top leaders share advice

Paul B Thornton was once challenged by a Fortune magazine article entitled “The Best Advice I Ever Got.” It was full of interesting wit and wisdom about achieving business success, inspiring him to produce his newest book, Leadership: Best Advice I Ever Got. This is essentially a compilation of the best leadership advice 136 successful CEOs, coaches, consultants, professors, managers, executives, presidents, politicians, and religious leaders received that most helped them become effective and successful leaders.

His observations include:
  1. Always remember to stay open, listen to everyone, but develop your own leadership style. Leadership is about making things happen. If you want to make something happen with your life, do it. Perceived obstacles crumble against persistent desire. John Baldoni, author and leadership communication consultant, shared this advice from his father, a physician. He taught him the value of persistence. At the same time, his mother taught him compassion for others. Persistence for your cause should never be gained at the expense of others.

  2. Listen and understand the issue, then lead. Time and time again we have all been told, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” or, as Stephen Covey puts it, “Seek to understand rather than be understood.” As a leader, listening first to the issue, then trying to coach, has been the most valuable advice that Cordia Harrington, President and CEO of Tennessee Bun Company has been given.

  3. Answer the three questions everyone within your organization wants answers to. What the people of an organization want from their leader are answers to the following: Where are we going? How are we going to get there? What is my role? Kevin Nolan, President & Chief Executive Officer of Affinity Health Systems, Inc. believes the more clarity that can be added to each of the three questions, the better the result.

  4. Master the goals that will allow you to work anywhere in today’s dynamic business world. Debbe Kennedy, President and Founder of Global Dialogue Center and Leadership Solutions Companies, shares this advice that has been instrumental in shaping her direction, future and achievements. While a young manager at IBM just promoted to her first staff assignment, one of her colleagues offered this advice. He mentioned that jobs, missions, titles, and organizations would come and go. He advised her not to focus her goals toward any of these, but instead learn to master the skills that will allow you to work anywhere.

    He was talking about four skills: The ability to develop an idea. Effectively plan for its implementation. Execute second-to-none. Achieve superior results time after time. So, forget what others do; work to be known for delivering excellence. It speaks for itself and it opens doors.

  5. Be curious. Curiosity is a prerequisite to continuous improvement and even excellence. The person who gave Mary Jean Thornton, Former Travelers EVP, this advice urged her to study people, processes, and structures. He inspired her to be intellectually curious. He reminded her that making progress, in part, is based upon thinking. She has learned to apply this notion of intellectual curiosity by thinking about her organization’s future, understanding the present, and knowing and challenging herself to creatively move the people and the organization closer to its vision.

  6. Listen to both sides of the argument. The most valuable advice Senator Brian P. Lees ever received came from his mentor, U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke III. He told him to listen to all different kinds of people and ideas. Listening only to those who share your background and opinions can be imprudent. It is important to respect your neighbors’ rights to their own views. Listening to and talking with a variety of people is essential not only to be a good leader in business, but to also be a valuable member within your community.

  7. Prepare, prepare, prepare. If one has truly prepared and something goes wrong, the strength of the rest of what you’ve prepared for usually makes it something easier to handle without crisis and panic, says Dave Hixson, Amherst College Men’s Basketball Coach. The best advice he ever received: “Preparation is the science of winning.”

How about you? What is one really good piece of leadership advice you've been given?


  1. Tell people where you want to go, but don't tell them how to get there... You will be surprised with the results.

    (I forget who said this originally I think it may have been Patton)

  2. I believe you are correct... great quote. I read some stuff by John McCain in his book on courage. It was pre-election, so it just came across as good advice versus a political book. Reminded me of a less harsh Patton in some ways.

  3. "You get what you notice." I forget where I read this or heard this. I think it was in reference to child rearing, "If you always point out what your kids are doing wrong, that's what you'll keep getting. If you 'catch them' doing the right things, you'll keep getting that too." Applies to leadership as well...