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Career Advice

19 CEOs & Executives Reveal Their Best Advice

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated December 16, 2016

The road to success is neither straight nor smooth. Just ask any executive or C-suiter. And that's just what we did.

As we prepare for 2017 and set professional resolutions, it's important and helpful to glean advice from those who have dominated 2016. Instead of tapping CEOs and executives who have been riding high, we've tapped a collection of inspirational leaders who have faced professional challenges and have overcome them with savvy smarts.

Whether it's assembling the right team to grow or becoming more empathetic, here are 19 pieces of invaluable advice from successful business leaders. Take notes!

Mary Barra, CEO of GM


Mary Barra’s secret to securing respect as a leader is consistency. “I follow the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” There’s no shortcut to earning respect. Your relationship with your team is like any other relationship — you can’t build it the moment you need it. You build it over time. It starts when you make it very clear what your values are and articulate a clear vision for the organization. It gets stronger when you live those values every day and deliver results. If your values are little more than words on a page, they won’t mean much to you or the people on your team. But when you do what you say you are going to do — in both results and behaviors — that’s when you begin to build trust and earn respect,” Barra says.

Ariana Huffington, Founder of Thrive Global

As not only the founder of Thrive Global, but the face of the Huffington Post, Huffington knows a bit about how to strike a healthy balance between work and self-care. “Creativity is the first thing that is sacrificed when we are running on empty,” Huffington says. One simple step toward regenerating creativity she advises: get a good night’s sleep.

Jim McGrann, CEO of VSP

VSP is an internationally operating vision care health insurance company. CEO Jim McGrann says that what keeps him motivated is focusing VSP’s business model inherently focused on community. “The CSR (corporate social responsibility) work allows me to go to bed every night knowing we’re in business for a good reason. Two billion people in the world don’t have proper eye care; the reason we keep the company healthy is so we can make a dent in that number,” McGrann says.

Abby Johnson, CEO of Fidelity

Abby Johnson believes that involving the entire team in forming collective goals makes these mutually beneficial solutions easier to make a reality. “In my experience, encouraging a team-oriented culture that is focused on uniting employees behind a shared sense of purpose and a common goal is more effective than offering directives. If you and your leadership team are on the same page with this approach, it is much easier to engage employees throughout the firm to meet those collective goals,” Johnson says.

Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe

23andme, the revolutionary genetic testing company, is driven by Anne Wojcicki’s desire “to have better and better health information for individuals so we can all make better decisions in our lives.” Wojcicki’s biggest piece of advice to young people entering the entrepreneurship scene is to explore and take risks. She advises to “enjoy asking all the questions and trying all the different jobs and realize that each new experience helps shape your views of the world and what you want to do in it.”

Lizanne Kindler, CEO of Talbots

According to Lizanne Kindler, getting your workforce to unite behind you is simper than some leaders to make it be. “It’s easy…trust your people. It really is that simple. As the CEO, you have to set clear objectives, goals, and expectations. But knowing that you are trusted to do your job and do it well is the most incredible motivator of all,” says Kindler.

Francine Katsoudas, Cisco HR Chief

Francine Katsoudas on the frontlines of thinking critically about the future of HR, who eschews the title HR Chief and rather goes by “Chief People Officer.” Katsoudas thinks about the big picture. “In truth, I don’t look at this role as having a different set of qualities versus other leadership roles. The thinking should be, how do we have the biggest business impact? What’s happening outside of my four walls? That’s your starting point for any leader: Understand what’s happening inside and outside.  And as you understand the type of impact these forces have on the company, you need to assess whether you have the leaders and the followers to get where you want to go,” she says.

Ana Recio, Head of Recruiting for Salesforce

When Ana Recio says “don’t boil the ocean,” she means that a setting a clear strategy from the beginning can cut out a lot of unnecessary work down the line. “Be smart. Hone in on the root of the problem to figure out what will really move the needle,” she says.

Cindy Robbins, Executive Vice President of Global Employee Success at Salesforce

When asked what advice she would give her 20-year old self, Robbins said: “One, try to find a mentor to help you. A wise person told me once that mentors pick mentees, not the other way around and sometimes we get that mixed up. I found that person at Salesforce – my biggest champion and toughest critic. The mentor that I’m speaking about is someone who has not only helped me professionally. The important thing is that your mentor is guiding and helping you from a career aspect; sometimes they can be your life coach at the same time.

The other piece of advice I would give is as you elevate in your career it’s really important to thank the people who helped you get to that next level. I’ve been in Salesforce for ten years. I’ve had great success and I’ve had a lot of great advocates, champions, and mentors. As I elevated, I remembered to go back and say thank you. When you have teams helping you achieve success, go back and tell your team thank you. It’s easy to take the victory lap, but it’s most important to say thank you.”

Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte

Bersin advises to “build an irresistible organization,” like his own talent management agency Bersin by Deloitte.  “You don’t have to spend a hundred million dollars a year on training—just build a culture where employees can grow.”

Shane Smith, CEO of VICE

At a recent event in conversation with The Wall Street Journal, Shane Smith revealed the wherewithal that powered VICE through doubts and criticism: “when we first went into news people said ‘how is that going to happen?’” said Smith. He added “The reason why Vice News is successful because there was this sort of misconception that young people don’t care about news, they don’t care about international news—all of which as people realized now is completely untrue. They just didn’t like the way news was presented to them.”

Lisa Sugar, Co-founder and President of POPSUGAR

When things get crazy, Lisa Sugar stays tranquil by starting the day on a calm and collected note. “I try to leave that first half-hour open in the morning so that I can prioritize whatever needs to get done that day. Then I usually start meetings at 10 a.m. I’ll work with our sales team whether it’s brainstorming stuff to sell or working with clients. I work with the editorial team on strategy, brainstorms for features and network-wide content themes,” says Sugar.

Anne Royse, VP of Talent Acquisition at Aegis Living

For Anne Royse, when she first started working at Aegis living, a national assisted living and memory care provider, she was quickly met with difficult professional obstacles. “I took some time to get a lay of the land and it became quickly apparent that our community leaders were struggling with recruiting their line staff. They had no real recruiting tools other than outlook and maybe some job boards to manage their recruiting. What’s more, our careers pages on our website were not mobile friendly. I formed a team of hiring managers, recruiters, and administrative people to go through a software selection and implementation process. I have done a number of these over the years, and there are always many obstacles one expects along the way. I have never had one go as smoothly as this! With a lot of due diligence, we selected one that is truly user-friendly to the applicants and to our staff, and the results are impressive! Just three months into it, we’ve tripled our applicant flow and doubled our hires!”

Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer of Microsoft

One of Julie Larson-Green secrets to her long, successful tenure at Microsoft has been to remain focused on long-term missions and goals. But Larson-Green also isn’t afraid to take risks and take opportunities when they come. “One of my mantras is ‘assume good intent.’ You hear rumors and you can build a story in your head about it. But I’ve built a good network and I can talk to people about what’s going on, then refocus on the goal. Sometimes your personal mission does have to change because of larger things that are happening. In 2001, we were working on Office 2003 and wanted to have this online place where people could use Office. Today we call that Office 365! But 15 years ago, it sounded crazy. We were relying on another team for backend infrastructure—and one day they just decided they couldn’t do it, and that was it. But we eventually turned all of our work into the Microsoft Support site, which is huge for us even today. Uncharted places can fuel creativity. If there’s no one telling you that you have to something X way, that can be a big opportunity,” Larson-Green says.

Heather Friedland, Chief Product Officer of Glassdoor

As the CPO of Glassdoor, Heather Friedland urges other women to rise to success by choosing the difficult path. “If you’re faced with making a tough career decision, consider choosing the harder, more uncomfortable choice – that’s where you will likely experience the most growth and find out what you’re really capable of. You will likely surprise yourself in your ability to grow and thrive,” she says.

Katie Burke, VP of Culture and Experience at Hubspot

Burke advises to not always assume the best ideas on culture are going to come from the C suite. “Executives don’t usually have the best ideas for what to do with culture,” she says. Instead she suggests to include every involved party in the decision-making process. “Acting on employee-generated ideas is one of the greatest ways to scale culture.”

Ed Nathanson, Founder of Red Pill Talent

“If you do what everyone else does, nobody cares,” says Ed Nathanson. He advises that as long as you just “be you,” it will resonate with the audience you want to attract.

Luciana Caletti, Co-Founder & CEO of Love Mondays

As a woman in the startup space, Luciana Caletti is well aware of the obstacles that women continue to face when starting their own companies. Don’t let the numbers of women in the space bother you or prevent you from starting your own company. That would be my first advice,” Caletti says. “Secondly, for me it was really important to have other co-founders that had the same vision as me and share the same objectives. Having two co-founders that really are aligned with what we wanted to achieve was really essential. Sometimes I see sole entrepreneurs doing it all by themselves, and I really admire them. However, the team aspect was really important in my journey.”

Mark Douglas, CEO of SteelHouse

At marketing firm SteelHouse, workers have an employee perk that most of us only dream of: getting paid to go on vacation. This is part of Douglas’s strategy for promoting work-life balance in his workplace. “It’s one thing to say ‘You have three weeks vacation,’ like most companies do,” Douglas told Business Insider. “It’s another thing to say ‘You have cash, and if you don’t go on vacation and spend this money, the money literally goes to waste.’ It’s another level of saying this is real.”

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