What is leadership? ( Top 10 Leadership Quotes, Explained)

What is leadership? That’s one of the most important questions for those who want to become good leaders.

As a leader, you want to make a remarkable impact. You want to do what you’ve not done and to achieve what has not yet been achieved. Leadership is about creating a new reality, a new normal.

One way to understand what it means to lead others is to listen to what leaders say. Discover many definitions from the following leaders.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability of an individual to influence, guide, and enable followers to achieve shared aspirations. The term may also refer to the group of people in charge of managing an organization. Leaders often differ in characteristics, styles, and strategies for leading people. Some leaders are authoritative and others are consultative.

That’s my definition.

Now, find out what others say about leadership.

Quotes About Leadership, Explained

We quote people when what we want to say was expressed clearly and compellingly by someone else. It is an admission that we think the same.

It is also a way of proving that someone else more respected has made the same observation before.

I often quote myself when I answer questions. But there are times when picking one quote from another leader can bring more wisdom to the discussion.

Leadership trainings can help you create limitless possibilities. I recommend you explore the training programs I offer to managers, supervisors, and team leaders.

Here are 20 quotes from leaders.

Jack Welch On Leader’s Job

A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization not as it is but as it should be.

Jack Welch

Jack Welch sees a leader as someone who makes everyone live their dream today. It is simple yet very challenging. It will require you to change your mindset and those of the people you lead. 

You must set expectations right and tell your stories each day.

Often, an organization crafts vision statements that communicate to the employees what the organization wants to be years from now. Unfortunately, most vision statements do not see the light of day.

This quote from Welch gives a clue.

We must make our vision vivid and compelling. It must inspire people to work each day. Each employee must live the dream. 

Do you want to be a champion team?

Then, everyone in your team must think, feel, and live like a champion team. You train as a champion. You work as a champion. You develop skills as a champion.

Every teacher can use this thinking too. Imagine the difference it will make if you teach like the best teachers you know and convince every student of their great potential. We call this the Pygmalion Effect. Science has proven this to be an effect.

Through your stories, you make each student live the vision vicariously. You make it real to them each day. The teacher is the inspirer first, the instructor second.

Managers and supervisors can use the same thinking. When you make people see what you see – and allow them to own it, everyone will behave as if the vision is already here. People will behave differently. And as each day passes, as you build skills, you will see that your vision comes to you.


Leadership paints a vivid picture of tomorrow and makes everyone work as if the vision is already here.

Let’s see how Max DePree defines the leader’s responsibility.

Max DePree on Leader’s First Responsibility

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

To define is to limit. Everyone sees the world differently. Each has a way of seeing reality.

I can see the world using a darker lens. I can see it using a clear one. I can see the world as a terrible place to live, a dog-eat-dog environment. And I can also see it as a land full of promise.

The way you see the world determines your leadership too. You must define your reality and make everyone believe it. 

This reminds me of Jim Collin’s level 5 leaders. They are stubborn. They see a reality that most people don’t. 

They must communicate their realities daily to create them first in people’s minds. 

For example, it isn’t easy to lead a team that does not believe in winning. 

Is there a team like that?

When Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls in 1984, he joined a team that was not used to winning. The team was used to winning less than half of the games they played. Mike, the rookie, cannot win games alone. He won’t be competing against five players from the other team. He will need to push harder so his teammates will also play to win. 

Even a great player like Wilt could not win against the reality of teammates who do not believe in themselves.

A manager cannot make a sales team sell 10x more if they work like they are trying to survive. The leader must find ways to turn a grand idea into a new reality. 

He has to equip them and enable them. He has to serve them. And at the end of the day, he will thank them for doing what they ought to do.

This is what servant leadership is all about.

Dave Barry Describes A Leader

When trouble arises, and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy.

Dave Barry

The leaders who changed the world are deemed unreasonable because they challenged the status quo. Those who are in power, are crazy to believe that they can change what the world deemed to be normal and natural.

I imagine Gandhi believed he could fight the British Empire with Ahimsa (non-violence). The world knows that you have to kill if you want to get a crown or conquer a country. But Gandhi thought differently. And others died embracing that thinking.

You can do that in your organization too. You can streamline a process. You can 10x your revenue. You can serve more customers. But be aware that some underestimate you and think of your dream like sword fighting with windmills. That you are too crazy to think you’ll win.

Leadership is recognizing that there is a problem, that you are part of it, and that you can do about it. Good leaders will find ways to solve the problem – and will only stop once they make change happen.

Marianne Williamson On Why We Must Shine

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Marianne Williamson

A leader who pursues excellence encourages others to do the same. We leaders model the way. Whatever we do is the expression of what we value.

We let our own light shine when we prefer the positives and use our talents and skills. It does not mean being the center of everything in our organization.

This reminds me of Perla who was willing to be vulnerable in order to learn. It was from her that I learned you can always shine wherever you are. And this is great as leaders do not always find themselves in the best circumstances.

Jef Menguin on Building Leaders

Your job isn’t to command people but to bring out the leaders in them so they can make the impossible possible.

Jef Menguin

Kings and generals have the power to command. People follow them because of their authority. And often, that’s because they have shown the ability to lead others.

It was said that Genghis Khan was obeyed because he was feared. He was indeed feared. But he has also inspired many leaders. He was able to sell to them what they can do as leaders.

Nelson Mandela inspired people even in jail. He was able to show people the possibility of freeing oneself without having to kill your enemy. His message was for his people to become leaders themselves. In order for them to free themselves, they must educate themselves too.

Dictators want to command a million minions. True leaders bring out the leaders in us.

Robert M. Pirsig on the Heart of a Leader

The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart, and head, and hands.

Robert M. Pirsig

Leaders need to be matino (sensible) and mahusay (excellent). But above all, the leader must have a heart to serve (may pusong maglingkod).

Unhappy is a nation led by mediocre leaders. But it is a tragedy when leaders do not care for people.

Ralph Nader on Producing More Leaders

I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

Ralph Nader

This quote makes more sense when leaders accept that they are role players. The best among us is the leader who can bring out the best in us.

Moses did not reach the promised land. But because he was able to build leaders, his nation did.

Ertugrul did not see the Ottoman Empire in its greatest glory, the one he imagined. But because he built leaders, it came to be.

Again, dictators want to surround themselves with minions. They killed intellectuals and teachers because they don’t want leaders to appear.

Do you wonder why political dynasties perpetuate in the Philippines? These political families find it against their interest to build leaders who can replace them.

Servant leaders are transformational leaders too. They bring out the best in people and they produce more leaders.

Harry Truman on Moving Forward Alone

To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone.

Harry Truman

As an entrepreneur, I found myself alone in the pursuit of my dreams. Well-intentioned people tried to protect me by discouraging me to move forward.

That’s understandable.

At first, a leader has a vision that only he could see.

Another quote may explain this better.

Nicholas Klein, a trade union activist, said something similar in a 1918 speech, saying, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you,”

Most innovations began as a lonely, uphill battle.

Most revolutions began as a deranged man’s dream.

People will ignore and ridicule you, but you have to keep moving forward for one day they will follow you.

Tony Blair on Saying No

The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes. – Tony Blair

Zhuge Liang on Knowing People

An enlightened ruler does not worry about people not knowing him; he worries about not knowing people. Zhuge Liang

Plus 10 More Leadership Quotes

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

Start where the people are. Be willing to listen to them and discover the change they want to see. Then, encourage them to act. Leadership is about making a difference. – Jef Menguin

One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.- Arnold H. Glasgow

Leaders do not avoid, repress, or deny conflict but rather see it as an opportunity. – Warren Bennis

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. – General Colin Powell

The goal of an effective leader is to recondition your team to be solution-focused rather than problem-focused. – Jim Rohn

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men and to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it. – Theodore Roosevelt

True leadership is stepping up and showing up. – Leni Robredo

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. – George S. Patton

A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd. —Max Lucado

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