100 quotes for leadership inspiration

From sense of urgency and patience to adaption and learning from failure. A fast way to become a better leader is to learn from others. Leadership books can be immensely inspiring. True wisdom stemming from decades of doing and thinking can often be elegantly expressed in a short quote. Here is the School of Herring selection of 100 leadership quotes.

As you open your mind for advice and for exploring the deeper meaning of a quote, get ready for contrasts. There is a yin and yang in everything.


“Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.” – George Santayana

The list below includes statements that contradict each other. That’s one reason why they are so inspiring. Each quote was absolutely true for the one who coined it. For you, these quotes may be true or they may not. If they test your conviction, they are doing their job.

“The sum of all startup advice you’ll ever read or get will amount to you being wrong on everything. This is why conviction matters.” – Aaron Levie


Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker


The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. — Michael E. Porter

Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. — Peter Drucker

Eighty percent of success is showing up. – Woody Allen

Being a leader

A leader must have the courage to act against an expert’s advice. — James Callighan

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.— Harvey S. Firestone

Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker

Audacity beats predictability over the long haul. — Clay Shirky

Create your future from your future, not your past. — Werner Erhard

Leading people

Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. — Tom Peters

Management, is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. — Peter Drucker

Treat issues coldly and people warmly. — Anonymous

Managers lead everyone the same – leaders lead everyone differently. @JohnCMaxwell

If I take man as he is, I make him worse; if I take him as he ought to be, I make him become what he can be. — Viktor Frankl

If you have a yes man working for you, one of you is redundant. — Barry Rand

Correction does much, but encouragement does more. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

No matter how small, acknowledge the achievement. — Greg Henry Quinn

If you measure me in an illogical way, do not complain about illogical behavior. — Eli Goldratt

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots. — Frank A. Clark


If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. — African saying

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships. — Michael Jordan

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. — Henry Ford

A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players. — Steve Jobs

Working together always works. It always works. — Alan Mulally

Communities based on merit and passion are rare, and the people who have been in them never forget them. – Warren Bennis

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. — Mahatma Gandhi

Strength lies in differences, not in similarities. — Stephen Covey

Organizational malaise

Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership. – Peter Drucker

There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all. – Peter Drucker

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work. – Peter Drucker

People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. – Peter Drucker

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it. –Chinese Proverb

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell. — Harry S Truman

Managing change

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.

Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. — George Bernard Shaw

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. — George Bernard Shaw

We must be the change we wish to see in the world. — Gandhi

The dangers in life are infinite, and among them is safety. — Goethe

Fear doesn’t drive change – but it does perpetuate mediocrity. — Jim Collins

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have — and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up. — James Belasco

If we don’t change our direction we’re likely to end up where we’re headed. — Chinese proverb

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction. — Picasso

No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back. — Turkish proverb

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. — Peter Drucker

Resistance to innovation is driven, not by ignorant masses, but by professionals with vested interest in tradition. — Arthur Koestler

You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into. — Mark Twain

Doing despite hardship

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. — Seneca

A diamond is just a piece of coal that did well under pressure.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. — Henry Ford

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. — Michelangelo

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. — Vaclav Havel

You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. — Admiral Jim Stockdale (Vietnam POW )

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. — Oscar Wilde

Consult not your fears, but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed at, but with what is still possible for you to do. — Pope John XXIII, 1958-1963

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. — Winston Churchill

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. — Wayne Gretzky

Today’s tough times are tomorrow’s good old days.

Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. — Henry Ford

Optimism is a force multiplier. — Colin Powell

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. — Winston Churchill

Sense of urgency and patience

To achieve success: start before you feel ready.

Success requires both urgency and patience. Be urgent about making the effort, and patient about seeing the results.

A good solution applied with vigor is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes late. — General George S. Patton

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. — Abraham Lincoln

In skating over thin ice our safety is our speed. —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

A prototype is worth a thousand meetings. — Mike Davidson

By the time you’ve arrived at the *perfect* solution, usually the problem has already changed. — Jessie Shefrin

No thing great is created suddenly. — Epictetus

Only bad things happen quickly. — Gordon Livingston

Done is better than perfect. — Mark Zuckerberg

Adaptation and learning from failure

Failure is success if we learn from it. — Malcom S. Forbes

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. — Colin Powell

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. — Bill Gates

Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success. — Dale Carnegie

It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one more responsive to change. — Charles Darwin

You can never fail in anything you try to do. You can only produce certain results. — Wayne Dyer

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. — Dwight Eisenhower

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. — Bill Gates

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. — Mark Twain

Try a lot of stuff and keep what works. — Jim Collins

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. — Winston Churchill

When you lose, don’t lose the lesson. —  Dalai Lama

Future and disruption

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. — Mahatma Gandhi

An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. — Victor Hugo

In general people exaggerate the short-run impact of technological change and underestimate the long-run impact. — Arthur C. Clarke

I never predict, I just look out the window and see what’s visible — but not yet seen. — Peter Drucker

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. — William Gibson

Skate to where the puck is going to be. — Wayne Gretzky

Excellence and focus

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change. — Tom Peters

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. — Steve Jobs

The secret of success is to do common things uncommonly well. — John Davidson Rockefeller, Sr

Learn to say no to the good so you can say yes to the best. — John C. Maxwell

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. — Jim Barksdale (originally Steven Covey?)

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

Innovation, design and simplicity

Innovation is a change that creates a new dimension of performance. — Peter Drucker

Want to increase innovation? Lower the cost of failure. — Joi Ito

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. — Albert Einstein

Perfection in design is not achieved when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. — Attributed variously to both Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

All good ideas must die so that great ideas might live.

If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. — Linus Pauling

Startup life

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. — Howard Stevenson

As a startup CEO I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried. – Ben Horowitz

A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. – Steve Blank

Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises. — Demosthenes


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