Top 10 Leadership Quotes for Military Leaders

-Often times, I need some motivation as a leader.  I think that is true in us all.  Different things motivate different people, but I think that a good quote about LEADERSHIP can make any of us reflect and inspire us to drive on.  Here are my favorite top 10 quotes about Leadership!

10. “A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances.” –General George S. Patton

My take: We are all able to read doctrine, books about leadership and so forth.  But, only true leaders are able to apply these principles in real life.  I try to remember this as I read developmental material.  I always take the time to reflect and ask myself, “How can I apply this in real life?”

9. “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” –Winston Churchill

My take: I have always agreed with this quote.  Being a leader often times means being resented a bit.  Not in a bad way, necessarily, think about how you felt when your parents told you to do something you didn’t want to do.  I try to remember this quote when my Soldiers seem to be disgruntled with me.  It often means that you are doing it the right way, versus the easy way.

8. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” –Abraham Lincoln

My take: We have all seen politicians and other public figures that have been exposed for corruption or some other immoral/unethical actions.  Most recently, you can reference General Petraeus and his scandal.  We always have to remember that being a leader means that you are here to serve your subordinates and your organization.  Remember the Army values that you pledged to uphold.  Always do the right thing, even if it isn’t the easiest or most popular course of action.

7. “The difference between a hero and a coward is one steps sideways.” –Gene Hackman

My take: We must always, as leaders, strive to drive on; through any circumstance.  Whether it be facing a challenging task or simply dealing with someone who you but heads with, we must always understand that we must not avoid challenges, but persevere.

6. “I always believe in being prepared, even when I’m dressed in white tie and tails.” –George S. Patton

My take: Patton sure took a lesson from the old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared”.  Nothing makes dealing with constant changes then being as prepared as you can be.  In my civilian career, I dress for success, but I always have a Leatherman multi-tool on me.  Just following Patton’s advice…

5. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy

My take: It is important that we, as leaders, continue self-development and improvement.  It is also a reminder that just because you are in a leadership position, does not mean that you know it all.  I am more than proud to admit that the vast majority of my knowledge has come from the NCOs I have had the pleasure of leading.  Always be open to learning.

4. “Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.” –Unknown

My take: We always must remember that on top of our long list of responsibilities as a leader, developing our subordinates is among the highest priorities.  To me, taking the time to develop your Soldiers makes your job easier.  They are able to execute with just an understanding of your intent rather than needing you overseeing everything they are doing.  Also, help your subordinates accomplish their goals and aspirations.

3. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.“  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

My take: Be an individual.  While we find inspiration from our mentors, peers and great leaders of the past, we must always be our own man (or woman).  Trust your gut and what you believe to be right.  If you examine the greatest leaders you will see that they were great because they paved the way.  Just look at Patton…

2. “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” — John Maxwell

My take: Always be the type of leader who examines problems and challenges from multiple perspectives.  Try to be that innovative person who takes the time to fully understand the problem and take the appropriate action needed.  Don’t complain or hope that your predicament will change, the only thing that you can change is you!

1. “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” –Theodore Roosevelt

My take: This quote inspires me to constantly be proactive.  My thought is that I am either going to do the right thing and build off that success or the wrong thing, where I will have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes.  Either way, I am learning and growing.  Doing nothing is just that…nothing.

FINAL THOUGHTS: What are your favorite quotes? Please post a few of your favorites! You can do so in the comments section below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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11 thoughts on “Top 10 Leadership Quotes for Military Leaders”

  1. All the quotes mention above the page is good. I like No. 2 “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. But the leader adjusts the sails.” by John Maxwell.

    Everyone have their own views. I have also my own.

    “The development of technologies can dictate the nature of future warfare more than a history can.” -Geo Lama

    Though the quote mentioned above quite different, but that is related with soldier. If you have any comments. Please write to me. Thank you.

  2. Katelyn Hensel

    I’ve always liked the quote, “If you want a good look into a man’s character, take a look at how he treats those beneath him, not the way he treats his equals.” It really made me think the first time I heard it and I really like what it says about a leader. Any person is going to treat his equals and betters very well, but when you look into how he responds to subordinates, you truly get the full measure of what he’s worth.

    1. I’ve always found that when you give people power you see their true colors. I always watched my new subordinate leaders to see how they would treat their people. That was a great way to measure their character and integrity.

  3. Interesting piece Justin. Isn’t it funny that if it weren’t for Lincoln, Patton, and Churchill, all those quotation books would be about 50 percent thinner. Maybe it doesn’t fit the theme on this topic, but in my lifetime, a quote that will always be at the top of my list is Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” It was spoken in the midst of the fall of Soviet communism. That has to rank alongside words spoken more than two decades earlier by JFK, when he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” (Don’t source me on that spelling!)

  4. Justin,
    I think you are absolutely correct. Quotes provide motivation and insight. The power of words can be an incredible force multiplier or very destructive to an individual or organization. During my time in the service I had some great leaders with good quotes. These quotes not only motivated me but provided me a new perspective and outlook.
    The two that mean the most to me are:

    1. When in charge…take charge! When not in charge…let those in charge be in charge! My take on this is a good leader must be a good follower!

    2. If you can’t be on time be early!

    You can find a revolving list of leadership quotes available on the home page of These quotes come from varying sources but were selected based on being relevant to up and coming leaders.

    1. Thanks for the post! I like the quotes that you have added as well. I have actually heard the first one and agree completely. I also like the second one. I always tell my civilian employer that the reason I am 15 minutes early to everything is because of the Army…if you’re not 15 min early…YOU’RE LATE! Thanks again for the reply!


    2. My favorite leadership quote on this page is “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power” by Abraham Lincoln.

      You truly can see what a person is like on the “inside” when you give them a position of power. A good, genuine person will often be a good, genuine leader whereas a bad person will often be a bad leader.

      I used to tell my Soldiers, rank doesn’t make the person, it reveals the person.”


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