Transformative Tips – Top Leaders Share Best Leadership Advice Received

In the dynamic world of leadership, there are certain pearls of wisdom that have the power to inspire change, drive innovation, and foster growth.

From VCs to Founders to Diversity Leaders to Scholars to People Leaders and more, we asked nearly 50 of today’s most innovative people-first leaders, “What’s the best leadership advice you have ever received.”

See what they had to say and learn how their collected advice can help you and your leadership skills.

Dwetri Addy, VP, Equity, Culture, & People Development, Stitch Fix
“Your voice, though often quiet, is powerful. Use it.”

Darren Murph, Future of Work Architect / Strategy + Communications, Ford
“Focus less on ‘what should I do?’ and focus more on ‘who should I be?”

Tarveen Forrester, VP, People, Kickstarter
“Be the energy you want to see. I have found that if I show up as my authentic self, I open the door for others to do so as well. This was important through my growth and as I became a leader, it felt as if it became more important. If I wanted others to be honest, I had to be that first, if I wanted others to work hard, I had to do that first, and if I wanted my team to be curious, I had to show them how first. No matter what space I am in, I carry that with me because I love what I do and the impact I have an opportunity to create. I want to build communities and environments where I can support people in doing the same.”

Beth Karlsson, CHRO and Partner, People and Culture, Lightspeed Venture Partners
“Keep your feet planted, breathe deep, and pick up only the things you can. During difficult decisions and fast-moving environments, it’s easy to lose perspective and end up making decisions you’ll later second guess. You can also get overwhelmed if you try to solve all the things at once. Instead, amid noise, find calm. Be decisive. Keep moving forward.”

Rajeeb Dey, CEO, Learnerbly
“Always try and be the least intelligent person in the room – hire amazing people then get out the way”

Gianna Driver, CHRO, Exabeam
“The fear of failure has killed more dreams than failure ever will. [not really “advice,” more like sage wisdom!”

Tyrone Smith, Jr. Ed D, Management, HR & People Science Adjunct Teaching Professor, University of Southern California
“The best advice I have been given about leadership is that it is a continuous journey of learning, growth, and self-improvement. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, as effective leadership styles can vary based on the situation and the individuals you’re leading.”

Vicki Walia, Ph.D., Head of HR for US Businesses & Global Asset Management, Prudential
“Treat your career as chapters in a book – in some chapters, there will be plenty of twists and turns and others will be more routine and steady – they both offer invaluable lessons to the leader you are and becoming.”

Becky McCullough, VP of Global Recruiting & Talent Development, HubSpot
“Real is better than perfect. The past few years have been challenging for everyone, not the least of which are people leaders. I spent too much time early in the pandemic trying to keep on a brave face and just pushing through the tough stuff, and set a really negative tone on the team. It wasn’t until I started being much more transparent about business challenges I was navigating as a leader or vulnerable about things I was struggling with as a working parent that the team felt a greater sense of trust and clarity in their work.”

Brandon Sammut, Chief People Officer, Zapier
“Be okay saying “I don’t know (yet).” That’s the first step to learning. And people want to help others who are clear about what they need to learn.”

Pat Mulroy, President & CEO, Sustainable Strategies, Board of Directors, Wynn Resorts
“A true leader realizes that although a leader can demand respect by virtue of his position that does not mean that those around him/her truly respect him. You can’t lead if no one is willing to follow and that level of respect is earned by the qualities the leader exhibits. Whether it is ethics, leading by example, respecting and celebrating the importance of all on the team (even those in the lowest positions) or creating an environment of empowerment … they all contribute to whether someone can truly lead.”

Irfhan Rawji, Founder, MobSqad
“Perfect is the enemy of very, very good.”

Blair Christie, Founder & CEO, Denim
“It’s a tie! No decision is worse than a bad decision OR Deal with the world the way it is, not the way you wish it would be. I reflect on them both nearly every day.”

Amélie Vavrovsky, Founder & CEO, Formally
“Hire a great team and get out of their way. (a softer version would be: Recruit an exceptional team and then empower them to thrive.)”

Paul E. Wolfe, Human First Leadership Advocate
“Really get to know your employees and what is important to each of them.”

Krista Skalde, Operating Partner & Chief Talent Officer, Inovia Capital
“The absolute best advice I ever received was to find my passion and go for it with 1000%++ effort; don’t get wrapped up in job titles and organizational levels; take each learned skill as a building block and look for the experiences to apply these skills.”

Craig Forman, Founder, CultureC Consulting
“Data can tell us a lot about groups but very little about individuals; individuals can tell us a lot about themselves but very little about groups.”

Angela Cheng-Cimini 鄭婷婷, SVP, Talent & CHRO, Harvard Business Review
“Lead with your heart and your head. When practiced well, HR is the perfect intersection of data and well-honed instincts about what your people need to thrive.”

Stela Lupushor, Founder, Reframe.Work Inc.
“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit”

Barbry McGann, SVP and Managing Director, Workday Ventures
“Adopt a mindset of giving, seeing potential in others, and sharing knowledge”

Tushar Pandit, SVP, People & Tech Operations, Rebuilt Offers, LLC
“Your leadership brand is how a team achieves success which in turn, leads to company and customer success!”

Keely Cat-Wells, Founder & CEO, Making Space
“If in doubt, lead with kindness.”

Donald Knight, Chief People Officer, Greenhouse
Effective leadership is multifaceted and evolves over time as societal norms, business landscapes, and individual experiences change. As leaders, we must be willing to evolve as well and address these areas since they truly influence how people show up at work, and the results they produce.

David Scott, Chief People & Administration Officer, ADT
“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

Carolyn Frey, Chief People Officer, HungryRoot
Keep it simple.

Robert David, Executive Director, Community for Strategic HR Partnership (CSHRP)
“Fire early and hire slowly is a common principle in leadership and management, emphasizing the importance of making careful, deliberate decisions when it comes to building and maintaining a high-performing team. I wish I learned it earlier in my career!”

Monica Pool Knox, 2x CHRO, HR Tech Advisor & Investor Board Director, Swedish Health Systems
“No one ever accomplishes anything alone – build a great team, collaborate with the right partners and with a little faith, everything is possible. If you walk down the street and run into a pothole, it’s good to figure out how to navigate around it; it’s better to simply find another street – don’t give up, there’s always a way.”

Julie Turney, Founder & CEO, HR@Heart Consulting Inc.
“Comparison is the thief of joy. So I never compare my progress or my journey to someone else. I chase the ‘me’ I want to be five years from now; this keeps me motivated and focused.”

Tracie Sponenberg, Chief People Officer, The Granite Group
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of mentors over the years and in recent years, a great community of colleagues, friends, and connections. While I’ve certainly received advice, something in recent years really sticks out. When confiding about my experience with burnout with a friend and mentioned that I felt like I was hitting a wall. She said – “It’s ok if you rest on that wall.” I think about that conversation often. When I started out my career, resting was not something leaders did! Sharing feelings – especially challenging or negative ones – was not something leaders did. Today, I’m so happy to see leaders embracing vulnerability, and sharing their experiences. So the advice to rest? That’s my best leadership advice. And advice that I would not have taken earlier in my career.”

Emily Chardac, Chief People Officer, ONE
“You don’t need to know the answers. You do need to know how to ask questions.”

Kyle Lagunas, Head of Strategy, Aptitude Strategy
“I strongly believe that the only way to avoid the massive wave of AI-driven disruptions ahead is to work harder to navigate risk—rather than avoiding risk entirely, as is our wont in traditional HR.”

Dan Riley, Co-Founder, RADICL
“Keep believing in yourself, your ideas, and lift up those around you. That’s the way we truly change things.”

Angela Howard, CEO & Organizational Psychologist, Call for Culture
“Ditch the term “soft skills” when it comes to leadership. There is nothing soft or reactive about effective leadership.”

Jennifer Oswald, Head of People Strategy (CPO),
“Use your head and your heart, they are equally important.”

Nakisha Hicks, President, The ElevateHer LLC
“‘Lead by example.’ True leadership isn’t about giving orders but setting the standard for how things should be done. By embodying the values, work ethic, and attitude you wish to see in your team, you inspire and motivate them to rise to the occasion. It fosters a culture of respect and aspiration.”

Tigran Sloyan, Co-Founder & CEO, CodeSignal
“Leadership/management is a form of applied psychology. To be an effective leader you have to start from deeply understanding those you intend to lead.”

Joy Samanta, Head of People Success, Solarwinds
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Coco Brown, Founder & CEO, Athena Alliance
“Share your ideas. It’s ok if people steal them, more likely they will help you evolve them.”

J.P. Sanday, Partner, Menlo Ventures
“Great people deserve to be led, not managed.”

Dr. Keith Keating, SVP, Chief Learning Officer, Archwell Holdings
“Drawing from the wisdom of my journey, the most transformative leadership advice I’ve ever received centers on the power of language and emotion. Firstly, the shift from “I” to “we” was profound. It not only promoted collective ownership but also fostered a sense of unity and collaboration. Secondly, the emphasis on empathy resonated deeply. Understanding and valuing the emotional landscapes of those around me has been pivotal in creating genuine connections and trust. In the intricate dance of leadership, these lessons have guided my steps, reminding me that true leadership is rooted in togetherness and understanding.”

Cole Napper, Ph.D., VP, People Analytics, Orgnostic
“To be a good leader, you have to care more about those who are in your care than you care about yourself.”

Melissa Doman, Organizational Psychologist, Melissa Doman LLC
“Good leaders get out of the way and let people show what they can do.”

Irene Liu, Founder & CEO, Hypergrowth GC | Executive in Residence, UC Berkeley School of Law
“Words matter, but it’s not always what you say that counts. It’s the way you say something and how you made someone feel that counts.”

Kate Terrell, CHRO, Menlo Security
“Surround yourself with people who are better than you – their strengths balance the team and make it whole.”

Jeremy Edmonds, VP, People & Culture, Snooze an A.M. Eatery
“Be curious, not furious. I have heard this advice in various forms throughout my career, but this was the best summary of it that I was shared with me. When we lead with the ability to seek to understand, have courageous conversations, and show empathy, we have the power to overcome the judgment, shame, blame, and anger we show ourselves and others.”

Virginie Raphael, Founder & Managing Partner, FullCircle
“Nothing is beyond you.”

William Tincup, President & Editor-at-Large, Recruiting Daily
“The business should run better without you than because of you.”

Sarah Touzani, Founder & CEO, Waggle
“The best leaders don’t just manage; they inspire. Your role isn’t to control people but to unleash their potential.”

Get a chance to connect and converse with all of these top people-first leaders live at Transform 2024 on March 11-13, 2024 at Wynn Las Vegas. Save your seat now before prices go up on January 19!

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