The 50 most famous leadership quotes

January 08, 2023  •  Reading Time: 15 min.

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”

Leadership is one of the most important soft skills of all. A true leader can inspire and motivate others through their actions and is unlocking people’s potential through their vision. Successful leadership means taking action and showing people what you expect of them. Successful leaders enjoy taking responsibility. They also have a certain self-confidence that enables them to move forward courageously.

smiling older business woman with glasses

Anyone who is allowed to lead people bears a great responsibility. Most managers are more than aware of this. In recent years, a lot has been invested in the topic of “leadership” in the working world. Despite all the training, there is one thing that cannot be taught: humanity. Even when difficult decisions have to be made, the people involved should always be treated with dignity and respect. An important rule for everyday leadership is that you must first know yourself and also lead yourself before you lead other people. Leadership work is also an examination of one’s own personality.

For hundreds of years, great leaders in history have dealt with the topic of leadership. We have collected the most important and best leadership quotes for you.

50 outstanding leadership quotes and their meaning

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Everyone has the urge to lead, inspire and contribute to the common good. There is always a leader inside of us who wants to push boundaries and lead by example. But leadership is not an easy task. Leaders should have the qualities necessary to succeed in their respective fields. Our leadership quotes will inspire you and may even change the way you think and feel about yourself and others.

red chess piece stands out from the rest

1. “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” – Ralph Nader (political activist)

Training the next generation of leaders is a big part of leadership.

2. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward (motivational writer)

Your team expects you to provide guidance, motivation and knowledge.

3. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Inc.)

Those who think big and push for innovative ideas stand out as visionaries.

4. “A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte (French military leader and emperor)

Inspiration and hope are the two qualities that every leader must possess.

5. “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 (co-founder of Apple Inc.)

A good leader is tough, but fair. Their goal is to inspire and encourage their team to do the best they can.

Steve Jobs

6. “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” – John C. Maxwell (author and speaker)

According to Maxwell, good leadership is all about influence, and the courage of a great leader to realize their vision comes from passion, not position.

7. “A successful person finds the right place for himself. But a successful leader finds the right place for others.”- John C. Maxwell (author and speaker)

A good leader finds the perfect place for other people.

8. “Good leaders build products. Great leaders build cultures. Good leaders deliver results. Great leaders develop people. Good leaders have a vision. Great leaders have values. Good leaders are role models at work. Great leaders are role models in life.” – Adam Grant (organizational psychologist and bestselling author)

Great leaders are role models in life, not just at work.

9. “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 (founder and chairman of the Board of Life)

Leadership starts with yourself. As Woodward suggests, it is important that you develop and improve your own skills. By focusing on self-reflection and self-improvement, you can motivate those around you to do the same.

10. “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” – Warren Bennis (scholar, organizational consultant and author)

Warren Bennis was a pioneer in the field of modern leadership research. He was passionate about leadership, change, and collaboration.

11. “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 (politician and diplomat)

Your team needs to know that you have their back and that you care, or they will stop performing.

12. “True leadership lies in guiding others to success – in ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do, and doing it well.” – Bill Owens (politician)

A good leader leads others to success and ensures that everyone does their best.

13. “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 (economist)

Galbraith’s quote is a powerful reminder of what leadership should be about. It’s not about the title or the money; nor is it often about becoming a leader. Leadership comes about when you care about something and want to make a difference for the good of a team, an industry, or even society. It shouldn’t be about what you can achieve, but what you can do for the greater good.

14. “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 and entrepreneur)

The founder of Wal-Mart teaches an important lesson with the above quote. When people believe in themselves, it’s really great what they can accomplish. And an outstanding leader can help them do just that.

15. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams (statesman, diplomat, and diarist)

The goal of a leader is to teach and inspire their team to excel in their actions.

16. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln (former president of the United States)

If you really want to test a man’s character, give him power.

17. “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter F. Drucker (management consultant, educator, and author)

Drucker believed that managers should be leaders first and foremost. Instead of setting strict working hours and discouraging innovation, he opted for a more flexible, collaborative approach. He placed great emphasis on decentralization, knowledge work and management by objectives.

18. “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” Mahatma Gandhi (Indian independence movement leader)

Gandhi’s most famous leadership trait was his willingness to live like the majority of Indians he wanted to help, and his call to all Indians to be the change they want to see in this world.

19. “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.” – Ronald Reagan (former president of the United States)

Leadership is about inspiring people to do their best, not necessarily being the hero.

20. “The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.” – Ken Blanchard (author, business consultant and motivational speaker)

A good leader can share their vision and make it possible for others to experience it as well.

21. “Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.” – Pete Hoekstra (politician)

A leader knows that they are there to help their team be their very best.

22. “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” – Harry S. Truman (former president of the United States)

Truman’s leadership lessons can be summarized as integrity and accountability, team building and humility.

23. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu (Chinese philosopher)

Leadership happens best in the background.

24. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” – Andrew Carnegie (industrialist)

Carnegie pursued a transformational leadership style and used extrinsic rewards to motivate his employees to follow his vision.

25. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist)

Mead applied the principles and techniques of anthropology to global human problems, often saying that a small group of committed people had the power to change the world.

stamp of Margaret Mead

26. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” – Peter F. Drucker (management consultant, educator, and author)

Drucker defined leadership as being about directing a person’s vision toward higher goals, raising a person’s performance to a higher level, and developing a person’s personality beyond its normal limits.

27. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King (leader of the American civil rights movement)

A leader is an innovator, not a follower. They are opinion leaders and consensus builders. They do not follow the herd, but lead the way.

28. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch (business executive, chemical engineer, and writer)

As a leader, your job is to help others by sharing your experience and wisdom so they can grow.

29. “For the success of any mission, it is necessary to have creative leadership. Creative leadership is vital for government, non-governmental organizations as well as industries.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (former president of India)

Creative leadership is what the country (India) needs in the future for its economic and social development.

30. “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower (former president of the United States)

Eisenhower explained what leadership was to him this way, “Leadership is the art of getting another to do something you want because he wants to do it.”

31. “Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.” – Tom Landry (former Dallas Cowboys coach)

Landry was known for his poise, character and leadership. He is considered one of the best and most innovative coaches in NFL history.

32. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren G. Bennis (scholar, organizational consultant, and author)

Bennis believed in the adage that great leaders are not born, but created, and insisted that the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.

33. “You manage things; you lead people.” – Grace Murray Hopper (computer pioneer and naval officer)

Grace Murray Hopper on the difference between management and leadership.

34. “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” – Peter F. Drucker (management consultant, educator, and author)

Peter Drucker: “We need to focus on the quality of the mission and the leadership that inspires it for future success.”

35. “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.” – Harry S. Truman (former president of the United States)

Harry Truman was a man of principle, drive and determination. These qualities that made Truman an outstanding leader also apply to today’s leaders.

36. “A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.” – M.D. Arnold (author)

Work among your employees.

37. “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold H. Glasow (businessman)

Leadership is essentially about acting, not reacting to events. A good leader is therefore not only able to develop a vision to steer towards, but also to ensure that problems are solved before they start to sink the ship.

38. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Harold R. McAlindon (author)

As a leader, you want to blaze a new trail instead of following in the footsteps of others. But your vision must also be compelling enough that others will want to follow you. To do this, you must present a strong vision and be willing to lead those who walk behind you.

39. “Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.” – Mary Kay Ash (businesswoman)

As you develop a strategy for your leadership, remember the lesson above from the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Don’t put limits on your success, but dream big and follow your vision.

40.“Telling people not what they want to hear but what they need to hear is a key element of being able to lead.” – John Smith

Leadership is not about pleasing others or pretending that everything is fine when the roof is on fire. You have to be willing to tell it like it is, but you have to get your message across positively, not negatively.

41. “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer (Alsatian-German theologian and philosopher)

Schweitzer is convinced that the only strategy for a leader is to lead by example. First, this shows that you have the knowledge and experience to demand the right actions and behaviors. Second, it highlights your ability to understand the experiences of others. You are essentially showing empathy because you are telling them that you know the sacrifice or effort because you have experienced it too.

Picture of Albert Einstein

42. “You have to be very nimble and very open minded. Your success is going to be very dependent on how you adapt.” – Jeremy Stoppelman (business executive)

Leading means change. However, this does not only mean change in terms of implementing your vision, but also in terms of adapting to the constantly changing environment. As a leader, you must be able to adapt your strategy to the situation at hand and be open to new information.

43. “Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.” – Dianne Feinstein (politician)

Feinstein’s quote shows that the one skill you need to invest in if you want to become a better leader is communication. The ability to communicate can be a powerful tool to motivate, inspire and lead others.

44. “Rowing harder doesn’t help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction.” – Kenichi Ohmae (Japanese organizational theorist and management consultant)

Overall, leadership doesn’t work without a proper strategy. You can have the qualities, the skills and the passion, but if you don’t have a plan, you might as well be rowing on dry land.

45. “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.” – Ralph Lauren (fashion designer)

The fashion mogul knows that passion and vision alone are not enough. The leader must show the conviction to implement the plans accordingly. You can’t just dream big, you have to be willing to devote your own energy to turning those dreams into reality.

46. “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” – John Sculley (businessman)

A good visionary leader does not try to improve what exists, but to look beyond the current state of affairs and find new ways of doing things.

47. “It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.” – Peter Senge (systems scientist)

Creating a vision is easy, but creating a vision that brings about positive change and transforms the organization or the people in it into something better can be difficult. Don’t just focus on the plan and how things will get done, but also emphasize the outcome in terms of change and transformation.

48. “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” – George Lucas

All too often, we are reminded to stay realistic and keep our feet on the ground. But sometimes it takes big dreams to move forward. Many of our greatest inventions would not have come about if someone hadn’t had the courage to dream beyond current possibilities.

49. “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray (businessman)

As a leader, you must set the vision and have a clear idea of where you want to go. Otherwise, you are just following someone else’s vision.

50. “Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy (motivational public speaker)

It is possible to spend a lot of time analyzing a problem, mainly because it is easier than discussing how to solve it. Instead of wasting your energy on the problem, spend more time thinking about the different possible solutions.

Brian Tracy

Frequently asked questions about leadership quotes

What is a good leadership quote?

One of the greatest leadership quotes is, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader” by John Quincy Adams.

What is the meaning of leadership quote?

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – General Dwight Eisenhower.

What makes a genuine leader?

The greatest leader constantly reflects on all their decisions and actions. A good leader examines their own strengths and weaknesses without bias and knows exactly who they are and what they are about. They are able to put the mission and goals of the organization above their own self-interest.

Who is a true leader?

A true leader strives to develop their team’s capabilities so they can reach their full potential. They lead by example and build strong, trusting relationships to ensure the success of the team and the entire organization.

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