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101 Great Quotes From Successful Women Leaders

April 17, 2016 » Successful/Effective Leadership

Successful women leaders share thoughts on leadership; the qualities required; and their insights and “simple truths” on leading successfully and effectively.

In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders. Sheryl Sandberg Click To Tweet

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, the arts or any other profession, we’re constantly looking for answers.

Here are 101 quotes from some of the world’s most successful women leaders in a variety of disciplines and the insights they provide.

  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 Successful Leadership: Roles, Responsibilities and Characteristics

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. Helen Keller Click To Tweet

“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

“The most important role of a leader is to set a clear direction, be transparent about how to get there and to stay the course.” Irene Rosenfeld

“Leadership is about going somewhere. If you don’t have a vision, how do you know where you’re going?” Jesse Lyn Stoner and Ken Blanchard

“A business leader has to keep their organization focused on the mission. That sounds easy, but it can be tremendously challenging in today’s competitive and ever-changing business environment. A leader also has to motivate potential partners to join.” Meg Whitman

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” Sheryl Sandberg

“Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do. Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they’re doing it. That’s purpose. And that’s the key to achieving something truly transformational.” Marillyn Hewson

“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

“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

The highest calling of leadership is to unlock the potential of others. Carly Fiorina Click To Tweet

“To me, leadership is about encouraging people. It’s about stimulating them. It’s about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve – and to do that with a purpose.” Christine Lagarde

“Truly remarkable leadership is not just about motivating others to follow, it’s about inspiring them to become leaders themselves and setting the stage for even greater opportunities for future generations.” Condoleezza Rice

“So often people are working hard at the wrong things. Working on the right things is probably more important than working hard.” Caterina Fake

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.’’ Mary Anne Radmacher

To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart. Eleanor Roosevelt Click To Tweet

The Qualities of Successful/Effective Leaders

Great leaders are willing to follow. Leadership is a dance, not a parade. Jesse Lyn Stoner Click To Tweet

“One of the most important things for any leader is to never let anyone else define who you are. And you define who you are. I never think of myself as being a woman CEO of this company. I think of myself as a steward of a great institution.” Ginni Rometty

“Who you are, what your values are, what you stand for, they are your anchor, your north star. You won’t find them in a book. You’ll find them in your soul.” Anne M. Mulcahy

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Sheryl Sandberg

“The difference between people who succeed and people who fail, I think in many cases it’s not fear. Everyone experiences fear. The difference is what do you do with your fear. Do you work to overcome it or do you let it defeat you? And I think that is actually what distinguishes very successful people from others.” Carly Fiorina

“To be effective, leaders must have the qualities and attitudes essential to work in a group setting.” Meg Whitman

“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

“There is no either / or between being competitive and collaborative. You have to be both and decide which in each situation.” Cathie Black

“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

“An important mark of a good leader [is] to know you don’t know it all and never will.” Anne M. Mulcahy

“Listening to others, especially those with whom we disagree, tests our own ideas and beliefs. It forces us to recognize, with humility, that we don’t have a monopoly on the truth.” Janet Yellen

“What is needed is people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others.” Ella J. Baker

“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” Sheryl Sandberg

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” Marissa Mayer

“The important thing is that when you come to understand something you act on it, no matter how small that act is. Eventually it will take you where you need to go.” Sister Helen Prejean

“I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” Ginni Rometty

You create opportunities by performing, not complaining. Muriel Siebert Click To Tweet

“Do what you say. Say what you mean. Without integrity, your other values don’t matter.” Jesse Lyn Stoner

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” Amelia Earhart

“Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.” Anne Bradstreet

“Organize, agitate, educate,’ must be our war cry.” Susan B. Anthony

“I wake up every morning and think to myself, ‘How far can I push the company forward in the next 24 hours?”’ Leah Busque

None of us can know what we are capable of until we are tested. Elizabeth Blackwell Click To Tweet

How You Lead Successfully and Effectively

To stay ahead, you must have your next idea waiting in the wings. Rosabeth Moss Kanter Click To Tweet

“Strategic leaders must not get consumed by the operational and tactical side of their work. They have a duty to find time to shape the future.” Stephanie S. Mead

“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

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, just harness your power to your passion.” Oprah Winfrey

“As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow.” Himanshu Bhatia

Surround yourself with a trusted and loyal team. It makes all the difference. Alison Pincus Click To Tweet

“Not everything needs changing. Some things need protecting. And that can be just as important, challenging and rewarding as changing the world.” Mary T. Barra

“Success is never getting to the bottom of your to-do list.” Marissa Mayer

“There are pros and cons of experience. A con is that you can’t look at the business with a fresh pair of eyes and as objectively as if you were a new CEO. Fire yourself on a Friday night and come in on Monday morning as if a search firm put you there as a turn-around leader. Can you be objective and make the bold change?” Andrea Jung

“Turnaround or growth, it’s getting your people focused on the goal that is still the job of leadership.” Anne M. Mulcahy

“The most effective way to do it is to do it.” Amelia Earhart

“So please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.” Sheryl Sandberg

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“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

How you manage change can make all the difference. Irene Rosenfeld Click To Tweet

“Sometimes you can gradually improve things. But sometimes, they don’t work, and you’ve just got to just say: Let’s grind this baby to a halt.” Abigail Johnson

“I think there is a big and significant difference between being a leader and being a manager: leaders lead from the heart. You have to be analytical and flexible. Flexibility is one of the key ingredients to being successful. If you feel like it’s difficult to change, you will probably have a harder time succeeding.” Andrea Jung

“If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m a product of great mentoring, great coaching… Coaches or mentors are very important. They could be anyone-your husband, other family members, or your boss.” Indra Nooyi

“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

If you cannot allow people to do their jobs …. nobody with substance and creativity will work for you.” Condoleezza Rice

If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself. Indra Nooyi Click To Tweet

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem

“You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go.” Jeanette Rankin

“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” Arianna Huffington

“I do not think that power can be delegated because I believe that genuine power is capacity. Coercive power is the curse of the universe; coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul.” Mary Parker Follett

“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” Sara Blakely

“Do not be afraid to make decisions.  Do not be afraid to make mistakes.” Carly Fiorina

If we are going to be part of the solution, we have to engage the problems. Majora Carter Click To Tweet

The “Simple Truths” of Leadership

You have to have your heart in the business and the business in your heart. An Wang Click To Tweet

“Talent is the No. 1 priority for a CEO. You think it’s about vision and strategy, but you have to get the right people first.” Andrea Jung

“The one thing I have learned as a CEO is that leadership at various levels is vastly different. When I was leading a function or a business, there were certain demands and requirements to be a leader. As you move up the organization, the requirements for leading that organization don’t grow vertically; they grow exponentially.” Indra Nooyi

“Our emerging workforce is not interested in command-and-control leadership. They don’t want to do things because I said so; they want to do things because they want to do them.” Irene Rosenfeld

Don’t confuse progress with winning. Mary T. Barra Click To Tweet

“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

“But the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance. Sheryl Sandberg

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

“It is a simple fact that you can’t steal second base if your foot is firmly planted on first.” Irene Rosenfeld

“You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you.” Marissa Mayer

The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of a mistake. Meg Whitman Click To Tweet

“If you want to play, you have to play with boys. If you want to stick around, you have to beat them.” Annika Sorenstam

“A noble leader answers not to the trumpet calls of self promotion, but to the hushed whispers of necessity.” Mollie Marti 

“The only safe ship in a storm is leadership.” Faye Wattleton

“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash

“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter

“The things we fear most in organizations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.” Margaret Wheatley

It is difficult to steer a parked car. Henrietta Mears Click To Tweet

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.” Marian Anderson

“Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by traffic from both sides.” Margaret Thatcher

“Power is not an end in itself, but an instrument that must be used toward an end.” Jeane Kirkpatrick

“Clearly no one knows what leadership has gone undiscovered in women of all races, and in black and other minority men.” Gloria Steinem

“It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” J.K. Rowling

“Leadership comes in small acts as well as bold strokes.” Carly Fiorina

Expect the unexpected and whenever possible, be the unexpected. Lynda Barry Click To Tweet

“It’s an unbelievable responsibility to influence decisions, shareholder value and most important to me, people’s careers and livelihoods.” Andrea Jung

“Leadership is not about men in suits. It is a way of life for those who know who they are and are willing to be their best to create the life they want to live.” Kathleen Schafer

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.” Sheryl Sandberg

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde

If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu. Elizabeth Warren Click To Tweet

What All of This Means

Don't let being a woman hold you back from the leader that you're destined to be. Jamie Farsnel Click To Tweet

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 essence of leadership, the qualities successful/effective leaders must have; and how to make it all 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.

Each one is a successful/effective leader.

The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt Click To Tweet


Dr. Don MacRae is the author and passionate leader of Situational Communication® and the CEO of Lachlan Enterprises Incorporated (The Lachlan Group).

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