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10 Inspiring Leadership Quotes

The world of work is changing and soon we will have five generations in the workforce.  Younger generations refuse to accept the “command and control” leadership models of the past.  They want to do work that has meaning and provides value to the world at large.  They want more than just a pay cheque, unlike baby boomers and the generations before them. 

The most celebrated and successful CEOs know that being a leader is an honour for them, not for the employees they lead.  They have also figured out that the best workplaces make work meaningful.

So it seems wise to draw upon their collective wisdom on leadership and why it matters to companies (and the world).  The theme running through most of these quotes about leadership are the benefits of collaborating, respect for the individual, open communication, providing training for employees and alignment to a noble purpose.

 Leadership Quotes

“If we can compress that space where there seems to be this need for, I’m up here, you’re down there, if we can just evaporate all of that into we, instead of you and me, I think there’s no telling what you can unleash in the force of humanity by tapping into people’s desires. Everybody wants to be a winner. Every one of us wants to have nice things said about us. Every one of us wants to go home and say “I did it.” The challenge to us as leaders is to help people achieve those goals.”

Ken Langone, Cofounder of Home Depot

“The company is one of the most amazing inventions of humans, this abstract construct that’s incredibly powerful.  Even so, for me, it’s about the products.  It’s about working together with really fun, smart, creative people and making wonderful things.  It’s not about the money.  What a company is, then, is a group of people who can make more than just the big thing.  It’s a talent, it’s a capability, it’s a culture, it’s a point of view, and it’s a way of working together to make the next thing, and the next one, and the next one.”

Steve Jobs, Cofounder Apple and previous CEO (excerpt from Becoming Steve Jobs)

“My job is to set the vision and strategy for the company, to develop, retain and recruit the leadership team to implement the vision and strategy, and to drive the culture.  Didn’t realise how important that was 20 years ago (driving culture). Then, communicate all of that above and walk the talk.  Where companies fail?   They miss market transitions, keep doing the wrong thing for too long and fail to reinvent themselves as leaders or within the company.”

John Chambers, CEO, Cisco (interview for Fortune magazine)

“When women are involved women think about the children, the older people, the whole community, whereas the men think mostly for themselves. That’s women’s empowerment in a nutshell.  It’s an unusual thing for a banking CEO to talk about but it goes to a fundamental belief in the power of people to make a difference, respect for individuals, genuinely wanting the best for each person at every level.  It implies a capability to listen, to walk in others’ shoes; definitely not quick to judge, definitely not selfish, definitely not arrogant, definitely not all-knowing, it implies a self-awareness so that you can understand your impact on others.  There is nothing soft about this… It’s a very intensive style of leadership, a human style of leadership and it absolutely works.”

Gail Kelly, Former Westpac CEO (interview in The Australian)

“Steve (Jobs) didn’t get married to any one position, one view.  He was married to the philosophy, the values.  The fact that we want to really change the world remains the same.  This is the macro point.  This is the reason we come to work every day.  You want a very diverse group with very different life experiences looking at every problem.  But you also want people to buy into the philosophy, not just buy in, but to deeply believe in it.  Ultimately, though, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone.  Not only the CEO, but the leaders across the company  If you select them so carefully that they hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

“One of the hard things for a CEO in a big company is how to know the truth.  I think about that a lot.  One of the best ways I do it is, I talk a lot with staff and I talk a lot to customers.  I try to get right down into the layers of an organisation and hear from people about what’s on their mind.”

Andrew Thorburn, CEO, NAB

“A CEO’s job is to continually find ways of getting other people to do their best work in service of a shared goal.  To accomplish that, you must be available.  I’m an introvert and talking to other people all the time is exhausting for me.  I prefer long stretches of intense work and focus, but being CEO means being constantly interrupted and thrown into some other challenge.  So the decision to make myself available in the lunch area came from realising that I’m ready distracted all the time time.  The additional distraction of people asking me questions isn’t going to be that costly to me.  And it’s going to be valuable to them.”

Max Levchin, CEO Affirm and Cofounder Paypal

“Getting big can cause you to be out of touch with the reality of how your employees feel or customers feel or how your product is faring. Growth is good, but not everything grows equally. If you don’t focus on the skills and abilities of your team, then you may be growing a bigger set of problems.  Have to accept the need to delegate more responsibilities and find and develop talent – managers who can contribute to the company’s ongoing growth without the owner’s daily supervision.  It’s liberating to not be the person who has the answer for everything and giving managers ore authority over daily operations creates more time to focus on strategy.  The more stores we have, the more money we can pay our support staff and they can do a better job in helping us run the business, while we focus on growth.”

Wayne Whelan, CEO, Therapy Store

“People are driven by an enormous level of energy if the purpose is high. People really want to make a bigger difference in life than just growing market share or improving profits. We’re showing that you can do that while at the same time satisfying your shareholders.”

Unilever, CEO, Paul Polman

“To succeed companies will need more than just diverse workforces – they will depend on leaders who build inclusive cultures to take advantage of group intelligence. Identifying new opportunities , making robust predictions and solving complex problems will only be possible if leaders embrace diverse points of view.”

Excerpt from – Fast Forward: Leading in a Brave New World of Diversity, Deloitte

What are your favourite leadership quotes that point to a brave new world?