Leaders arise at all different times, for all different reasons. Today, there are many self-help books available on “Steps to Effective Leadership” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The phenomenon of leadership is a subject of much study and interest, especially in the corporate world. There does not seem to be one cookie-cutter model for how to be a good leader, and the styles can vary depending on role and personality type. Similarly, throughout history leaders have emerged onto the world stage for a variety of purposes, and no two are like. We remember some for their strength of character or moral courage, others for their perseverance in the midst of unexpected hardship, and still others for their insight into future events.
However, effective leaders all seem to have one thing in common: they are able to powerfully communicate their ideas. Through periods of civil unrest, economic hardship, and national uncertainty, men and women came to the forefront with strong ideas on how to make things better. These are the leaders that change history. It is oftentimes through speeches, campaign mottos, or taglines that these beliefs are encapsulated and preserved for future generations. We read their words and remember the actions and attitudes behind them that made their accomplishments so great.
Have you ever heard an inspiring quote but not been sure who said it or where it came from? It is easy to recognize a quote or phrase, and yet forget the context in which it was stated, the unique struggle that caused those words to be said. Below are some of the most recognizable quotes from world leaders throughout history. Do most of them sound familiar to you? Do you know the story behind these words?
10. “After me, the deluge.”–Louis XV
Leader of France following the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, this monarch (1710-1774) ascended to the throne in the wake of his precursor’s lavish pomp and scandalous reign that had put the nation on the pathway to destruction. He kept his country afloat during the Seven Year’s War, but he was aware of the rumblings of the French Revolution, which occurred just 15 years after his death. It is said that, on his deathbed, Louis said these words, which came to be viewed almost as a prophecy of the turmoil that would erupt in France just a few years later.
9. “Being powerful is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”–Margaret Thatcher
Known as the “Iron Lady,” for her tenacity and grit, Thatcher (1925-2013) was the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), and is the only woman to have held that office to date. Stepping into this role in a time of recession and high unemployment, Thatcher enacted reforms intended to deregulate the market and encourage private business. She was both praised and criticized for these conservative measures, but her popularity remained steady throughout her long tenure as Prime Minister. This quip evidences her strong opinions and conservative values, two hallmarks of her leadership style.
8. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”–Abraham Lincoln
The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) led America through one of its most tragic times in her history. Famous for preserving the Union and abolishing of slavery during the Civil War era, Lincoln’s policies have been the cause of much study and controversy throughout history. The quote above displays some of the moral struggle that he underwent as he tried to keep the nation from ripping apart, while also seeking to rid her of the terrible injustice that had plagued her since the founding.
7. “I will be good.”–Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) was head of the monarchy during the time of the British expansion across the globe. Her reign included burgeoning industrial expansion, rapid economic progress, and worldwide colonization which eventually led to the renaming of her country into an “empire.” She was the longest reigning female monarch in history, occupying the throne for 63 years. When, at a young age, she received the news that she would be queen, she is believed to have said “I will be good.” She went on to marry her cousin Albert, and the two of them guided the nation through a successful period. Her moral courage and determination helped the empire to expand.
6. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”–Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) is one of the most famous and tragic figures in world history. Rising to prominence is the last stages of the French Revolution, Bonaparte seized power in France and proclaimed himself First Consul in 1799. He went on to lead the charge in the Napoleonic Wars, seeking to establish French stability and dominance in the region. This quote gives insight into his view of leadership. In the famous Battle of Waterloo Bonaparte was defeated by the Russians and eventually forced into exile, dying a defeated criminal.
5. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”–Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965), two-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was a leader in politics for half a century. Most notably, he rallied his countrymen during the Second World War when the London bombings were striking fear into their hearts. He made many famous speeches, including the “we will never surrender” speech just before the Battle of Britain. During the critical moments of that same battle, he described the event with the words above. His strategic foreign policies as well as his military leadership cannot be underestimated.
4. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”–Nelson Mandela
The iconic figure representing determination and persistence in the face of rampant discrimination, Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) is known for leading the charge to end apartheid in his country of South Africa. After being convicted of conspiracy to supplant the state, he was thrown in prison. He got out after 27 years, only to enter back into a society of extreme racial inequality. Amazingly, he was elected President of South Africa in 1994, and worked tirelessly toward human rights reforms. He is credited with staving off a civil war and ending the legacy of apartheid in his country. The quote above can almost be seen as his motto, a truth he embodied throughout his entire life.
3. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) is most famous for his role in the Civil Rights movement in United States in the 1960s. Through public speaking and other forms of civil disobedience, King brought the injustice of racial segregation to light and worked towards reforms that would bring about racial equality in America. His “I have a dream” speech became the rallying cry of his movement, and his life continues to be a source of inspiration today.
2. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”–Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), better known as FDR, served as President of the United States for four consecutive terms, and implemented “New Deal” domestic policies that have set forth many principles of modern American liberalism. Coming into leadership during the Great Depression, Roosevelt sought to energize the American economy and bring hope back to the American people. In his first inaugural address he spoke the words he has now become so famous for, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Abroad, FDR played a role in leading America into WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor. From his personal success in overcoming polio, to his success on the world stage, FDR led America and the world in overcoming our fears.
1. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”–Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) is the icon of freedom worldwide. His efforts to lead India in non-violent protest and civil disobedience in order to attain freedom are unparalleled. He is considered by some to be the “Father of India.” He led campaigns for freedom in all different areas, including women’s rights, ridding India of the untouchability of the caste system, reducing poverty, and promoting religious freedom, among others. The phrase that he is so well known for is actually a paraphrased excerpt from his 98 volumes. More importantly, he lived out this truth during his entire lifetime.