Leadership

C-Level Execs Share the Best Career Advice They Wish They Had Had Early in Their Careers

c-level execs share career advice

Hindsight is 20/20 they say, and that’s certainly true of careers. Senior level executives in particular, have powerful insights to share about things they wished they had done differently. Here’s a round-up of insights from C-level executives about the things they wished they had known earlier.

Victoria Bogner is CEO/CIO of McDaniel Knutson Financial Partners and CEO/Cofounder of Affinity Financial Advisors

“I wish that I had known how important communication skills were when I was first starting in my career,” says Bogner. “I’m naturally introverted, a very hard worker, but I struggled with speaking to groups. Clear and concise communication is paramount, especially if you want to be in a senior position. It doesn’t matter how great you are at getting your job done if you can’t speak about accomplishments, your vision for the company, and communicate fresh, new ideas effectively.”

Ladan Davia is Founder and CEO of Beeya

“The best piece of career advice I wish I had when I was starting my career, was to lead authentically,” says Davia. “I always try to understand where people are coming from, but as a female executive it’s hard to know how to balance leading other people. Oftentimes people say if women are too nice, it means they’re weak. But when women lead with an ‘iron fist’ they are unbearable and hard to deal with. I was always so concerned with what I thought I needed to do and how I thought I should be acting, that I wasn’t leading authentically. That’s what I wish I could have told to my younger CEO self.”

Jacob Dayan, CEO and Cofounder of Community Tax 

“I wish I had learned to trust my employees with tasks that I felt only I could do,” says Dayan. “When I first started out, I always put pressure on myself to get things done myself because I wanted to everything exactly how I had envisioned. I’ve since learned to have faith in my employees when it comes to critical projects. Often, I will be surprised by the outcome. I’ll be presented things in a different light that I may not have thought out and have seen amazing results by trusting others.”


Also read: This Fortune 100 CEO’s Secret to Success is Super Applicable


Thomas Jankowski, Chief Digital & Growth Officer at Coinsquare Ltd

“Always strive to become a better politician,” Jankowski advises. “The more senior spots one occupies in life, the bigger the indirect authority. Developing relationships and working on the soft skills needed to exert influence and gain consensus become of paramount importance.”

Nick H. Kamboj is CEO at Aston & James, LLC

“Do not pursue an Ivy League education, monetary wealth, a luxury car, or the beautifully charming and intelligent partner, because you believe that they will bring you happiness or validation of your success,” says Kamboj. “Instead, focus on the mistakes that you have made, the wrongs that you have done, the people that you have hurt and all that you can improve upon. For living an examined life and one with honesty and integrity, as well as one which results in no harm, is the most incredible wealth one can hope for.  I know this, because as I sit with all that I have ever aspired for, my happiness continues to be derived from within and from a place of peace and harmony as opposed to a place of want or material desires. Had I known all of this when I was 22 and starting on my career trajectory, I would have enjoyed the moment more and would have made better decisions which not only benefited me, but others as well.”

Dean Kaplan, CEO and president of The Kaplan Group

“I wish someone had explained to me in a way that I could hear that attitude and communication were as important as anything else,” says Kaplan. “It doesn’t matter if you are the best at the job, the fastest, the most productive, the most creative at solving problems or any other productivity or accomplishment measurement. If you don’t genuinely have a positive attitude and respect for every other person you are interacting with, it comes out in your communication and that ultimately negatively impacts your performance and career.”

Kim Perell is an award-winning entrepreneur, bestselling author, angel investor, and CEO of advertising technology company Amobee

“If you’re stuck and don’t know how to get that first opportunity, the best way to start is by asking for what you want,” Perell advises. “Ask for the promotion. Ask for the opportunity.  Ask for the meeting.  Ask for the mentorship. Ask and keep asking. If you don’t ask, you won’t get,” she stresses. “The worst thing that will happen is you don’t get it, but most of the time just the simple act of asking opens up the door to even more possibilities.”


Also read: Most Hated to Most Admired: Tips on Transforming as a Leader


Andrew Pray, founder and CEO of Praytell

“In the beginning of a career—mine was on the broadcast journalism side—it’s easy to think that a career will follow a fairly linear path, something of a straight line,” says Pray. “You see a boss or mentor and you see a straight line for them, not thinking of the road they took to get there being one that zigged and zagged a million times. Early on I think advice in embracing the zig and zag would have been a relief. That it’s ok, even helpful, to have a non-linear path as long as it is informed by the qualities that are non-negotiable.”

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com

“If I could go back and give my younger self any piece of career advice, I would say it’s perfectly fine not to react quickly,” says Sweeney. “Now more than ever, we are hard-wired to respond to just about everything as quickly as possible. It is much better to take your time, remain calm, and think things through. Slow and steady does win the race, especially when it comes to delivering reasoned over rushed answers.”

Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at the University of San Francisco (USF) and the Vice Provost for Diversity and Community Engagement 

“As an African American woman executive, my leadership experiences and trajectory have been both wonderful and difficult,” says Wardell-Ghirarduzzi. “I would have learned earlier on how to move around and beyond others to get ahead of their low expectations. I would have befriended and sought out even more powerful male allies and teach them things that I think they should know about women’s issues, people of color issues, to enlist their authentic support as an ally.

“I would then partner, with that powerful white male ally, to do anything important or that mattered. It’s just too difficult and challenging for a black woman to not have the support of a very influential and powerful white male ally who’s got her back—and everyone in the organization knows it.”

Chances are that you, like these C-suite professionals, can also look back on your career and identify some things you know now, that you wish you’d known then! Chances also are that you’ll continue to develop new insights as you move through the rest of your career, wherever it takes you.


Looking for More Advice on Leading in Your Career?

Check out our Leadership-Focused Articles.


About the Author

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.