I love listening to smart people.

I don’t like listening to smart people when they pretend they developed the wisdom they impart all on their own—like a Stephen Hawking fairy flew down and touched them on the head with a Wand of Wisdom.

It doesn’t work that way for most of us. Everything I know I was told by people who are smarter than me.

Like the following advice, some of which has stuck with me for years:

"Go ahead and be an 'individual.' Just do it on your own time." For a long time—longer than I care to admit—I let my personality overshadow my roles. That definitely impacted my performance and limited my opportunities. Sure, we're all individuals, but we all depend on others, just like they depend on us.

Your primary goal is to meet the needs of employees, customers, etc. on their terms.  Stay true to your ethics and values, but never “be yourself” just to prove something to yourself.

"Place no value on face value." It’s hard not to perceive the actions of others through the lens of how their behavior impacts us, especially if that impact is negative.

But there is always more going on. Most employees don't try to do a bad job. Most customers don’t intend to difficult. Most vendors don’t actively seek to miss delivery dates. There’s always a deeper level; fail to look for what may lie behind an action and you could miss the opportunity to make a bad situation better for everyone.

"He’s just as scared of you." I wrestled in high school, and during the summers I went to regional and national tournaments. Some wrestlers seemed larger than life simply because they were from different states and wore t-shirts from high-profile schools, camps, and wrestling clubs. Until a referee made an off-hand comment, I never imagined some might see me the same way.

The same is true in a business setting. Hiding underneath the Gucci and the Stanford b-school degree and the VC name-dropping is a person who might be just as nervous and intimidated as you. Symbols of success are just symbols. The playing field is always more level than it appears.

Sometimes it even tilts your way.

"When you fire an employee, you haven't done your job if you need to say more than, 'We have to let you go.'" Barring a major incident, firing an employee is the last step in a process. Identify sub-par performance, provide additional training or resources, set targets and timelines for performance improvement, and follow up when progress is lacking.

Termination shouldn’t be a surprise that requires a lengthy explanation. Do your job right and the employee already knows why he is being fired.

Even so...

"Firing an employee should bother you for days." Even if you did everything right, firing employees feels terrible. You've impacted their careers, their lives, and their families. ... It should bother you.

If you don’t feel terrible after you fire someone it’s time to rethink whether you should run a business.

"Always sell above your comfort zone." Selling, especially myself, doesn’t come easy for me. I felt more comfortable waiting for bosses to discover my talents and offer promotions. I feel more comfortable waiting for potential clients to somehow "discover" me.

That's a problem, because success in any field or profession is built on salesmanship: The willingness and ability to determine needs, overcome objections, and provide solutions.

Be enthusiastic, especially about yourself. Don’t worry: People will respond positively.

"Pick something to believe in and stick with it." When I raced motorcycles a former World Champion told me he always walked an unfamiliar track before ever riding a lap. That ritual let him discover details about the track and racing lines he might otherwise miss. Good enough for him, good enough for me, so I did the same thing.

Did it help? Placebo or not, I certainly thought it did. So, therefore, it did.

Create a routine to follow every time you face a task that makes you nervous.  Gradually the routine itself will give you confidence.

Think of it like wearing your lucky underwear (hey, don’t laugh, I know a guy who has lucky underwear), except in this case your "superstition" actually contributes to your performance.

"Sometimes you could just shut up." I used to talk even more than I do now. I thought I was insightful and clever and witty. Most of the time I wasn't. So why did I talk so much? Big hat, no cattle. I still sometimes realize I'm talking because I’m interested in what I have to say and not because the other person is interested.

Truly confident people don't feel the need to talk at all. Never speak just to please yourself. You end up pleasing no one.