To be the best, you must learn from the best. This is especially relevant when we consider leadership. To paraphrase Ray Kroc—the businessman who built McDonald’s into the most successful fast food corporation in the world—the quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set. Sure, standards may refer to training, development, and other tangible experiences. But they also refer to the many teachings, writings, and musings found throughout history.
Modeling behavior on the thoughts, quotes, and philosophies of progressive thinkers can help individuals better construct and refine their personal leadership styles.
Here are five leadership quotes that your business should embrace.
1. “The duty of a leader is to create an organization where it is easy to practice kindness.” – Kim Cameron
Educator and author Kim Cameron has been credited as one of the founders of positive organizational scholarship (POS). In books such as Positive Leadership, he analyzes the social constructs, values, and processes that contribute to an organization’s success. POS, which was named one of Harvard Business Review’s “Breakthrough Ideas for 2004,” measures the results of being good and practicing kindness.
Cameron posits that an organization that practices kindness is more successful over time because it increases positive emotions and well-being, which, in turn, improve relationships and amplify employees’ abilities and creativity. Kindness also fights against negative experiences such as stress and improves employees’ abilities to respond to challenges. Finally, it attracts employees and makes them more loyal to leadership. By practicing kindness, leaders can drive real results in a natural, positive way.
2. "Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work." – Seth Godin
Seth Godin, best-selling author and former tech executive, is one of today’s most recognizable thought leaders (he’s the guy with the yellow glasses!). At its core, this quote explains how leaders must empower others to think on their own. Providing your team with autonomy can increase motivation and loyalty. And it’s up to managers to establish strategic direction, deadlines, and benchmarks—and then allow their employees to determine how to move forward.
In the context of this quote, autonomy can be considered the opposite of micromanagement. This coincides with the notion that self-chosen goals create a special kind of motivation called intrinsic motivation—or the desire to do something for its own sake. Intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual out of will and interest for the activity at hand. And as Godin suggests, empowering individuals to set their own objectives results in goals that they care about accomplishing.
3. “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
Margaret J. Wheatley is a respected American writer and management consultant who studies organizational behavior. Her book Leadership and the New Science, which has been lauded as “one of the top ten business books of all time,” is an influential guide that applies new science to organizations and management. In it, Wheatley describes how science can guide and alter our understanding of the world—and our perception of leadership.
As this quote illustrates, Wheatley claims that relationships are an integral component of leadership. Wheatley uses science to illustrate how life is a vast web of interconnections and how relationships emerge from these connections. She references how new understandings of change and disorder have emerged from the chaos theory—and how order and chaos now represent a larger relationship. “Without the partnering of these two great forces, no change or progress is possible,” says Wheatley. Instead, “chaos is necessary to new creative ordering.” For Wheatley, the ideas of chaos and change illustrate progress. And leadership must be built the patterns and relationships that science helps illustrate.
4. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
Often referred to as “the father of modern management,” Peter Drucker is an influential management consultant, educator, and author whose teachings remain relevant today. By juxtaposing the concepts of “management” and “leadership,” quotes from Drucker reference both a dichotomy and a similarity between the two ideas.
Management often requires individuals to play by the book. To rise to the top, prospects must possess specific skills to produce established results, such as hitting an established quota or revenue mark. However, the difference between a manager and a leader is that the former have people work for them, while the latter have people who follow them. Admittedly, a successful leader must possess management skills, such as the ability to direct and execute, but leaders must possess characteristics such as honesty, vision, and inspiration to challenge the status quo and truly innovate.
5. “Moral authority is another way to define servant leadership because it represents a reciprocal choice between leader and follower. If the leader is principle centered, he or she will develop moral authority. If the follower is principle centered, he or she will follow the leader. In this sense, both leaders and followers are followers. Why? They follow truth. They follow natural law. They follow principles. They follow a common, agreed-upon vision. They share values. They grow to trust one another.” – Robert Greenleaf
Servant leadership is an approach to leadership that puts employees, customers, and community first and distributes the wealth of power across an entire organization. Coined by Robert Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive and influential founder of the modern servant leadership movement, servant leadership emphasizes trust, collaboration, and active listening. And while Greenleaf’s first essay was published in the 1970s, his ideas still ring true today.
In 2015, the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a servant leadership study of nearly 1,000 employees at Jason’s Deli restaurants in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas. The research found that when organizations leverage servant leadership, job performance increased by 6 percent, customer service increased by 8 percent, and employee retention increased by 50 percent. As leadership quotes from Greenleaf show, servant leaders encourage growth by unlocking purpose in their employees. And they put the needs of their followers ahead of their own to make sure they have the tools to accomplish their mission.