Aspiring leaders can learn a lot from those who have navigated the path to the highest positions in technology. We asked several executives about the worst career advice they received as they moved up the ladder, and they delivered.
They also told us what they learned from this bad guidance, in hopes that you don’t make the same mistakes.
“Don’t Ask for That Promotion. Wait to be Recognized.”
Karen Davis, CIO at RTI International, received conflicting advice from two different managers during her early career.
Initially, a mentor advised her to ask for the job she really wanted. If you don’t explicitly request a promotion, they told her, it won’t happen.
But later, another manager referred to promotions as “gifts,” and advised Davis to wait to be recognized, rather than ask.
Through experience, Davis learned that waiting for recognition (or the job you want) is bad advice. Asking for what you want is a sign of leadership and experience, she advised, especially as you migrate into more senior roles.
“A promotion is not a ‘gift,’” Davis noted. “It is a result of hard work and managing your career. Now I advise all my mentees to be responsible for their careers, to be focused on what they want, and to make sure they are sharing their aspirations with their manager.”
“You Can Succeed at Anything You Set Your Mind To.”
Early in his career, every self-help management book and mentor insisted that he could achieve success under any circumstances, as long as he had mental strength and the will to succeed, explained Kevin Benedict, senior vice president, Solutions Strategy, at Regalix Inc.
“I discovered that you can’t carry the entire company on your shoulders, no matter how hard you try,” Benedict said. “There’s just no way to transform a company with poor leadership, product and vision into a scalable, successful business entity by yourself.”
Following that advice didn’t ruin his career, but it did delay his progress. “In hindsight, I definitely learned some important lessons from those failures and I wasted some years,” he lamented.
“First and foremost, I learned is that it takes a village to turn around a bad company,” Benedict added. “So if you receive an offer from a struggling company, look carefully at the fundamentals before signing on.”
“Be Careful What You Share With Employees.”
Davis received another bad piece of advice when she was promoted to management: Share as little information as possible with staff. Some people think that being open is too risky. In fact, she discovered that the opposite is true.
Open communication and transparency is the hallmark of authentic leaders who earn their employees’ trust by listening to their questions and addressing their concerns. Unless there are confidentiality issues or other legal concerns, share as much information as you can, Davis advised.
“Don’t Rock the Boat.”
While rocking the boat can be risky, ignoring that advice helped Miloš Topic get ahead.
“Flying under the radar is not in my DNA,” explained Topic, VP and CIO at St. Peters University. “So I challenged the status quo, questioning the need for a process or project that was no longer necessary or working, and earned a reputation as an impactful leader,” he said.
“Even though I tried my best to be polite and respectful, voicing my opinion wasn’t always viewed as a positive thing,” Topic admitted. “Sometimes, I found myself excluded from team meetings about upcoming projects. However, over the long-term, being bold has helped me stand out and benefitted my career.”
Moreover, if playing it safe is the only way to succeed, you may be better off in a company with a different culture, he added.
“Find a Good, Stable Job.”
That’s terrible advice, especially for early career professionals, noted Topic, who started his career in IT as a help desk technician. And yes, you can get a job outside of your college major.
“Don't listen to those who say ‘you taking too big a chance,’” he said. “Don’t be afraid to try different things until you figure out what you are really meant to do.”