Leaders like a good quote.
The best are often inspired by an event, or a certain period in time, and encapsulate public opinion, and a drive for change. While historians will always argue about the effectiveness of certain figures, their quotes can stand the test of time, and influence society’s next generation of leaders.
Quotes from leaders like Winston Churchill’s still remain relevant today. And even if the political and business landscape has changed, they can be directly linked to problems facing those leading today’s companies.
Let’s examine five of the most interesting:
"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things."
Leaders will always take the limelight. Not only do they take the plaudits when things are going well, but they also answer to the critics if things go down hill.
In business, the greatest leaders are often visionaries. And while they are capable of understanding if an idea could be put into practice, they don’t always claim to understand how it can be made a reality.
Their job, therefore, is to inspire - a quality most great leaders normally have in abundance. Take Steve Jobs. He wasn’t the world’s best designer, nor was he the greatest engineer, but he gave those around him a vision to strive towards.
"The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes."
Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, continues to divide opinion. Some praise his domestic policies, while others call him a warmonger.
This quote, however, is a pertinent reminder of the amount of projects that leaders have to assess. Research commonly claims that innovation can come from anywhere, but saying ‘yes’ to every idea, regardless of how novel it is, isn’t possible. Depending on resources, and the workforce a leader has at their disposal, new ideas for products and processes must be prioritized and tested accordingly.
Saying ‘no’ sometimes is a good idea.
"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."
Despite being over three decades old, Ralph Nader’s words ring truer than ever. Companies want to employ tomorrow’s leaders, and having a leadership structure in place which prohibits their progress will damage future company success. The best leaders impart their knowledge when it’s applicable, and recognize success by handing out more responsibility.
If the leader wants to keep all the power, new ideas won’t be as rounded, and finding a successor will be difficult as the former leader will take considerable tacit knowledge with them.
"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."
Statesman, Colin Powell, spent many years as a general in the United States army. Leadership in real-life warfare situations is about getting a point across as simply as possible. This is clearly of relevance in business.
A vision can be clear in someone’s mind, but if it can’t be communicated it might as well be forgotten. The best leaders communicate their ideas and have solutions to the barriers likely to arise between the here and now and the idea’s completion.
"If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."
Retired Italian-American racing driver, Mario Andretti, is synonymous with speed in American pop-culture.
His words - despite sounding like an innovation cliche - have become increasing applicable to business leaders, as the pace of technological development quickens. The quote, which was presumably referring to the importance of drivers not getting complacent when leading a race, is relevant to business leaders, and provides inspiration when trying to get buy-in for new products and strategies.
Success can be ripped away from companies quickly. And thinking that everything’s under control, as Andretti says, might just be the sign that a company’s beginning to stagnate.