What happens when you ask 21 luminaries from all walks – finance, law, tech, the military, and beyond – for the one piece of advice that got them to where they are today?
CEO of HSN
When I was at Nike, I was bemoaning the fact that somebody on my team wasn’t performing — and I was trying to get him to perform better. Finally, Phil Knight [Nike co-founder and chairman] said to me, “Mindy, what you really have to focus on is not trying to make ordinary people extraordinary. You need to hire extraordinary people.” In today’s world, talent is so critical to the success of what you’re doing — their core competencies and how well they fit into your office culture. The combination can be, well, extraordinary. But only if you bring in the right people.
CEO of US Airways
In my case it’s not necessarily words of advice, but more advice I received through example. The example is Herb Kelleher [former CEO of Southwest Airlines], who I’ve gotten to know over the last 10 years. Knowing how great he’s done, I’ve tried to hang out and watch and learn through osmosis. He is so good at listening, and has really taught me how important it is to listen to your employees. If you watch Herb in action, it really is phenomenal. He is completely engaged and never looks over your shoulders to see who else is in the room. It’s not out of principle; it’s just who he is.
I try really hard now to have forums that allow employees to talk to me, rather than me being in front of 1,000 people. Four times a month, I put myself in a room with 30 or 40 pilots and flight attendants, and I talk for 10 minutes; they talk for 50. It’s not just listening out of respect — you can’t imagine how much better you can do your job when you operate this way. When you’re leading a big organization like an airline, there’s a whole lot you can miss, so you have to start by listening to people. Then you can decide what the right course is.
I’m nowhere near where Herb is as a listener yet, but just yesterday, we had one of these meetings and someone told me about going to check in and all we had available was first class. She was traveling with her 10-year-old, and he wasn’t allowed in first, so they couldn’t fly. I don’t think that’s right. I didn’t even know we had that policy, so it’s going to change.
Superlawyer, founder of Boies Schiller & Flexner
“Try to listen before you speak,” my father told me when I was 13. “Anyone who’s worth talking to is worth listening to.” It was for some time hard advice to take onboard. I could understand listening to a teacher, or anyone with special knowledge, about a subject I was trying to learn. But I often thought I knew more than the person I was speaking with (and occasionally I did).
Over time I came to understand that almost everyone knows something or has some insight or experience I do not — or can say something that, even if wrong, triggers a thought or idea I might not otherwise have.
Even if my only interest in someone was to teach, persuade, or seduce them, listening was still important. People I listen to are more willing to listen to me.
Read more advice from the top on CNN Money. Share your own words of wisdom in the comments section.