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There’s been a lot written and said about what it means to be a leader and how great leaders succeed.

To give you an idea, we’ve cherry-picked our favorite leadership quotes from leaders past and present that distill the very essence of leadership.

1. “Leadership is an action, not a position.” - Donald Mcgaggon, broadcasting industry executive

2. “You don’t need a title to be a leader” - Unknown

3. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” - Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO and engineer

4. “Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.” - Lisa Cash Hanson, entrepreneur and author

5. “You need a commitment that is long-term and a commitment to leadership because that's the only way you build excellence.” - Azim Premji, businessman, and philanthropist

6. “One of the most important things for any leader is to never let anyone else define who you are. And you define who you are. I never think of myself as being a woman CEO of this company. I think of myself as a steward of a great institution.” - Ginni Rometty, former Executive Chairman of IBM

7. “Leadership is about the team—the culture they keep and embrace, it’s about empathy for your customers, clients, employees and the communities where you do business, it’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons, being confident enough to take risks and responsible enough to think of those who your decisions and risks may affect.” - Kat Cole, COO & President of FOCUS Brands

8. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” - Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone tires

9. “Outstanding leaders go out of the way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” - Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club

10. One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” - Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

11. “Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.” - Richard Branson, founder of Virgin

12. “I think one of the keys to leadership is recognizing that everybody has gifts and talents. A good leader will learn how to harness those gifts toward the same goal.” - Ben Carson, former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

13. “True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” - Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

14. “Leadership is an energy, not a title. Everybody can be a leader in their lives and should be a leader in their lives because when we learn how to lead ourselves, that’s where we really can bring value to ourselves and the rest of the world.” - Ruth Penfold, People, and Talent expert

15. “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” - Peter F. Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author

16. “The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” - John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach

17. “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” - Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple

18. “Leaders don’t force people to follow—they invite them on a journey.” - Charles S. Lauer, author, and businessman

19. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” - Max DePree, founder of Herman Miller

20. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” - Andrew Carnegie, industrialist, and philanthropist

22. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams, former US president

23. “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, activist and former president of South Africa

24. “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.” - Vince Lombardi, former American football coach

25. “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.” - Joanne Ciulla, author, and educator

26. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” - John F. Kennedy, former US president

27. “It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s more than okay to listen to the people you lead – in fact, it’s essential.” - Mary Barra. CEO of General Motors

28. “Clarity affords focus” - Thomas Leonard, personal coaching pioneer

29. “A good leader is able to paint a picture of a vision for the future and then enlist others to go on the journey with her. A truly conscious leader recognizes that it is not about her, but that the team is looking to her for inspiration and direction. Keeping her ego in check is essential.” - Tamra Ryan, CEO of Women’s Bean Project

30. "The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders, and continually develops them." - John Maxwell, businessman, and author

31. "Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 percent of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20 percent leading those with authority over you and 15 percent leading your peers." - Dee Hock, founder of Visa

32. "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing." - Peter F. Drucker, management consultant

33. "You manage things; you lead people." - Grace Murray Hopper, admiral and computer scientist

34. “Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.” - Pete Hoekstra, United States Ambassador to the Netherlands

35. “A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example” - Joe DiMaggio, baseball player, and coach

36. “Brag about what your people and team are doing. Build them up and help them find their voice.” - Stephanie Matthews, Executive Director at Golin

37. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or conclude you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” - Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State

38. "' Restore connection' is not just for devices, it is for people too. If we cannot disconnect, we cannot lead." - Arianna Huffington, businesswoman, and author

39. “The greatest gift of leadership is a boss who wants you to be successful.” - Jon Taffer, entrepreneur

40. “There is little success where there is little laughter.” - Andrew Carnegie, industrialist, and philanthropist

41. "Leadership in my opinion is like being a GPS, being a map, being somebody who can point in the right direction and say, “Okay, this is where we are going. This is the territory that we need to cross and this is a speed we can adopt. And when there are potholes, when there are roadblocks let me know. I will be there to, to help you out, roll up my sleeves and let’s get this done together and let’s get to the destination together.” - Manuj Aggarwal, entrepreneur

42. "A leader is not a title. Sometimes really incredible leaders are ICs (individual contributors) who have a point of view, are really deep in a certain space, or really deep in a niche. And they’re able to inspire others, generate energy, create clarity." - Anthony Clay, entrepreneur

43. "Leadership is helping your team understand exactly where you're going and helping each team member understand their role in the mission." - Sam Chang, CEO of VTMEMBER

44. “Simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god-fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work.” - Marcus Aurelius

45. "What it means to be a leader is that you are putting yourself aside and doing what is necessary for other people to thrive.” - Andy Alsop, President of The Receptionist

46. “Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” - Stephen Covey, global educator and business leader 

47. "The era that we're living in, the role of a leader is to be a servant in service to others. Make sure they have the information they need, the tools they need, the feedback, the direction, and how you can unblock hurdles." - David Hanrahan, HR and business leader.

48. “Power should be reserved for weightlifting and boats, and leadership really involves responsibility. Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems. Effective leadership finds its source in understanding.” - Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines.

49. “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are an excellent leader." - Dolly Parton, musician, and legend

And there you go! Looking at the above we can surmise that successful leaders come across as a humble bunch who live by their principles, practice empathy, and seek to constantly develop themselves as well as others around them. 

Agree with this, have any favorite quotes or leadership insights of your own that you’d like to share? Hit us up in the comments.

For even more insights on leadership, check this list out: 14 Leadership Books For New Leaders To Read

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By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.