If the display of leadership entails personally authentic behavior that inspires others to opine or act a certain way, then what comes out of a leader’s mouth is equally impactful.
When it comes to inspiration, leaders have a profound impact upon their followers through their words, colloquialisms, and figures of speech. After all, what a leader says (or doesn’t say) and how he or she says it may be the first and only time some people hear that leader speak.
Many leadership quotes come from famous leaders throughout history; quotes from people who made historical impacts out of a position of status or an act of valor. No matter the compulsion of the moment, what transpires from such circumstances is what gets heralded as greatness — or a lack thereof.
While the famous leadership quotes that everybody knows, such as Vince Lombardi or Winston Churchill, are inspiring, so too are the lesser known sayings; the quotes that fly “beneath the radar” that people either haven’t heard but nonetheless cause you to briefly ponder their worth in a moment of self-reflection and renewal.
No matter your interest for inspiration, below are nine leadership quotes that inspire:
1. “Behind every fear is a person you want to be.” — Unknown
Nothing forces fear. Fear is created through self-imposition; from the personal unwillingness to address anxiety head-on, smack it in the face, and say, “You don’t belong here.” Managing fear is therefore a matter of managing your perspective(s), because oftentimes how you see the problem is the problem.
2. “Unless you know the road you’ve come from, you cannot know where you are going” — African proverb
While I’m not a big believer that the past dictates the future, the personal experiences, destinations traveled and the relationships built over the years certainly contribute to the people we are today. Past experiences also help us develop context, which is the ability to recognize patterns, similarities and incongruences across diverse circumstances that enables faster decision-making.
3. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
I don’t know who gave the uninvited guest Murphy (of Murphy’s Law infamy) a vote, but he always seems to have a say. Always. No matter how much time and effort you put into analysis and predictability, what is expected to happen rarely is what actually occurs.
There are two routes to take from such inevitable uncertainty. The first is to adapt, and you do that by planning — always having a contingency plan in place so that when the unexpected does arise, you, your team and organization immediately know how to react. By planning, you’re also predicting the likely and unlikely courses of action which allows you to move (i.e. adapt) faster because your brain has already visualized it (more on visualization here).
Always have a contingency plan in place so that when the unexpected does arise, you, your team and organization immediately know how to react.
The second is to learn from it. You can’t adapt when you don’t know what to adapt to, how to do it, or why adapting is important.In the military, we conducted after action reviews as a way to build shared context across the team so that everybody knew what was supposed to happen (on a mission or training event), what actually happened and what caused the difference. Understanding the why behind the intended results and actual results is where significant learning lessons occur.
4. “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.” ~Unknown
There is no quick fix for improvement; no special exercise that suddenly “unlocks” potential and releases you into the wild. If you want to build better habits, to break through personal or professional barriers or to achieve a new level of performance, you must be willing to forego the old and adopt the new. Not sure how to do this? See the first quote on fear.
5. “In the face of adversity, be grateful, for such opportunities do not come by often.” — Buddha
The impetus to change is an opportunity to learn. Take every test that comes across your plate as a challenge to your untested pride, and leverage it as an opportunity to prove it wrong.
6. “When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Competition waits for no one. Maximize your time today such that your value proposition tomorrow will be both effective and efficient.
7. “There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.” — Henri Frederic Amiel
The habit of humility is not a commonly discussed leadership trait. Instead, humility is oftentimes considered submissive and therefore self-limiting. However, by holding yourself in such high regard, you leave little room to esteem others, which is detrimental to long-lasting relationships. Nobody does anything in this world alone.
8. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”- Carl Jung, M.D.
Whenever you get the itch to cast the light on others’ “fallacies,” ask why. Continue asking yourself why — while also providing answers — over, and over and over, just like you did when you were three years old. Iterating the same mental curiosity helps excavate hidden assumptions or beliefs that may exist below the surface. Repeat this cycle until you unearth the personal motivation or value that caused you to prejudge or make snap comments.
9. “Within five years, if you’re in the same business you are in now, you’re going to be out of business.” -Peter Drucker
You didn’t really think there’d be an article on leadership quotes without citing Peter Drucker, did you? Change is constant. Progress isn’t. If you don’t bridge the gap between today’s action and tomorrow’s intent — where you are as a person or a company relative to where you wantto be — then you vacillate in the unknown space between relevance and obsolescence. Anticipate and act, for opportunity doesn’t knock twice.
Everybody likes a good inspirational quote now and then to get the motivational juices flowing. Whether you’re a proclaimed “leader” or not, a good quote can help move the needle from inaction to action in times of change or difficulty by serving as emotional touchpoints that lead to greater introspection — and inspiration.
Jeff is a leadership team coach, author of Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations, former Navy SEAL, and host of the weekly podcast Shut Up And Show Up: Forging Elite Teams.