Jobs and Skills

Here's the best career advice that 6 CEOs received and are willing to pass on

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Instead of being critical of the past, different approaches can help employees focus on the future. Image: Unsplash/Javier Allegue Barros

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Jobs and Skills

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  • Career advice can completely change your perspective and how you approach your job.
  • As our working and personal lives are completely transformed by technology, work and social change, getting the right advice is more important than ever.
  • Here, six CEOs and leaders share the best advice they’ve ever been given.

Not every piece of advice we get in life and at work is helpful, but some can completely change your perspective.

This is even more important in a rapidly changing economic environment that is radically transforming our personal and professional lives, as highlighted in the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023.

Figure showing the ranking of macro trends driving business transformation.
The world of work and our personal lives are undergoing a rapid transformation. Image: World Economic Forum

We've asked guests of the Forum’s podcast series ‘Meet The Leader’, to share the most valued advice they've received over the course of their careers. Here's what they said.

1. Which half of the world do you belong to?

Leif Johansson, former non-executive chairman at AstraZeneca, recounts criticizing something his team had – in his view – done badly. His boss agreed, but also gave him the following advice:

'When you start thinking more than half of the population around you are idiots, then start thinking to which part of the world you might belong yourself.'

Johansson says that this changed how he dealt with failings at work. “[It] takes me out of being too critical,” he explains. Instead of being critical of the past, this approach allows him to focus on the future.

2. Getting people on board

As President of Innovative Medicines International and Chief Commercial Officer at Novartis, Marie-France Tschudin is used to managing change and getting her team’s 'buy in'. One of her university professors told her early on in her career:

'If you don't take people with you, you can have the best product, the best strategy, the best leadership, and nothing will happen.'

This has shaped her throughout her professional life, Tschudin says.

“When you invest the time in making sure that people are willing to come along with you, that goes a long way,” she highlights. “In times of change, the worst thing you can do is not be there.”


3. It’s ok to be less than perfect

In life as in business, many aim for perfection. But this well-intentioned goal can quickly become a stumbling block. Sometimes less can be more, as Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, a business collective that works to end disability exclusion, learnt.

'Remember, 80% is good enough... Perfection is what gets in your way.'

Those were the words of her business mentor, a Fortune 200 CEO, who praised her ambition and vision, but taught her to get comfortable with slightly less than perfection in order to gain momentum.

“Perfection is what gets in your way. Get out of your own way,” Casey added.

4. The power of whistling

Nicola Mendelsohn is not only Head of the Global Business Group at Meta, the owner of Facebook, she also has an incurable blood cancer. One piece of advice that helped her deal with both challenges has been this:

'You can't cry and whistle. So, sometimes it can all get a little bit much, and if you whistle, I promise you, you can't cry at the same time.'

She also points to Eleanor Roosevelt’s motto of doing things you think you cannot do as a mantra.

“Because when you do those things, you know, they're terrifying. But that's when you learn the most. That's when you push yourself, and then when you look back, you go, yeah, I did that, and I was proud.”


5. Getting over fear

As Chief Strategy Officer for Halo Car, a company specializing in self-driving vehicle technology, Cassandra Mao also believes in getting out of her comfort zone.

“I really enjoy experiences where I feel very uncomfortable, and I lean into them. I actually seek them out because I think when you're uncomfortable, it's often a signal that you're doing something new – and doing something new is the first step to growing, right?”

Her best advice? “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

“Fear is fine, fear is information,” Mao adds, “but it doesn't have to be a decider of your actions.”


What do we mean by ‘competitiveness’?

6. Be passionate

As a software engineer who now heads up next-generation aircraft maker Boom Supersonic, Blake Scholl has always followed his passions. “I don't have the resume to build supersonic airplanes,” he says. “I spent a year kind of just teaching myself the fundamentals of airplane design and airplane economics, and it turns out I can learn that.”

He describes the traditional mindset of specializing in a topic and becoming an expert over time as “self-limiting”, pointing out that “capabilities are very changeable, knowledge is changeable, but passions are not". Scholl believes:

'It's much more powerful to follow your passions and let your knowledge and skills follow where your passion takes you.'

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