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Leadership Lessons: Great Leaders’ Words to Live By

Never underestimate the power of an inspirational quote. Overused though they might be, there is a reason that specific words, phrases and sentences endure through the years. They strike a chord, hinting at some larger truth that transcends time and space, providing some context for or validation of one’s personal experience. For young businesspeople, aspiring to become leaders in the workplace, great quotes, and the people behind them, can be a guide, a template, and a mantra.

Leadership Lessons

Nelson Mandela, for example, once declared- “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Too often, I encounter young people paralyzed by a fear of failure. These are smart, ambitious high-achievers, who, for most of their lives have been outstanding goal achievers. When they begin to worry about failure, however, they can be afraid to act or strike out in a new direction. As Mandela so astutely pointed out, fear is a part of progress. True leaders are not those that do not feel fear; they are those that know how to work with it.

Mahatma Gandhi certainly understood the courage of true leadership, evident in perhaps his most famous quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” While that is certainly and profoundly true, I also admire his assertion that, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people”. That thought process illustrates the combination of hard and soft skills that great leaders posses- intelligence and business acumen combined with compassion, thoughtfulness and charisma. In the workplace, this means focusing on people as well as projects and putting as much effort into your relationships as you put into your analysis. If you make that effort, you will surround yourself with opportunities to grow your own leadership and learn from that of others.

I will leave you with two quotes demonstrating that leadership is not a one-time achievement- it is a constant quest. Henry Ford became known for his saying, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” It’s a fitting slogan for a man who revolutionized the manufacturing industry with his efficient, cost-effective assembly line process. In a similar message, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked, “What is adequacy? Adequacy is no standard at all.” Both men knew that true leaders could not be content with the status quo, but must constantly desire improvement. In the workplace, and in the classroom, it is easy to settle into a routine, and to become complacent. Remembering Ford and Churchill’s words, try to avoid such complacency, and constantly ask, “How can I improve this?” “What can I do to help?” “How can I be a leader today?”

I would love to hear some of the words that you live by every day. Do you have particular quotes that you love, or leaders that you admire?

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