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With more than 25 years of experience at companies like IBM and HP, Nora Denzel knows what it takes to be a good leader. She often shares her management philosophies onstage and on “mentor walks,” which she grants in exchange for YWCA donations, but in a recent Forbes story, she offers a handful of great freebies: “5 Surprising Career Tips You Never Got.”

The following five tips are things Denzel wishes she’d heard earlier in the her career. She fared OK without this advice — in addition to her executive positions, she’s been on the board at Red Box, Ericsson, and AMD — but if you partake of her wisdom, you might avoid some of the mistakes she made along the way.

1. Make Your Talents Known to the Right People — You know that saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know?” According to Denzel, it’s not quite right. The key, she says, is who knows what you know. When opportunities come along, you want to make sure people think of you as the right person for the job.

2. There’s No Such Thing as a Career Ladder — The journey to the career you want is more like an obstacle course, according to Denzel. That means lots of twists and turns, and sometimes, you’ve got to make lateral moves in order to climb higher down the road.

3. Be Honest, But Only to a Point — It’s crucial to tell the truth, but you don’t have to tell the whole truth. Be selective in what you share, Denzel advises. If the boss congratulates you on a job well done, don’t reveal how nervous you were about a slip-up you made somewhere along the line. “Temper your choice of the truths you share,” writes Annalisa Camarillo, the Forbes writer behind the story. “Ask yourself, ‘Will what I’m sharing benefit them?'”

4. Don’t Fear Failure — While you should always play to win, you shouldn’t view failure as “the opposite of success,” Denzel advises. Sometimes, you get knocked down en route to your final goal, and when that happens, the best workers learn from their mistakes. “You have to accept the chance of failure for the reward of growth,” Camarillo writes.

5. Forget Being the Smartest — Another business paradigm maintains that you should always be “the smartest person in the room.” While there’s something to be said for that, it’s hardly a recipe for growth. “When you’re the smartest, you get put in charge of all the teaching — so you won’t be learning,” writes Camarillo, summing up Denzel’s advice: Never stop learning.


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