In a world of uncertainty, we could all use a little advice. So we asked a host of influential leaders to share with us the wise words that changed their lives forever., June 2009

Tiger Woods: Keep it simple

Age: 33 No. 1-ranked golfer When I was young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I'd play on the Navy golf course with my pop. My dad would say, "Okay, where do you want to hit the ball?" I'd pick a spot and say I want to hit it there. He'd shrug and say, "Fine, then figure out how to do it." He didn't position my arm, adjust my feet, or change my thinking. He just said go ahead and hit the darn ball. My dad's advice to me was to simplify. He knew that at my age I couldn't digest all of golf's intricacies. He kept it simple: If you want to hit the ball to a particular spot, figure out a way to do it. Even today, when I'm struggling with my game, I can still hear him say, "Pick a spot and just hit it." When I'm making adjustments during a round, I know some of the television commentators theorize that I'm changing this or moving that, but really what I'm doing is listening to Pop.

Jim Sinegal: Show, don't tell

Age: 73 Co-founder and CEO, Costco Wholesale About 40 years ago I became a vice president at FedMart, a discount retailer. I started working there when I was 18. The company's founder, Sol Price, taught me a lesson that was pretty simple, but also true: If you're going to go to the trouble of hiring someone, it's because you can't do the job yourself -- so you'd better show them how you would do it. Sol spent day and night teaching us. He'd go home to have dinner, then come back to the warehouses. If he saw a piece of trash on the floor, he'd pick it up. If he noticed that a display was too high or an aisle wasn't wide enough, he'd fix it. As employees, we were tested every day, and if something wasn't done properly, he'd be certain to show us how to do it. Some people believe that you should say something just once. But I think you get a message across by communicating it every day. That's why I'm always walking the floors of different Costcos and talking to employees about the tasks at hand. It's not just because I love to hear the registers ring! Sol taught me that a good manager must also be a good teacher. A lot of very bright people lose sight of that.

Mort Zuckerman: Do what you love

Age: 72 Chairman, Boston Properties; chairman, editor-in-chief, U.S. News and World Report The best advice I ever got came from one of my professors at the Harvard Business School. He told a story about how George Bernard Shaw was working as a clerk in a dry-goods store in Dublin, and he decided to give himself three years to go and write plays in London. And if it didn't work out he could always go back and be a clerk in a dry-goods store. The way I interpreted his advice was to really do what you love. I was anticipating that I would be practicing law, which to me was the functional equivalent to working as a clerk in a dry-goods store. So I decided I was going to give myself three years to try something that I was always interested in. I was always fascinated by urban life, and I grew up in Montreal, where the residential areas were closer to the downtown part of the city. The father of one of my best friends was in the real estate business, and I thought he had a wonderful life because he traveled a lot and seemed to be building things. And I really liked building things. (And as I once said when I was a teacher, he also had a lot of women chasing him, which I thought came out of the profession. A student then asked me, "Well, has it worked?" And I said, "Well, I travel an awful lot.") So I went into a field that I really liked. I got a job in Boston with Cabot Cabot & Forbes, in real estate development. Since I loved both urban life and journalism -- I was a journalism addict when I was 12 years old -- all I did was pursue those two careers. And I feel as if I've never worked a day in my life.

Lloyd Blankfein: Empower a subordinate

Age: 54 Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs When I was put in charge of sales and trading at Goldman's commodities unit [in 1984], it was a big deal for me. My first month on the job, things started going badly in the P&L. When I went in to my boss for help, he asked, "What do you think we should do here?" I wanted to sound totally in control, so I went right into this Chuck Yeager voice -- you know, The Right Stuff. I used my most fake-confident voice, and I gave it my best shot. He said, "Okay, that's a good idea." It was smart of him to ask my opinion instead of telling me what to do. He knew that if my plan worked, I'd feel more confident. If it didn't work, the pressure on me would ease because he had endorsed my idea. Just as I was walking out of his office, he said, "Oh, just one more thing. Why don't you walk to the men's room and throw cold water on your face? You're looking green." So I learned two things: First, it's good to solicit your people's opinions before you give them yours. And second, your people will be very influenced by how you carry yourself under stress.

Mohamed El-Erian: Push beyond your comfort zone

Age: 51 CEO and co-chief investment officer, Pimco We were living in Paris, back when my father was Egypt's ambassador to France. Each day we used to get at least four daily newspapers, from Le Figaro on the right side of the political spectrum to L'Humanité, which was the newspaper of the Communist Party. I remember asking my father, Why do we need four newspapers? He said to me, "Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you'll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you'll never question." Reading widely is particularly important right now. Most of the market research these days asks the same question: Is this the market bottom? To answer that question, they look at historical valuations and try to extrapolate from them. And most of the time that is the correct approach. However, right now we are going through major and unpredictable changes in the financial landscape. As a result, "Is this the bottom?" is the wrong question. But you have to read other people like [New York University economics professor Nouriel] Roubini, like [The Black Swan author] Nassim Taleb, and some of the behavioral-finance guys to understand why the question is wrong. The question we should be asking is, In this new world how do the historical variables morph, and what are the unintended consequences of government policy? There's a tendency for everyone to operate in a comfort zone and to want to read what is familiar to them. But if you are just used to following one person or one newspaper, you will miss these big shifts.

David Axelrod: Ignore conventional wisdom

Age: 54 Senior adviser to President Obama Gary Hart [the former presidential candidate from Colorado] gave me the advice over beers at the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago in 1987, where he had just given a speech. He said Washington was one big echo chamber of conventional wisdom clanging around. He told me, "Washington is always the last to get the news." I didn't think much about his words then, but they stuck with me and helped me later in life and in the Obama campaign. There were many times when Washington conventional wisdom wrote us off or insisted we were making suicidal mistakes. They questioned our focus on Iowa, saying we needed to run a national campaign. For most of 2007, from July to November, the conventional wisdom insisted we had blown our opportunity. Hillary Clinton had a 30-point lead. But we thought that if we won Iowa we could prevail, and we just got pummeled by people in Washington saying we were going to lose. In the spring of 2008 they said we were crazy to oppose eliminating the gas tax when our opponents were proposing it as a way to ease the crush of high gas prices. People thought we'd made this critical error. But we thought our position was honest and forthright and people would recognize a gimmick when they saw one. The interchange on those issues actually propelled us to a strong position in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. The third time we ignored Washington was when Sarah Palin was picked. They said it was a masterstroke by McCain. But Obama said it took him four to five months to get the hang of being a candidate, so I knew it would be tough to make that adjustment in three weeks. When I was a political reporter, the paper tried to send me here [Washington, D.C.], and I refused. In 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky story broke and reporter friends said Clinton would resign, I went to Manny's Deli in Chicago, where there was an older woman, 68. She was a cashier who had to keep working to make ends meet. She said, "This guy Clinton seems to be trying to help us, so why don't they get off his ass?" I called my reporter friends in D.C. and said they need to come to Manny's.

Tory Burch: Trust your instincts

Age: 43 Co-founder and creative director, Tory Burch When I started my company, many people said I shouldn't launch it as a retail concept because it was too big a risk. They told me to launch as a wholesaler to test the waters -because that was the traditional way. But Glen Senk, the CEO of Urban Outfitters and a mentor of mine who now sits on our board, told me to follow my instincts and take the risk. I wanted to create a new way of looking at retail. At the time a lot of stores were very minimalist, very clean. I wanted stores that would feel like a comfortable room in my apartment, cozy and colorful and different. Part of my vision came out of my experience at Ralph Lauren. When I worked there, first in public relations and then in advertising as a copywriter, I learned the importance of having a complete vision for the company, from product to marketing to store visuals. My company is an extension of me, so when I designed my stores I wanted people to feel that they were in my home. It was also something that came out of my trying to design things that I wanted myself. Everything was thought out, from the music to the candles to the couches and, of course, to the product. It gave people an idea of who we were, and it was great for quicker branding.

Jim Rogers: Read everything

Age: 66 Investor and commodities guru The best advice I ever got was on an airplane. It was in my early days on Wall Street. I was flying to Chicago, and I sat next to an older guy. Anyway, I remember him as being an old guy, which means he may have been 40. He told me to read everything. If you get interested in a company and you read the annual report, he said, you will have done more than 98% of the people on Wall Street. And if you read the footnotes in the annual report you will have done more than 100% of the people on Wall Street. I realized right away that if I just literally read a company's annual report and the notes -- or better yet, two or three years of reports -that I would know much more than others. Professional investors used to sort of be dazzled. Everyone seemed to think I was smart. I later realized that I had to do more than just that. I learned that I had to read the annual reports of those I am investing in and their competitors' annual reports, the trade journals, and everything that I could get my hands on. But I realized that most people don't bother even doing the basic homework. And if I did even more, I'd be so far ahead that I'd probably be able to find successful investments.

Scott Boras: Be effective, not popular

Scott Boras with client Alex Rodriguez

Age: 56 Sports agent; president, Boras Corp. In 1985, very early in my career, I had hired my former law professor at University of the Pacific to be a consultant in an arbitration case. He was a seasoned negotiator and a labor law attorney. After completion of the negotiation -- my first multiyear major-league contract -- we went out to dinner in Chicago. [At the time, Boras was receiving attention for the record contract.] He said, "My advice to you is that you always serve the best interests of your client. An industry will change in response to you, but it won't do it willingly." He said that if you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative. Keep your head on straight, don't get emotional, take the heat, and just make sure your clients are smiling.

Mika Brzezinski: Use failure to motivate yourself

Age: 42 Co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough I lost my job at CBS News in 2006 after a new management team was brought in and cleaned house. At the time, I was being considered for the Sunday Evening News anchor job as well as a 60 Minutes correspondent. I felt as if I'd hit my stride. Then -- boom -- it was all gone. It was the biggest downturn of my career -- emotionally and financially. Someone wise told me, "You don't know this, but there will be a day when you realize this was the best thing that could happen to you." Even though it was a leap of faith, I took that advice to heart. I went through a year of job interviews for some high-profile news jobs that didn't go well. I was considering leaving the business, even though it's my life's passion. Yet I kept remembering the advice that something ultimately good would come from this. I also realized that for that advice to really come to fore, I couldn't give up. I finally said to myself, "Get over yourself. Just get back in, even if it means a massive step backwards." So at 40 years old I got a freelance job that included doing 30-second news cut-ins on MSNBC -- a great job for someone just starting out. Then Joe [Scarborough] and I met in the hallway at MSNBC and really hit it off. Soon I was asked to be on Morning Joe with him. I found out the network had been urging Joe to hire a young female "news reader." But he pushed for me to get the job. Now I realize that perhaps my personality is too real to be boxed into an ultra-objective news job. On Morning Joe I can say what I think, be my sometimes unorthodox self, have fun, yet be serious as well.

Colin Powell: Focus on performance, not power

Age: 72 Former secretary of state; retired four-star general When I was a young infantry officer at Fort Benning, we had a lot of old captains who had served in World War II and Korea. They were not going to go higher in rank, but, boy, did they know about soldiering. So I didn't learn this piece of barracks wisdom from an Eisenhower or Pershing. I heard it from these wonderful reserve captains. This is the story: There was a brand-new second lieutenant who was very ambitious and wanted to be a general. So one night at the officer's club the young officer spotted this old general sitting at the bar. So he went up and said, "How do I become a general?" And the old general answered, "Son, you've got to work like a dog. You've got to have moral and physical courage. There may be days you're tired, but you must never show fatigue. You'll be afraid, but you can never show fear. You must always be the leader." The young officer was so excited by this advice. "Thank you, sir," he said, "so is this how I become a general?" "No," said the general, "that's how you become a first lieutenant, and then you keep doing it over and over and over." Throughout my career, I've always tried to do my best today, think about tomorrow, and maybe dream a bit about the future. But doing your best in the present has to be the rule. You won't become a general unless you become a good first lieutenant.

Shai Agassi: Take advice from smart people

Age: 41 Founder and CEO, Better Place The best pieces of advice I got occurred around the holidays in late 2006. The first piece of advice came from former President Bill Clinton at the Saban Forum in Washington. I told the President about my idea to sell electric cars through dealers. He listened to the whole thing, and then he looked at me and said, "You're solving the right problem at the wrong time. The average Joe doesn't go to a dealership; he buys a nine-year-old used car and drives it into the ground, and then he buys another nine-year-old car. You need to figure out how to get the average Joe in an electric car for free and still make money." When I asked how, President Clinton said, "You're the smart guy--you figure it out." And he turned and walked away. President Clinton was the guy who ultimately drove us to switch our model. A few weeks later I was in Israel, and I was speaking with Israeli President Shimon Peres [who also heard my presentation at the Saban Forum]. When I originally pitched the idea, I suggested that the government create an agency to make it happen. I wasn't thinking about it as a company, but more as an arm of government. President Peres told me, "Agencies don't do things. Entrepreneurs do things." He said, "You have to start a company. Otherwise, this is just an idea. You have a good job, but this is a better job because you can save the world." A few days later I quit my job at SAP.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Make an impression

Age: 39 CEO-in-residence, Accel Partners When I got my first job at Merrill Lynch [as a junior analyst], I ended up working for a managing director, Henry Michaels. He was known from his more junior days as "Hank the Crank" for his ability to crank it out and work fast. At only 32 or 33, Henry was already a managing director. At my level [then] you were typically staffed on a project with the managing director, a director, and an associate in addition to the junior analyst. I got staffed directly with Henry on a project with no one in between and he gave me a lot of runway. His advice to me was to work exceptionally hard and step up from day one, despite being junior. In the first three to four months that you're in a job, you can create positive or negative momentum. I got to Merrill already hungry to prove myself and exceeded expectations; from that point on I got staffed on the better assignments and was given the opportunity to move to London. Hank's advice has always stayed with me. It's key to starting any new job because you have a few months to make a first impression, and a finite window of time to create professional momentum and start building a brand for yourself.

Eric Schmidt: Hire a coach

Age: 54 Chairman and CEO, Google The advice that sticks out I got from John Doerr, who in 2001 said, "My advice to you is to have a coach." The coach he said I should have is Bill Campbell. I initially resented the advice, because after all, I was a CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing something wrong? My argument was, How could a coach advise me if I'm the best person in the world at this? But that's not what a coach does. The coach doesn't have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best. In the business context a coach is not a repetitious coach. A coach is somebody who looks at something with another set of eyes, describes it to you in [his] words, and discusses how to approach the problem. Once I realized I could trust him and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea. When there is [a] business conflict you tend to get rat-holed into it. [Bill's] general advice has been to rise one step higher, above the person on the other side of the table, and to take the long view. He'll say, "You're letting it bother you. Don't."

Meredith Whitney: Set realistic goals

Age: 39 Founder, Meredith Whitney Advisory Group I've gotten a lot of really good advice, but the advice that I always go back to is something my mother told me. She said to set realistic goals, achieve them, and recalibrate your goals so that you're constantly moving forward, as opposed to setting dreamer-type goals that you're going to get frustrated by.

Lauren Zalaznick: Listen

Age: 46 President, Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, NBC Universal The first TV job I ever had was at VH1. My boss was Jeff Gaspin, whom I was later reunited with here at NBC. Early on Jeff told me, "Throughout your career, you're going to hear lots of feedback from show-makers and peers and employees and bosses. If you hear a certain piece of feedback consistently and you don't agree with it, it doesn't matter what you think. Truth is, you're being perceived that way." I was known back then as a person who made snap decisions. I got it -- I got ideas quickly. And I tended to tell people that I didn't need more information to make my decision. Jeff said to me, "Lauren, you're very smart. You're 10 steps ahead of people. Don't cut them off." He was right. Eventually I developed a softer touch. I've changed from a person known for making snap decisions to someone who's viewed as thoughtful and analytical. You don't have to agree with the other person, but you do need to make sure that you both understand why you disagree.

Julian Robertson: Don't talk shop

Age: 77 Founder, Tiger Management The best advice I ever got came from my sister Wyndham [who later became an assistant managing editor at Fortune]. She called me one night after we'd been to a cocktail party in the early 1960s and said, "You're becoming a business bore. No one is interested in talking all night long about stocks. Quit being a business bore." After trying to refute her, I realized she was right. So I stopped being a business bore. I found other topics to discuss. And I found that when I ceased being a business bore -- and quit pushing my views about the market on everyone -- that people came to be more interested in any advice that I might have to give. At the time I was a broker starting out, and it helped me acquire clients. I think the same thing is true as a parent with your kids. If you give advice, it's not nearly as well received as when it's asked for.

Thomas Keller: Treat it like it's yours

Age: 53 Chef, The French Laundry, Per Se Treat it like it's yours and someday it will be. I'm not exactly sure when someone told me that, but I certainly remember the profound impact it had. Every job I had from that point on -I was still a chef de partie at that time -- everything that came with that workstation became my responsibility. I kept my space clean, organized, and maintained ... I brought this mindset with me everywhere I went. ... Because of the way I worked and carried myself, and the quality and integrity that I was striving for, a lot of people saw certain qualities in me that they respected.

Robin Li: Underpromise and overdeliver

Age: 40 CEO, Baidu The advice came from one of our early investors. During our first board meeting, when the company was founded, I said, "I never ran a company by myself -- what kind of advice do you have for me?" And I was told, "Underpromise and overdeliver." I took it to heart then and still rely on it today. I believe the loyalty from Baidu's customers, users, employees, and investors today is due in large part to that approach. People trust that when we set out to do something, we do it well.

Miles White: Don't pursue titles and dollars

Age: 54 CEO, Abbott Labs The best advice I got from someone in the corporate world was not to pursue titles and dollars. Pursue passion, and the titles and the dollars will take care of themselves. I think there's a lot of truth to that. As young people build careers, how they define happiness or achievement makes a big difference in the success they're going to have in their careers. If you pursue the things you believe in and have a passion for, I think everything else pretty much takes care of itself. Otherwise, you find yourself wishing your life away, advancing to the next thing, never quite appreciating the circumstances where you are and the enrichment you're getting out of the experience. I can give you one example [of how it impacted me]. I was a consultant at McKinsey almost 25 years ago, and I took a large cut in pay and left to come be a national account sales manager at Abbott. I wanted to manage people and products directly. I wanted to be somewhere where I could build a business, build people, and lead teams. I took a big cut in pay and went in search of passion. And it worked out.

Aaron Patzer: Self-doubt is normal

Age: 28 Founder & CEO, Mint When I was first starting Mint I would oscillate emotionally day-to-day. I was the sole founder and started the company when I was 25. I would go back and forth between thinking, "This is the best idea ever," and then other days asking myself, "Who am I, as a 25-year-old kid, to take on Intuit with Quicken and Microsoft? Who am I to do that?" I kept thinking to myself, this is really an emotional rollercoaster. At that time I met Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO and co-founder of, at a party for entrepreneurs called "Founders Brunch" (run by Auren Hoffman). He was the first and probably only guy who was like, "For the first year that Yelp was founded, I was on that rollercoaster -- panicked sometimes, elated sometimes. After it gets up and running for a year, it's still tough, but you don't have that 'nearing mental breakdown' stage on a day-today basis." It was the first time anyone had come clean. For first-time entrepreneurs there's a macho attitude that you [can] never show doubt or weakness, but truth is, you face it every day. That personal admission, that self-doubt, that lack of confidence, or wild emotional swings are part of the game when you're starting a company. I probably met with 40 or 50 VCs or angel investors before I got my first "yes." I met Jeremy after 25 rejections and I wasn't yet ready to give up, but I was at a point where it was rough. Jeremy taught me that self-doubt, and even a failing in self-confidence, is perfectly normal and that all you have to do is keep trying and keep pushing through.

Niklas Savander: Be nice to people

Age: 46 Executive Vice President and General Manager, Services & Software, Nokia When I got my first job, my father told me, "Remember to be nice to people." You'll meet them on the way up or on the way down. You go through the good and the bad times in your career. In the end, the world functions through personal relationships. If you elbow yourself up, you'll fall harder. If you are too self-centered, you won't be successful. People don't want to work for you. The current guy who is running IT for services I first met when he was a systems engineer and I was a junior salesman for HP. After many years, we joined Nokia -he eight years ago and me twelve years ago. And since the, I've been his boss, like, five times in different roles. From my current team, it's a long history. When you are faced with the challenge of building something new, you have a tendency to reach out to someone you've been through a storm with already.

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