10 Powerful Quotes for Your Leadership Toolbox

You probably have some favorite quotes as a leader. So do I.

This is not an all-time-top-10-list kind of article. Instead, this is a collection of 10 mostly lesser-known quotes that I hope can help you and your team think differently about relationships, life, hustle, meaning, self-care and more.

Sometimes leaders can encapsulate an idea so beautifully in a sentence or two, that I usually memorize them as a kind of shorthand for what I feel I should do in a particular situation that the quote addresses.

Like have some empathy, for the first quote. Or on decision-making, for the fourth quote below. Or when I need to redeem some pain as in the quote nine.

Hope these help you think even slightly differently about the issues you face in life and leadership.

10 Powerful Quotes for Your Leadership Toolbox

  1. You can’t expect to get something out of someone that was never put in them. —Sam Collier

I heard Sam Collier, best-selling author and now the lead pastor of Hillsong Atlanta, say this a few years ago when we were speaking together at an event.

It really hit me. Too often in leadership I can have super high expectations of people that end up helping no one in the end.

The idea behind the quote is to look beyond someone’s presenting behaviour to their origin story. If you never felt loved as a child, for example, it might be hard to show love to people around you as an adult. If you’ve never been treated kindly, you might think everyone’s out to get you.

What I love about Sam’s insight is it moves me closer to empathy, not judgment.

You can’t expect to get something out of someone that was never put in them. Indeed. Thanks Sam.

  1. Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. Jerzy Gregorek

Picked this up from weightlifting champ Jerzy Gregorek via the Tim Ferriss Show a few years ago. It’s so true.

From diet, to exercise, to relationships, to leadership, what’s easy now often creates hardship later, and what’s hard now often makes life easier later.

It’s more difficult to admit you’re wrong, to confront a low-performing team member, to love in the face of hate, to save rather than to spend, to run the extra mile rather than grab the extra donut.

Easy choice, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.

  1. Be as good a friend to yourself as you are to everyone else. —Annie F. Downs

As hard as some of these quotes might be on you as a leader, this is a timely reminder from Annie F. Downs to not make leadership harder than it needs to be.

Often you and I are quick to tell a friend to relax, but we never give ourselves a break.

Think about it this way: if you were your friend, what would you tell yourself to do?

Now go do it.

  1. If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no. —Greg McKeown

So be kind to yourself, but now back into some more hard-hitting truth. Take this quote seriously, though, and you’ll have more time to be kind to yourself.

Greg McKeown has helped me so much over the last few years refine my thinking and habits around time management (you can listen to my most recent conversation with him here).

Ever struggle with saying no? Me too.

Enter some clarity from Greg: If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a no.

Of all the ideas in his first book, Essentialism, this one hit me hardest.

Drilling down further, Greg says:

“As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0% and 100%. If you rate it any lower than 90%, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it.”

This gives a whole new application to “good is the enemy of great.” If it’s not a 90, it’s a zero.


  1. Your irresponsibility eventually becomes someone else’s responsibility. Andy Stanley

I don’t exactly know what to do with this idea from Andy Stanley except I’ve found it tremendously comforting in clarifying what’s really going on.

Often as a leader, you end up picking up the pieces when other people let you or the team down. In a nutshell, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. Or, sometimes, they were just irresponsible.

Cue the quote: Your irresponsibility eventually becomes someone else’s responsibility. So that’s what I’m dealing with. 

Knowing that’s what happened both helps me understand what I’m dealing with and motivates me to not leave a mess that someone else has to clean up later. Because my irresponsibility eventually becomes someone else’s responsibility too.

  1. One of the best strategies we could find to actually identify future leaders is for me not to be in the room. Danielle Strickland

This sound irresponsible, but it’s actually the opposite.

Danielle Strickland is a leader who amazes me on so many levels. Not only is she one of the best communicators I’ve ever heard, she’s always starting some new charity or initiative to relieve human suffering.

How does she develop all the leaders she needs to run the myriad of things she’s started, I asked her one day.

“One of the best strategies we could find to actually identify future leaders is for me not to be in the room,” she deadpanned.

I’ve never forgotten.

If you want to grow, you’ve got to let go.

  1. The easy thing is to stay home. The easy thing to do is abdicate. —Seth Godin

Ah … Seth Godin. One of my faves.

He has a million quotables, but this is one of his lesser-knowns. It came up on his podcast, something he said that made me stop, rewind, listen again, and then write down what he said.

Let me give you the full quote:

“The easy thing is to stay home. The easy thing to do is abdicate, to let other people do something, and then blame them when it doesn’t match your agenda.”

This quote was clarifying to me because it is so much of what I see in our culture right now: people who do nothing but complain about everything.

Which, on my bad days, makes me wonder why I do what I do. And probably makes you wonder why you do what you do.

And it affirms that what you’re doing is the hard thing: you’re doing something! The easy thing? That’s the critic’s lazy trade.

By the way, history rarely remembers the critics. It remembers the contributors. So contribute.

  1. Who am I becoming by what I’m doing? —Jon Tyson

Sometimes a great question is all you need.

In a recent conversation with NYC author and pastor Jon Tyson, he encouraged leaders to ask this question: Who am I becoming by what I’m doing?

After all, you become what you repeatedly do. If you don’t like what you’re becoming, change what you’re doing.

  1. Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a void. —Jerry Seinfeld

This was another stop-the-podcast-and-rewind moment as I listened to Tim Ferriss interview the legendary Jerry Seinfeld.

You probably hate pain. Same.

And yet it’s been one of my greatest teachers in life and leadership.

Jerry put it this way.

“Pain is knowledge rushing to fill the body. You don’t know that the post of your bed was not where you thought it was, but when your foot hits it, that knowledge is going to come rushing in really fast, and it’s going to really hurt when your foot hits that post, because that was a piece of knowledge that you didn’t have, that you’re going to get, you’re about to get.”


I texted this quote to a friend after listening to the podcast and he shoots back 

“You listened to a long interview with Jerry Seinfeld and this is your takeaway?”

He’s such a good friend.

I guess I’ve learned a lot through pain.

  1. Success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Okay, this quote ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites.

If you know anything about the Second World War, you know how precariously freedom hung in the balance. The Nazis were all but guaranteed victory.

And Churchill was, until the Second World War, largely a failed political figure who was seen as an also-ran politically. Had I been Churchill, I might have quit decades before the war.

So glad Churchill didn’t.

His conclusion? Success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

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This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.

Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhofhttps://careynieuwhof.com/

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney and church planter. He writes one of today’s most influential leadership blogs, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. His most recent book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy and Priorities Working in Your Favor, is designed to help you live a life you no longer want to escape from. Instead, you might actually start loving it.