Leadership Quotes

This collection of leadership quotes is a great source of inspiration.  If there is a great quote we missed, please add it in the comments below.

Quotations can be a powerful part of your personal leadership development plan. Taking a few quotes from people you admire and spending some time, deeply thinking about them, can help you better understand the mindset behind the leader.  Over the course of a year, you can cover a number of leadership quotes and develop a much better understanding of the person who said it how their perspective applies to your leadership style.

When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
~Margaret Drabble

This quote speaks to the possibilities that exist when you and your team don’t have a bunch of preconceived ideas.  Everyone is limited by what they are sure is possible.  Without those barriers, the glass ceiling goes away.

In matters of style, swim with the current;
In matters of principle, stand like a rock.
~T. Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s gives a strong reminder about when to be flexible and when to stand strong. To often people are rigid on their style and flexible on their principles–the exact opposite of what he recommends.

And when we think we lead, we are most led.
~Lord Byron

Leadership is a give and take process.

The only real training for leadership is leadership.
~Antony Jay

If you want to lead you have to practice leading.  Classroom experience isn’t nearly as valuable as actually leading people and learning from your mistakes.

The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
~Henry Kissinger

Kissinger knew that it was no great feat to get people to do something they had done before.  Real leadership skill is getting them to do something they haven’t ever done or aren’t even sure is possible.

People are more easily led than driven.
~David Harold Fink

This leadership quote is an excellent reminder that leading is different than forcing people to do what you say.

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

This is a reminder to see things from the perspective of the people whose lives we impact–a very important lesson for leaders in any position.

The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.
~Eric Hoffer

This leadership quote addresses the proper balance for a leader between being realistic and being inspiring.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson reminds us to push into new areas and take people where no one has yet been.

The very essence of leadership is its purpose. And the purpose of leadership is to accomplish a task. That is what leadership does–and what it does is more important than what it is or how it works.
~Colonel Dandridge M. Malone

The colonel’s leadership quote shows that leadership needs to be focused on what it accomplishes instead of just being leadership for leadership’s sake.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
~Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln understood human nature and this quote illustrates the fact better than just about anything he ever said.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
~Proverbs 29:18

This is common sense.  If you want to lead, you need to have a vision to show people where you are going.  Still it is amazing how many organizations suffer because their leaders don’t cast a clear vision.

Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.
~Ross Perot

Perot’s quote on leadership is unfortunately the opposite of what gets taught in a lot of management programs.

Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure.
~Admiral Arleigh A. Burke

There is a need for leaders to work with people rather than against them.

Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.
~Sandra Carey

Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.
~Lester R. Bittel

This is really where management and leadership come together.  Just having a vision isn’t enough.  You must have a plan and the ability to execute that plan to succeed.

I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don’t think that’s quite it; it’s more like jazz. There is more improvisation.
~Warren Bennis

This leadership quote reminds us that you can’t just expect to follow some formula and have good results. Inspiring people requires constantly adapting to your environment.

A new leader has to be able to change an organization that is dreamless, soulless and visionless … someone’s got to make a wake up call.
~Warren Bennis

Leading is about inspiring people. Someone coming in to a new position will do well to remember this quote.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.
~Max DePree

People tend to forget that they are nothing without the people who follow.  We must not to take people for granted.

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

Roosevelt had some interesting thoughts on the role openness plays in leadership.

The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.
~Henry Miller

A true leader is following his vision and is more interested in achieving success than being the one who gets all the credit.

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

Many of our great leaders rose up in times of turmoil for this very reason.

The best example of leadership is leadership by example.
~Jerry McClain

This is an excellent reminder that people who say “do as I say, not as I do” are not real leaders.

Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing.
~Mary D. Poole

Leaders need to focus on helping their team succeed instead of trying to control everything.

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.
~Ray Kroc

You can’t be so concerned with others that you neglect to set the bar high for yourself.

To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone.
~Harry Truman

A leader must be committed to the vision–to the point that their desire for results will push them forward even before they have people following.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
~John Quincy Adams

This leadership quote recognizes that leadership is about what you do–not your title or position.

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

This test shows whether or not a leader is trying to develop his team or simply promote his own ends.

Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.
~Albert Schweitzer

Once again, the example a leader set determines the actions of his/her followers.

Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

This is the difference between leading and driving–whether or not someone else has a desire to see the thing done outside a reward or punishment.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
~Stephen R. Covey

This is a nice explanation of the contrast between management and leadership.  For more perspective on management see our list of management quotes.

A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.
~David R. Gergen

Leadership is action, not position.
~Donald H. McGannon

He that cannot obey cannot command.
~Benjamin Franklin

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The led must not be compelled; they must be able to choose their own leader.
~Albert Einstein

Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
~Harold S. Geneen

Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.
~John Maxwell

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
~John Quincy Adams

The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
~Warren Bennis

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.
~Theodore Hesburgh

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

Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.
~Rosabeth Moss Kantor

Good leaders must first become good servants.
~Robert Greenleaf

Humans are ambitious and rational and proud. And we don’t fall in line with people who don’t respect us and who we don’t believe have our best interests at heart. We are willing to follow leaders, but only to the extent that we believe they call on our best, not our worst.
~Rachel Maddow

I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
~Mohandas K. Gandhi

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.
~Kenneth Blanchard

Most important, leaders can conceive and articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations and unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts.
~John Gardner

Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.
~Edwin H. Friedman

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
~Theodore Roosevelt

A leader is a dealer in hope.
~Napoleon Bonaparte

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
~Peter F. Drucker

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
~John F. Kennedy

A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
~Steve Jobs



  1. Nem Singh says

    Leadership is something more than you have the knowledge. Your priciples, your standing on the facts for a long, your natureship, your clerity and your intigrity.
    Nice thoughts and writing on the leadership

  2. Val says

    This is not a quote, really, just a paraphrase of a story illustrating the different between a manager and a leader: Let’s say you go to dinner with a great manager; most likley you come away thinking he is a great man. Yet, if you go to dinner with a great leader, you will come away thinking you are a great person. The difference being, of course, that a great leader makes you feel important, points out your stengths and empowers you… and a manager, not so much.

  3. Viki says

    Have you noticed how many of your quotes on leadership were uttered by MEN? The ratio of male/female leadership quotations is completely out of whack.

  4. says

    Actually I hadn’t noticed. A woman compiled the list for me of the top leadership quotes we could find–gender wasn’t part of the search process. However, wouldn’t you expect the ratio to be at least similar to the ratio of men to women in high profile leadership positions over the last 100 years? I went back and looked based on your comment and I was surprised at how many were actually by women.

    What ratio would you expect?

  5. Chris says

    How does a myrmidon like Rachel Maddow get a quote on leadership? She is sadistically biased and has never led anything other than a low rate radio or tv show. I don’t begrudge her career, but to have anything regarding leadership attributed to her negates the site. Her quote is pure tripe.

  6. Lidia says

    Mark, I agree. I believe the ratio is very fair.

    Thank you for this wonderful collection!

  7. Davin Furtado says

    I can tell you did not learn anything by the quotes listed above – instead of complaining about you, you should change it.
    These quotes were uttered by leaders of the past – how about you become a leader of the future and represent what you seem to feel so passionate about.
    Any one can do it!

  8. Susan Knights says

    In this context gender doesn’t matter. A good leadership quote is a good leadership quote.

  9. Jason says

    Thank you Mark for this list. I grab a few of these every so often to put on the Sergeants white board to inspire.

  10. JUN SEVADERA says

    Thomas Jefferson’s leadership quote is a strong reminder about when to be flexible and when to stand strong. To often people are rigid on their style and flexible on their principles–the exact opposite of what he recommends.

  11. Adarsh Soni says

    There is a need for a ‘CAUSE’ for leadership to emerge. The greater the conviction and commitment to the ‘Cause’ the stronger is the leadership signal and more the number of people impacted by the cause the greater is the following

  12. Sharon Whitehead says

    Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
    ~Harold R. McAlindon

    Did you notice that this quote had two different authors?

  13. Keeva Farr says

    When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
    ~Margaret Drabble
    This is my favorite quote. I did see others that I liked, but this one I believe to more me than any other. By not setting boundaries for one’s self, thee impossible can be accomplished.

  14. Carlos J. Lopez says

    Mark- thanks for the list. I usually quote a different leader every month in my leadership training class announcement. One that I favor that’s not on your list is “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority” by Kenneth Blanchard.

  15. cprohit says

    The job of a Leader is not to pull together teams and followers it is to create more leaders – C.P.Rohit.

  16. Mohd Hashim says

    My favourite quotes in my life

    Leadership is action ,not position
    Nearly all men can stand adversity ,but if you want to test
    A man’s character ,gives him power
    By Abraham Lincoln

    Thanks you

  17. Vanessa Useya says

    I loved Ralph Waldo Emerson`s quote.Really do not always be an imitator of others rather leave a great mark, a legacy for yourself cause not even the sky can limit you because even birds fly above the sky!


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