Some Leadership Inspiration

Leadership is dynamic and constantly changing. Now, we are living in an era when leadership is becoming more relational, with a stronger focus on people, their diversity and their wellbeing. There are now more and more opportunities for women and marginalized groups to step into their own power as leaders. Having a growth mindset and the belief that leadership is a learnable skill that can be developed provokes a different set of thoughts, actions and results. And with that in mind, I’d like to share with you 10 of my favorite inspirational leadership quotes.


1. “Leadership is an action, not a position.”Donald McGannon (US broadcasting industry executive)

I love this quote for its simplicity. I also love its focus on leadership as something active – it’s something that you do (and are) rather than something you occupy based on position or hierarchy. It implies movement and energy and requires you to behave as a leader and take action.


2. “Leaders come in all types, shapes, sizes, and colors. There is no one look or style. You are unique, and you don’t have to be anyone else but who you are.” – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (co-authors of the award-winning The Leadership Challenge)

This quote resonates with me because it acknowledges the dynamism and diversity inherent in leadership. It speaks to the fact that we can bring in our values, goals, personality, and experiences – everything that makes us uniquely ourselves. We don’t have to conform to any stereotype – we can make our leadership our own. That’s a breath of fresh air and relief for anyone.


3. “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani female education activist and youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate)

I agree. We should all feel able to speak up and be listened to. Moreover, this speaks to leaders representing the voiceless and the disenfranchised; especially in the spirit of social justice – a powerful motivator for leaders who uphold and embody this value. It reminds me of the UN Sustainable Development Group’s ‘Leave No One Behind’ the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As leaders, it’s important to know when to shout, whisper or simply speak with authority and confidence.


4. Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men – the other 999 follow women.”Groucho Marx (actor and comedian)

You just have to smile at this one! However, imagine how different the world would be if it were true… If the leadership of women in the various spaces in which they show up were fully recognized and valued. Let’s make it happen.


5. It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”Nelson Mandela (South African anti-apartheid activist and first president of South Africa)

As a leader, you don’t always have to take centre stage, but there will be times when you have to be more visible. Here, I like to think of leading from the back as giving support and providing a secure base – creating an environment of psychological safety that allows others to step out, to grow and to shine. And in times of trouble or ‘danger’ the leader steps out in front, mobilizing resources, taking responsibility and using all their skills and power to steer the ship (or their leader-ship!) onto a true course again.


6. “Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.” –  Indra Nooyi (Indian-American business executive; former CEO and chairperson of PepsiCo)

What makes a good leader? This reminds me of organizational culture – it can be hard to see but you know it when you experience it – I think the same holds true for leadership. You know a good leader when you see it and experience it. That said, good leaders are more about delivering results – they have the ability to  motivate, inspire, and engage others – to rally others around a shared vision and values to achieve agreed upon goals.


7. “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)

Politics aside, and replacing the stereotypical ‘he’ with ‘she’ or ‘any leader’ – this quote makes good sense. Managers and leaders are there to lead others to succeed. This means bringing out the best in other people, supporting and leading them to achieve great things. It’s a leader who serves, without ego, the people they lead, and the wider community to achieve greatness.


8. “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  (French politician and lawyer, President of the European Central Bank)

We should remember that being a leader is about more than achieving a personal goal. It’s all about the positive effect we have on other people, too. Leadership means being able to provide people with purposeful encouragement, inspiration, motivation and stimulation towards success.


9. “I think the most important thing… is leadership. It’s something that has been lacking in young women and girls for a very long time, not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labeled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity.”  – Zozibini Tunzi (South African model and actress)

This quote just reinforces the fact that our gender should not be a barrier to what we can achieve. We may have been brought up in a paternalistic culture or society that has certain (often, low) expectations of females, but we should not let those stereotypes restrict or dictate our lives. Women are powerful, and given the opportunity – or taking it –  we can unleash our powerful leadership on the world.


10. “True leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”Sheryl Sandberg (billionaire business executive and philanthropist)

I love this quote because it relieves us of the pressure to be perfect. Humans are imperfect beings – and that’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect as a leader, but if you’re not being true to yourself, others will realise that. It causes a disconnect. As a leader, it’s more important to be true to your values, honest and authentic.


This is my list of favorite leadership quotes at this moment in time. As my thinking, development and circumstances change, my favorites will change, too. Just as leading requires you to personally and professionally develop and grow, leadership is constantly evolving, too. Only 100 years ago, leaders were largely seen as authoritative, masculine and paternalistic – but thankfully, times and people change; as does the concept and practice of leadership.

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