Leadership quotes


Leadership quotes

Poetic quotes especially, some dating back hundreds of years, illustrate the fascination that leadership has held for academics, scholars, poets and leaders of note throughout history. They also help to define leadership in its many and various forms. Here are some of our favourite quotes. 

"People ask the difference between a leader and a boss.... The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads and the boss drives." (Theodore Roosevelt)

"The marksman hitteth the target partly by pulling, partly by letting go. The boatsman reacheth the landing partly by pulling, partly by letting go." (Egyptian proverb)

"No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself." (William Penn)

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." (President Harry S Truman)

"I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." (Woodrow Wilson)

"What should it profit a man if he would gain the whole world yet lose his soul." (The Holy Bible, Mark 8:36)

"A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline." (Harvey Mackay)

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to look after them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." (John Steinbeck)

"I keep six honest serving-men, They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who." (Rudyard Kipling, from 'Just So Stories', 1902.)

"A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than the giant himself." (Didacus Stella, circa AD60 - and, as a matter of interest, abridged on the edge of an English £2 coin)

"Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." (Samuel Johnson 1709-84)

"The most important thing in life is not to capitalise on your successes - any fool can do that. The really important thing is to profit from your mistakes." (William Bolitho, from 'Twelve against the Gods')

"Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud: Under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody but unbowed . . . . . It matters not how strait the gait, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." (WE Henley, 1849-1903, from 'Invictus')

"Everybody can get angry - that's easy. But getting angry at the right person, with the right intensity, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way - that's hard." (Aristotle)

"Management means helping people to get the best out of themselves, not organising things." (Lauren Appley)

"It's not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." (Theodore Roosevelt.)

"Behind an able man there are always other able men." (Chinese Proverb.)

"I praise loudly. I blame softly." (Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.)

"Experto Credite." ("Trust one who has proved it." Virgil, 2,000 years ago.)

"Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential." (Warren Bennis)

"Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles." (John Kotter, from Leading Change.)

"The art of mobilising others to want to struggle for shared aspirations." (James Kouzes and Barry Posner, from The Leadership Challenge.)

"Leadership is a process that involves: setting a purpose and direction which inspires people to combine and work towards willingly; paying attention to the means, pace and quality of progress towards the aim; and upholding group unity and individual effectiveness throughout." (James Scouller, from The Three Levels of Leadership, 2011.)

"And when we think we lead, we are most led." (Lord Byron, from The Two Foscari, 1821.)

"Ah well! I am their leader, I really should be following them!" (Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, from Histoire Contemporaine by E de Mirecourt, 1857 - Ledru-Rollin was a main instigator of the 1848 French Revolution and apparently said these words when struggling to make his way through a mob.)

"He that would govern others first should be master of himself." (Philip Massinger, from The Bondman, 1624.)

"Never trust a lean meritocracy nor the leader who has been lean; only the lifelong big have the knack of wedding greatness with balance." (Les A Murray, from Quintets for Robert Morley - a meritocracy is a government of people selected according to merit - 'lean' in this sense means offering little substance or reward or nourishment - 'big' in this sense means big-hearted, strong and generous.)

"We were not born to sue, but to command." (William Shakespeare, from Richard II, I.i - 'sue' here is the older French-English meaning 'follow after'.)

"No-one would have doubted his ability to rule had he never been emperor." (Tacitus, from Histories, c.100AD - written of the Emperor Galba.)

"A committee is a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary." (Richard Harkness.)

"The Vice-Presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm spit." (J N Garner.)

"Ninety-nine per cent of adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest Americans. It's the other lousy one per cent that gets all the publicity and gives us a bad name. But then, we elected 'em." (Lily Tomlin.)