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Client Confessions: Top 5 Worst Pieces Of Career Advice Ever Received

February’s blog post “Is Someone’s Career Advice Hurting or Helping You?” stirred up some interesting dialogue between myself and clients. Many shared the best career advice they received, but they also spilled the beans on the worst career advice they ever received from people in leadership roles or apparently on the path to success.

After sharing a doozy, a client and I shook our heads and laughed. She begged me to blog about it. In the spirit of diluting bad advice and saving the spirit of 54 percent of people whose bosses pointed them down the wrong path, I decided to indulge that request.

With so many to choose from, but so little writing space, I chose the top five pieces of worst career advice ever received (saving the best for last):

  1. Follow what you do best and the money will come. As a career guidance professional, I’m not immune to hearing this piece of bad advice. Although “follow what you do best,” is great career advice, it is naïve to believe that money will always follow. Doing what is natural tends to give us extraordinary satisfaction, but it will not necessarily produce dollar signs. I can attest that clients who exercise their natural talents and love what they do on a daily basis are the happiest (money or not).
  2. Do not casually associate with subordinates. We’ve all heard the old saying “guilty by association,” but don’t confuse guilt with common decency. Groomed to believe that associating with subordinates is a no-no, my client­—a vice president for a Fortune 1000—said he inadvertently burned a bridge. It labeled him as a snob manager who couldn’t engage or harness team talent. One employee departed. Imagine this client’s surprise when he went to an interview and that former subordinate was an executive on the interview panel. Treat everyone with respect because paths intersect.
  3. Speak up in meetings or everyone will think you don’t offer value. Silent and listen share the same letters. Speaking value is very different than speaking to fill a gap. Understanding the motives, personalities, and actions of the players at the table is a strategy that lends to good tactics. In most cases, this bad advice is a reflection of the boss’s insecurity and his/her inability to understand wisdom and strategic behavior.
  4. Get an advanced degree. One of the biggest and most-repeated fallacies of our time, this advice really shows that education’s million-dollar marketing campaign is working. We didn’t win World War II using only soldiers with advanced degrees, and Forbes is filled with self-made billionaires. Education is a business, and you need to look at your education the same way: What is your Return-on-Investment (ROI)?
  5. You can’t be wrong, if you are right. This advice is the bedrock of a future article on “How to Deal with a Narcissistic Boss.” Technically, without facts, a person has a 50/50 chance of being right or wrong. In essence, this boss is saying that he is always right, which really means, he is wrong 50 percent of the time.

The common denominator among my clients who shared the above is that each person knew—in their gut—it was wrong. That “gut” is a strong, natural compass. Trust it.

As pointed out in my last article, Cleveland Clinic CEO and President, Toby Cosgove said:Tell me your GQ (Guts Quotient), not your IQ.

That’s not bad advice.