Business can be a tough, well, business. There are so many elements that a small business owner grapples with on a regular basis, from trying to make payroll to attempting to compete in a global economy. All these factors can take a toll on entrepreneurs, making the men and women of industry feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders.
So, what's the solution? For business owners, in addition to a padded bottom line, a quick pick-me-up can lift the spirits of executives, managers, supervisors, entry-level clerks and interns. Something inspirational can typically improve the well-being of someone who is trying to bring a product to market, build brand awareness and generate better-than-expected second-quarter revenues.
To give you an idea, we have compiled a list of some of the most inspirational, motivational and even eloquent business leadership quotes ever spoken. Indeed, these nine observations will charge your batteries faster than a fourth cup of coffee.
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.
Speaking in an interview with legendary 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace in 1976, the 'Gipper' was asked about whom the last great American leader was, citing former President Franklin D Roosevelt. He explained that FDR took his case to the American people and encouraged the public to not only have faith in his agenda but also do their part to lift the economy from the ashes of the depression.
This is definitely a leadership lesson for business owners. Unless you choose to adopt an autocratic leadership style – one that requires you to micromanage and wear many hats – your job is to push your employees to bring their human capital to the table and explore new ideas that can benefit the company. For all the applause that CEOs get, it is always the people underneath them who get the job done.
Hire character. Train skill.
They say that the three most essential tools in business are hard work, a little bit of luck and character. Former Porsche CEO Schutz ostensibly agreed with this premise, explaining once in a speech that someone who has a desire to learn, contagious excitement and the will to dedicate himself to the company can be invaluable.
When you come across candidates who genuinely want to commit themselves, then they will learn the tools of the trade more quickly – an asset, rather than a barrier, to entry. Indeed, too many businesses are quick to dismiss applications that don't highlight education, therefore preventing hiring managers from taking the time to assess character. Those that do often find that they have a real gem on their hands.
Leaders aren't born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.
In the modern age, too many people want something for nothing; they want the fruits of success without putting in the hard work, and the world on a string without making any sacrifices. This attitude only breeds contempt for those who have achieved riches through dedication and burning the midnight oil – and it will certainly not create leaders, as former Green Bay Packers coach Lombardi argues here.
In a reported speech to players, the NFL legend was talking about the need to work hard to attain success. Without putting in the time, the sacrifice, the practice and everything else that comes with reaching the pinnacle of – let's say a business – then you will not only fail to achieve a goal, but you will also fail to appropriately, adequately, and successfully lead a group of men and women.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
As with many of Churchill's quotes, there has been some dispute as to the authenticity of this observation. Regardless of who said it, though, it is still a pertinent piece of wisdom because every leader needs to do this from time to time: sit down and listen.
It contradicts the common misconception that every leader needs to quarterback the room, pontificate a hilarious anecdote, or find solutions to the problems of the world. Instead, a good leader should pass on the microphone on occasion, especially when he or she is ignorant on a subject. This is how the pioneers of tomorrow learn: by taking notes, listening to experts and adapting to new environments.
Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.
Too many entrepreneurs fail at one of two things: creating a vision, or seeing it through. As former GE CEO Jack Welch told the Harvard Business Review in 1989, though, you have to do both.
Take Steve Jobs as a prime example. His vision led to a remarkable societal transformation through Apple's smartphone technology, but it wasn't just about seeing the end goal; he was able to convey it accurately to his investors, designers and engineers, and oversee the production line of a tech empire that is now a trillion-dollar enterprise.
Many business owners have a definitive vision of how they want their business to change the world, but successful leaders know how to turn dreams into reality.
Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
Writing in his 1947 memoir, War as I Knew It (and later dramatised in Franklin J Schaffner's eponymous biopic), Patton mused on what he learned from his experiences of leading thousands of men into battle. From a business perspective, perhaps the most valuable take was this: when you give an order, trust your subordinates to see it through.
The bane of any private enterprise's existence is the micromanager, lurking behind an employee's shoulder and monitoring every single task. The business world has learned that this is an ineffective leadership strategy, mainly because people want to apply their skills to the job and meet milestones, complete projects and advance on their ability. After all, if not, then why were they hired?
Of course, strong recruitment is a crucial factor here, but you should always trust your workers to find solutions to what you want to happen. As the former US general observes, when you give people the space to breathe, they will indeed often surprise you with the results.
Make something people want, including making a company that people want to work for.
A company is only as good as its workforce, something that strong leaders – such as Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia – clearly understand. For successful professionals at the top, ruling with an iron fist is an insufficient form of management because it creates a disgruntled and toxic work environment where people get exhausted coming to work.
Eventually, it becomes known across the labour market that this business is unattractive because everyone who works there is miserable. As time goes by, fewer people apply, and more people leave.
By the end of it all, product design and manufacturing become inadequate, and the company loses market share. Why? Because, due to your poor management, the best and brightest have more appealing options in front of them.
You just can't beat the person who never gives up.
Speaking in an interview with the now-defunct Rotarian magazine, baseball legend Babe Ruth observed that never giving up is an essential philosophy for every person. If an individual is determined and believes in whatever it is that they are doing, then you will have a difficult time beating them.
When we talk of leadership, it is usually trying to lead a brigade of people. What about trying to lead yourself, though? This is a crucial question to ask, because without you then there isn't a company at all.
As Bruce Wayne famously learnt in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the reason we fall is to learn to pick ourselves up. If you keep doing this, then your rivals will have a hard time trying to keep you down.
There is no harm in being sometimes wrong – especially if one is promptly found out.
In a perfect world, it is great to be right 100% of the time. However, in the real world, we are often not, although this doesn't necessarily have to be a negative.
Learning from your mistakes is crucial for personal growth and development, whether you are a leader or not. Nobody expects you to be right every moment of the day, or for your company to never make an error, either; to err is human, as the saying goes.
Whenever you next make a monumental error – and in the world of business, it will definitely happen – this is a quote that will lift your spirits.
Being in business has its own intense stresses, but the successes you experience will make you feel like you are on cloud nine. Therefore, it's important under such extremes to remain grounded and self-aware. These quotes are perfect for business leaders to put their tribulations and successes into context, as well as offer practical day-to-day advice. Indeed, if you follow them, then before you know it, you could have your own piece of wisdom to bestow on your generational successors.
In the meantime, for more management guidance and advice, take a look at our breakdown of the best leadership podcasts currently on the market.
What other great business leadership quotes do you live by? Let us know your favourites in the comment section below.
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