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Leadership Quotes

To inspire and challenge!

Leadership Quotes

To inspire and challenge!

This page of leadership quotes is one of our growing resource of thought-provoking, inspirational and challenging views of leadership.

The quotes are grouped around several leadership themes:

  • What is Leadership?
  • Leadership is Vision
  • Leadership is Responsibility
  • Leadership is Serving
  • Leadership is Believing
  • Leadership is Action
  • Leadership is Motivation
  • Leadership is Humility
  • Leadership is Selecting the Right People
  • Leadership is Perseverance
What is leadership?
Of course there is no single definition of leadership. It’s one of those truisms that some of the most important things in life seem difficult to define.

Yet we intuitively know it when we see it. Take happiness or love: difficult to define but you know when you see or feel it. The same might be said for leadership. John Adair suggests that the roots of the word “lead” come from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a road, a way, or the path of a ship at sea. Perhaps then, leadership is knowing what the next step is. But this seems a very narrow definition, especially when we consider some of these quotes:

“Leadership is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its limitations. Peter Drucker. (Follow this link for more Peter Drucker Quotes)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Book of Proverbs.

“Some men see things as they are and say, “Why?” I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'” George Bernard Shaw.

The following two leadership quotes are about personal leadership. And of course many argue that leadership starts with your own personal journey and vision.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain.

Leadership is Vision

“Go to the people, live amongst them

start with what they have

build on what they know

and when the deed is done,

the mission accomplished,

of the best leaders the people will say:

‘we have done it ourselves’.”

Lao Tzu – Chinese philosopher.

Some newer answers:

“People who know what they want and why they want it, and have the skills to communicate that to others in a way that gains support” Warren Bennis.

“The leader of the past… is a doer; of the present, a planner; of the future, a teacher. Her job is to develop capabilities; not to plan the company’s actions but to increase its capacity to act, its responsiveness, and its repertoire…. This kind of leader doesn’t need to know everything; on the contrary, she’ll want to be surrounded by people who know a whole lot more but trust her to weigh their competing claims.” Thomas A. Stewart.

If you would like to read more about Stewart’s description of leadership in the future click on this link to CNN money for the article “Have You Got What it Takes?

Leadership is Responsibility

Not enough generals were killed… Peter Drucker recounts the story of an excellent history teacher he’d had – a man badly wounded in the First World War. The teacher, referring to the books around them, said:

“Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of incompetence. Why was it?” The teacher answered his own question: “because not enough generals were killed.”

As Peter Drucker so powerfully puts it – leadership is responsibility.

Leadership is Serving

“Good leaders must first become good servants.” Robert Greenleaf

“Leadership must first and foremost meet the needs of others.” Robert Greenleaf.

“It is not the lot of the leader to be served but rather his/her privilege to serve” Neuschel

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” Benjamin Disraeli.

Leadership is Believing

Next, some leadership quotes from two great leaders of the last century who, in their very different ways, helped shape the century.

“If you think you can do a thing or that you cannot do a thing, in either case you are right.”Henry Ford.

“For myself, I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Winston Churchill.

Leadership is Action

The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. Or woman…!

Thomas Edison - leadership quotes“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the
circumstance they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
George Bernard Shaw.

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps.” David Lloyd George.

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” Thomas A. Edison.

You may want to read more about Edison (left). If so, follow this link from our Leadership Quotes page to Leadership Stories and find out how Edison coped with adversity:

“There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Leadership is Motivation

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton.

“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.” Charles Schwab.

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” Charles Schwab.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight Eisenhower.

Leadership is Humility

The following leadership quotes point to the value of humility as a counterweight to the dangers of power.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln .

“If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.” Saint Augustine.

“Dear God, grant me the courage to change the things I can, serenity to accept the things I cannot change and wisdom to know the difference.” St. Francis of Assisi.

Leadership is Selecting the Right People

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Theodore Roosevelt.

“The effective executive knows that it is easier to raise the performance of one leader than it is to raise the performance of a whole mass. She therefore makes sure she puts into the leadership position, into the standard-setting, the performance-making position the person who has the strength to do the outstanding pace-setting job. This always requires focus on the one strength of a person and dismissal of weaknesses as irrelevant unless they hamper the full deployment of the available strength.” Peter Drucker.

Leadership is Perseverance

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie.

Leadership is – some final leadership quotes?

John Adair proposes a short course for Leadership:

The 6 most important words… “I admit I made a mistake.”

The 5 most important words………. “I am proud of you.”

The 4 most important words… “What is your opinion?”

The 3 most important words… “If you please.”

The 2 most important words… “Thank you.”

The 1 most important word… “We.”

The least important word…….”I.”

Leadership is……………? What would your leadership quotes be?

If you’ve enjoyed reading these leadership quotes, you may want to take a look at our Leadership Stories. Leadership quotes and stories are a great resource whether you use them just for your own benefit or with your team, to support meetings or presentations.

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills, return to our Leadership Knowledge Hub. This contains a range of articles, tips and resource links which compliments this collection of quotes.

Leading Insights

Or turn to our handy e-guide: Leading Insights, packed with more leadership quotes, stories and some leading insights into how they can be used! Insights such as:

  • Uncommon insights
  • Tipping point leadership
  • Find the glass
  • Leaders need to be cathedral thinkers
  • Would you recommend your service/organisation to your friends?
  • Putting on a performance
  • Would people pay to see your team perform?
  • Bricolage leadership
  • Resourceful leadership
  • Nudging leadership
  • Mirror leadership
  • Chameleon leadership
  • Catalyst leadership
  • Chrysalis leadership
  • Saliency, sagacity and serendipity
  • Infectious leadership
  • Infected leadership
  • Great work days
  • Defining moments
  • Conveying what you care about
  • The kind of goals leaders set matters
  • Motivating leaders
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