Quotations about   leadership

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The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
(Attributed)
Added on 24-Mar-19 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
Comment as Chief of the Prussian General Staff, Battle of Sedan (Sep 1870)
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 6-Dec-17
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You can buy a man’s time; you can buy a man’s physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm; you cannot buy initiative; you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn those things.

Clarence Francis (1888-1985) American business executive, food industry consultant
“The Causes of Industrial Peace,” speech, National Association of Manufacturers (4 Dec 1947)
    (Source)

Sometimes titled "Philosophy of Management".
Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.

Norman Schwarzkopf (b. 1934) American military leader
(Attributed)
Added on 10-Oct-17 | Last updated 10-Oct-17
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The greatest sign of success for a teacher … is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.”

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) Italian educator, philosopher, educator, physician
The Absorbent Mind, ch. 27 (1949) [tr. Claremont (1969)]
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A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering cold iron.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) American educator
(Attributed)

Quoted in The Eclectic Magazine, Vol. 8 (Jan-Jun 1868), and in The Myrtle, Vol. 24, #40 (30 Jan 1875)
Added on 16-Jun-17 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) Austrian-American business consultant
(Attributed)

Frequently attributed to Drucker, but not found in his writings. See here for more discussion.
Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (16 Nov 1864) [tr. Ward (1887)]
Added on 21-Apr-17 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American poltician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Letter to the Smothers Brothers (Nov 1968)

Replying to a letter from them apologizing for making him the target of so much of their humor. More info here and here.
Added on 22-Feb-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-17
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Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.

Václav Havel (1936-2011) Czech playwright, essayist, dissident, politician
“New Year’s Address to the Nation” (1 Jan 1990)
Added on 29-Aug-16 | Last updated 29-Aug-16
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After sitting next to Mr. Gladstone I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

Other Authors and Sources
Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (1872-1956) (Attributed)
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All presidents start out to run a crusade, but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely, the presidency.

Cooke - presidents start out to run a crusade - wist_info quote

Alistair Cooke (1908-2004) Anglo-American essayist and journalist
Talk About America, ch. 6 (1981)
Added on 1-Aug-16 | Last updated 1-Aug-16
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The only real training for leadership is leadership.

Antony Jay (b. 1930) English writer, broadcaster, director
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Jul-16 | Last updated 18-Jul-16
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The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. All our great Presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) US President (1933-1945)
In The New York Times Magazine (11 Sep 1932)
Added on 20-Jun-16 | Last updated 20-Jun-16
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The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.

Gruenert and Whitaker - leader is willing to tolerate - wist_info quote

Other Authors and Sources
Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, School Culture Rewired, ch. 3 (2015)
    (Source)

Often misattributed as "Gruenter and Whitaker".
Added on 16-Mar-16 | Last updated 16-Mar-16
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If someone knows of a problem and conceals it from me, I get more upset from that than from the problem itself. I tell our people time and time again: Bad news first.

Donald Regan (1918-2003) American financier, government executive
In Bernard Weintraub, “How Donald Regan Runs the White House,” New York Times Magazine (5 Jan 1986)
Added on 7-Mar-16 | Last updated 7-Mar-16
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The art consists in making others work rather than in wearing oneself out.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Eugène Beauharnais (27 Feb 1806)
Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-16
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I despise toadies who suck up to their bosses; they are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.

David Ogilvy (1911–1999) British advertising executive
Confessions of an Advertising Man, ch. 1 (1963)
Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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You can judge a leader by the size of the problem he tackles — people nearly always pick a problem their own size, and ignore or leave to others the bigger or smaller ones. The chief executive should be thinking about the long-term changes which will bring growth or decay to different parts of the enterprise, not fussing over day-to-day problems. Other people can cope with the waves, it’s his job to watch the tide.

Jay - watch the tide - wist_info quote

Antony Jay (b. 1930) English writer, broadcaster, director
Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life, ch. 17 (1967)
Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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You can lead an organization through persuasion or formal edict. I have never found the arbitrary use of authority to control an organization either effective or, for that matter, personally interesting. If you cannot persuade your colleagues of the correctness of your position, it is probably worthwhile to rethink your own.

Greenspan - persuasion or edict - wist_info quote

Alan Greenspan (b. 1926) American economist, bureaucrat
“Federal Reserve’s Chairman Blends Eye for Politics with Economic Skills,” New York Times (26 Jul 1990)
Added on 8-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Feb-16
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To live bravely by convictions from which the free peoples of the world can take heart, the American people must put their faith in long-range policies — political, economic, and military — programs that will not be heated and cooled with the brightening and waning of tensions. The United States has matured to world leadership; it is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.

Omar Bradley (1893-1981) American general
Speech, Memorial Day, Longmeadow, Mass. (31 May 1948)
Added on 4-Feb-16 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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A staff can be no better than the man it serves.

David Halberstam (1934-2997) American journalist and historian
The Best and the Brightest, ch. 10 (1972)
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Dependability, integrity, the characteristic of never knowingly doing anything wrong, that you would never cheat anyone, that you would give everybody a fair deal. Character is a sort of an all-inclusive thing. If a man has character, everyone has confidence in him. Soldiers must have confidence in their leader.

Omar Bradley (1893-1981) American general
Personal interview with Edgar Puryear (15 Feb 1963)

Quoted in Edgar Puryear, 19 Stars : A Study in Military Character and Leadership (1981).
Added on 28-Jan-16 | Last updated 28-Jan-16
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Unwilling executants do not make for good execution.

Liddell Hart - unwilling executants - wist_info quote

B. H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970) English soldier, military historian (Basil Henry Liddell Hart)
The German Generals Talk, ch. 4 (1948)
Added on 25-Jan-16 | Last updated 25-Jan-16
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My life has been largely spent in affairs that required organization. But organization itself, necessary as it is, is never sufficient to win a battle.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Young Republican National Leadership Training School (20 Jan 1960)
Added on 19-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Jan-16
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As my dad always says, while improvisation and spontaneity may be the hallmarks of great jazz, the hallmark of being a great player is ensuring the rest of the band is spontaneously improvising the way you want them to.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 13-Jan-16 | Last updated 13-Jan-16
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As long as I am back in my military life for a second, I should like to observe one thing about leadership that one of the great has said — Napoleon. He said, the great leader, the genius in leadership, is the man who can do the average thing when everybody else is going crazy.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican National Committee Meeting (17 Apr 1956)
Added on 12-Jan-16 | Last updated 12-Jan-16
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They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 15:14 [KJV]

Jesus referring to the Pharisees.
Added on 4-Jan-16 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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Do you know what makes a leader? It’s the man or woman who can persuade people to do what they ought to do — and which they sometimes don’t do — without being persuaded. They must also have the ability to persuade people to do what they do not want to do and like it.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Annapolis (24 May 1952)
    (Source)

Truman used this phrase multiple times in his speech and writing:
  • Common paraphrase: "You know what makes leadership? It is the ability to get men to do what they don't want to do and like it."
  • "I could see that history had some extremely valuable lessons to teach. I learned from it that a leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do, and like it." -- Memoirs, Book 1 (1955)]
  • "My definition of a leader in a free country is a man who can persuade people to do what they don't want to do, or do what they're too lazy to do, and like it." -- Where the Buck Stops (1990) [ed. M. Truman]
Added on 4-Jan-16 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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Let the Care of one’s business be committed but to one Person; for otherwise, besides Disagreement which may arise when Account is taken, everyone’s Answer is, That he thought others had done it.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, #1072 (1731)
Added on 21-Dec-15 | Last updated 21-Dec-15
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I do not believe that any man can lead who does not act, whether it be consciously or unconsciously, under the impulse of a profound sympathy with those whom he leads — a sympathy which is insight — an insight which is of the heart rather than of the intellect.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
“Leaders of Men,” Commencement Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (17 Jun 1890)
    (Source)
Added on 14-Dec-15 | Last updated 14-Dec-15
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Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.

Chinese - fly and follow - wist_info quote

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

First recorded by Jean Paul [Johann Paul Friedrich Richter] (1763-1825), Levana, sec. 8 (1807): "Nicht das Geschrei, sagt ein chinesischer Autor, sondern der Ausflug einer wilden Ente treibt die Heerde zur Folge und zum Nachfliegen." (See H. A., A Book of Thoughts (1865))
Added on 7-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself — your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms “work for” advisedly, for if you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” you haven’t understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
    (Source)
Added on 4-Dec-15 | Last updated 4-Dec-15
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It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
(Attributed)
Added on 4-Dec-15 | Last updated 4-Dec-15
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How should I be able to govern others when I don’t know how to govern myself?

François Rabelais (1494-1553) French writer, humanist, doctor
Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1.52 (1532-1552) [tr. Cohen (1955)]
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The leader holds his position purely because he is able to appeal to the conscience and to the reason of those who support him, and the boss holds his position because he appeals to fear of punishment and hope of reward. The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, Binghamton, New York (24 Oct 1910)
Added on 23-Nov-15 | Last updated 23-Nov-15
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One must be prepared not to act, but to “stand still in the light,” confident that only such a stillness possesses the eloquence to draw men away from lives we must believe they inwardly loathe.

Roszak - stand still in the light - wist_info

Theodore Roszak (1933-2011) American historian and author
The Making of the Counter Culture, ch. 8 (1969)
Added on 16-Nov-15 | Last updated 3-Jun-16
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Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to replicate your strength. It is idiotic to replicate your weakness. It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
    (Source)
Added on 13-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-15
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The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

Nader - leaders not followers - wist_info

Ralph Nader (b. 1934) American attorney, author, lecturer, political activist
Time Leadership Conference, Washington, DC (Sep 1976)
    (Source)

In "Leadership: The Biggest Issue," Time (8 Nov 1976).
Added on 9-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-15
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Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) Swedish diplomat, author, UN Secretary-General (1953-61)
Markings (1955) [tr. Sjoberg & Auden (1964)]
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Make a careful list of all things done to you that you abhorred. Don’t do them to others, ever. Make another list of things done for you that you loved. Do them for others, always.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
Added on 23-Oct-15 | Last updated 23-Oct-15
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Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi. It is enough that I should be my own follower. I know what an inadequate follower I am of myself, for I cannot live up to the convictions I stand for. You are no followers, but fellow students, fellow pilgrims, fellow seekers, fellow workers.
Gandhi - followers - wist_info

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Harijan (2 Mar 1940)
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The high sentiments always win in the end, the leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“The Art of Donald McGill” (Sep 1941)
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The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

John Buchan (1875-1940) Scottish novelist, poet, and politician; Governor-General of Canada (1935 -1940)
Montrose and Leadership (1930)
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The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of their inner values.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“With Faint Praise,” New York Times Book Review (16 Jul 1995)
Added on 9-Oct-15 | Last updated 9-Oct-15
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Leaders I feel should guide as far as they can — and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
Experiment in Autobiography, ch. 9, sec. 2 “The Samurai — In Utopia and in the Fabian Society (1905-1909)” (1934)
    (Source)

Variant: "Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit."
Added on 5-Oct-15 | Last updated 5-Oct-15
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You learn to know a pilot in a storm.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Essays, “On Providence” (4.5) [tr. Basore (1928)]
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The essence of leadership is to get others to do something because they think you want it done and because they know it is worth while doing — that is what we are talking about.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican Campaign Picnic, Gettysburg (12 Sep 1956)
Added on 24-Sep-15 | Last updated 24-Sep-15
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Be the chief but never the lord.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, ch. 10 [tr. Blakney (1955)]
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The job of getting people really wanting to do something is the essence of leadership. And one of the things a leader needs occasionally is the inspiration he gets from the people he leads. The old tactical textbooks say that the commander always visits his troops to inspire them to fight. I for one soon discovered that one of the reasons for my visiting the front lines was to get inspiration from the young American soldier. I went back to my job ashamed of my own occasional resentments or discouragements, which I probably — at least I hope I concealed them.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican State Chairmen, Denver (10 Sep 1955)
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There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.

Simon Sinek (b. 1973) American author and motivational speaker
“How great leaders inspire action,” TED Talk (Sep 2009)
    (Source)
Added on 15-Sep-15 | Last updated 15-Sep-15
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Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority. A commander of a regiment is not necessarily a leader. He has all of the appurtenances of power given by a set of Army regulations by which he can compel unified action. He can say to a body such as this, “Rise,” and “Sit down.” You do it exactly. But that is not leadership.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Conference of the Society for Personnel Administration (12 May 1954)
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It is loyalty to great ends, even though forced to combine the small and opposing motives of selfish men to accomplish them; it is the anchored cling to solid principles of duty and action, which knows how to swing with the tide, but is never carried away by it — that we demand in public men, and not sameness of policy, or a conscientious persistency in what is impracticable.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
“Abraham Lincoln” (1864), My Study Windows (1871)
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Divide and rule, the politician cries;
Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Sprüche in Prosa (1819)
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A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 7.4 (1961)
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