are unstructured, to learn different ways of working, and to get outside of headquarters and experience different cultures. I’ve applied this advice many times – most notably, taking a decidedly unstructured job at IBM Japan and then joining the fledgling IBM services business. After those experiences, I had the confidence that I could manage pretty much anything.
One of my managers, and a great mentor, June Delano, gave me this piece of advice on decision making: When faced with a tough decision, do the right thing. Always ask yourself, “If I do this, and a reporter published a story about it the next day, how would it read?”. Would I be proud or ashamed? Would I be able to justify my decision and the consequences?
How about you – what’s the best or worst advice you’ve ever received?