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'Walk Behind Them': 18 Quotes About Leadership

Humans evolved as a social species. From an evolutionary perspective, we are better off acting and moving together, whether to hunt, to keep the peace, to teach, or to protect ourselves from threats. Our social groups have always benefited from coordination and collective action, which is easier to achieve with the presence of a strong leader.

Great leaders have emerged throughout history, from Mahatma Gandhi to George Washington, Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, and Nelson Mandela. Regardless of when they lived, they often shared similar characteristics: resilience, confidence, and the ability to clearly communicate their vision. These traits made them effective leaders, able to inspire their followers and create something stronger than the sum of its parts.

Now, perhaps more than ever, strong leadership is increasingly about integrity, accountability, and empathy. It’s also about empowering those who look to you, so that one day they too will be ready to lead. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "To lead people, walk behind them."

The following quotes come from respected leaders in various fields, including civil rights activists, media moguls, politicians, and entrepreneurs.

A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.
— Nelson Mandela

If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.
— Dolly Parton

The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.
— Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame

A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.
— Rosalynn Carter

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.
— Norman Schwarzkopf, United States Army general

Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.
— Oprah Winfrey

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.
— Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker

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.
— Ronald Reagan

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
— Colin Powell

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
— Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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

To be a good leader you have to be a great listener… No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice.
— Richard Branson

The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.
— Sheryl Sandberg, business executive and philanthropist

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.
— Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur

Photo credit: acastillejos/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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