Getting advice from people who've climbed their way to positions of achievement and influence can be a great way to learn. One of the intriguing things you can find out is the best piece of advice they ever got, meaning you have an insight into the focus that helped them become who they are.
Here are 7 leaders on the best advice they ever received -- the one critical lesson that made all the difference.
Earl Graves owns a number of businesses, including Black Enterprise magazine. In the 1960s, he worked in sales for a real estate developer, Valerio Cardinale, who told him to trust people. That meant although there can be good reason to be skeptical about people, if you overdo it, you can't get anything done. No one's goals, business, and life are self-contained. If you must always assume that someone is out to stick it to you, you'll never achieve anything. Furthermore, if you can't trust, you can't delegate, which limits you. You may get burned sometimes, but by trusting people, you actually help them step up to be worthy of that trust.
Bloom where you're planted
Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren remembered doing what seemed to him scut work when he got out of college and first worked as an assistant buyer. Coming across the man who recruited him, Gene Ross, he asked about moving to another department. Ross pointed to a poster in his office with a picture of a tree in a pot and the words, "bloom where you're planted." As Ross also explained to him: "You're not going to do this forever. There's a finite amount of time you're going to be doing this. Do this really, really well. And if you do this really, really well, everybody will see that, and they'll move you onto the next thing. And you do that well, and then you'll move."
Give more than you get
Today, Ursula Burns is the CEO and chairman of Xerox as well as the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. Growing up, she lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan "when it was really bad." Her best advice came from her mother, who worked tirelessly to see that the children could do better. "She was very, very black-and-white and very clear about what responsibilities we had," Burns told the New York Times. "One was that we had to be good people. And the second thing is that we had to be successful. And so her words for success were, 'You have to give'--and she would say this all the time--'more than you take away from the world.'"
Have no regrets
You cannot live life without making mistakes of all shapes and sizes. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, has said that the best advice he ever received came from his mother, who taught him many lessons. "[H]aving no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made," he wrote. "The amount of time people spend looking back on failed projects has always astounded me. If we were to add up all of the hours spent regretting mistakes and use that time to develop new ideas, who knows how many brilliant new businesses would be created. Even now my mother starts more new projects in a week than most people do in a year."
Be responsible for your failure
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is the chairman and CEO of BP Capital and TBP Investments Management. His grandmother taught him to be responsible for his failures as much as for his successes. "'Sonny, I don't care who you are,'" Pickens wrote. "'Some day you're going to have to sit on your own bottom. After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy."
Learn to live with losing
You can want to win, but you can't win all the time. Peter Gruber, owner of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Dodgers, came up against that hard during a Warriors basketball game. The team was behind by 2 points, there were just minutes left in the game, and a player missed two foul shots in a row. "I grimaced and held my fists to my eyes," he wrote. All of a sudden Pat Riley, head of the Miami Heat, called him. Riley had seen Gruber's reaction on television. "He exhorted, 'Don't do that! Losing is part of the game! Listen to these statistics... you play 82 regular season basketball games, maybe some playoffs...and maybe 164 baseball games, and maybe a bunch post season games for as much as 270 games a year. You are going to lose a lot! A lot! Get used to it! It's a crucial part of the process! That behavior doesn't help you or your team. You've got to always remain visibly positive! Managing losses is a challenge you must be up to! You can never give in to it!'"
You only have your word and your name
Desmond Clark retired from a great career in the NFL and now, among other things, is a real estate agent and runs his non-profit, 88 Wayz, which provides a mentor and leadership program for Chicago-area kids. The best advice he received was from his high school football coach, who confronted him about skipping practice and playing basketball instead. "He said, 'You know what, son? All you have is your word and your name. Don't ever mess that up.' I remembered that from that day forward. ... Once you mess that up, you mess up everything."