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101 Great Leadership Quotes From Successful Leaders

April 1, 2016 » Successful/Effective Leadership

Some of the world’s most successful male and female leaders share their “simple truths” of leadership.

Leadership is probably one of the most important (if not the most important) business and professional issues of all time. Whether you’re talking about leadership in business, politics, sports, the military, education or any other profession, we’re constantly looking for answers.

Here are 101 quotes from some of the world’s most successful leaders in a variety of disciplines and the answers they provide for the following questions:

  1. What is the essence of leadership?
  2. What are the qualities required?
  3. How do you lead successfully and effectively?
  4. What are the “simple truths” of leadership? (In other words, those general, basic, universal truths that if not indisputable, are close to it.)

The Essence of Leadership: Roles, Responsibilities and Characteristics

  1. “ All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” John Kenneth Galbraith
  1. “I define leadership as having three parts: first is seeing what needs to be done to make things better or seeing a problem that needs fixing; second is having the vision, the skill, and the wherewithal to change the system; and third is the most important task of mobilizing the energy of others to organize and act in ways to achieve that vision.” Susan J. Herman
  1. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree
  1. “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch
  1. “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh
  1. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Warren Bennis
  1. “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Peter Drucker
  1. “My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” Bernard Montgomery
  1. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” Stephen Covey
  1. “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” Stephen Covey
  1. “Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.” Lance Secretan
  1. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Colin Powell
  1. “A noble leader answers not to the trumpet calls of self promotion, but to the hushed whispers of necessity.” Mollie Marti
  1. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch
  1. “If you’re a leader, your whole reason for living is to help human beings develop – to really develop people and make work a place that’s energetic and exciting and a growth opportunity, whether you’re running a Housekeeping Department or Google. I mean, this is not rocket science.” Tom Peters
  1. “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Ralph Nader
  1. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” Rosalynn Carter
  1. “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” Henry Kissinger
  1. “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” Whoopi Goldberg
  1. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

The Qualities of Successful/Effective Leaders

  1. “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
  1. “Trust is the essence of Leadership.” Colin Powell
  1. “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Sheryl Sandberg
  1. “There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” Fuchan Yuan
  1. “Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and of tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.” James B. Stockdale
  1. “One of the greatest talents of all is the talent to recognize and to develop talent in others.” Colin Powell
  1. “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” Norman Schwarzkopf
  1. “Is there a better quality in a leader than humility when he might soon be granted enormous power to do good for his country and the world–or harm?” Jane Fletcher Geniesse
  1. “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” Colin Powell
  1. “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur
  1. “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
  1. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
  1. “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” Thomas J. Watson
  1. “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” Ginni Rometty
  1. “The leader has to be practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.” Eric Hoffer
  1. “To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone.” Harry Truman
  1. “The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny….it is the light that guides your way.” Heraclitus
  1. “A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others so that they may have the strength to stand on their own.” Beth Revis
  1. “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
  1. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in others the conviction and will to carry on.” Walter Lippman

How You Lead Successfully and Effectively

  1. “The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.” Ken Blanchard
  1. “You have to look at leadership through the eyes of the followers and you have to live the message. What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization.” Anita Roddick
  1. “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.” Ralph Nader
  1. “Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, just harness your power to your passion.” Oprah Winfrey
  1. “To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.” Pat Riley
  1. “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer
  1. “As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow.” Himanshu Bhatia
  1. “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.” Chinese Proverb
  1. “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” St. Francis of Assisi
  1. “After all — leadership, distilled to its essence, is the pursuit of more productive, higher performance interactions. Leaders who find the best ways to communicate moment to moment are finding that those moments will translate tangibly to enduring, high performance relationships in the marketplace.” Douglas Conant
  1. “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch
  1. “Surround yourself with a trusted and loyal team. It makes all the difference.” Alison Pincus
  1. “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” Arnold Glasow
  1. “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” Robert Louis Stevenson
  1. “In fair weather prepare for foul.” Thomas Fuller
  1. “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” Henry Ford
  1. “The most effective way to do it is to do it.” Amelia Earhart
  1. “In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt
  1. “Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Eleanor Roosevelt
  1. “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you … never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe
  1. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again. This time more intelligently.” Henry Ford
  1. “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Thomas Jefferson
  1. “Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.” Douglas MacArthur
  1. “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But, let us never fear to negotiate.” John F. Kennedy
  1. “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt
  1. “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” Sam Walton
  1. “Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.” Ronald Reagan
  1. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” George Patton
  1. “The moral authority of leaders is an essential ingredient to human security. Our attitudes will determine whether we are able to resolve conflict. It requires real listening and a readiness to consider new ways. And if we are to be a bridge, we have to be willing to be walked on.” Florence Mpaayei
  1. “The world we have created today is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein
  1. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
  1. “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” Max De Pree
  1. “Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.” Woodrow Wilson
  1. “Earn your leadership every day.” Michael Jordan
  1. If you cannot allow people to do their jobs …. nobody with substance and creativity will work for you.” Condoleezza Rice
  1. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Thomas Paine

Famous Leaders’ “Simple Truths” of Leadership

  1. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy
  1. “Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.” Harold Geneen
  1. “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”Vince Lombardi
  1. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”Peter Drucker
  1. “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain
  1. “You have got to do the right thing even if it is painful. Don’t trim or track all over the place. Set your course and take the difficult decisions – because that is what needs to be done.” Margaret Thatcher
  1. “You have to know the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” Albert Einstein
  1. “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Ken Blanchard
  1. “Leaders understand the ultimate power of relationships.”Tom Peters
  1. “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” Stephen Covey
  1. “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.” Harold S. Geneen
  1. “You have to have your heart in the business and the business in your heart.” An Wang
  1. “It is better to have a lion at the head of an army of sheep, than a sheep at the head of an army of lions.” Daniel Defoe
  1. “If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.” Winston Churchill
  1. “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” Henry Ford
  1. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
  1. “Good judgment comes from experience and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.” Will Rogers
  1. “Leaders keep their eyes on the horizon, not just on the bottom line.” Warren Bennis
  1. “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Benjamin Franklin
  1. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.” Walter Lippmann
  1. “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates
  1. “True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about themselves but about lifting others up.” Sheri L. Dew
  1. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” Harvey S. Firestone
  1. “The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led. This is the ultimate test of his effectiveness.” Gen. Omar Bradley
  1. “Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

What All of This Means

Leadership is a journey of discovery: of self, others, the leadership process, its potential, challenges and dynamics. Make sure your heart is in it. Only the strong, motivated and committed survive.

The leaders quoted experienced the leadership process firsthand. They understood the qualities successful/effective leaders must have in order to make it work. They understood the simple truths of it all. They understood the challenges leaders face, and the ways to survive, set priorities, succeed and do all of this effectively, with, not at the expense of the relationships with their followers.


On a lighter note, let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes, as a warning from the great American humorist, Dave Barry.

“When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy.”


On a more serious note, a thought from another favorite author:

“Communication is the real work of leadership. It’s a fundamental element of how leaders accomplish their goals each and every day. You simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator.” Travis Bradbury

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