Learning from the Best: Top Career Advice from the World’s Most Successful CEOs and Leaders


One of the struggles that comes with work is not knowing what your next step ought to be – whether you are running your own business, gainfully employed, in between jobs, or just about to join the world of the salaried. Truth be told, even those who are at the top of their game encounter difficulties when it comes to work – especially if their decision has an impact on many. This is where good career advice for your business will come in handy.


These people – the world’s best CEOs and business leaders – have reached the pinnacle of success before their death because they were able to learn and reflect from their breadth of experience. Good and bad, wise and foolhardy – everything they’ve gone through in their rise to the top puts them in a position to offer career advice for businesses that other will surely benefit from. They have learnt from other notable and famous people who have lived and died before them; now it’s our chance to learn from their successes and failures. Here’s what’s worth knowing and applying for your own.


Follow Your Passion


“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, and a lot of other things will happen that you don’t need to worry about.”Mary Barra (CEO, General Motors)


“… find a passion, and if you find a passion and you really do well at it, chances are you’re going to do just fine in your career.” – Kim Jeffery (former president and CEO, Nestle Waters North America)


This advice might seem cliché, but it’s true. Knowing what you want to do – and believing in it with your whole heart – should be at the heart of your work. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it in the first place?


Before applying any other career advice for your business, you should first find yourself in love with what you do in order to truly live it. For many people, this discovery won’t come instantaneously. You’ll likely go through several things before you figure out what it is that is so important to you to the point that you’ll actually look forward to Mondays while other people dread it. At the same time, being aware of this passion will help you overcome the challenges as they come because you will be more determined to get past them in the belief that such an effort will be worth it in the long run. If you don’t have 100% faith in what you do, it is a lot easier to give up and do something else.


Look for Opportunities to Learn and Grow


See the world without bias, like a child. Be curious. Keep learning.” – Jen Hsung-Huan (CEO, Nvidia)


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.” – Indra Nooyi (CEO, PepsiCo)


Passion and learning go hand in hand: if you like or love something so much, you will naturally want to know everything there is to know about it. The same is true for your career, no matter what it is that you do. A good advice for business is to never stop learning about your work or your industry. Learning will keep things fresh, allow you to better determine the direction in which you want to steer your business (or your own personal career path), and become a leader in your field. When it comes to education, go for it in whatever form it presents itself: enrolling in a course, attending webinars, asking for help from a mentor, etc. You will find that it is an investment that pays huge dividends later on.


Treat Others With Respect


“… you need to treat every employee no different than how you want to be treated. Every person in an organization or in a store, their job is critical.” – John Gainor (CEO and President, International Dairy Queen, Inc.)


“Good leaders put their teams first and create an environment where employees feel empowered to share ideas and feedback. Invest in your people and they will be invested in your business.” – Michael F. Mahoney (CEO and President, Boston Scientific)


An important advice for your business is related to the way you treat people. A study on project managers’ treatment of their team members show that when they exercise fairness in an interpersonal manner, improvements in performance and behavior of team members can be expected. It’s quite simple, actually: being a good boss or leader does a lot to instill dedication and commitment to those whom you manage.


Gone are the days when bosses (whether head honchos, associate managers, team leaders and the like) are standoffish and feel the need to project an aura of strictness; instead, showing warmth and genuine concern are proven to yield better results. Respect begets respect, and if you are still on your way to becoming a leader yourself it’s good to remember where you came from and how you started out!


Always Be Ready to Innovate

“If you listen to people… they make you grow, they keep you innovative, they keep you active.” – Hikmet Erset (President and CEO, Western Union)


“Having run a company through a major transition, it’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to. The cost is less. You have more time.”Paul Otellini (former CEO, Intel)


“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” – Steve Jobs (co-founder and former CEO, Apple. Died in 2011)


Some smart advice for your business: If and when you’ve got a good thing going, career-wise, the tendency to relax and stay in that comfortable bubble will definitely make itself apparent. Being this complacent can only result in bad news for you: if you don’t innovate, you’ll find yourself eating the dust of those who choose to go further. You’ll be bypassed for a promotion by someone else, or find that your closest competitor just widened the gap between the two of you.


The worst is only realizing it when you are too late and have little or no room to save yourself. If you do something that is experiencing moderate success, study it further to see how else you can improve on it or what new feature you should add. Listen to others to be aware of what new needs you can answer by upgrading your work. If this is the way you actively approach your career and your work, you will definitely be able to prevent your own obsolescence.


Be Reflective And Proactive After Failure


“A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.” – Richard Branson (founder and chairman, the Virgin Group)


“It is often our failures, flops, and even face plants that are the most vital part of shaping us. These are the things that “make us.” – Rick Goings (CEO and chairman, Tupperware Brands)


Earlier, one career advice we’ve mentioned that education is necessary to learn and grow – and one of the best teachers out there is failure. While you definitely want to avoid failure at all costs, you should know that once you experience it (and you’ll surely experience it, one way or another) you should find it in you to learn from it. Failure – especially the big, impactful kind – can easily devastate those who aren’t made of strong stuff. It can prompt you to completely abandon what it is you were doing up until your setback. But if you view failure as a form of learning, you will always be able to rise above it.


The important thing is to be reflective about the experience and then apply the necessary actions to get back on track. Take a step back and see where you went wrong, how you can rectify your mistakes, which aspects are still worth pursuing and which ones you ought to remove completely. While you don’t necessarily want to embrace failure, you’ll at least come away from it wiser.


A Recipe for Career Success


Passion, education, respect for others, innovation, and grit: if there ever was a recipe as a good career advice, it’s highly likely that these make up the five most important ingredients in it. Knowing what you love will motivate you to know everything you can about it. In turn, being knowledgeable about what you do allows you to innovate in a way that others can’t, because you have an idea of how you can better serve others’ needs or fill in a demand.


To accomplish this, you must genuinely want to solve problems, which will require authentic concern for both the people you work with and the people you serve. When you display this kind of authenticity, you earn the respect and support from others. As setbacks arise, the determination to rise above it will see yourself out of that rut, better than ever and with a clearer picture of where you’re headed to next.