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C-Suite Career Advice: Rob Tarkoff – “The Most Valuable Career Advice I Ever Received”

Lithium Alumni (Retired)


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?Stephen Miles, Founder and CEO of consulting firm TMG, shared this with me, “Be a better leader by being a better follower.” It’s something he and I have discussed at length, and it’s absolutely vital for leaders to think about. We talk about things like “servant leadership”, reverse pyramids and working for the team, but this only works if you know when it is time to turn off your CEO or Senior Executive as leader speak and get in line with the team on the ground. I have seen executives ruin sales deals because they believe they are expected to synthesize all the material they are presented (second-hand usually) and offer up a “better and more inspired” strategy than what the team has already developed. Execs need to know when it’s time to help a process along, rather than lead that process.


What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
The worst advice I ever got was to “develop my brand” as a CEO. It sounds totally disingenuous because it is! You should be authentic, true to yourself and your principles, and hire great people. Focusing on this and your actual reputation, not a deliberately constructed personality, will speak for itself.


 11123530043_632af83dd8_b.jpgWhat advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
Make sure you spend some time in a role that lets you directly interact with customers after the sale – customer service, customer success, support. You need to understand how your customers are actually using your product, the benefits they realise, how they measure ROI, challenges they face in implementation or general usage, how the product augments their role at work. Identify those customers you can have frank conversations with about what’s working/what’s not, and keep them close. This direct, authentic, ongoing customer feedback will keep you grounded as you progress in your career.


What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
Learn to collaborate really well with people. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how many hours you’re willing to put in. You’re going to need a strong team around you if you want to truly succeed. Don’t be someone who needs all the credit – you are the coach, not the player.



Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

I specifically tell people to think more about who they work for individually than just the company they choose.  Your individual manager has to most influence on what skills, capabilities, and professional development you have.  We spend a lot of time trying to train our managers at Lithium how to be better mentors to their teams. I have worked for some amazing people, including Bruce Chizen, Shantanu Narayen, Dave DeWalt, and Joe Tucci.  Each of these leaders had a lot to do with shaping my style, my way of interacting with my team and our customers. 


This article originally appeared in IDG on January 17, 2017


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