Throughout history, many great leaders have emerged and went on to do incredible things. These people have left legacies that are extremely impressive. They came from all different backgrounds and worked in many different fields. From philosophers to athletes to generals to politicians, human society has been blessed with many great leaders.
Throughout their lifetimes, many of these leaders have produced quotes on leadership which are both memorable and full of wisdom. If you are aspiring to be a great leader, then there is a lot that you can learn from historical leadership quotes. Here are 100 of the best leadership quotes ever produced in history.
1. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
- John Quincy Adams
If anyone would know what it takes to be a great leader, it would be John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams served as the 6th president of the United States. He was also the eighth secretary of state of America, and the son of John Adams, the second president of the USA. According to John Quincy Adams, in order to be a leader, you must inspire people. If you can do this, then you can automatically be qualified to be a leader.
2. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French emperor and general. He knew as many great leaders know, that to be effective, you must provide your subjects with hope.
3. “Require nothing unreasonable of your officers and men, but see that whatever is required be punctually complied with. Reward and punish every man according to his merit, without partiality or prejudice; hear his complaints; if well founded, redress them; if otherwise, discourage them, in order to prevent frivolous ones. Discourage vice in every shape, and impress upon the mind of every man, from the first to the lowest, the importance of the cause, and what it is they are contending for.”
- George Washington
This quote from America’s first president is both extremely wise and extremely important. What Washington is saying here is that if you want to be a great leader, you must be fair and reasonable, and you must adequately address the concerns of your subordinates. He also says that you must also keep your followers focused by reminding them how important the work that they are doing is. This is excellent advice for leaders.
4. “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States. He was also the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. This statement from him shows just how much he valued integrity.
5. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
- Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was an American statesman and one of the founding fathers of the country. He was instrumental to the creation of America and was a great leader. This was partly due to his ability to be well prepared. If you want to be a great leader, you should take the time to be well prepared as well.
6. "Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.”
- Mwai Kibaki, Kenyan politician
7. “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”
This quote from American president, Theodore Roosevelt reminds leaders that power and force can be very strong assets for leaders. Unless you plan on being a military leader or a political leader, you will not need to have force at your back. However, if you do, then it can be very helpful to have a “big stick.”
8. “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
- Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister
As the Prime Minister of Britain during the most severe war that the world has ever seen, World War II, Winston Churchill should know a thing or two about enemies. According to him, you shouldn’t worry about having enemies when you’re a leader because they are a necessary part of having a backbone, which leaders need.
9. “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, former President of South Africa
10. “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
- Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
11. “I think one of the keys to leadership is recognizing that everybody has gifts and talents. A good leader will learn how to harness those gifts toward the same goal.”
- Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
12. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
- U.S. President Ronald Reagan
13. “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
- U.S. President Harry Truman
14. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
- John F. Kennedy, former U.S. President
If you attain a leadership position, you should always keep learning, just as JFK says. It is much easier to be an effective leader if you continue to learn new information. The best leaders are adaptable to change, and they continue to learn throughout their entire leadership tenure.
15. “Don’t listen to the naysayers. Make sure that you’re working your butt off. Make sure that you have a very clear vision of where you want to go. Don’t shoot for lower goals – shoot for the stars.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California
16. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
17. “Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.”
- Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
One of the great hallmarks of any leader is that they are able to march to the beat of their own drum and they aren’t afraid to follow their own paths. This is one of the things that helped Margaret Thatcher rise to power. If you want to achieve power and success through leadership, then you too should avoid following the crowd and allow them instead, to follow you.
18. “The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and influence their actions.”
- John Hancock, statesman and a signer of the Declaration of Independence
19. “A person who is worthy of being a leader wants power not for himself, but in order to be of service.”
- Sam J. Ervin, Jr., former U.S. senator
20. “I have broken many glass ceilings – so I know it can be done.”
- Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime Minister
21. “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.”
- Queen Victoria, English Monarch
This is a very interesting quote from one of England’s most famous queens. With this quote, Queen Victoria is saying that leaders should always be focused on success and act as if the possibility of defeat does not exist. This way, everyone can be focused on obtaining success and not on dealing with defeat.
22. “The leader must aim high, see big, judge widely, thus setting himself apart from the ordinary people who debate in narrow confines.”
- Charles de Gaulle, French Politician
23. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
- Aristotle, Greek philosopher
24. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- Plato, Greek philosopher
This quote is incredibly important, not just for leaders but for everyone in life. These words by Plato are both extremely true and extremely profound. You never really know what another person is going through and what kinds of challenges that they are facing in their lives. So, you should always be kind to everyone, or at the very least, treat people with a basic level of human respect. Your employees will be more motivated to work hard for you if you are kind, also. This is a nice benefit.
25. “To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence … When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”
- Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher
26. “To do great things is difficult; but to command great things is more difficult.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
27. “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.”
- Marcus Aurelius
28. “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
- General Colin Powell
29. “It is absolutely necessary… for me to have persons that can think for me, as well as execute orders.”
- George Washington, first President of the United States
It seems that America’s first president, George Washington, did not underestimate the importance of being able to delegate. Many great leaders are also great at knowing when to delegate, and to whom responsibilities should be delegated. If you want to be a successful leader, then you will most likely have to depend on a number of subordinates to effectively carry out your orders. So, choose them carefully and effectively, as Washington did.
30. “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
- Alexander the Great
31. “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”
- George Patton
32. “In every battle, there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten; then, he who continues the attack wins.”
- General Ulysses S. Grant
During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant had the incredibly difficult task of defeating the talented General Robert. E. Lee and his capable Confederate forces. According to Grant, one of the main reasons why he was able to succeed in this endeavor is because he and his army simply refused to give up even when it seemed all was lost in battles. You shouldn’t give up either when the odds are stacked against you and when the situation looks bleak. Keep going! You might just end up victorious, just like Grant did.
33. “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary, an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”
- General John J. Pershing
34. “Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.”
- General Douglas MacArthur
General Douglas MacArthur is one of the most famous generals in history. He was instrumental in helping the Allies win World War II. If you plan on being a great leader, then you should follow his advice and only give orders that are capable of being executed. This means avoid giving orders where there are great conflicts of interest, physical hazards, or impossible odds.
35. “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But, if you must be without one, be without strategy.”
- General Norman Schwarzkopf
36. “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”
- Admiral Horatio Nelson
37. “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.”
- General Douglas MacArthur
38. “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
- Vince Lombardi, former NFL coach
39. “A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example.”
- Joe DiMaggio, former professional baseball player
Joe DiMaggio is one of the greatest baseball players to have ever lived. He was also a tremendous leader and was well respected by just about everyone in the world of professional baseball. If you want to be a great leader like Joe DiMaggio, you should start by setting an excellent example with the work that you do yourself.
40. “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
- Billie Jean King, tennis champion
41. “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
- Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers coach
42.“To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.”
- Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat and former Lakers coach
43. “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
- Michael Jordan
44. “Leadership is having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation, and talented people working together.”
— Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company
45. “The highest calling of leadership is to challenge the status quo and unlock the potential of others. We need a leader who will lead the resurgence of this great nation and unlock its potential once again.”
- Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard
Carly Fiorina may not have won the election for U.S. president. However, she was a very solid candidate and she was a good leader for Hewlett Packard. This quote about leadership from her is very true. Great leaders very often do challenge status quos and help to make people around them better and more effective.
46. “Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.”
- Lisa Cash Hanson, CEO of Snuggwugg.
47. “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.”
- Steve Jobs, Former CEO of Apple Inc.
48. “The comfort zone is a nice place, but nothing grows there. Take the leap today and start your business!”
- Caroline Cummings, Founder and CEO, Varo Ventures
49. “A good leader doesn't get stuck behind a desk.”
- Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group
This may seem like simple advice. However, far too many business leaders make the mistake of getting stuck behind their desks and not getting out in the world and connecting with their employees, their customers, and people in general. You should not become guilty of making this mistake. Richard Branson is one of the best entrepreneurs in history. So, you should take his advice seriously.
50. “If we cannot disconnect, we cannot lead. Creating the culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity . . . This mentality needs to be introduced as a leadership and performance-enhancing tool.”
- Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post
51. “The difference between successful people and others is how long they spend feeling sorry for themselves.”
- Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank Investor and Real Estate Mogul
Barbara Corcoran, known for her work as a venture capitalist on Shark Tank has a way of cutting straight to the point and getting to the heart of an issue. This quote is a perfect example. It may seem s a bit harsh, but it is very true and very wise. Leaders don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They simply carry on and find a solution for the next problem that is in front of them. If you want to be a great leader, then you shouldn’ waste time feeling sorry for yourself when you are faced with a challenge ,just like Barbara Corcoran says.
52. “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, Founder, Leadership Connection
53. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”
- Andrew Carnegie 19th-century business magnate and philanthropist.
54. “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
- Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and Tesla
Elon Musk will undoubtedly go down as being one of the best businessmen in history and also one of the best leaders. He is a perfect example of how entrepreneurs can achieve financial freedom. He created a hatful of companies which have been tremendous successes. According to Elon, you need to be constantly questioning yourself in order to be a great leader and you need to learn from feedback.
55. “Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit."
- Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric
56. “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.”
- Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks
This is an extremely important point because far too many leaders think that the best thing to do is to always appear strong. However, according to Schultz, one of the best businessmen of our time, you need to also be capable of being vulnerable. If you are in a leadership position currently, then you should keep this in mind when you are going about your job.
57. “My jobs as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact.”
- Larry Page, Co-founder of Google
58. “If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you.”
- Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO
59. “True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.”
- Sheri L. Dew, President & CEO of Deseret Book Company
60. “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, businessman
61. “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”
- J.P. Morgan
This is quite a cheeky quote from J.P. Morgan. However, it is also very frequently true. If you are a leader, then you might find yourself making decisions for which there are both good reasons and real reasons. As long as the real reason is benevolent, then don’t worry if the good reason and the right reason don’t necessarily match up.
62. “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
- Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft
63. “Inventories can be managed, but people must be led.”
- Ross Perot
64. “Even a small reduction in errors and rework can have a significant impact.”
- Abigail Johnson (Fidelity Investments)
This is a very nice piece of wisdom from Abigail Johnson. When you are in your leadership role, you should focus on trying to reduce errors. Reducing errors is just as important as succeeding with projects. After all, too many errors can be a major problem and an obstacle for overall success. So, focus on reducing errors wherever you can. This will help your team to function better overall.
65. “True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”
– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
66. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
- Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. CEO
67. “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson, poet and writer
A leader who is courageous and who demonstrates courage time and time again can be extremely inspiring to the people who follow him or her. Also, sometimes, it can be very beneficial not to share every last fear with your followers. You should look to inspire courage and a triumphant spirit amongst your followers. The best way to do this is to be courageous yourself. So, wherever possible, try to demonstrate acts of courage.
68. “A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men.”
69. “EQ is . . . the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.”
- Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0
70. “Emotional intelligence does not mean merely ‘being nice.’ At strategic moments it may demand not ‘being nice,’ but rather, for example, bluntly confronting someone with an uncomfortable but consequential truth they’ve been avoiding.”
- Daniel Goleman, author of multiple books on emotional intelligence and leadership.
71. “A leader is someone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding the potential in people and processes.”
- Brené Brown, research professor and best-selling author
72. “Become the kind of leader that other people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”
- Brian Tracy, motivational speaker, best-selling author and personal development expert
73. “A lack of realism in the vision today costs credibility tomorrow."
- John C. Maxwell, leadership author
74. “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”
- Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was a very interesting character and was known for his novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He was a fantastic leader and a great writer. In addition to his novels he was also known for leading a band of “merry pranksters” on a number of adventures. Ken Kesey was able to successfully lead them by doing exactly what he said and trying things out himself before convincing other people to join him. This is excellent advice for people who want to be leaders.
75. “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.”
- J.K. Rowling
76. “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”
- Niccolò Machiavelli, philosopher and writer
77. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”
- Max Lucado, Christian author and preacher
78. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
- Albert Einstein, physicist
Even leaders must make mistakes from time to time. So, don’t expect yourself to have only successes. Just because you are making mistakes does not necessarily mean that you are a bad leader. It means that you are learning and you are helping your team by figuring out what not to do. Sometimes, knowing what not to do is equally as important as knowing what to do. Mistakes are often the best teachers. Don’t forget that.
79. “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
- Carl Sagan
80. “Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”
- Susan B. Anthony
81. “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”
- Thomas Edison
The reason why this quote from Thomas Edison is so brilliant is because it is very simple yet, it is extremely powerful. People who succeed in life make efficient use of their down time and their spare time. If you want to have incredibly high levels of success and if you want to be a great leader, then you need to learn how to hustle while you wait, as Edison did.
82.“A leader or a man of action in a crisis almost always acts subconsciously and then thinks of the reasons for his action.”
- Jawaharlal Nehru
83.“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
84. “More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.”
- Warren Bennis
85. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
- John C. Maxwell
86. “Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths.”
- John Zenger
87. “Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.”
- Orrin Woodward
You should keep this in mind when you are trying to become a great leader because it is absolutely true. Being able to inspire other people to become great is one of the hallmarks of an outstanding leader.
88. "You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too."
- Sam Rayburn
89. “I think leadership is service and there is power in that giving: to help people, to inspire and motivate them to reach their fullest potential.”
- Denise Morrison
90. “Employees of servant leaders are more helping and creative than those working with leaders who scored lower on servant leadership.”
- Marcel Schwantes
91. “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, comedian
Whoopi Goldberg might not be primarily known for her leadership quotes, however, this one is a little gem. Leaders do help to light the path for others. If you want to be a great leader, then you should help to light the path for others to follow as well, just like Whoopi.
92. “Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”
- Tina Fey, comedian
Oftentimes, people who are trying to become leaders get fixated on the opinions of other people. This can be a major problem and can prevent leaders from making the right decisions. Wherever it is possible, you should listen to legendary comedian, Tina Fey’s, advice and allow people’s opinions to change organically. Just keep focusing on achieving your goals. Don’t worry about everyone else’s opinion.
93. “Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”
- Chris Hadfield, astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station
94. “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, former First Lady of the United States
95. “My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”
- John Lennon, musician
96. “I think I'm a natural-born leader. I know how to bow down to authority if it's authority that I respect.”
- Tupac Shakur
What’s interesting about this quote from one of rap’s greatest artists is that Tupac is implying here that natural born leaders also have a natural respect for authority whenever that authority is one that they respect. So, if you are someone who respects authority, according to Tupac, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a natural born leader. It could actually mean that you have a solid understanding of power and how it should be balanced.
97. “He who has great power should use it lightly.”
If you happen to come into a position of great power, then you should take Seneca’s advice and not abuse it. Abusing power is not only unethical, but it can actually be a genuine threat to your power. This is because people who abuse power are often revolted against when their subjects become fed up. So, do not overuse or abuse your power once you get it.
98. “Leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day.”
- Jesse Jackson
99. “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
- Stephen Covey
100. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.”
- Walter Lippman
Whether you are trying to become a great capitalist, a great politician, a great religious leader, or another type of great leader, all of the quotes in this article can help you on your way. The more of the advice that you can follow from these quotes, the sooner you will be able to become a great leader. Good luck on your journey!
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