by Steve Adubato, PhD
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Leadership guru Warren Bennis is the author of this powerful quote, which is right on target. Leadership is a lot of things, but if you can’t communicate and translate a vision that you see into a reality that must be executed, your organization will fail.
When I looked at Bennis’ quote, it got me thinking about some of the other great leadership quotes that succinctly, clearly and powerfully say so much in just a few words. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite quotes about leadership that still inspire:
Peter Drucker, who many consider one of the earliest scholars in the field of leadership, says; “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” Drucker has it right. Too many people in leadership positions are afraid to make tough decisions for fear of having team members dislike them, even though they know those decisions are more likely to produce positive results. Further, while great leaders must be superior communicators, this involves much more than making speeches. In fact the best communicators are often engaged listeners who can get to the point succinctly, which is not about speech making.
John Maxwell, the author of “The 21 Laws of Leadership”, says; “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” If your audience doesn’t believe in you as a person, it doesn’t matter how logical or compelling your argument. People follow other people, not simply ideas or messages. This is the human quality of leadership that many people miss.
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority,” so says Kenneth Blanchard, the author of the classic book, “The One Minute Manager”. People often confuse leadership with simply holding a particular organizational position. But real leadership is about getting people to follow you, regardless of where you fit into the organizational chart. There are CEOs that lack real influence while there are other middle managers without any great authority who have tremendous influence. That’s how leadership works in the real world of business.
Eleanor Roosevelt, who clearly had a strong personality as First Lady and was a leader in her own right, once said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Any great leader understands that when you make decisions that affect people’s lives, you are going to catch heat. People will get angry with you. That’s just the way it works, so you might as well do what you think is right, because it will make it a lot easier to live with all the negativity that is bound to come your way.
“You manage things; you lead people”—Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. While I like the quote, I offer this caveat. Sometimes, people do in fact have to be managed. Often people think it is an issue of semantics when it comes to the difference between “leading” and “managing”. It is absolutely essential for great leaders to inspire, motivate, and persuade people to move in a particular direction, yet they must also MANAGE their performance when it falls short of expectations.
We conclude with the late Nelson Mandela, who once said; “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.” Given the extraordinary sacrifice that Mandela made and the price he paid for his leadership, who better to offer these profound words of wisdom?