In this article we’re getting business, career, and life advice from the CEO’s of:

  • Apple
  • Google
  • IBM
  • LinkedIn
  • Microsoft
  • Oracle
  • Goldman Sachs
  • JP Morgan
  • Salesforce
  • SAP
  • Yahoo
  • and more!

Let’s get straight into it…

Tim Cook – CEO, Apple

Don’t follow the rules, write the rules

“I think you should rarely follow the rules. I think you should write the rules. I think if you follow things in a formulated manner (traditional career advice), you will wind up at best being the same as everybody else. If you want to excel you can’t do that.”

Don’t get caught up in cynicism and negativity 

“There is so much out there conspiring to make you cynical. The internet has enabled so much and empowered so many, but it can also be a place where basic rules of decency are suspended and pettiness and negativity thrive. Don’t let that noise knock you off course. Don’t get caught up in the trivial aspects of life. Don’t listen to trolls and for God’s sake don’t become one.”

“Measure your impact in humanity not in the likes, but the lives you touch, not in popularity, but in the people you serve. I found that my life got bigger when I stopped caring about what other people thought about me. You will find yours will too. Stay focused on what really matters. There will be times when your resolve to serve humanity will be tested. Be prepared. People will try to convince you that you should keep your empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.”

“No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy, your passion, your impatience for progress. Don’t shrink from risk. And tune out those critics and cynics. History rarely yields to one person, but think, and never forget, what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.”

Don’t work for money

“My advice is, don’t work for money — it will wear out fast, or you’ll never make enough and you will never be happy, one or the other. You have to find the intersection of doing something you’re passionate about and at the same time something that is in the service of other people. I would argue that, if you don’t find that intersection, you’re not going to be very happy in life.”

Focus on quality, not likes  

“There’s this thing in technology, almost a disease, where the definition of success is making the most. How many clicks did you get, how many active users do you have, how many units did you sell? Everybody in technology seems to want big numbers. Steve (Jobs) never got carried away with that. He focused on making the best.”

Focus and the importance of saying no

“We are the most focused company that I know of, or have read of, or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose…..It’s not just saying yes to the right products, it’s saying no to many products that are good ideas, but just not nearly as good as other ones.”

“We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.”

“You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else.”

Loving to work vs doing what you love

“There’s a big difference between loving to work and loving the work. And there’s a big difference between whether you fall in love with some work that is just for profits or revenues versus work that is in the service of others.”

On hiring

“You look for people that are not political. People that are not bureaucrats. People that really don’t care who gets credit. People that can privately celebrate the achievement but not care if their name is the one in the lights. You look for wicked smart people. You look for people who appreciate different points of view. You look for people who care enough that they have an idea at 11 at night and they want to call and talk to you about it. Because they’re so excited about it, they want to push the idea further.”

Trust your intuition

“For the most important decisions in your life trust your intuition, and then work with everything you have to prove it right.”

Work with people that aren’t like you, that compliment you

“I think each person, if you’re a CEO, the most important thing is to pick people around you that aren’t like you, that complement you… I believe in diversity with a capital D. And that’s diversity in thought and diversity any way you want to measure it. And so the people that surround me are not like me. They have skills that I don’t have. I may have some that they don’t have. We’re not trying to put everyone through a car wash so they look alike, talk alike, think alike at the end of the day. We argue and debate. If you were to come in to our executive team meetings on Mondays, you’d hear a lot of discussion and debate about something. We don’t always agree on everything. But we have great respect for one another and we trust one another and we complement one another. And that makes it all work.”

Warren Buffett – CEO, Berkshire Hathaway  

Act with integrity 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Copy the best

“I’ve learned mainly by reading myself. So I don’t think I have any original ideas. I’ve gotten a lot of my ideas from reading. You can learn a lot from other people. In fact, I think if you learn basically from other people, you don’t have to get too many new ideas on your own. You can just apply the best of what you see.”

Don’t do business with anyone you don’t trust

“You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.”

Do what you love 

“In the world of business, the people who are most successful are those who are doing what they love.”

“Never give up searching for the job that you’re passionate about. Try to find the job you’d have if you were independently rich. Forget about the pay. When you’re associating with the people that you love, doing what you love, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

“Take a job that you love. You ought to be happy where you’re working. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?”

Get on the right train

“Get o­n the right train. You want to get on a train that’s going to go 90 miles an hour and not one that’s gonna go 30 miles an hour. You can be an average passenger but if you get o­n the right train, it will carry you a long way. It really does make a huge difference. There are some businesses that inherently have far more opportunities than others.”

How to hire great talent

“In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Learning from your mistakes vs other people’s

“When people tell me they’ve learned from experience, I tell them the trick is to learn from other people’s experience.”

Prevention is better than cure

“It’s much easier to stay out of trouble now than to get out of trouble later.”

Say no

“You won’t keep control of your time, unless you can say ‘no.’ You can’t let other people set your agenda in life.”

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Surround yourself with the best people

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

The importance of patience 

“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

The greatest investment you can make

“The greatest investment a young person can make is in their own education, in their own mind. Because money comes and goes. Relationships come and go. But what you learn once stays with you forever.”

Bob Iger – CEO, Disney

Don’t allow success to make you arrogant 

“Success can breed all kinds of other behavior and cause companies to behave a certain way that isn’t necessarily the ingredients for achieving more success. For instance, with success comes arrogance, and that’s typically the death of success.”

Innovation vs tradition

“You can’t allow tradition to get in the way of innovation. There’s a need to respect the past, but it’s a mistake to revere your past. The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.”

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation.”

Optimism vs pessimism

“What I’ve really learned over time is that optimism is a very, very important part of leadership. No one wants to follow a pessimist. You can be skeptical, you can be realistic, but you can’t by cynical.”

Mark Weinberger – CEO, EY (Ernst & Young)

Don’t be afraid to move around

“When I started work more than 30 years ago, people thought that if you changed jobs every couple of years you were disloyal. These days, everyone understands that moving around can be an excellent way to build your knowledge and skills quickly.”

Don’t stop learning – ever

“As you’re traveling through this changing world, the most important thing you can do is to keep learning your whole life. And never be afraid of anything, even if it’s totally new or completely unknown. That way, when your big opportunity comes along, you’ll be ready to seize it.”

Focus on possibilities – not limitations

“The future is never made by those who focus on limitations. It is made by people who focus on possibilities. History is made by people who understand that they might not be able to control all of their circumstances – but they can control their attitude.”

“When you walk into a room, bring possibilities with you. Don’t be a person who only thinks of the downside, who sucks life out of the room. No one wants that person at their table. So go out there, pursue different opportunities and find your seat at the table. No one else will do it for you.”

Leadership: Why > What

“In leadership, explaining the why is much more important than the what. If I tell you what we do, you’ll know, but that’s it. But if I tell you why we do what we do, your imagination will start to take over and maybe you’ll think of a better way.”

“If someone gives you an assignment and tells you they want you to go and do this analysis, and here’s why we want you to do it, then maybe you’ll come up with a better what, a better answer. I think as a leader, my job is just to ask the right questions, a lot of the why, so my team focuses on coming up with the best what.”

“To gain our stakeholders’ confidence, we need to clearly explain our company’s purpose and how it delivers value to the groups we serve. Make sure you spend time talking to your stakeholders not only about what you do but also why you do it.”

Who to work for

“You want to work for someone who is empowering. Work for people who listen as much as they talk, and make sure you emulate those you admire.”

You are the CEO of your life

“You are the CEO of your own life. Only you can figure out what’s best, so don’t wait for some advisor to tell you. No advisor is going to tell you. They might give you guidance. But you need to experience. You need to take risks. You need to go for opportunities. The world will find your limitations, but only you can find your opportunities.”

Your degree doesn’t determine your future

“Don’t feel limited by the degree you’ve received. The kind of skills that are more necessary in this century are the ability to think critically, to take on any challenge that comes your way, to construct an argument – and stick by it.”

“Learning how you learn, and what your passion is, is more important than what you learn. At the end of the day, your relationships, experiences, and the risks you take are going to have an equal or greater impact on your accomplishments.”

Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook

How to climb the corporate ladder

“Build your skills not your resume.”

“Don’t just be ambitious in pursuing your dreams, but aspire to become leaders in your field.”

“Shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I’ll learn by doing it.”

“There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around.”

“There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going. Don’t try to draw that line. You will not just get it wrong, you’ll miss big opportunities. And I mean big-like the Internet. Careers are not ladders, those days are long gone, but jungle gyms. Don’t just move up and down, don’t just look up, look backwards, sideways around corners. Your career and your life will have starts and stops and zigs and zags. Don’t stress out about the white space-the path you can’t draw- because there in lies both the surprises and the opportunities.”

“Your life’s course should not be determined by doing what’s safe and easy but by reaching for what’s challenging and hard: the classes that seem impossible on the first day, but you study enough to pass … the jobs you’re not quite qualified for, but you work like crazy to acquire the skills … the moments when you feel alone and overwhelmed, but you are brave enough to ask for help.”

Leadership

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” (Harvard Business School definition of leadership)

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Motivation

“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.”

Perfection vs results

“One of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.”

The importance of confidence

“Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.”

“Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”

“Feeling confident – or pretending that you feel confident – is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.”

“No one gets to the top, if they sit on the sidelines, or if they don’t believe in themselves.”

“Please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.”

“Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if he/she is always waiting to be told what to do.”

Mary Barra – CEO, General Motors

Be adaptable

“At the end of the day, your success will largely be determined not just by how good your plan is, but how well you adapt to meet the changing needs of the customer.”

Choose the right people and demand all-in commitment from everyone

“One of your responsibilities as a leader is to ensure that you have the right people on your team. Expect and demand an all-in commitment from everyone. If you don’t have the right people, you’re not doing your job – because you’re too busy doing their work. If you have an employee whose unhappiness is holding back the team, help him find happiness somewhere else.”

Decision making vs procrastination 

“You can sometimes get bogged down in making decisions, and you have to realize that every decision not made, is a decision made, because if you’re trying to decide if you’re going to do something or not, and you keep putting off the decision, you’ve kinda made the not decision.”

“You don’t want to be reckless with your decision making, you want to be data driven, but you also need to realize that there’s many decisions that you have to make where you don’t have perfect data, and you never will. If you just keep postponing something, you’ve really made a decision, and it generally isn’t going to move your company forward.”

Do what you love or don’t do it

“You can’t measure your career on every day, but if you find yourself after 6 months, after a year, that work is not challenging, or you don’t enjoy it, or you’re not energized by it, you should probably find something else to do, because life’s too short.”

“Do something you are passionate about, do something you love. If you are doing something you are passionate about, you are just naturally going to succeed. There are so many opportunities and choices that you can make about what to do. Do something you are passionate about. Life is too short.”

How to gain the respect of your colleagues

“I follow the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” There’s no shortcut to earning respect. Your relationship with your team is like any other relationship — you can’t build it the moment you need it. You build it over time. It starts when you make it very clear what your values are and articulate a clear vision for the organization. It gets stronger when you live those values every day and deliver results. If your values are little more than words on a page, they won’t mean much to you or the people on your team. But when you do what you say you are going to do — in both results and behaviors — that’s when you begin to build trust and earn respect.”

Listen to your team

“Listen to your team. The first 90 days is your best opportunity to earn the respect and trust of the people with whom you work. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Be open, seek solutions, and listen more than you talk. When you value what others say, they start to open up, and that flow of ideas leads to better results.”

On career progression

“I think too many people are focused on the next job, as opposed to the job they’re really doing. If you do every job like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, that’s when you get noticed.”

Personal responsibility 

“Take personal responsibility. If you inherit a problem with your new job, don’t dismiss it as the last person’s legacy. Never hide behind your newbie status or use it as an excuse to put off what needs to be done. Own the problem, develop a plan to fix it, and address it head on. Your team’s reputation depends not just on what you do right, but what you do if something goes wrong.”

Put the needs of the customer first

“Put the customer at the center of everything you do. Whether you work in accounting, engineering, or sales, whether you’re straight out of school or an EVP, remember that by focusing on the customer you will drive better performance. Their needs should inform every decision you make. If the voice of the customer isn’t already reflected in your new position, find ways in your first 90 days – and every day after that – to ensure that it is.”

Seize opportunities when they present themselves – even if you’re not ready for them

“While planning for your future is great, the fact is, things change. There are always new opportunities around the corner that you won’t know are waiting there until they’re right in front of you. If you pass on them because they don’t fit neatly into your current plan or because you’re afraid, you could easily miss your best opportunities for growth.”

Solve problems head-on, don’t avoid them

“If you have an issue in your life, at work, or at home, address it head-on, and with everything you have address it right away, it’s much better to get the right people in a room, address the problem head-on and address that challenge, remember hope is not a strategy, problems don’t go away when you ignore them, they tend to get bigger.”

Lloyd Blankfein – CEO, Goldman Sachs (right)

Be coachable and likable

“My best advice is: Make yourself coachable. Make yourself the kind of person that people want to help. That means don’t be too defensive, and be open to criticism. You have to get people to want to work with you, and want to help you.”

How to be successful

“The people who will be the most successful in their lives, are the people who will be the most flexible and nimble in life, who can absorb the most, who are open to learn, who are coachable, who are not too proud to dig in to new things.”

“You need to learn business, and how to question, and how to have an open mind, you need to know the process of thinking about things, how to have presentation skills, how to be a good manager, how to be a good subordinate, how to be a good partner, how to use people, how to be usable by people, and you can’t learn this stuff abstractly, and you can’t really learn it at school, you have to learn it by doing.”

On career progression

“It’s a huge advantage for you to live in the moment. Obviously you plan, even though your plans never work out, but the secret is to do a great job with what you’re doing, and perform as if you were in your next job, but not seethe with the ambition to get there and project that, because you’ll make people nervous as hell and you’ll kill yourself.”

Study history

“History is as important as economics. Everything of course is different, but the cycles repeat. If I wanted to be good at economics I’d want to be good at economic history, if I wanted to be a good scientist, I’d want to know the history of science. You want to know the history of things, and not just the science of things.”

Sundar Pichai – CEO, Google

Follow your passion

“I do think it’s important to follow your dreams and do something which you are excited by. If you follow your heart and do what you like, you will always do much better. It doesn’t matter what your educational qualification is.”

“Don’t feel the pressure to do what others are telling you to do.”

“What matters most is loving what you’re doing, and doing well at it.”

How to reach your potential

“If you work on really difficult things you are better off because you’ve no competition because others aren’t working on that difficult a problem. Even if you fail, you end up doing something great in the process. You want to aim high enough that you fail a few times. Setbacks actually don’t matter. Keep pushing your limits.”

“You have to work with people who make you feel a bit insecure. That’s essential. Because that means you’re working with people who are better than you, who are pushing you. If you actually feel very secure in what you do, that means you’re doing something comfortable, and you’re not pushing yourself. It is an inherent part of learning.”

Leadership

“As a leader, it’s less about trying to be successful, and more about trying to make your employees successful.”

Take risks

“I encourage people to try different things, take risks, and try to do something you’re really excited by, and if at the first attempt you don’t do it, you can try again.”

Ginni Rometty – CEO, IBM

How to reach your potential

“Growth and comfort do not coexist. You have to get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s when you learn the most.”

On culture

“Culture is behavior. That’s all it is, culture is people’s behaviors.”

On her biggest career mistakes and regrets

“I’ve made lots of mistakes. Probably the worst one – I would say they tie. It’s either when I didn’t move fast enough on something, or I didn’t take a big enough risk.”

On identity 

“Never define yourself as a product and never define yourself by your competition, either. If you live and define yourself by your product or competition, you will loose sight of who your customer is.”

“One of the most important things for any leader is to never let anyone else define who you are. You define who you are.”

“You define yourself by either what your clients want or what you believe they’ll need for the future. Define yourself by your client, not your competitor.”

On innovation 

“If I’ve learned nothing else in all my years here (at IBM), my biggest lesson is you have to constantly reinvent this company. That’s how you get to be 103 years old.”

“The only way you survive is you continuously transform into something else. It’s this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovation company.”

On strategy

“You build your own strategy. You don’t define it by what another competitor is doing.”

Take risks

“Ask yourself when did you learn the most in your life? In your career? I guarantee it’s when you took a risk.”

The most important quality for an employee

“The most important thing for any of us to be in our jobs is curious.”

Work on something that matters

“Work on something that matters. Have courage.”

Brian Krzanich – CEO, Intel

Ask for help 

“Ask for help. I think this is something that has propelled me through my career: I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. There’s always somebody smarter than you. There’s always somebody who knows how to do something better than you.”

Communicate what you’ve learnt 

“Don’t be afraid to show that you’re learning. Tell people: Here’s the mistake I made. Here’s what I learned. And here’s how I’m going to be different tomorrow.”

How to deal with criticism

“Don’t become defensive. Accept the problem and start working on it.”

The importance of a mentor

“You have to have someone who’s watching out, helping you navigate the decision-making processes, how things get done, how you’re perceived from a third-party view.”

The 3 mistakes people make in their careers

“There are three mistakes that people make in their careers, and those three mistakes limit their potential growth.

The first mistake is not having a five-year plan. I meet so many people who say: I just want to contribute. But that doesn’t necessarily drive you to where you want to go in your career. You have to know: Where do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? Who do you want to be in five years?

The second mistake is not telling somebody. If you don’t go talk to your boss, if you don’t go talk to your mentors, if you don’t go talk to people who can influence where you want to be, then they don’t know. They’re not mind readers.

The third thing is you have to have a mentor. You have to have someone who’s watching out, helping you navigate the decision-making processes, how things get done, how you’re perceived from a third-party view.”

Alex Gorsky – CEO, Johnson and Johnson

Always be learning 

“Always be learning. It takes continuous learning. Instead of being intimidated or daunted by something we have to learn, use that as an opportunity to reboot your brain.”

Be flexible

“The next thing for me after performance and passion and continuous learning, is be flexible. You might get a chance to work cross sector, go to a different country, do something you never would have anticipated, so take on challenges, take a good company, or a good job, and make it a great one.”

Do something you love 

“Love what you do. Learn to love what you do, and really do it well. It sounds simple but, you don’t want to get to the end of your career and say gosh, I’ve just done something for the past 30 years that I really didn’t enjoy that much. What an incredible waste of opportunity!”

“Having a passion, having it be something you really care about, it’s not so much work. You’ll do better, you’ll feel better, everyone around you will know when you have that kind of a commitment.”

Embrace challenge, challenge the status quo

“Don’t be afraid of challenges. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status-quo. Know where to pick and choose your battles but challenge us (management). If all we’re doing is agreeing and shaking our heads that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

James Dimon – CEO, JP Morgan

Avoid politics

“Deal with key issues. Avoid signs of politics. When you have a meeting and afterwards people line up outside your office and say, “I didn’t want to say this in front of everybody, but…” That’s politics. Of course, sometimes it’s something confidential, but most of the time it should have been said in the room, in front of their partners. If you can’t say it in the room, you don’t deserve the job. Say it politely, say it reasonably, but say it, because we’re only trying to do the right thing for the company or the clients.”

Be a lifelong learner  

“Learning doesn’t end at graduation. It’s your responsibility, you have to do it consistently, all the time. I spend about 50-60% of my time learning. While reading is important, the other thing which is often forgotten is talking to other people. You can learn more from speaking to people and by watching people, and how they operate in very difficult circumstances. I’ve learned both what to do and what not do by watching other people.”

Choose your destiny, don’t let others write it for you 

“There is a book on each of you. It’s already being written. If I spoke to your teachers, your friends, your professionals, your parents, I would know whether you’re trusted, how hard you work, whether you’re ethical – you’d be amazed at how much I’d know without even meeting you. That book is already growing. Write it the way you want it to be written, don’t let others write it for you. When you’re caught in situations that are uncomfortable, you can always make the right decision. It’s your responsibility whether you accept to do something or not, and it will be in that book written on you.”

Exercise is essential 

“You’re going to get involved in very highly stressful situations. If you don’t take care of yourself emotionally and physically, you will fail. Exercise is essential, and not just for the body. It clears your mind.”

Face facts

“Look at the facts in a cold-blooded, honest way all the time. At management meetings, emphasize the negatives. What are we not doing well, how come the competition is doing better?”

“There’s only one truth, so that’s what we tell, both internally and externally. Full disclosure to the board, shareholders, analysts and employees. We tell everybody the same thing – the good, the bad, the ugly – and then we deal with it.”

Fortitude 

“You have to have great fortitude and fierce resolve. Otherwise you could be crippled by politics, bureaucracy and people who just don’t want change. You have to push back against it. You have to have the ability to act.”  

Get the right people in the room

“Always get the right people in the room. If you’re designing a system, have the people who are going to use it there. Give them authority so that if design doesn’t work for them – then we won’t do it. Not only do you get a better system that way, the people get fully engaged in building everything the company does.”

Having a mentor vs watching people 

“I’m all for mentoring, let me be very clear about that, but very often, the people who want to be your mentor, aren’t going to give you the right advice, so you have to be very careful.”

“It’s your job to learn, and one of the ways you learn is through other people, not just your mentor. It’s not your mentors job to promote your career, it’s your mentors job to help you to get better, which means sometimes they have to tell you what you’re doing wrong.”

“I would go way beyond a mentor. I’d look at what you can learn from watching other people. And read a lot. And talking to other people and learning about their techniques. There’s nothing like reading and talking to other people, where you can learn their techniques. You watch people and you learn so much.”

Have integrity in the face of pressure

“You’re going to face a lot of pressure. Pressure to go along, to get along, to tow the line, to look the other way when you see things that aren’t right, and pressure to do things simply because everyone else is doing them. Never give into that pressure. Have the fortitude to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Don’t be somebody’s laptop or sycophant. Have the courage to speak the truth even when it is unpopular. And have the courage to put yourself on the line, to strive for something meaningful, and even to risk what would be an embarrassing failure.”

IQ vs EQ

“Your IQ’s are all high enough for all of you to be very successful, but where people often fall short is on the EQ. Emotional intelligence is critical. It’s something you develop over time. A lot of management skills are EQ because management is all about how people function.”

“In addition to emotional skills and empathy, there are other traits we have to develop and work at all the time, things like passion, work ethic, character, integrity. You are the sum of all of these things. Your IQ alone will not get you through the dark days or the tough times. You need to develop all these things and develop them consistently.”

Learn to deal with criticism and failure 

“When you fail, it’s OK to get depressed, to cry, to blame others – for a while. But eventually, you have to get over it and move on. The greatest people who have ever walked this planet – people like Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln – constantly had setbacks and failures in life. It happens all the time in business too. And some of your success will be based on how well you deal with failure. To be a leader, you’d better be a little tough, because you will be criticized. You have to develop a little bit of a thick skin. When you get criticism, let it roll off your back.”

Put the customer first

“We can all say ‘well the customer is the most important thing’, but it should actually mean something specific. Do you actually read customer complaints? And then, do you do something about it? A lot of people say ‘we put the customer first’, but they don’t mean it in any way, shape, or form, and they do no actions that would actually support the statement.”

Set high standards  

“You have to set high standards for performance. If you don’t, you will fail. Always compare yourself to the best in your industry at a very detailed level and analyze why you’re different.”

“You also have to set high standards for integrity. At a lot of companies you’ll hear, “Don’t worry about it, everyone does it that way.” No, they don’t.”

Share information, debate strategies

“What you want is full sharing of information, then a debate about the right thing to do. The job of a leader is not to make a decision, it’s to make sure the best decision is made. To do that, you need to get the right people in the room.”

Surround yourself with truth tellers 

“Surround yourself with truth tellers. I once heard someone say, “Every leader needs at least one person around who tells them the truth.” One person is not enough. If you are a leader and you have seven or eight people reporting to you and only one is a truth teller, you have a problem. Every single one of them should be a truth teller.”

Teamwork vs telling the truth

“Teamwork is often code for “get along.” But teamwork sometimes means standing alone and having the courage to say something. The best team player is the one who puts up their hand and says, “I don’t agree, because I don’t think what you’re doing is in the best interest of the client or the company.”  

Jeff Weiner – CEO, LinkedIn

Always be learning  

“Always be learning. If you are a fundamentally curious person intellectually, and you derive great joy and passion from learning, you’re so far ahead of the game, because the world is so dynamic, it’s changing so quickly, that if you are genuine interested in constantly learning and improving yourself, you’re going to be in a much stronger position. Take great passion in improving yourself, and challenging yourself.”

How to improve employee engagement 

“Inspire, empower, listen, and appreciate. Practicing any one of these can improve employee engagement, mastering all four can change the game.”

Know what you want to accomplish in life

“You only have 15 seconds to answer this question: Looking back on your career 20, 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished? What do you want to say you did?”

“It sounds so obvious. It’s so self-evident, but you’d be amazed at how many people end up just end up getting swept up by this stream of opportunity, as opposed to defining for themselves what they ultimately want to accomplish. They come out of school, they don’t know what they want to do, they get a great job, then they get promoted, then another hot company comes calling, and before you know it 5, 10, 15 years has gone by, and they still haven’t fundamentally answered that question as to what it is they really want to accomplish. So I would start by asking yourself what is it you ultimately want to accomplish. If you don’t know, just try different things.”

Know what you want but be open to outside help

“Know what it is you ultimately want to accomplish, optimizing for passions and skills, but also be open to allowing outside forces to help clarify, reinforce, and facilitate the path to making it happen.”

Leaders vs Managers 

“The key difference between managers and leaders is that managers tell people what to do, while leaders inspire them to do it. Inspiration comes from three things: clarity of one’s vision, courage of their conviction, and the ability to effectively communicate both of those things.”

“You need managers, but you also need leaders. You need people who can inspire. You need people who say, ‘that’s the mountain that we’re going to climb together and this is the reason we’re going to climb it together, and this is why it’s never been done, and this is why we’re going to be successful.'”

Surround yourself with the best people

“Surround yourself with only the best people you can find. It’s your mentor, it’s your manager or your boss, it’s your peers, it’s the people who work for you. It’s about everyone you’re associated with, day in and day out. Just find the best people you can possibly find. You have to surround yourself with the best, only the best.”

“It’s not just about talent, you have to define: what makes somebody great for you? Why are you going to work well together?”

Satya Nadella – CEO, Microsoft

Being a ‘know-it-all’ vs being a ‘learn-it-all’

“Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all. The ‘learn-it-all’ will always do better than the ‘know-it-all’, even if the ‘know-it-all’ starts with much more innate capability.”

Curiosity  

“The business we are in is to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. And there’s no way you’re going to do that well without having empathy and curiosity.”

Risk taking

“If you are going to have a risk-taking culture, you can’t really look at every failure as a failure, you’ve got to be able to look at the failure as a learning opportunity.”

The importance of loving what you do

“We spend far too much time at work, for it to be just work, for it not to have deep meaning, would be a real waste, try to seek in everything you do, what is the sense of purpose?”

“You have to fall in love with what you do, because everything else then simply becomes easy. If you are just so passionate about what you do, one, it doesn’t feel like work, and more importantly, it is perhaps the best way to find meaning in what you do.”

Mark Hurd – CEO, Oracle

Self-awareness

“Successful leaders know their strengths and weaknesses better than their competitors do. They put in the hard work to hone their craft. They know their industries, and those of their customers, inside and out.

Strategy vs execution

“There’s many filters that strategies have to go through. I’d argue that one of the things about execution is having a strategy that’s actually executable before lining up to go get it done.”

“Having the right strategy is key, but it isn’t enough. You also need the right team in place to execute the strategy.”

“Without execution, ‘vision’ is just another word for hallucination.”

Why are you doing this?

“Ask a question: Is the strategy worth working on? Is there a prize at the end worth working on? Many people make this mistake. They have a great idea but even if in the end, they executed perfectly, it’s not worth the effort to have worked on it.”

Mark Hurd’s 5 keys to leadership

“I’ve found that the best way to be a leader, and to help shape high-potential young people into the leaders of tomorrow, is to ensure that these five abilities are always the focal points:

1) Getting the strategy right

2) Executing that strategy

3) Putting the right people in the right places

4) Managing dual priorities that others see as conflicting

5) Keeping everyone focused on what matters

The real challenge of leadership: the ability to push aside anything that’s not directly tied to setting a great strategy, executing upon it brilliantly, and putting terrific people in the right positions.”

Indra Nooyi – CEO, PepsiCo

Be a lifelong learner

“Be a lifelong student. Never stop learning. Whether you’re an entry level employee fresh out of college or a CEO, you don’t know it all. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness. The strongest leaders are those who are lifelong students.”

“As CEO’s and leaders we have to be lifelong students, and not just students in the sense of attending courses or reading a book or two, you’ve got to learn how to read widely, walk the market, look at trends in the marketplace, make connections that don’t seem obvious, and start to paint pictures of what the future could be, then watch consumer behavior. We have to watch all of these things. Too often us leaders think, what consultants tell us, or what reports say, or what certain books say, is the gospel, it’s really not. We have to become our own data collectors, data analyzers, and then shape creators. I think that’s the toughest thing because people who are re-writing the rules, have to create the shapes.”

Give it everything you’ve got

“Whatever you do throw yourself into it. Throw your head, heart, and hands into it. I look at my job, not as a job, but as a calling, and as a passion. I don’t care about the hours, I don’t care about the hardship, because to me everything is a joy. So whatever you do, please look upon it as a calling, and a passion, not as a job, not as something temporary.”

How to climb the corporate ladder

“First, don’t start by saying ‘I want to be a CEO.’ Because the minute you start becoming obsessed with wanting to be a CEO, you forget what you have to do. Focus on doing the current job you have so damn well that people say, ‘Nobody else can do that job as well as you’re doing it.”

“Focus wholeheartedly on what is at hand. When at work, I focus 100 per cent on being a CEO; when at home, I focus 100 per cent on my family.”

“Have a hip-pocket skill. People should look at you and say, ‘You know on this particular issue, the only person who can answer it or contribute to it is you. Unique skills that make you valuable, and being valuable is how you get promoted. Inside the company, people have to really value your capabilities.”

Take on tough challenges 

“Embrace tough assignments. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s easier to take the path of least resistance by signing up for an easy job, doing it well, and moving on to something bigger. The problem with that theory is that nobody notices when you do an easy job well. It’s far better to challenge yourself by raising your hand for the toughest assignments and work to solve problems that no one else has been able to solve. That’s how you truly become a trusted leader inside an organization.”

Marc Benioff – CEO, Salesforce

Become a thought leader 

“In order to remain relevant, you must establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.”

Build something for your customers

“In order to succeed with a product, you must truly get to know your customers and build something for them.”

Evolve your thinking and ideas

“Keep in mind that the landscape is always changing; you must always examine what’s working, evolve your ideas, and change the way you do things.”

On your competitors

“Don’t ever let the competition make you angry. You must have clarity of mind to make your own decisions—not the ones that your competitors want you to make.”

“If there wasn’t any competition, I’d be very worried, because it would mean we were not doing very well.”

80% Psychology 20% skills

“Business requires an unbelievable level of resilience inside you, the chokehold on the growth of your business is always the leader, it’s always your psychology and your skills – 80% psychology, 20% skills. If you don’t have the marketing skills, if you don’t have the financial intelligence skills, if you don’t have the recruiting skills, it’s really hard for you to lead somebody else if you don’t have fundamentally those skills.”

Seize opportunities 

“Seize the opportunity in front of you. Imagine. Invent. Disrupt. Do good. I know that you must be passionate, unreasonable, and a little bit crazy to follow your own ideas and do things differently. But it’s worth it. Life grows relative to one’s investment in it.”

Stay relevant

“Staying relevant is key. When you’re telling your story, you better have a modern story to tell. If I was still saying the same story I was saying 10 years ago, it would not be that interesting.”

The 80/20 rule

“Realize that you won’t be able to bring the same focus to everything in the beginning. There won’t be enough people or enough hours in the day. So focus on the 20 percent that makes 80 percent of the difference.”

Bill McDermott – CEO, SAP

Don’t ever feel entitled 

“I also grew up understanding that anything given or earned can be taken away. A house. A family member. A job. From day one of my career, I never took anything for granted. To this day, I truly believe I must keep proving myself. When people or companies start to feel entitled, when they get lazy and stop pushing, that’s when they start to slide. I celebrate achievement, but even when we hit a goal I tell people that we’re never done.”

Leadership and strategy 

“Leadership is probably a skill that the world needs more of. I think every good leader owes their team or their company a winning vision and a strategy. A bad strategy just causes people to dig themselves into a deeper ditch. You can’t outwork a bad strategy, but when you have a winning plan and a winning strategy, you can change the world.”

The importance of change (even when it hurts)

“After 17 years with one company that I truly loved, what I’ve learned is that it is right to change when you think it’s time to change, even though change is hard. What you learn from change and ultimately conquering change is that the journey really is the reward. You can only do that, by putting yourself out there and taking some risks and sometimes it will hurt. My new expression is ‘it hurts so good’ because something about that made you better.”

The importance of culture 

“Culture makes or breaks companies. The shadow of a leader is long and you have to make sure you build culture based on values. For example, having a zero tolerance policy for anything that breaks the promise or breaks the trust I think is an essential element in any company. The other thing in companies that is really important to trust is information. Because when people don’t have transparency and they don’t have the insight as to what is really going on, they are left in the dark.”

The importance of discipline

“Through my Dad, I learned that success requires doing things we don’t like or want to do, without complaint. That’s true of any job.”

The importance of EQ  

“Successful salespeople and respected leaders know how to empathize. Whether selling or leading, you must put yourself in other people’s shoes, understand their needs, care about what pains them, and do all you can to solve their problems. When you care, customers want to do business with you and employees want to follow you.

John Legere – CEO, T-Mobile

Listen to your employees, listen to your customers, and then…

“It’s kind of fun at my age (59) to go back and talk to business school people. I tell them, “I can summarize everything you need to know to lead a major corporation. Are you prepared to write this down?” And then they get all ready. I tell them I can summarize how I succeed as a leader: Listen to your employees, listen to your customers, shut the fuck up, and do what they tell you.”

“If you ask your customers what they want and you give it to them, you shouldn’t be shocked if they love it.”

Marissa Mayer – CEO, Yahoo!

Be an information fountain 

“Be an information fountain. Information used to be scarce and expensive, and power came through hoarding it, and brokering it. Today it’s just the opposite. Power comes through sharing information. Tell everyone everything. The more valuable, the better. Sharing leads to connections. Connections lead to collaboration. Collaboration leads to creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation are what change the world.”

Do something you aren’t ready to do

“Doing something you aren’t ready to isn’t comfortable, it gives you that uneasy, upset feeling in your stomach. But in pushing through that discomfort, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself, you’ll learn to do something you didn’t think you could do, or you’ll learn where your limits are, either is valuable. It’s important to push through that uneasiness though, because in that moment of finding your courage, you really grow, and you really reach. I’ll say it again: Do something you’re not ready to do.”

Fail fast

“Failure is a fact of life. The most important thing or course is to learn from failure. The other thing people don’t realize about failure is that it’s totally fine, as long as you do it fast. If you fail fast, and you’re on to the next thing that’s actually successful, you’re much better off. So you’ve got to be constantly monitoring your effort and figuring out are you on trajectory for success? Or are you on trajectory for failure? And if you’re on trajectory for failure, decide to fail fast, give it up, and move on to the next thing that can be successful.”

Surround yourself with the right people

“Find the smartest people you can, and surround yourself with them. Working with smart people, means that you’ll be challenged to do your best. You’ll have to strive to keep up with them, and as a result, they will elevate your thinking. When there are better players around you, you get better. When you surround yourself with smart people, they challenge you to think harder, and in entirely different ways.”

Key Lessons Summary

The key lessons from CEO’s:

  • Become a lifelong learner. Don’t ever stop learning. Learn from books, courses, talking to people, watching people, and asking lots of questions
  • Be adaptable, flexible, coachable, likable, and open-minded
  • Be an information fountain. Share information with others, don’t hoard it and keep it to yourself
  • Be an optimist. No one wants to work with a pessimist.
  • Be a risk taker. Take chances. This was a common theme.
  • Become a thought leader in your industry to stay relevant
  • Don’t avoid or ignore problems – address and solve them ASAP
  • Don’t procrastinate on important decisions, make data driven decisions with as much information as you can, but once the decision is made, don’t second guess it
  • Do something you aren’t ready to do, if you know it will be good for you
  • Drop any sense of entitlement, you must work hard for what you want
  • Fail fast, and move on to the next thing that can be successful
  • Focus on doing the best job you can at your current job, without being too obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder and getting the next job
  • Focus your time and energy on only the most important things. If that means saying no to a thousand other things to stay focused on what’s most important – so be it
  • Focus on your customers, not on your competitors, or the critics
  • Follow your passion in life, do what you love or don’t do it
  • Get on the right train. Work in the right business, in the right industry, and it will accelerate your career success
  • Go beyond a mentor. Learn from everyone. Yes you should learn by reading, but you should also learn by talking to, and watching people, and asking lots of questions
  • Grab great opportunities whenever they present themselves – even if you’re not ready for them
  • Have a hip-pocket skill. Unique skills that make you valuable.
  • Study the history of your particular industry, not just the science. Find out how things got to be how they are in your industry
  • Surround yourself with the best people, people who are better and smarter than you, because they will challenge you and force you to grow and become better
  • You must constantly innovate and reinvent both yourself and the company
  • You want a mentor, but not just any mentor, you want the right mentor

PS: If you’re wondering why I didn’t include career advice from people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs etc. it’s coming next week…

If you liked this article I highly recommend you check out my other career articles:

35 Interview Mistakes to Avoid

How to get your Dream Job

25 CV Mistakes to Avoid

Business, Career, and Life Advice from the world’s most successful entrepreneurs – part 1

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Footnote:

Bill Gates & Warren Buffett cover photo: By Michael Hsing (Internet) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bill McDermott image credit: By Tom Raftery [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bog Iger image credit: By hyku [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ginni Rometty image credit: By Asa Mathat / Fortune Live Media [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Indra Nooyi image credit: By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jeff Weiner image credit: By TechCrunch on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Lloyd Blankfein image credit: By Financial Times [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Marissa Mayer image credit: By Giorgio Montersino (Marissa Mayer at Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mark Hurd image credit: By Oracle PR from Redwood Shores, Calif., USA (Mark Hurd) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mark Weinberger image credit: By Patricia Hill (Provided by EY) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Barra image credit: Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock.com
Satya Nadella image credit: By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sheryl Sandberg image credit: By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sundar Pichai image credit: By Nguyen Hung Vu from Hanoi, Vietnam (DSC01690) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tim Cook image credit: Laura Hutton / Shutterstock.com
Warren Buffett image credit: Krista Kennell / Shutterstock.com