What’s the Best Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Posted on by in Business, Change, Communication, Leadership, Learning, Writing

Now, I don’t know if you saw the Fortune magazine edition entitled,The Best Advice I Ever Got” (7.6.09) but it’s an interesting read. For example, in very shortened form,

  • Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google). John Doerr told me to, “Get a coach,” even though I didn’t think I could learn anything from a coach.
  • Tiger Woods. Rather than focusing on technique and swing, my father told me to, “Pick a spot and then figure out how to hit it there.101405_El-Erian_M_014.cr2
  • Mohammed El-Erian (CEO, Pimco). My father told me to, “Read four newspapers because if you don’t read different points of view your mind will eventually close and you’ll become a prisoner of a certain point of view that you’ll never question.”
  • Jim Sinegal (CEO, Costco) Sol Price said to me one day, “If you’re going to go to the trouble of hiring someone, it’s because you can’t do the job yourself–so you’d better show them how you’d do it.” In other words, he was letting me know that a good manager is a good teacher.

So, what about you? What’s the best advice anyone has given to you?

Now, you may be tempted to just write this off as a futile exercise but it’s not. Why? Because the essence of great leadership is teaching. Great leaders don’t just take a group of people someplace, they seek to influence and change the lives of those they’re leading. And the main tool that leaders use to change behavior is story.

For example, when I’m working with leaders, one of the stories I usually tell is about a time when I was in seminary, back in 1987. The seminary where I was attending was in the midst of a faculty split and I had professorial friends on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, professors on both sides shared information with me about the people on the other side that they shouldn’t have shared with me, a student.

Basically, I knew information (junk) on people that I shouldn’t have known and yet I still needed to interact with those people. So one day, in the midst of this internal turmoil, I was walking across the center of campus (I can still see it vividly in my mind’s eye) with one of those professors, a guy named Paul, when I shared with him my frustration of knowing information (junk) about both sides that I could never share or use. To which Paul said,

“Congratulations. You’ve just learned one of the most important lessons of leadership. Leadership is lonely. You will always know more information than you can share or use. Welcome to the club.“

That advice has served me incredibly well for the past twenty-two years. Leadership is lonely.  It’s tough not being able to share information that could help you and your cause. And it’s tough having to carry a burden that no one else in your business or organization even understands. But nonetheless, when you know leadership is lonely (and that this is what all leaders experience), it helps.

Now, of course, I could have simply told you, ”Leadership is lonely.“ But the story helps you remember the principle, doesn’t it?

Realizing that, don’t you think you would be a more effective leader/teacher if you took some time to think about the best advice you ever received? And then started sharing it?  And then once you started making your list, you regularly added to it, as you either remembered stories or learned valuable lessons? Absolutely!

So, if you want to be a more effective leader, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? Make a list. Then look for opportunities to start sharing those stories. Why? Because that’s what great leaders do!

To your accelerated success!

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