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Leadership Quotes


Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Peter F. Drucker


The question, 'Who ought to be boss?', is like asking, 'Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?' Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.

Henry Ford


Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

George S. Patton



Adlai Stevenson: It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.


Al Gini: The term power comes from the Latin posse: to do, to be able, to change, to influence or effect. To have power is to possess the capacity to control or direct change. All forms of leadership must make use of power. The central issue of power in leadership is not Will it be used? But rather Will it be used wisely and well?


Albert Einstein: Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.


Barack Obama: I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.


Carl Sagan: 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.


Don Marquis: If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you. If you really make them think, they'll hate you.


Dwight D. Eisenhower: You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership.


Edwin H. Friedman: 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.


Elizabeth Dole: What you always do before you make a decision is consult. The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it.


Eric Hoffer: In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.


It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead -- and find no one there.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.



If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

The Bible


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 man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.

James Crook


Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

St. Augustine


Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

Dwight Eisenhower


People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed, but people must be led.

H. Ross Perot


A leader is a dealer in hope.

Napoleon Bonaparte


Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower


Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

Lewis Grizzard


Ernest Becker: It is not so much that man is a herd animal, said Freud, but that he is a horde animal led by a chief.


Eugene V. Debs: I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses -- you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.


Everett Dirksen: I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.


Faye Wattleton: The only safe ship in a storm is leadership.


Faye Wattleton:  Whoever is providing leadership needs to be as fresh and thoughtful and reflective as possible to make the very best fight.


H. Ross Perot: Inventories can be managed, but people must be led.


Henrik Ibsen: A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.


Herbert B. Swope: I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: which is: Try to please everybody.


Isaac Newton: If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants.


James Callaghan: A leader must have the courage to act against an expert's advice.


James Kouzes and Barry Posner: There's nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can't clearly articulate why we're doing what we're doing.


James Kouzes and Barry Posner: You must unite your constituents around a common cause and connect with them as human beings.


James MacGregor Burns: Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.


Jawaharlal Nehru: A leader or a man of action in a crisis almost always acts subconsciously and then thinks of the reasons for his action.


Jesse Jackson: Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things.


John Gardner: Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.


John Gardner: 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 Naisbitt: Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it.


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


Joseph Rost: In leadership writ large, mutually agreed upon purposes help people achieve consensus, assume responsibility, work for the common good, and build community.


I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?

Benjamin Disraeli


The leadership instinct you are born with is the backbone. You develop the funny bone and the wishbone that go with it.

Elaine Agather


Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.

Robert Half


Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men -- the other 999 follow women.

Groucho Marx

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.

Theodore M. Hesburgh

Rachel Maddow: 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.

Ralph Nader: I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

Robert Coles: Abraham Lincoln did not go to Gettysburg having commissioned a poll to find out what would sell in Gettysburg. There were no people with percentages for him, cautioning him about this group or that group or what they found in exit polls a year earlier. When will we have the courage of Lincoln?

Robert Greenleaf: Good leaders must first become good servants.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspiration with others.

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

Rosalynn Carter: 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.

Stephen Covey: Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.

Susan B. Anthony: 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.

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

Thich Nhat Hanh: You who are journalists, writers, citizens, you have the right and duty to say to those you have elected that they must practice mindfulness, calm and deep listening, and loving speech. This is universal thing, taught by all religions.

Tom Peters: If you're not confused, you're not paying attention.

Tony Blair: The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.

Unknown: Some leaders are born women.

Vince Lombardi: Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.

Walter Lippman: The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.

Walter Wink: South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu walked by a construction site on a temporary sidewalk the width of one person. A white man appeared at the other end, recognized Tutu, and said, "I don't make way for gorillas." At which Tutu stepped aside, made a deep sweeping gesture, and said, "Ah, yes, but I do."

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

Warren Bennis: The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

Warren G. Bennis: The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born -- that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.

Winston Churchill: The price of greatness is responsibility.

Margaret Chase Smith:  Leadership is not manifested by coercion, even against the resented. Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any means and any measures.

Margaret J. Wheatley: When leaders take back power, when they act as heroes and saviors, they end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and deeply stressed.

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

Noam Chomsky: It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.

Peter Drucker: The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

Peter Drucker: What is the manager's job? It is to direct the resources and the efforts of the business toward opportunities for economically significant results. This sounds trite -- and it is. But every analysis of actual allocation of resources and efforts in business that I have ever seen or made showed clearly that the bulk of time, work, attention, and money first goes to problems rather than to opportunities, and, secondly, to areas where even extraordinarily successful performance will have minimal impact on results.

Peter F. Drucker: Leaders shouldn't attach moral significance to their ideas: Do that, and you can't compromise.

Peter Senge: Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static "snapshots." It is a set of general principles -- distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management.... During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility -- for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.

Plato: A tyrant is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.


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© 2008 Paul Kavanagh. All rights reserved.