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50 Inspirational Leadership Quotes From Women

There’s no one-size-fits all approach to management and leadership, regardless of gender or industry. You can be firm and fair, tough and tenacious, relentless and resilient. But whatever your innate style, there’s always more to learn from those who’ve paved the way.

These women have faced their own unique challenges, but still managed to carve out lasting legacies through their work. They have inspired, empowered, ruled, challenged and motivated people to follow. Hopefully this collection offers a little inspiration to fuel your fire. Which one speaks to you?

Define leadership…

1. “Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.”

- Lisa Cash Hanson (CEO of Snuggwugg)

2. “Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.”

Dianne Feinstein (Senior US Senator)

3. “Leadership is hard to define, and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”

Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo)

4. “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

Joanne Ciulla (Author)

5. “Leaders are not just born. Sure, some people are born with strong competencies and strengths for leading in certain situations, but it is very clear that leadership can also be developed. That means everyone can strengthen their skills and abilities to lead and influence.”

Dr. Susan Madsen (Professor of Leadership & Ethics, Utah Valley University) 

Take risks & make mistakes…

6. “If something doesn’t scare you a little, rarely is it worth doing. The sensation we as a Western culture label fear - a racing heart, sweaty palms, aching belly - can signal that danger looms ahead, but just as importantly it signals we are on the cusp of doing something great.”

Alexia Vernon (Leadership Coach & Author)

7. “If you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances."

- Sallie Krawcheck (CEO & Co-Founder of Ellevest)

8. “We need to accept that we don’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes. Understand that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.”

- Arianna Huffington (Co-founder & Editor of Huffington Post)

9. “Without being willing to fail and continually get back up again, I would never have been able to find the right market and establish my product within it."

Kelly Manthey (VP of Strategy & Innovation at Solstice Mobile)

10. “Do not be afraid to make decisions. Do not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Carly Fiorina (Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard)

11. “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia)


Don't be afraid of the unknown...

12. “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist."

Ginni Rometty (President & CEO of IBM)

13. “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”

Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo)

14. “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else."

- Sara Blakely (Founder & CEO of Spanx)

Inspire others to follow...

15. “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 (Former US First Lady)

16. “We treat our people like royalty. If you honor and serve the people who work for you, they will honor and serve you.”

Mary Kay Ash (Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics)

17. “The way to achieve your own success is to be willing to help somebody else get it first.”

Iyanla Vanzant (Lawyer & Inspirational Speaker)

18. “True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.”

Sheri L. Dew (President & CEO of Deseret Book Company)

19. “Our emerging workforce is not interested in command and control leadership. They don’t want to do things because I said so, they want to do things because they want to do them.”

Irene Rosenfield (CEO of Mondelēz International)

20. “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

- Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook)

21. “I am big on quotes. I love quotes and mantras because they are reminders of what I believe in. I like a phrase that is simple but powerful. I always tell everyone to ‘Go for It’.”

Aixa G. Lopez (Industrial Engineer & Marketing Professional)

22. “Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing.”

Mary D. Poole (Author)

23. “With kids, they don’t do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Organizations don’t necessarily, either. You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to learn how to influence.”

Ellen J. Kullman (Former CEO of DuPont)

24. “People respond well to those that are sure of what they want.”

Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief of Vogue)

Don't be scared of criticism…

25. “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

Hillary Clinton (US Politician)

26. “Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (Former US First Lady)

27. “Part of leadership is knowing when to go ahead with a decision that’s within your authority because you’re really convinced it’s the right thing, even if other people don’t understand it at that point."

Dr Ingrid Mattson (Professor at Huron University College)

28. “If you are committed to creating value and if you aren’t afraid of hard times; obstacles become utterly unimportant. A nuisance perhaps; but with no real power. The world respects creation; people will get out of your way.”

Candice Carpenter (CEO of Fullbridge)


Build the life you want...

29. “You have to look at your career and personal life at the big-picture level: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Doing that helps me feel OK during the weeks when one part of my life overwhelms the other.”

Joanna Horsnail (Partner, Mayer Brown LLP)

30. “No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step along the way.”

Tara Mohr (Leadership Coach & Author)

31. “Leadership is not about men in suits. It is a way of life for those who know who they are and are willing to be their best to create the life they want to live.”

Kathleen Schafer (Leadership Coach)

32. “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

Michelle Obama (US First Lady)

33. “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”

Anne Sweeney (Former Disney Channel President)

Be tough but compassionate…

34. “Be tough, be kind. Stand up for yourself, and earn respect through hard work. Gender is a factor, so don’t let it trip you up. As long as the tech industry treats the achievements of women like they are seeing bears do backflips (that is to say, amazing and previously inconceivable feats), you will have to work twice as hard for half the recognition.”

Katie Fritz (Marketing Manager of Trippeo)

35. “One bad day from one member of my staff doesn’t mean they are not really good at their jobs the rest of the time. I play a long game in terms of management.”

Helen McCabe (Australian Women’s Weekly Editor)

36. “I am nice. There’s not such a thing as ‘too nice.’ But my expectations are high, and people do rise to my expectations. I don’t manage based on fear. I manage based on expectations.”

Marjorie Kaplan (Group President of Animal Planet)

37. “Leadership is about the team - the culture they keep and embrace, it’s about empathy for your customers, clients, employees and the communities where you do business, it’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons, being confident enough to take risks and responsible enough to think of those who your decisions and risks may affect.”

Kat Cole (President of Cinnabon)

38. “You need to spend political capital - be unafraid to introduce people, compliment somebody when it’s deserved and stand up for something you really believe in, rather than just go with the flow.”

Amy Schulman (Executive Vice President of Pfizer)

Follow your passion...

39. “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me?”

Ayn Rand (Author)

40. “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Oprah Winfrey (TV Personality)

41. “If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.”

Maya Angelou (Civil Rights Activist, Poet)

42. “I’m a maniacal perfectionist. And if I weren’t, I wouldn’t have this company.”

Martha Stewart (Author & TV Personality)

43. “Making the decision to not follow a system, or someone else’s rules has allowed me to really dig into what my own strengths and gifts are without spending time feeling jaded or wasteful.”

Ishita Gupta (Founder of Fear.less Magazine)


Beat the odds...

44. “Success is an exception, so be exceptional.”

Malti Bhojwani (Professional Coach & Author)

45. “There are always challenges, but the constant challenge is alignment. Alignment on goals, strategy, objectives and expectations. If you can get excellent alignment, which is difficult to achieve, then everyone will be humming and moving and your company can perform well. It’s a challenge to keep all of that in line.”

Eileen Boerger (CEO, CorSource)

46. “I have broken many glass ceilings - so I know it can be done.”

Helen Clark (Head of UNDP, former New Zealand Prime Minister)

47. “You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.”  

Rosalind Brewer (President and CEO of Sam’s Club)

48. “I think it’s a combination of personality traits that have helped me to succeed. Not only hard work - but patience, sacrifice and choosing my battles have all helped me to reach the point in my career to which I aspired, in a company I admired.”

Katelyn Gleason (CEO of Eligible)

And keep learning, growing and evolving....

49. "Cultivate a network of trusted mentors and colleagues. Other people can give us the best insight into ourselves—and our own limitations. We must have the courage to ask for help and to request feedback to expand our vision of what's possible.”

Maria Castañón Moats (US Assurance Leader of PwC)

50. "Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement. Commit yourself to advancing your knowledge, skills, and expertise. The business environment is quickly changing, and your understanding of the leading practices, thinking, and emerging tools will help you manage for better results. Be a lifelong student."

Pam Alabaster (SVP of Corporate Communications at Revlon)


Do you have any favourite quotes on leadership? Share them below, or check out our 101 Badass Quotes About Architecture and Design or 101 Engineering Quotes from the Minds of Innovators.


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Caitlin Sisley
Caitlin Sisley is a Marketing Content Writer at WorkflowMax, and has over six years of experience in digital content production. She has worked on creative copy for a large number of New Zealand businesses - from tiny startups to household names. With a Master of Professional Studies from the University of Auckland, she is passionate about small business and corporate responsibility.

Caitlin Sisley

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