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Ten Tips Toward Building a Great Career

Lessons From My Lifetime
By Bill Lavidge, Chairman and CEO

Before diving in, I want to make one thing clear. This article isn’t for everybody. You might not like all my opinions, but they have been my foundation to a successful career. So you can stop reading if you aren’t 100 percent committed to building a rewarding career.

Still reading? Excellent. Let’s get started.

I believe it is important to provide “take home” value when imparting wisdom. So that’s what I’ll try to provide here—stuff you can use.

And because you’re a person who cares about your career, I’m guessing you have already learned some of these lessons. Still, if I can provide even one tidbit of useful information then I’ll be thankful to have contributed to making your life a little better.

But enough with the preamble. Here are the ten important lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Create Your Own Luck

My father, Bob Lavidge, taught me this lesson about success. When I was much younger, he said people create their own luck. He told me how important it was to be prepared in order to take advantage when opportunities present themselves. That’s accomplished by doing things that set you up for success, such as getting an excellent education, learning from others and trying new things. Being prepared also means knowing what not to do, so avoid doing stupid things that waste time, waste money or damage your reputation. Put yourself in a position to respond to unexpected opportunities and you’re guaranteed to get lucky.

2. Don't Rely Heavily On Email and Text

I’m always surprised at the large number of people who get themselves into trouble with email and text messages. I’m not referring to obvious blunders, such as sexting or emailing compromising photos. Those are beyond stupid. Nor am I referring to the times you get together with several friends and, instead of socializing, dive into your phones. I call that being “alone together.”

The biggest mistake relating to electronics is missing important opportunities to actually call someone on the phone or speak to them face-to-face. This is especially true when the topic is controversial or confrontational.

If you remember one thing, here it is:  Communicating well means developing good phone skills because phone beats email and text. And speaking face-to-face beats them all.

3. Hang with Quality People Like Yourself

It’s important to surround yourself with quality people, at both work and play. This sounds simple. Unfortunately, I surrounded myself with nice guys when I was in high school, but most of them were low achievers. I discovered that those are the kind of people who think doing a great job means not having to work very hard.

Even in college, I hung out with those I’ll call mid-level achievers. Those are people who have a good job and a comfortable life, but who have settled for less than what they’re capable of doing and being.

It wasn’t until I attended graduate school that I was finally surrounded by people who were high achievers. When I started working, I joined organizations and attended training programs with like-minded people who wanted to get the most out of what life offered.

Associating with high achievers has made a tremendous difference in my life.

4. Hire Well

You have three choices when it comes to hiring good people.

First, you can choose proven, talented people. They cost more, true. But sometimes you have to invest to get great people. That can be scary, especially when money is tight.

Second, you can hire people who have potential. Then, allow them to grow and make mistakes. You must commit to training them well. That can be daunting, because all that effort is like taking on an additional job for yourself.

Third, you can pray.

I’ve always found it astonishing at how many people don’t follow one of these first two options. But here’s the truth:  I haven’t arrived where I am today because of what I’ve personally accomplished. Nope. The success I’ve enjoyed is because I’ve been surrounded by fantastically talented and caring co-workers.

5. Don't Get Angry

I’ve learned the hard way that nothing good ever comes from getting angry at others. You will get irritated at times. I certainly do. But I’ve learned to vent only with trusted advisors and not the people with whom I’m frustrated. My advisors calm me down and remind me about one of my favorite sayings, which I learned from Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.”

Getting angry never has a happy ending. Covey’s advice is among the most valuable lessons of my career.

6. Failure is a Great Motivator

Are you motivated more by the fear of failure or the allure of success? Be honest now.

Here’s a fact:  Nothing is more motivating than the fear of failure.

Of course, the thrill of success is a great feeling. I enjoy winning. But I really, really, really hate losing. I’m not alone. In my line of work, I have been privileged to have had intimate, heart-to-heart conversations with countless leaders. At least 90 percent of them have built successful careers motivated more by dread of failure than by dreams of victory.

This doesn’t mean that successful people don’t plan for success. Nor does it mean they don’t do everything in their power to win. But they also know that if they don’t give their best effort they may experience the stomach-churning nausea of defeat. This is what keeps them up at night and what gets them up most mornings.

7. Work/Life Balance is a Fallacy

A word about achieving balance between life and work . . . it’s a bunch of BS. Show me a young person who has great daily work/life balance and, more often than not, I’ll show you someone whose career is (or will be) average.

Successful people bust their butts for extended periods of time, knowing that they will be rewarded in the future. Throughout my entire 30-plus year career, I have taken great vacations, have made it a point to block off large chunks of free time, and have truly enjoyed life. But I have never had work/life balance. I worked my fanny off knowing that dedication would be eventually be rewarded.

I’m not alone in this belief. Every one of my successful friends shares this philosophy.

8. Become Really Good at Something that Creates Value

It drives me absolutely crazy when young people say they only want to work in a job they are passionate about. I’m passionate about sports, travel and music. But there is one thing I am lacking:  talent...or at least enough to make a living at it. Those who obtain work in industries they are passionate about too often discover that there is not a very wide career path ahead of them.

So rather than desiring a job that satisfies your passion, get very good at something that brings value to others. Do everything you can to become really skilled at it. When you do, chances are that you’ll not only make a good living but that you’ll become passionate about it. Do you see the difference? And if you schedule your time wisely, you’ll be able to pursue other passions in your spare time.

9. Making a Profit Requires Focus

One of the greatest business fallacies is the idea that if you do a good job of providing a valued product or service then your business will be profitable.

Baloney! Nothing could be further from the truth, and it took me 20 years to fully realize it. If you want to make a good profit, then that—making a profit—needs to be a primary focus. It needs to come first. If you’re not making a fair profit you can’t hire top-notch people. You can’t invest in your people or your infrastructure. You won’t be able to give hard-earned bonuses. And you’ll take a hit when your business suffers or the economy stumbles.

Without all those things, you won’t be able to consistently provide a valued product or service. Plus, you’ll have many sleepless nights. And so will your employees, who will worry more about losing their jobs than building exciting and rewarding careers.

10. Have Fun Every Day

Sure, you’ve heard that before. But it bears repeating. Have fun every day at work and outside of work...but especially at work.

When you wake up, I encourage you to ask yourself what you can do to make work a little more fun and enjoyable for yourself and others. You may not succeed every day, but if you head to work with that attitude then I promise you that your life will be enriched, and so will others.

Create a “fun committee” at work. Our company has one, and it makes a difference. We make sure to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and everyday life.


If you’re looking for more career advice, here are some books that have inspired me. These excellent books can motivate you, too, and help you arrive at your professional destination.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Covey’s acknowledged classic has sold more than 25 million copies since it was first published in 1989. TIME calls it one of the 25 most influential business management books ever written, and for good reason. Despite being nearly 30 years old, it still stands up.

  • Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive, by Harvey B. Mackay. Mackay’s 1988 classic was on The New York Times bestseller list for 54 weeks. If you’re looking for insights on closing a sale, this is where you should start.

  • Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs was intense and creative. And of course, he changed our world. Isaacson’s riveting biography lays bare the icon’s brilliance as well as his demons. It’s a must read for anyone interested in innovation.

  • First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill. Another winner by Covey. This time, he focuses on helping people organize their tasks based upon importance and urgency.

  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. First Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit, then she gave us this inspirational winner, which was also made into a riveting movie. The book tells the incredible true story of Louie Zamperini, a gifted track star whose World War II story of survival may force you to rethink your life.

  • Undaunted Courage, by Stephen E. Ambrose. You know what you’re going to get by the award-winning historian of Band of Brothers. Here, Ambrose’s eye for authenticity follows Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark as they explored the Louisiana Purchase at the behest of Thomas Jefferson.

Bill Lavidge
Chairman and CEO
BIO: Originally from the Chicago area, Bill attended Arizona State University, where he received an undergraduate degree in business and a master’s degree in business administration. He also has taught in the marketing department as a faculty associate for the university. His career spans over 36 years and includes two of the country’s largest and most respected advertising agencies. Tours of duty with Foote, Cone & Belding followed by Bozell & Jacobs provided Bill with the training and discipline that helped shape the philosophy of the agency he founded in 1982. Bill’s honors include the ASU Distinguished Alumni Award, Advertising Person of the Year, and Ad Management Person of the Year. The agency also received the inaugural Spirit of Enterprise Award from Arizona State University Center and the Economic Club of Phoenix. Recent honors include LAVIDGE being voted among the Best Places for Women to Work, Best Places to Work in Phoenix and Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies.

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