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Inspiring Quotes About Leadership From History's Most Beloved Leaders

Re-center yourself with some of history's most moving thoughts about leadership.

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  • Photo Credit: Jehyun Sung / Unsplash

Progress is contingent upon the skills of efficient leaders. Through leadership, great men and women motivate others to support their causes or accomplish a goal which will be to the benefit of all involved. Our history has seen some great leaders fight for equality, freedom, education and peace, which has led to the progression of human society over the years.

Whether you’re on a path towards a great impactful goal, trying to lead a group project at work or keeping an eye on election results, everyone can benefit from the wise words and teachings of great leaders like President Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malala Yousafzai. These quotes about their leadership will guide you through trying days and help you access your own ability to lead.

 Abraham Lincoln 

 “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.” 

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  • Photo Credit: Rob van den Berg via Flickr

During the Civil War, Lincoln’s leadership was paramount in holding his nation together. It takes a leader of true resilience and understanding to bond a frightened people to each other and to their country. Lincoln’s courage, determination, and most importantly, his persistence made him one of the most well-known leaders of all time. 

Like Lincoln, you too must persist in your endeavors. Follow through on that group project you started, fulfill the commitment you initially set out to do. Everyone will see the fruits of our labor, and follow your example with admiration. If you’re struggling in persistence, perhaps inspiration from Lincoln’s life will urge you on in your task. 

Julius Caesar

“No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.”

Easily one of the greatest military and political leaders of all time, Caesar’s accomplishments are reflective of the confidence with which he made his decisions. He led multiple campaigns to victory, reformed the Roman government, and single-handedly lay the foundation for a great and expansive empire.

Related: Germanicus: The Great Military Mind of Ancient Rome

Caesar’s boldness, opportunism and decisiveness ensured success in his planning and strategy. Practicing such bravery and confidence will allow you to be prepared to handle any obstacle that gets placed in your path. Learn all the ways in which Caesar never let his war exploits or political plans fall through in his captivating biography, Caesar, and you’ll be motivated to be a force as unstoppable.

 Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought unceasingly for equal rights for all Americans. He stood against segregation and loyally fought for his beliefs even after numerous racist arrests and attacks on himself, his family and followers during the nonviolent marches and speeches he made in many cities. He challenged authority on controversial issues over history that he knew were wrong and oppressive.

Related: Illuminating Books About the History of Race in America

A good leader is one marked by integrity, courage and a strong sense of right and wrong. Follow in King’s footsteps to leadership by educating yourself on his struggles and methods to overcome them. Always take a stand against something you know is morally and ethically wrong, Learn how King was primed for leadership in this detailed biography, so that you too may lead with justice and indiscriminateness. 

George Washington

“We ought not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”

A visionary and a soldier, George Washington became a Founding Father of the United states, leader of the American Revolution, and the first President of the United States. Immortalized in statues, art, and the U.S. Constitution itself, Washington’s foresight, vision and ability to strategize remain one of the best examples of manifold leadership. 

In a letter to John Armstrong in 1781, Washington urged his friend to learn from their mistakes and continue with vigor their strife to build America into a country of the free. So too must we continually strive to move forward, guided by our past, if we are to see success in our own endeavors. Whether those may be in our career, community or otherwise, learn from his methods in the concisely written biography, George Washington.

 Malala Yousafzai 

“We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”

At age 15, Malala was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism for female education. The attempt received global media coverage and produced an outpouring of anger against the Pakistani Taliban which prohibited girls from attending school. Recalling the traumatic incident, Malala acknowledged the fear she experienced, fear which also solidified her determination that she would not be deterred. In fact, the attempt to silence her message only fueled her activism.

Related: 25 Important Women in History You May Not Have Heard of

Upon recovery, Malala’s advocacy grew into an international movement. She co-founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that fights to ensure 12 years of free, safe, and quality education for every girl, graduated from Oxford college, and became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Malala’s unwavering determination in the face of danger speaks to all leaders, that they must be willing to stand behind their cause, lead by example, and never give up. 

Rosa Parks

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

Sometimes called the "First Lady of Civil Rights" or the "mother of the freedom movement", Rosa Parks was a seamstress who, tired of segregation, went on to make a huge impact in the fight against racism in America. She refused to give up her seat on the ‘white section’ of a bus when the ‘colored section’ was full. Her carefully planned defiance sparked a movement within the black community to boycott the Montgomery buses for over a year, the first major direct action campaign of the post-war civil rights movement. 

Parks's activism and willingness to become a controversial figure led her to become an international icon of resistance to racial segregation, and she went on to collaborate with various civil rights leaders, even winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Rosa Parks is a reminder that a good leader must take risks and stand their ground for what they believe is right, while remaining humble and determined in their integrity and their cause.

Mother Teresa

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

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Praised and admired for her years of charity work, Mother Teresa is a wonderful and selfless world leader to make a role model. Mother Teresa was canonized a Saint of the Roman Catholic church. Her legacy lives on through the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation of nuns which she founded in 1950. The congregation of sisters is active in over 100 countries, running schools, orphanages and homes for the poor and ailing. 

Related: 12 Christian History Books That Every World Scholar Should Read

As a nun and missionary, Mother Teresa did not have much for herself, and lived a life marked by chastity, poverty and selflessness, yet managed to make a large impact in the poorest parts of India and the world. With what little she had, she used to lead. Aspiring leaders should take a page from her book. Know that you have the power to effect change in the world, and others will follow you when you lead by example. It doesn’t matter how big your impact is. You would have made one, and that’s what matters.

Winston Churchill

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

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In his second speech to the British people after taking office, Churchill, faced with the impossible task of defending Britain against Hitler-led soldiers and bombers, declared this timeless sentiment. This British Prime Minister led his country against Nazi Germany in World War II, defeating the enemy through careful planning and his many alliances. 

Churchill’s determination, perseverance and devotion to his goal helped him through a truly dark and terrifying moment in history. His triumph goes to show that you can overcome any challenges you’re facing. With a little determination, and trusted friends to lean on, a good leader can weather any storm. Draw more inspiration from Churchill’s own successes and failures with his own recollections of those chaotic years.


“I will not be triumphed over.”

Despite her ruling abilities being somewhat forgotten by history, Cleopatra was an absolute monarch, ruling over Egypt and other territories as the sole lawmaker of her kingdom. She was the chief religious authority of her realm, oversaw the construction of various temples and was directly involved in the administrative affairs of her domain, tackling crises such as famine and crime. Cleopatra was not a woman who let herself be trifled with. She was determined and unyielding in her rule, and one can draw real resilience and motivation to be a strong force for their cause from her example of leadership.

Mahatma Gandhi

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Integral to India’s freedom struggle against colonial rule, Gandhi’s policy of non-violence and protest through civil disobedience led his country to independence in 1947. In the face of racism, he held strong to his beliefs, demonstrating resilience, motivation, wisdom and had a very people-centered approach. These qualities solidified him as one of the world’s great leaders, as he practiced what he preached and led by example.

Like Gandhi, you can make a difference, however small it may be. Get a group together to clean up a dirty beach, or offer to carpool a bunch of your neighbors to the polling stations. Combine peace with impact as he did, and draw further inspiration from his biography, The Wisdom of Gandhi, a collection of his own words and teachings.