Make It

The 4 best success tips CEOs shared this year—from Tim Cook to Delta’s Ed Bastian

Apple CEO Tim Cook walks during Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, June 6, 2022.
Peter Dasilva | Reuters

Every year, there's no shortage of valuable nuggets of wisdom shared by inspiring and influential leaders. 

For all its ups and downs, 2022 was no different. Here are some of the best success tips that top CEOs shared this year.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

For someone tasked with doling out a steady supply of business tips and leadership advice, some of Cook's best advice of 2022 ultimately came from a commencement speech delivered at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where the entire student body is either deaf or hard of hearing. 

In a speech translated into American Sign Language, Cook encouraged the graduating students to pursue a single decision-making tactic: Follow your own moral compass above all else. 

It was this tactic, Cook said, that would lead to the most professional and personal success, adding it was a "sense of meaning" that drew him to Apple back in 1988.

“I know in my heart: Staying true to who you are and what you believe is one of the most important choices you can make. It will help you form better relationships. It will help you find more satisfaction in your work. And with a little luck and a lot of effort, it will help you build a more meaningful life.”

Cook also shared one of the easiest ways to identify your own moral code, which will help you develop "a deep understanding of who you are and what you believe." Picture an uncertain situation, and envision how you'd respond in a fully ideal world.

“When you imagine your future ... the question you should ask is not, ‘What will happen?’ but ‘Who will I be when it does?’ I hope you will be kind and compassionate ... I hope you will see there is wonder in being part of something bigger than yourself. And magic to be found in the service of others.”

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Feeding America CEO

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the CEO of Feeding America, knows the importance of giving back. While leading the largest hunger-relief organization in America, Babineaux-Fontenot has constantly been on the lookout for career advice that focuses on building a fulfilling life and career. 

Back in March, Babineaux-Fontenot spoke with CNBC Make It about the best career advice she ever received — and it wasn't even directly shared with her.

Instead, it came from a 1970s essay: "The Servant as a Leader" by Robert K. Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive. In it, Greenleaf outlined a model for leadership that prioritized serving other people first. 

Babineaux-Fontenot's main epiphany?

“Always assume good intentions of your co-workers, that people want to work together to do good.”

There's research to back up her takeaway. Assuming good intentions in others likely corresponds with reality: Research from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found that people routinely underestimate how much others like them — and it can have a significant impact on workplace success. 

Babineaux-Fontenot, for her part, says assuming the best in others has been nothing short of "transformative" in her own life and career.

“Now, I try to understand to the extent that I can how people are wired, then help to create environments where, however they define winning, we can win together — and we should all try to do that.”

Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines CEO

Throughout the course of the pandemic, air travel has been at the forefront of Covid-era challenges — from flight cancellations to staffing shortages to increasing aggression from customers

It makes sense, then, that Delta CEO Ed Bastian would have a unique vantage point on effective leadership during disruptions, upheaval and general uncertainty. 

At the start of 2022, Bastian sat down with Harvard Business Review editor-in-chief Adi Ignatius for a conversation about leading during a crisis, where he stressed the importance of staying close to your team throughout challenging times.

It’s easy when times are difficult to want to shy away when you don’t have the answers to the questions that you need. It’s never more important to be visible and let people know what you know and what you don’t know.

Beth Ford, Land O'Lakes CEO

Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford is no stranger to success. 

Following leadership positions everywhere from PepsiCo to Scholastic, Ford's climb up the corporate ladder at Land O'Lakes has been peppered with milestones: Ford is Land O'Lakes' first female CEO in its over 100-year history, as well as the first openly gay woman to be a Fortune 500 CEO. 

Yet for all her accolades, Ford told CNBC Make It the best career advice she ever received came from a conversation with her mom when Ford was just 11 years old. 

Ford was "throwing a tantrum" about a problem she assumed her mother understood. Yet, as the middle child of seven siblings, Ford's concerns had been lost in the fray.

“So my mother turned to me and said, ‘If you want something, you should ask for it; I’m not a mind reader’ ... and I remember that moment so clearly.”

For Ford, the moment confirmed the importance of advocating for your own needs, which she still considers a crucial skill when building a career.

“Often, we think, ‘Nobody is going to see the good job I’ve done,’ or we’re scared to ask for help. Yet, if you do ask someone for help, or ask for what you want, people will reach out and give it to you.”
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