• Matt Black

The 6 Greatest Leadership Quotes of All Time

Exceptional leaders don’t just appear out of thin air. They aren’t miraculous by-products of a science experiment gone right, nor do they wake up one day and set their inner clocks to auto-inspire. The best leaders are acutely aware of their abilities to coach, influence and navigate the choppy waters of the human experience. They have spent a significant amount of time looking to those that have come before them for inner strength, guidance, and the best ways to say what they want to say. Leaders look to define and assert themselves by using the same words and ideas that their renowned mentors once employed to bring meaning to the term “leader” itself.

Here are 6 of the Greatest Leadership Quotes of All Time, and a little more insight on the brilliant minds that they are attributed to:

1. “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.Ralph Waldo Emerson

People spend their whole lives in a perpetual state of hope. While some do indeed achieve their personal and professional aspirations, others never quite become who or what they intended. Leaders, however, find ways to allow individuals to grow, flourish and reach our potential. They see things that we can’t, and show us how to get where we feel we won’t. Emerson, the renowned 19th century poet and philosopher, understood that one of the innate human desires we all share is to be surrounded and led by those who can bring us forward, closer to the best versions of ourselves.

2. “A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind. – Nelson Mandela

27 years in prison steeped in optimism, courage and a devotion to equality. There’s no question that Nelson Mandela lived by the ideas he shared with the world. Leaders recognize that by providing an example for their supporters, by demonstrating a genuine approach in everything they do, they are paving the way for positive results. A South African prison cell on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, is about as isolated as one can get. And yet, Mandela found a way to energize a systematic dismantling of institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality during his detainment. To me, this validates the notion that having a leader who is willing to make sacrifices and operate behind-the-scenes while his or her team upholds their vision, is key to long-term success. Besides, 260 awards including a Nobel Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom say so.

3. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

Leaders move people. The ones who bring their teams to the top, exceed expectations and continually achieve success understand that emotions are delicate, yet essential pieces of the puzzle. If your team feels positive about the organization’s direction, feel confident they can achieve the objectives set before them, feel like they are valued and appreciated… it doesn’t always matter what is said or done. Being one of the first African-American women who discussed their personal lives in a public forum, Angelou afforded black female writers a feeling of freedom and identity that they had never experienced before. In asserting that the details aren’t always important if the senses are triggered, she reminds leaders that the keys to success are cut by inspiration and stimulation.

4. “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.– Arnold H. Glasow

Accountability and humility. For a leader to truly earn someone’s trust and respect, they must be willing to accept a significant amount (or all) of the blame when things go poorly, but at the same time, spread the love and shine the spotlight on others when overall objectives are achieved. The idea that more negatives than positives are absorbed by the leader strengthens the importance of a leader being resilient and psychologically durable. Despite Glasow’s background in humour – the man published jokes for 60 years and didn’t author his first book until the age of 92 – he understood that leadership wasn’t intended for those seeking accolades while avoiding accountability.

5. “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.– John Wooden

Perception isn’t everything. A winner of ten NCAA National Championships as the Head Coach of the UCLA Bruins, John Wooden always had a target on his back. It would have been easy for him to lose control of his players after unprecedented success – his team won a record 88 consecutive games and 7 straight titles – however, he recognized that just being true to who you are and what you’re all about is far more powerful than trying to live up to what everyone says you are. Leaders have to stick to their game plan and keep their people humble, even in light of extreme success. Hard work, the power of belief and focus will always trump perception based on previous results.

6. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

The best leaders are committed to performing their duties in such a way that stirs those around them to action. While explanations are useful, and being able to demonstrate what needs to be done can translate into success, inspiration is the most powerful vehicle of leadership. Despite the fact that there are different leadership styles, it’s hard to see the value of being strictly told what to do and how to do it. Ward remains one of most highly quoted American writer of inspirational maxims.

Feel free to share your favourite quotes on Leadership in the Comments section below!



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