51 Ways to Define Leadership


The dictionary definition of leadership, whatever dictionary you choose, is rather dry and it doesn’t really cover the scope of what’s expected from a leader. Why? Because we all have our own vision of what leaders are and what they do.

The way you choose to lead your people will be very different from the way your colleague chooses. Some believe leaders carve the way and then let others follow. Others think that leaders determine direction then motivate people to get there. So how could we define leadership? We’ve found 51 quotes from leaders in all fields that explain leadership in their words.

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  1. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” John C Maxwell, Cricket Commentator and Australian Broadcasting Great
  2. “Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.” Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space and Commander of the expedition.
  3. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. “ Peter Drucker, author and management consultant.
  4. “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” Arnold H Glasow, American Businessman and Humorist
  5. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple.
  6. “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 concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Colin Powell, American Statesman and Retired 4 Star General in the United States Army
  7. “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” Ray Kroc, former CEO of McDonald’s
  8. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher and Writer
  9. “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, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and former President of South Africa
  10. “Outstanding leaders go out of their 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
  11. “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.” Harold S Geneen, former President of the ITT Corporation
  12. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” Stephen Covey, author of 7 highly effective habits of highly effective people.
  13. “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France
  14. “Leadership – leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.” Mitt Romney, American Businessman and former Governor of Massachusetts
  15. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight D Eisenhower, former American politician and General
  16. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Max Lucado, Preacher and Author
  17. “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States
  18. “Example is leadership.” Albert Schweitzer, German Physician, Theologian and Philosopher
  19. “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.” Henry A Kissinger, former American Diplomat and Political Scientist
  20. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” Andrew Carnegie, Scottish American Industrialist
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  22. “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.” Henry Ward Beecher, American Social Reformer, Speaker and Clergyman
  23. “Without initiative, leaders are simply workers in leadership positions.” Bo Bennett, Author
  24. “The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang.” Mary Kay Ash, American Businesswoman and Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
  25. “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.” Deepak Chopra, author and spiritualist.
  26. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” Bill Bradley, former US Senator, Rhodes Scholar and Hall of Fame Basketball Player
  27. “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister
  28. “The great leaders have always stage-managed their effects.” Charles De Gaulle, French Statesman
  29. “A leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.” Golda Meir, Israeli Stateswoman and former Prime Minister of Israel
  30. “Leadership does not depend on being right. “ Ivan Illich, Austrian Philosopher and Social Critic
  31. “Leadership consists of picking good men and helping them do their best.” Chester W Nimitz, former Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy
  32. “You have to lead people gently toward what they already know is right.” Phil Crosby, Management Theorist and Businessman
  33. “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian Independence Movement
  34. “Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things.” Jesse Jackson, American Civil Rights Activist
  35. “Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players.” Larry Bird, former American Professional Basketball Player
  36. “Leadership can not be measured in a poll or even in the result of an election. It can only be truly seen with the benefit of time. From the perspective of 20 years, not 20 days.” Marco Rubio, American Politician and Attorney
  37. “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” Tom Peters, Management Guru and Author
  38. “Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” John D Rockefeller, Oil Tycoon and Philanthropist
  39. “Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time.” George W Bush, former President of the United States
  40. “If you command wisely, you’ll be obeyed cheerfully.” Thomas Fuller, English churchman and Historian
  41. “I don’t know any other way to lead but by example.” Don Shula, former American Football Coach and Player
  42. “The very exercise of leadership fosters capacity for it.” Cyril Falls, Military Historian
  43. “Leaders grasp nettles.” David Ogilvy, Marketing Mogul and Businessman
  44. “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.” Robin S Sharma, Canadian Writer and Leadership Developer
  45. “If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates’, then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.” Dee Hock, former CEO of the Visa Credit Card Association
  46. “Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.” Lewis H Lapham, former editor of Harper’s Magazine
  47. “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Theodore Hesburgh, Priest and President of Notre Dame University
  48. “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, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  49. “Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it.” Omar N Bradley, former Army General in the United States Army
  50. “I believe in servant leadership, and the servant always asks, ‘Where am I needed most?’” Mike Pence, Candidate for Vice President of the United States
  51. “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.” Tony Dungy, American Football Player and Coach in the NFLo-LEADER-facebook-e1454367357835
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