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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

15 leaders share the best advice they learned from a challenge

When somebody challenges you to grow and reach your potential, chances are you’re going to walk away with an important life lesson.

15 leaders share the best advice they learned from a challenge
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Throughout life, most people will encounter someone who challenges them in a good way. These people see the potential in others and harness it by pushing them to reach higher and work harder.

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While of course, a challenge will be difficult, it can also be a great motivator that helps others to improve in the long run. Below, 15 members of Fast Company Executive Board shared some inspiring advice they’ve learned from those who have positively challenged them. They describe how those who tested their abilities and showed them they were capable of more have shaped them into the professionals they are today.

1. CELEBRATE YOUR WINS

When you’re hard-charging and high-performing, it’s easy to continue to look ahead and look for improvements, but taking a minute to celebrate the wins along the way can make all the difference in sustaining your energy and keeping people with you on your journey. – Matt DeWolf, MK Quinn Media

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2. TAKE A BREATH, STAY IN CONTROL

One word: relax. Even the most organized and best planners are going to get knocked off the rails by fires that need to be put out or a rearranging of one’s priority list. It’s natural to want to solve as many problems as possible at once, but it’s not realistic. Taking a breath and staying in command will not only see you through with clarity but will show leadership as well. – Richard RB Botto, Stage 32

3. LEARN (AND RELEARN) WITH AN OPEN MIND

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Learning is a lifelong journey. As part of that learning, I’ve learned to expect to frequently unlearn old information and replace it with new information given how fast the world does move. By taking the time to learn regularly, combined with an open mind to re-learn as needed, I am more likely to stay ahead and thrive in the ever-changing world. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media LLC

4. ASK QUESTIONS TO UNDERSTAND OTHERS’ PERSPECTIVES

People don’t think like me. I can’t assume they do and I certainly can’t treat them as if they are thinking the way I’m thinking. I need to ask a lot of questions and when I think I understand what the other person is thinking, I need to ask even more questions. – Meagan Bowman, STOPWATCH

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5. BE A LIFELONG LEARNER

There’s always more to learn. The learning curve never ends and you should always remain humble in your knowledge but curious about what others know. There is no end game in what you can learn to do better, be better and provide better value in business. I’ve specifically learned that growth acceleration is directly proportional to the gap in knowledge between you and those who challenge you. – Ben Nader, Recruiter Empire

6. REALIZE YOUR STRENGTHS AND SHORTCOMINGS

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A critical element to success is to become self-aware truly. Understanding your core strengths and how to leverage them effectively will help your focus. Equally important is to realize your shortcomings so you can learn how other people with strengths in those areas can complement and help you. Always be yourself. – Matt Domo, FifthVantage

7. FIND YOUR PURPOSE

Find your purpose since it will guide every major life and business decision you will make. In the process of defining your purpose, combine an altruistic and a selfish goal. If you just focus on serving others through altruistic acts, this can lead to exhaustion and inner suffering. By also prioritizing self-growth and self-care, you will have the energy to have a positive impact on this world. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

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8. TAKE A LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE

I learned patience and its cousin, long-term thinking, from an early mentor. As a younger executive, I was extremely impatient. I’ve since learned the value of patience and of thinking about what we are trying to accomplish over a period of years rather than quarters, months, or weeks. This patience leads to greater investment in people, in that it allows them to make mistakes, learn, and grow. – Scott Brighton, Aurea

9. INVITE DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW

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Until an idea has interacted with other points of view, it’s not fully formed. Even if you’re smart, creative and accomplished, you are still only you. Your capacity for ideation is both informed and bound by your experience and context. Always invite a small number of smart, elevation-oriented challengers with different experiences, worldviews, and lenses to share their unfiltered feedback. – Jonathan Fields, Spark Endeavors

10. WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

It’s one thing to convey to a manager or co-worker that you’re working hard by putting in the hours. It’s quite another to be able to be thoughtful about the manner in which you’re working and to optimize that by working smarter, rather than harder. – Toby Blue, Halla

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11. AVOID THE COMPARISON GAME

Don’t compare yourself to others because everyone is different and unique in their own way. It’s impossible to compare yourself to others and find meaning in it. It’s important not to compare yourself to others because you never know what they’re going through. It’s best not to focus on how you’re different, but instead how you’re similar. – Kristin Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC

12. BREAK THROUGH YOUR FEAR

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Everything you ever wanted was on the other side of a door called fear. Your personal and professional goals and aspirations are limited by your perception. If you can break through the fear of doing something for the first time, you can achieve anything. – Bill Staikos, Medallia

13. HAVE A MENTOR OR MENTEE

Elevate your relationship by having a mentor-mentee relationship. Being challenged is growing and if you are growing, you should continue to want that continuous improvement. Start small, be self-aware of your own growth needs, and set goals by getting out of your comfort zone. I have seen multiple people grow into bigger roles and have more responsibility due to their own growth recognition. – Craig Jones, StarCompliance

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14. BRANCH OUT AND TRY NEW THINGS

My favorite phrase that I tell people I learned from a mentor is: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It seems so simple but it is so powerful. Most people are afraid to branch out and try new things. The thing is, they don’t even realize what they are missing out on, what avenues could be open for them. They don’t even know what they don’t know yet. It’s inspired me more than anything else. – Jason Hall, Five Channels

15. BE TRANSPARENT AND MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

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It’s very critical to manage expectations from the beginning whether it’s clients, partners or coworkers. Being agile and transparent about your progress will go a long way in building trust and loyalty. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver, especially when you anticipate hurdles along the way. A solution-based, collaborative approach can lead to sustainable, value-adding relationships. – Gayatri Keskar, Material ConneXion

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