The most important piece of advice I received in my career remains, “You’ll go as far as you are able to communicate.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fully appreciate the power of this guidance at the time. It took time and experience and more than a few missteps for me to remember that my only limiting factor was my ability to communicate.

Some background: this advice was given to me by Maury Johnson, one of our firm’s vice-presidents and an informal mentor to me sometime around 1985.

Communication and Career Advice that Stuck:

In the intervening three decades, I received a lot of advice. Maury’s observation on the importance of being able to communicate is the only guidance that really stuck.

And by stuck, I mean that it seized me by the brain and demanded that I strive every single day to be a better communicator, particularly in challenging situations.

Maury was right. Every accomplishment, every promotion, every crisis successfully navigated ultimately came down to my ability to engage, empathize, ask, present, and finally work with people to design solutions.

Constant Reinforcement—Communication Skills are Game Changers:

I might have figured this out on my own—it’s intuitive— however, the comment, “You’ll go as far as you are able to communicate,” gave me a head-start. It challenged me to focus on developing and strengthening and tuning my communication skills when:

  • Introducing myself to the group as a new manager…senior manager…director….vice-president….senior vice-president
  • Conducting untold numbers of feedback discussions always working to promote growth and performance (and mostly succeeding and sometimes flailing)
  • Presenting and gaining support for new strategy ideas to the executives
  • Interviewing for and landing positions where the rules said chronologically and experientially I was too young
  • Cutting my teeth as a young salesperson and ultimately as a major accounts salesperson charged with opening up big, new opportunities for my firm
  • Building relationships with incredible people across all manner of cultures around the globe

Loftier Levels Demand Deliberate Strengthening of Your Communication Skills:

As I rose through the corporate ranks and ultimately expanded into my own practice, Maury’s guidance: “You’ll go as far as you are able to communicate” grew increasingly more relevant. It forced me to practice, train, seek feedback, and focus on continuously striving to become a stronger communicator.

I came back to his words of wisdom when:

  • Speaking to units, divisions, and entire firms about strategy and change
  • Hiring and firing and growing teams
  • Leading and owning strategy and strategy execution in multiple global firms
  • Presenting our firm for sale to prospective acquirers
  • Telling our associates we had been sold
  • Working with analysts and media professionals making a case for our customers and firm…on the way to being declared the market leader
  • Standing in front of 500 people at my first keynote
  • Standing in front of every group in every workshop or keynote
  • Helping people rethink their careers
  • Helping executives rethink their approaches and strategies

Thanks, Maury, you were right.

It turns out we all go as far as we are able to communicate.

My Coda to Maury’s Great Communication Advice:

Here’s my add-on—it’s the one piece that Maury left out of his words of wisdom: “Everything important in your career takes place via one or more challenging conversations.

I’m on a mission to help professionals at all levels learn to succeed with challenging conversations. From my growing body of articles on the topic to my recent webinar, Stop Dreading Mondays: Taking the Fear out of Challenging Conversations, and my new online/on-demand course, Crushing it with Challenging Conversations, I’m striving to pay Maury’s advice and my experiences forward.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I hope all of this writing and talking and poking and prodding on strengthening as a communicator sticks with you. It will serve you and your stakeholders well for decades to come.

Art's Signature


p.s. Here’s a bit more about Crushing It with Challenging Conversations, my new online, on-demand course. It’s a great program at a ridiculous price, and it’s filled with tools and approaches and examples to help you succeed now and over your career. Click to learn more.

Please join me. Cohort 1 registration closes on 8/9 at midnight Pacific time.

Here’s the link to learn more and register.

Here’s how you can ask me questions.

If you are reading this after this date and want to know about the next opening, drop me a note.

Just remember, everything important in your career takes place via one or more challenging conversations. Are you prepared?