Leadership by Any Other Name

There are probably as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. Harry Truman, in his typical, straightforward style, once said,

“A leader is a person who has the ability to get others to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.”

A contemporary of Truman but a very different soul, Mahatma Gandhi, ironically used military imagery to identify tenacity as the key element:

“To put up with these misrepresentations [of how others mistakenly characterize you] and to stick to one’s guns come what might–this is the essence of leadership.”



as he contemplated crossing the Alps to attack Rome, would probably like Gandhi’s attitude. He said,

“I will find a way or make one.”

Also ironically, a statement from the mouth of one of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon, sounds more like something Gandhi would say. He identified a core emotional/spiritual dimension as central. He believed:

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tse said something that sounds right for an aphorism coming out of the East:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists.”

The Bible has much to say about leadership too. Paul affirmed its value when he told Timothy,

“To aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition” (1 Tim 3:1 NEB).

In fact, he gave Timothy and Titus the very job of appointing church leaders.

What’s one of your favorite quotes on leadership and why?


Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

5 thoughts on “Leadership by Any Other Name”

  1. I would like to offer to this conversation three quotations about leadership. The first is tragic—reflecting the confusion of the post-modern age in which we live. The second is insightful—revealing why charisma trumps essence in contemporary civics. The last is pragmatic—something to which everyone who has ever been a “follower” will shout an enthusiastic “amen!”

    “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
    ― Whoopi Goldberg
    The unanswered question is: “To where?”

    I am guilty of a slight archaism in calling them ‘rulers.’ ‘Leaders’ is the modern word. I have suggested elsewhere that this is a deeply significant change of vocabulary. Our demand upon them has changed no less than theirs on us. For of a ruler one asks justice, incorruption, diligence, perhaps clemency; of a leader, dash, initiative, and (I suppose) what people call ‘magnetism’ or ‘personality.’
    ― C.S. Lewis
    God help those who live in an age that values appearance over substance.

    “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”
    ― Thomas Sowell

  2. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree

  3. That’s a great one, Jim. I have quoted it often, and it has guided me very concretely along the way many times.

  4. To the extent that leaders are visionaries, I like this one by Winston Churchill: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” I came across it in one of my management classes and have never forgotten it.

  5. That’s a good one, Tim. Churchill is one of my heroes. And he is certainly right here. By virtue of the past we know who we are today and, so, how to act in the future.

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