Love them or loathe them, leaders have something to say about the world and how we should like our lives. There’s something slightly random about this group of people, but if you are looking for a little inspiration, you might find it here. Leaders include: Margaret Thatcher; Steve Jobs; Zaha Hadid, Gustave Eiffel; Bill Gates; Henry Ford; Dwight D Eisenhower; Lord Sugar; Dylan Thomas; Neil Armstrong; Mao; Picasso; Larry Page; Elvis; Emmeline Pankhurst; Stephen Hawking; David Attenborough; Hildegard of Bingen; Martin Sorrell; Nelson Mandela; Marcus Aurelius; The Prince of Wales; Stuart Rose; Confucius; Abraham Lincoln; Maria Callas; and George H W Bush… but let’s start off with a little light relief and everyone’s least favourite prison warder…
Mr MacKay (dates unknown)
I think some of you wrongly assumed that I had left you for good. But, as you see, nothing could be further from the truth. Only… I am somewhat disturbed to hear what has been happening in my absence. So now… We’re going to have a new regime here, based not on lenience and laxity but on discipline, hard work and blind, unquestioning obedience. Feet will not touch the floor. Lives will be made a misery. I am back, and I am in charge here.
Further on down there’s a quote from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. When joined this list of Leaders in Their Own Words, there was an inevitable negative reaction. She met the criteria – she was a leader and they were her own words. But as I suggested in the piece, Maggie remains a divisive figure. On my Facebook page, a former colleague posted: “Hey Tom, when are we going to get ‘Lessons for Leaders – Hitler?” The message was followed by a smiley face emoticon, so I assume his tongue was planted firmly in his cheek. Like Maggie, Hitler too meets the criteria for this series, and I must admit I was tempted to feature him. But – 70 years after he killed himself in his Berlin bunker – the Fuhrer remains such a demonic figure that he is still pretty much taboo. We have all worked for people who carry some of his traits, but he is a man neither to be admired nor copied. As my proxy Hitler, I have turned instead to Mr MacKay, the despotic prison officer who was inmate Norman Fletcher’s sparing partner in the TV comedy Porridge. As played by Fulton Mackay and Ronnie Barker, they were two of the greatest comedy characters in the history of British television. MacKay (the character) is one of those figures who is just too clever for his own good: supremely self-confident, a man who makes the rules and sticks to them, and lacking any emotional intelligence – he is consequently incapable of displaying the type of flexibility needed when managing people. There is a time and a place for the despotic leader – sometimes an organisation is so broke it needs someone who is not going to miss and hit the wall. But more often than not, despots destroy organisations and their people, and they erode shareholder value. They are bad news. There is a twist here of course. We are dealing with comedy after all. MacKay’s speech laying down the law is supposed to a strike fear into the inmates. He has come back to impose some discipline on Slade Prison after a period away. However, the inmates have missed the certainty he provided them with. Better the devil you know. Rather than quake, they give him a round of “for he’s a jolly good fellow”. Hitler never got that, thank god.
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.
History will treat Margaret Thatcher better than her party did. In an act of regicide every bit as dramatic as the assassination of Caesar, Thatcher was removed from the premiership. In spite of her electoral successes, she had won three elections in a row, her party lost its belief in her ability to win again. Loss of nerve is contageous. Like Caesar she was partly the author of her own misfortune. She had come to believe in her invincibility, her own propaganda, and she had lost the capacity to listen. She also stayed in office too long, making too many enemies, and she had grown increasingly isolated as a result. Love her, or loathe her (and many still recoil at the mention of her name), she was unquestionably one of the great leaders of the twentieth century, and one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers. That she was the first, and only woman to hold the office, is almost incidental. Thatcher’s rise to the top had little to do with her sex, and more to do with her conviction politics. In a world that was becoming increasingly complex, Maggie Thatcher, as she was known, provided certainty. Her belief in Britain, and its values, appealed to a constituency that felt keenly the loss of British national prestige following the collapse of its empire. She loved a fight, was happy to be challenged and often frustrated by people’s refusal to take her on. In part that was the result of cowardice, and in part by a recognition that she was always on top of her brief. Trained as a scientist, she had a grip on detail as well as the big picture. If you were going to make an argument, you needed to be sure of your ground. If those closest to her had spoken up more, and told her some home truths, she might not have fallen as spectacularly as she did.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Your time is limited. don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
The Apple co-founder’s Commencement Address to students at Stanford has gone down as one of the great speeches of the 21st century. In it, he distilled for graduating students his life’s philosophy – encouraging them to follow their dreams rather than ending up in other people’s nightmares. Jobs was not a conformist, and he wasn’t easy to work with; but he inspired people because of the purity of his vision and his complete commitment to the unity of form and function. Simplicity was the watchword of Apple, but – counter-intuitively perhaps – simplicity is very hard to achieve. “You have to work hard, to get your thinking clean, to make it simple.” he said. Driven, as many leaders are, Jobs brought innovation to the personal computer, the phone, digital publishing and music distribution, and – through his involvement in Pixar – animation. In doing so he transformed the way we work, think and play. His influence on the world has been enormous. Unsurprisingly, the speech is concerned with death and the brevity of life. Jobs was suffering from pancreatic cancer. But it is life-affirming, and well worth reading in full. You can check it out here.
Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)
Women are always told ‘you’re not going to make it, it’s too difficult, you can’t do that, don’t enter this competition, you’ll never win it’. They need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them get on.
She was showered with plaudits for her breathtaking architecture – created a dame of the British Empire, awarded the prestigious Sterling Prize twice, and the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize) – yet she still found it tough being a woman in a sector dominated by men. That she triumphed was an indication of her talent and her tenacity; that she still found it difficult to be accepted at the end of an all too short life was, quite simply, astonishing. Her buildings are astonishing too. She made curves her trademark – long fluid lines which give her striking buildings an organic feel, for all their futuristic bravado. She was a woman with vision, and passion for her work. She did not suffer fools gladly, and she was not afraid to take on her critics. As a role model for women, still fighting for position in a world which has been created by men for men, she was a true champion. But as well as that, she was a champion for those who want to see creativity at the heart of the world in which we live. It was once said of Sir Christopher Wren, if you want to see his monument look around you. That too could be said of the stamp Zaha Hadid has left on the world.
Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923)
The French flag is the only one to have a staff a thousand feet tall.
The Eiffel Tower is the international symbol of Paris, and the engineer who created it – as a temporary structure it must be said – built a monument to the strength and resilience of the French people. In the wake of the Paris attacks in 2015, it became the reference point for the world. Reworked into the iconic badge of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it has come to represent defiance of terror.
Eiffel joked that his creation was more famous that him, and that may well be so. But today it stands as a symbol of mankind’s ingenuity, its ability to harness the brute force of engineering with the beauty of fine art, and its ability to inspire. There have been many atrocities since, but the course of history gives us hope that civilisation will triumph over terror, and hope will transcend despair.
Bill Gates (1955-)
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second rule is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
The American businessman, technology entrepreneur and inventor is now perhaps better known as a philanthropist. It’s a well-trodden path: making wealth and giving it away is one of the ways the super-rich deal with the realisation that they ‘cannot take it with them’. The technological revolution of the past three decades has many fathers, but Gates is one of the most significant. He co-founded Microsoft and transformed the personal computer, along the way he amassed a fortune and for almost a decade took the top spot in Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest people. Gates dismantled the barriers which stood between consumers and the effective deployment of their technology by developing and marketing software. Like many large corporations, Microsoft is not without its critics; and it has come under considerable pressure over allegations of anti-competitive activity. Gates’ success comes by combining his inventiveness with his ability to spot an opportunity and to monetise the power of his imagination. This was particularly important in the start-up phase of his career. Like many leaders, Gates is driven, does not suffer fools gladly and is relentlessly competitive. Inspired by Andrew Carnegie (see below) and John D Rockefeller, Gates established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. It has a global agenda, with a health programme focused on HIV/Aids and other mass killer diseases. His rules of technology are the modern-age version of the saying: “A bad workman always blames his tools.”
Henry Ford (1864-1947)
You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.
Blunt and down to earth, Henry Ford is the quintessential businessman, and one of few individuals genuinely responsible for dramatic social change. He just set out to make money, but ended up changing the world when his Model-T motorcar went into mass production. It democratised travel, and put personal mobility within the reach of ordinary people. His mantra ‘any colour as long as it’s black’ became his catchphrase. Ford was renowned for his witticisms and homespun philosophising. In a sense, Ford was more of an opportunist than an innovator. He did not invent the motorcar – though you would be forgiven for thinking that he did. Neither did he come up the idea of an assembly line to speed up the manufacturing process. But he saw what could be achieved by putting the two together – and the growing and aspirational middle classes of the United States flocked to buy his cars. The rest, as they say, is history. A reformer in some respects, with progressive policies on pay and benefits for his workers, he was also controlling and intrusive. His antisemitism and his sympathy for the Nazis saw him honoured in the thirties by Hitler’s Germany. One of his saying is : “History is more or less bunk.” The Nazis proved him wrong on that.
Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969)
The supreme quality of leadership is undoubtedly integrity. Without it, no real success is possible whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.
Well you would expect a five-star general to know a thing or two about leadership. As supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, Eisenhower played a pivotal role in the campaign to defeat the Nazis in the Second World War. He was a planner and a strategist who understood the importance of flexibility. Like all great generals, he knew that things in the field never work out the way you expected them too. Without the capacity to change and react, you are dead. As a general he had to deal with big beasts – President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles DeGaulle and the wilful General Patton to name but a few. He was capable of standing up to them, and arguing his corner, but he always commanded respect. He was not a man to rely on office alone to get things done. Like the greatest leaders, he passed praise on to his team and took responsibility for any failures himself. He undoubtedly had integrity. He was elected President of the United States, assuming office in 1953. A Republican, he ended the Democrat stranglehold on the presidency – but just for his two terms. A small c conservative, Eisenhower was essentially a transition president bridging the generation that had endured the Second World War and the swinging sixties. He was succeeded by the charismatic John F Kennedy. In office he advanced the cause of racial desegregation, opposed McCarthyism , and managed the tricky and deteriorating relationship with Russia. He was not showy, but is regarded as one of the more successful holders of his office. He was respected by his friends and his foes alike – and integrity is the root of that.
Alan Sugar (1947-)
Youngsters have got to stop thinking about being the next Zuckerberg. It’s a trillion to one chance. What they need is mater and pater to say ‘get a job son’.
Alan Sugar, better known as ‘Yes Lord Sugar’ to Apprentice contestants, is a bit of an acquired taste. Blunt speaking and little full of himself, he is nonetheless one of the most successful businessmen Britain has produced. He is an old-style entrepreneur who worked his way to the top with a combination of hard work, guile and a bit of good luck along the way. Nicknamed ‘mop-head’ because of his curly hair, he was the son of a tailor who left school when he was 16. Sugar does not believe that higher education is necessarily the route to success, and he is living proof of that. He was a salesman pretty well from the moment he left school, turning £50 he had saved from his first job into a £1bn-plus fortune. He made his money in consumer electronics – putting the word processor into the hands of budding writers in the 1980s. With the Amstrad PCW 8256 he revolutionised home computing – though more as an opportunist than a visionary. Others drove innovation and product design. Sugar, blunt speaking as ever, is now best known as the cornerstone of the Apprentice – putting his candidates through their paces by getting them to relive the type of tasks which made him his millions. It’s a process designed to reveal their flaws, and it leads to the inevitable cry of ‘you’re fired’ and a taxi home. If only the candidates were as self-aware as the good lord himself – ennobled by the Labour Party, but now no longer a member.
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.
I suspect that the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas could have recited a laundry list and made it sound like high art. He had an uncanny way with words, they tumbled out of him filled with meaning. His verse play, Under Milk Wood, is one of his most famous works. But he is perhaps best known for a poem which has come to represent the grief of death. “Do not go gently into that good night/Old age should burn and rage at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It was written for his father. Although it is now associated with his passing, it was in fact penned as his father’s life was fading, and illness was robbing him of his sight. We live in a world that makes much of creativity and innovation, but it is a world where the contribution of writers and poets is undervalued. Thomas may have been guilty of typical hyperbole in his lines above, but they hit at a real truth. Take any age, and you will fine that it is often best defined by its artists and writers – Cicero, Caesar, Pliny and Ovid in ancient Rome, Chaucer in medieval England, Shakespeare in Elizabethan times, Tennyson in the Victorian era, through to modern Ireland and Yeats, Joyce and Heaney. Thomas was the authentic voice of Wales. He has helped make the nation what it is today. We need scientists and engineers, manufacturers and retailers, builders and policy makers. But we also need people with vision who will interpret the world for us, and make it understandable.
Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)
We had hundreds of thousands of people all dedicated to doing the perfect job, and I think they did about as well as anyone could ever have expected.
Sometimes what we do confers celebrity status; and there is perhaps no greater achievement than being the first man on the moon. But after his history-making moment Neil Armstrong stepped back into the shadows, first in a job away from the public gaze in Nasa, and then as a university professor in Cincinnati. It is a mark of a true hero that he thinks what he does is ‘just the day job’. The moon landing owes much to the Cold War. The race to the moon was driven by the battle for supremacy between the United States and the Soviet Union. John F Kennedy set the challenge in a speech to Congress in 1961 – promising to put a man on the moon “by the end of the decade”. You can hear the speech here. Fulfilling that pledge fell to Armstrong. Born in Ohio, there was nothing in his childhood to suggest his destiny. Military service and a job as a test pilot brought him to Nasa where he joined the astronaut corps in 1962. He was the first US civilian in space when he commanded the Gemini 8 mission, his next flight was Apollo 11. The eyes of the world were on Armstrong as he stepped down from the moon lander. Controversy rages about his famous first words. They have gone down in history as: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He insists he said “a man”, and forensic analysis of the tapes suggests he was right. But sometimes history is made by what we think people said, and the quote we have scans better. Armstrong was always careful to stress the ‘team’ behind his success, and his words above reinforce that. Another mark of great leaders is their willingness to pass on the plaudits for success to others.
Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
In times of difficulty we must not lose sight of our achievements, we must see the bright future and we must pluck up our courage.
Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of leaders is whether or not people recognise them by a single name. Mao is one such individual. Three little letters that set off a train of thoughts and conjure up one of the most dramatic shifts of power in the 20th century. Chairman Mao and his ‘little red book’ changed the world. He was a Communist revolutionary inspired by Marx and Lenin. By a combination of intellectual and military prowess he seized China for the people, and created the People’s Republic of China. He withstood decades of western opposition until capitalism yielded. The Republican Richard Nixon ended America’s blacklisting of China – perhaps the single biggest achievement of his blighted presidency – and the Conservative Edward Heath did much the same from Britain’s perspective. In John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, the Mao character sings “I like right wingers”, he could certainly do business with them. Mao’s Red Army defeated the Chinese nationalists in 1949, and from then on he moved to impose discipline on the one-party state. Millions died of starvation in centrally-directed initiatives which were designed to turn China from a rural economy to an industrial one. Many more died in purges, and the Cultural Revolution which targeted intellectuals. To impose their authority, the Communist Party built a cult around Mao. Unquestionably one of the pivotal figures of modern history. Mao is at one and the same time the man who made China a global power and the man who destroyed the cultural and social fabric of one of the world’s great civilisations.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much pleasure as your spare time.
The man could paint. Picasso was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and such was his celebrity that he has become a household name. He mastered his medium early on, but the rest of his life was a relentless search for the truth that lies behind the surface of a canvas. He believed that every child was an artist, the challenge was to stay that way. He shaped the Cubist movement, transformed sculpture and took collage and the use of mixed media to new heights. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, inspired by African figures, was the gateway to Cubism; Guernica captured the enormity of arial bombardment during the Spanish Civil War, as he got older he strived for simplicity. Such was his ability that he could capture emotion in a brush stroke. Like many leaders, he was a complex individual. Focused on himself and his own needs, difficult at times, but enormously charismatic. He was courted, and his work was coveted. Many artists are discovered only after their deaths. Picasso was a superstar who made a fortune in his lifetime, and whose work continues to command the highest prices in the salesroom. But more than that, he led his field, inspired others and touched the lives of people who encountered his art. He will continue to do so down the centuries.
Larry Page (1973-)
Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future.
A select group of people can be said to have changed the world, and Larry Page is one of them. With Sergey Brin, the American computer scientist is the brains behind Google, the search engine that has transformed the way we access knowledge, and interact with the world. Page and Brin invented the algorithm that drives the search engine: PageRank. But that in itself is not enough to secure his claim to fame. It is the way he was able to take it to market, his long-term vision for the company, and his continuing commitment to innovation. Google grew out of Page’s PhD thesis at Stanford University, and the company was born in his room in a dorm before moving to a garage. Humble beginnings with no guarantee of success. Like all great leaders, Page had a simple objective – to organise and make the world’s knowledge accessible to everyone. The verb ‘to google’ is now an intrinsic part of the language, and googling is something anyone who uses a computer does multiple times a day. Google itself is admired and feared in equal measure. Knowledge is power, and the company knows an enormous amount about us. But it has also put knowledge in the hands of millions around the world, and that is something transformative in itself.
Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em over everything you do.
Few people are known by a single name, but Elvis is one of them. Without question one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, he was an innovator. Elvis blended country with rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and old style gospel into a distinctive sound that touched millions. He had charisma, good looks and a commanding stage presence. Such was the adulation of his fans that he once complained no-one could hear his work because of the screaming. The fame sowed the seeds of his destruction, and his decline and fall followed the pattern set by many others who found themselves incapable of handling celebrity. He died in 1977. The journey to the top has its challenges, but success brings its own difficulties. Not quite everything he touched turned to gold. His Hollywood career was driven by the studios’ desire to cash in on his fame rather than make good movies, but it is his music which is his lasting legacy. A 20th century icon, some claim Elvis is still alive. His music is still selling, being listened to, and influencing others; so in a sense he is.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)
Men make the moral code, and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.
It is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago, women in Britain did not have the vote. The political activist Emmeline Pankhurst helped secure the vote for women by combining political campaigning with civil disobedience. The suffragettes attacked property, used arson as a weapon, and assaulted the police. Many were jailed and resorted to hunger strikes to improve their conditions, They were treated appallingly by a patriarchal penal system. There is no question that the suffragettes suffered more in pursuit of political change than those they challenged, but their tactics remain controversial; and some question how effective they were. When the First World War broke out, the suffragettes got behind the war effort. The absence of so many men in the fields of France opened the way for women to do jobs traditionally associated with men. The world would never be the same. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women aged 30 and over. Men could vote from 21. In 1928 the Conservative government broadened the franchise, equalising the voting age for men and women. Pankhurst, who had been selected as a Tory candidate the previous year, died weeks before the change was enacted. She is now regarded as one of the most important forces for social change in the 20th century. Whatever the tactics – no more acceptable today than they were then – she was on the side of right.
Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)
I don’t have much positive to say about motor neurone disease, but it taught me not to pity myself because others were worse off, and to get on with what I could do. I’n happier now than before I developed the condition.
Perhaps the single biggest lesson the physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has to to teach us is the importance of resilience. Struck down by motor neurone disease when a student – he was diagnosed aged 21 – his doctors told him he had two or three years at best. Hawking refused to give in to a disease that progressively removed his ability to move. He communicated with the help of a voice synthesiser operated by a cheek muscle. He had one of the most distinctive voices on the planet and has stuck with it even though it was possible to have a more ‘natural’ sounding voice. He could speak at only one word a minute. As Hawking’s physical capacity collapsed, he compensated: sharpening his mind, dedicating himself to his science, deepening his understanding of the universe. Hawking was not just committed to the pursuit of knowledge. He wanted to communicate it too, and he was a remarkable communicator, advancing the public understanding of science. His books, he said, he wanted to see on sale in airports. His A Brief History of Time achieved that status. Although one of the most high profile people with a disability, Hawking was determined to transcend his disability. It did not define him.
David Attenborough (1926-)
The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants.
You can hear his dulcet tones as you read the quote. David Attenborough is one of those remarkable human beings who restores faith in our species. He has been a television executive as well as an on-screen performer; but it is the latter for which he is best known, and loved. Attenborough’s true gift is his passion for the natural world, and his ability to communicate it to us. He has enriched our lives through monumental television series. His work is the epitome of public service broadcasting, and it is doubtful whether his broadcasts would have been possible without the existence of the BBC and its commitment to ‘educate, inform and entertain’. Attenborough ticks all three boxes. His quote about the rhinoceros is perceptive. Most of us focus on the main event, the individual cause, the immediate threat. But more often than not, it’s the bigger picture that holds the key. It might be possible to save an individual animal, or a herd, by making a dramatic intervention. To save a species, you need to focus on the things that sustain it. As a champion for those who have no voice, and an advocate for our planet, there is no better example than David Attenborough.
Hildegard of Bingen (c1098-1179)
We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.
A Benedictine abbess, Hildegard was a visionary, a composer, poet, and philosopher. In Germany she is regarded as the founder of natural history. She wrote extensively on the subject, and was an advocate of natural healing. By all accounts she was a remarkable woman, a polymath who excelled in every field she touched. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI named her as a ‘doctor of the Church’, one of a select group of people regarded as among its leading thinkers. She is one of the few women who has managed to break through this ecclesiastical ‘glass ceiling’. Today she is best known for her music, another area where women are much under-represented. It’s simplicity and honesty appeals to the modern ear. Almost 70 works survive. A Feather on the Breath of God, sung by Emma Kirkby and the Gothic Voices, is a fabulous introduction to her music. It is on the Hyperion label. Her message above – that we must take personal responsibility for how we live – is an important one too for the modern age. We live in a world constructed by others, a world where we are manipulated and spun, a world where what is ethical is framed by others, where values are defined by the lowest common denominator. Hildegard offers another course, as the word ‘terror’ indicates, it’s not an easy one.
Martin Sorrell (1945-)
People used to say that information is power, but that’s no longer the case. It’s analysis of the data, use of the data, digging into it: that is the power. You get so much of the stuff, and everyone has access to it.
A post-war baby, Sir Martin Sorrell rose to become the head of one of the world’s biggest media organisations. Sorrell, joined the company as CEO, was the spider at the centre of the web, he has since gone his own way – but he remains a pivotal figure in the business world. Wire and Plastic Products made shopping baskets, but with a steady series of clever acquisitions Sorrell turned it into an advertising and PR giant. Some of the biggest names in advertising were part of the empire: J Walter Thompson, Ogilvy and Mather, Young and Rubicam among them. It was not all plain sailing, and Sorrell came under attack over executive pay, but the success of the company was attributed to his true grit and focus. He is a visionary too. In the mid-90s he was alert to the power of interactive media to build profile for his clients. The industry still hangs on his every word. A first-rate communicator, he is often to be heard commenting on the state of the global economy. Data is a gift to the advertising industry. Creating and communicating messages is expensive and effective use of data allows the right messages to be targeted at the right individuals. As Sorrell says, there’s a lot of data about these days. We all have access to it; but success comes to those who can make sense of what is there.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory, when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
How different the world would have been if Nelson Mandela had been executed rather than being sent to prison for opposing apartheid. The South African regime would have fallen. That was an inevitability. But without Mandela, and his willingness to shake the hand of his enemy, the outcome would have been substantially messier than it was. He defined South Africans not by the colour of their skin, but their commitment to the country and its people. He was a leader who used his position to advance peace and reconciliation rather than self-aggrandisement. Intellectual rigour and a well-developed sense of emotional intelligence were the twin pillars of his leadership style, and he had charisma in abundance. Mandela also had a clear set of values which guided his decision making. There is an illuminating passage in his autobiography – The Long Walk to Freedom – where he talks about the shepherd. “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.” Leaders – new leaders in particular – often feel pressured to behave like superheroes, and our hierarchical view of the world encourages them to climb up on a pedestal. This is one of the reasons why there is such a high churn rate among chief executives. The leader as a shepherd has precedent of course, and it is a powerful metaphor for those looking to define their approach to leadership in a world where team working is often the route to success.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
You have power over your own mind – not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.
By and large, Roman emperors have not had a good press. Many of them had to do some pretty unpleasant things to get to the top, and most of them had to be pretty tough to stay there. Reputations are hard won and easily lost. Some emperors suffered the misfortune of having their histories written by their enemies. Marcus Aurelius is not remembered best for his day job, but for what he did in his spare time. He was a philosopher emperor who wrote his thoughts about life and how to live it in his tent during breaks in military campaigns. Almost 2,000 years on these meditations are still regarded as among the finest examples of philosophical thought in the canon. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic. He regarded emotions with suspicion, and believed in keeping calm and carrying on, though that was not one of his aphorisms. He lived as he preached. Perhaps that is why he has gone down in history as one of the ‘Good Emperors”, it is also why his Meditations remains in print and continues to be essential reading.
The Prince of Wales (1948-)
Perhaps it is too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction, not looking closely enough at the long term impact our actions will have.
Prince Charles has little power, and when he ascends the throne he will have even less. Britain’s unwritten constitution gives him no real role other than to wait for the death of his mother. Yet he has managed to carve out a role for himself as the conscience of the nation. The media has lampooned him and poked fun at his flirtation with ‘new age’ philosophies; but none can doubt his sincerity. The green agenda has its sceptics. It does not take a genius, however, to see that short-term decisions taken today will have long-term repercussions for our planet and for future generations. Throughout his life Charles has shown himself to be a master at knowing how and when to make his voice heard – not least in the way he has demonstrated his opposition to China and its record in Tibet and on human rights.
Stuart Rose (1949-)
Businesses have to be robust and grit their teeth. They have to make sure that they don’t cut an artery, cutting fat out is absolutely the right thing to do but cutting an artery is a dangerous thing to do.
Rose, now a Conservative peer, is one of the country’s leading businessmen. He made his name as executive chairman of retail giant Marks and Spencer. More than just a department store – Marks and Sparks was a national institution, once as revered as the monarchy, but it had lost its way. Rose, who had started his career in the company as a management trainee, was brought back to steady the ship. His career there was not without controversy – not least his decision to combine the roles of chief executive and chairman – but his time there is viewed as a success. He steadied the ship, though it is doubtful the company will ever regain its pre-eminence. Keeping calm and carrying on is something business leaders do instinctively. Rose recognised the need for change, but unlike some he also understood that businesses are living organisms. If you cut to the bone, all you are left with is a skeleton.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.
Different cultures view failure differently. In the United Kingdom, failure is regarded as a negative; in the United States, however, it is seen as a stepping stone to success. All the evidence suggests that if we are capable of learning lessons from things that do not go well, we emerge stronger and more successful. Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Ultimately success is our goal, but the process – the journey there – can often be important too. Challenges are a spur to invention, a sense of common purpose can strengthen teams and build resilience, and new opportunities can be identified. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, may not have envisaged the complexity of the modern world, but he understood human behaviour, and his advice is as relevant today as it ever was.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
Abraham Lincoln is a heroic figure, not because of the manner of his death at the hands of an assassin, but because of his leadership during the American Civil War. Lincoln stood for the values of the United States Declaration of Independence, one of the most remarkable documents in human history. “All men are created equal,” it says. If the Union had been defeated in the Civil War, the world today would have been a very different place. Lincoln held the United States together, cemented the federal structure of that sprawling nation, and put an end to slavery. The Gettysburg Address, which referenced the Declaration of Independence, ends with a pledge that “this nation shall have a new birth of freedom” and it finishes on the ringing phrase that: “This government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. The speech, one of the most quoted ever, is a model of how speeches should be done. At just over 270 words long, it is short. But its message rings down the centuries. As you might have guessed, the quote above is not from the address. Lincoln was fond of asking the dog leg question to audiences who would invariably give the answer ‘five’. It’s amazing how many people in authority think that saying ‘black is white’ makes it white. Here Lincoln exposes their stupidity.
Maria Callas (1923-1977)
An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has gone down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I have left the opera house.
Maria Callas has much to teach us. She was a prima donna of the highest order, one of the most dazzling singers of the 20th century – perhaps the best – but hers was not the most beautiful voice of the century. She was prepared to sacrifice beauty to tell the story. That is true artistry. She inhabited her roles, brought her characters to life, made them part of the here and now – even if the roles had been written centuries before. Callas’s commitment to performance demonstrates that leaders need to focus on the ultimate objective and, where necessary, defy convention to achieve it. They need to face up to critics – and Callas had hers – and they must have the stamina to transcend them. ”When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I’m slipping,” she said. Most of the heroines she portrayed lived tragic lives, as she did herself. Rejected by Aristotle Onassis for Jackie Kennedy, she died – it is said – or a broken heart in her Paris apartment.
George H W Bush (1924-2018)
Four rules of leadership in a free legislative body: first, no matter how hard fought the issue, ever get personal. Don’t say or do anything that may come back to haunt you on another issue, another day. Second, do your homework. You can’t lead without knowing what you’re talking about. Third, the American legislative process is one of give and take. Use your power as a leader to persuade, not intimidate. Fourth, be considerate of the needs of your colleagues, even if they’re at the bottom of the totem pole.
The 41st President of the United States, George Bush Snr’s rise to the top was effortless. Once he got there, it was a different matter. He ended up as a one-term president, losing out to Bill Clinton. Like Clinton, he has become a much-admired elder statesman. Indeed, the formal political rivals have become close friends. Bush’s fatal mistake was to make a promise during the presidential election that he could not deliver in office. “Read my lips, no more taxes.” In power he was forced to put taxes up, and the electorate never forgave him. Leaders need to stick to their words. Sometimes circumstances change. One of the lessons Bush has to teach us is that you should never paint yourself into a corner. He built his career in Congress, he was then a diplomat and director of the CIA before becoming Ronald Reagan’s vice-president. His rules of leadership draw on his time as a legislator. But they are transferable to other walks of life. In short they are: don’t get personal, do your homework, be prepared to negotiate, and be decent to other people. Perhaps the most potent phrase in his quote is: “Use your power as a leader to persuade, not intimidate.” Intimidation can often work in the short term. It never works in the long term. You lose respect, and your best people walk.
Richard Branson (1950-)
Engage your emotions at work. Your instincts and emotions are there to help you.
We are scared of our emotions, and there is something primal about instinct which makes it scary. Today we are conditioned to ignore our instincts, relying instead on data, research and advice from others. Evidence-based decision making is seen as the holy grail. Rationalism has its place, but as Richard Branson demonstrates, it is not the be-all and end-all of business. Branson is clever guy, and there is more to his success than emotional intelligence alone. There is growing scientific evidence that instinct has an important role to play in decision-making. It’s nature’s way of helping us make the right decision quickly. You should not always act on your instincts, they are not infallible. But you should always listen to them. Leadership is not just about the individual, it is about the followers too, and the best way to secure a loyal following is through effective use of emotional intelligence. Branson is not universally admired, but he is living proof that – properly harnessed – you can achieve great things through the power of your personality.
Fred Astaire (1899-1987)
The higher up you go the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.
Born Frederick Austerlitz, Fred Astaire was one of the true greats of 20th century dance and a cinema legend. On the big screen, perhaps only Gene Kelly surpassed him, though Kelly always acknowledged his debt to Astaire. Astaire’s partner Ginger Rogers danced with him in 10 movies, pointing out that she did everything he did, only backwards and in heels. Astaire had the uncanny knack of making the impossible seem easy. As you can see from his quote, he did a nice line in self-deprecation – that in itself a skill any leader should try to master.
Warren Buffett (1930-)
It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.
Warren Buffett is one of the most successful businessmen the world has ever seen. Having amassed a fortune through a series of successful investments, he has committed himself to giving it all away through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In spite of his wealth, he lives a comparatively simple life. He is blunt in his views about the excesses of modern capitalism, emphasising the importance of integrity in business. Buffett has a simple approach to investment – buying shares in companies he believes are underpriced. It is a strategy that has served him well, he is a billionaire many times over. But it is in his commitment to philanthropy that he has made a real difference. His message is ‘it’s okay to amass a fortune, so long as you do something positive with it’.
Julia Gillard (1961-)
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.
Getting to the top in Australian politics is difficult, staying there is almost impossible. If you count Kevin Rudd’s two non-consecutive terms, the country is now on its fifth prime minister in as many years. Julia Gillard was, and remains, the only woman prime minister in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. She could mix it with the best of them, and had to. During her time in office she was subjected to unprecedented levels of bar room abuse. One of her main tormentors was Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal Party – himself deposed this year as prime minister after losing the confidence of his party. Gillard too was forced out in a coup. Rudd, the man she deposed, persuaded their party he was a better electoral prospect. The voters thought otherwise. The textbooks say you should not reduce yourself to the level of your critics. But Gillard’s famous quote shows that sometimes you have to give as good as you get – particularly if you are being bullied and abused. In speaking out, she gave heart to countless women – not just in politics – who have to contend with boorish behaviour, and she set down a marker about what was unacceptable in public life. Gillard’s political career is another of those that ended in tears, but she had her moment and she took it. On their own, her words were not enough to cause a revolution, Australian politics is still rough; but change begins when courageous people take advantage of moments like these and speak their minds.
John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722)
Plato used the dialogue format because the exchange of views, the posing and answering of questions, showed that understanding is a living, dynamic process. He distrusted writing because the settled character of the written word makes it look as if truth can be fixed and made to stand still. It is worth remembering that this greatest advocate of the objective reality of truth also believed that our access to that truth was sustained in reasoned discussion.
John Churchill was one of the finest military commanders in British history, if not the finest. A strategist and master tactician, his victories at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenaarde and Malplaquet are studied still. He served James II, William III and Mary, Anne and George I – with varying degrees of success. William put him in the Tower of London as a suspected subversive; and his wife’s difficult relationship with Queen Anne saw him out of favour and exiled in spite of his victories on the field of battle. But through him, Britain secured its position as one of the frontline states of Europe. He positioned it to become an empire. Marlborough was ruthless in pursuit of glory and wealth, as the palace he built for himself – Blenheim – testifies. (Winston Churchill, who shared his name with John’s father, was born there.) He was not a role model in all respects, it must be said, but his life exhibits many of the skills a leader needs: vision, a strategic mind, tenacity – and a little bit of luck along the way. The quote from him above is a lesson for today’s leaders that healthy debate and discussion is often the best way to identify the best way forward. As Marlborough notes, it is not a modern notion, but often it seems we forgot more than we learn from the lessons of history.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (107-43BC)
Everyone has the obligation to ponder well his own specific traits of character. He must also regulate them adequately and not wonder whether someone else’s traits might suit him better. The more definitely his own a man’s character is, the better it fits him.
If survival is one of the essential attributes of a true leader, then Marcus Tullius Cicero was a failure. Assassinated on the orders of Mark Antony, the former consul’s severed head and hands were put on display in Rome as a warning that opposition would not be tolerated. Yet it could easily be argued that Cicero’s impact on world history is immeasurably greater than the warrior who had him hunted down. A statesman, a philosopher, an orator and a poet, Cicero was one of the most influential figures in ancient Rome. His speeches, writings and letters are regarded as among its finest legacies. Without him, much of the philosophical thinking of the ancient world would have been lost to us. He is the link with the Greek philosophical tradition of Plato and Aristotle. When Cicero’s letters were discovered in the 14th century, they are said to have inspired the Italian Renaissance; and his writings, including De amicitia, De Senecute, De Officiis and De Natural Deorum (On Friendship, On Old Age, On Duty and On the Nature of Gods), influenced the leading thinkers of the 18th century enlightenment. He may have wanted to be first among equals in Roman politics, but political failure (all political careers end in tears, it is said) forced him to fall back on his writing. His credentials as a leader comes from his ability to influence other people; the scale of his achievement can be seen in his ability to influence others centuries after his brutal and unnecessary death.
Bill Clinton (1946-)
If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.
The phrase “I have never been a quitter” is associated with another American president. Both he and Clinton were elected twice to the highest office in the land, and both ended their terms bogged down in controversy. Nixon was forced out. Although Clinton faced impeachment, he lasted the course – just – so he knows something about survival. Clinton’s core leadership skill is his charisma. He makes people feel they – not he – are the important ones. He listens, he is engaged, and he lives in the moment. No matter what is on his agenda, he always makes it appear that the here and now is what is important. But it is not just style over substance. Post-presidency Clinton has focused on key global issues – malaria, TB and HIV/Aids – and applied his skills to securing support for their eradication. He may not have always done it in office, but out of it, leading by example has set him apart.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes, and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.
The First Lady of the United States, and wife of Franklin D Roosevelt; Eleanor was a formidable campaigner and politician in her own right. It was she who encouraged him to stay in politics after he was struck down with polio. Unafraid to challenge convention, she too became a public figure speaking out in favour of the causes she believed in. She was a champion of human rights, and a notable advocate for the role of women in society. She played a role in the foundation of the United Nations, urging America to support it; and represented her country there. As chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission she was pivotal in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or get all the credit for doing it.
Scotland punches above its weight. It once dominated shipbuilding, and its engines helped power the British empire. Whisky, particularly its individualistic and characterful single malts, retains its global appeal. But it is in the intellectual field where it has made its biggest contribution. For all the learning at Oxford and Cambridge south of the border, it was the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment that inspired statesmen in the new world and the old; and this spirit informed the life and work of Andrew Carnegie. Born in Dunfermline, he emigrated to the United States and made a fortune in the steel industry. He then proceeded to give it away – the equivalent of billions of pounds in today’s money were poured into good works in the United States and across the British Empire. He said it was the obligation of the rich to give something back to society. He believed you should spend the first third of your life getting an education, the second third making money, and the final third giving it away. He believed in leading by example, and his example still resonates today.
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our sights too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.
One of the truly great figures of the Italian renaissance, Michelangelo was a sculptor, a painter, a poet, an architect and an engineer. His work continues to beguile, not least the magnificent paintings of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and his statue of David in Florence. David is one of a handful of statues – along with the Venus de Milo and the Statue of Liberty – that has become a modern icon. When Michelangelo looked at a block of stone, he saw a figure struggling to get out. His job was to set it free. In a world where aiming low is the safe and easy option, his advice on setting our sights high is worth listening too. Michelangelo redefined the meaning of the word failure. Failing is not a crime, but not trying is.
John Keats (1795-1821)
The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.
We are now well within the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Keats, the romantic poet, burned like a shooting star. His tragically early death fitted the stereotype. Romantics are not supposed to live into old age. We live in an era where to appear uncertain is seen as a weakness. We instinctively recoil when a leader says ‘I don’t know.’ But closed minds are the enemy of creativity and innovation. Show me a man (and they are usually men) who knows everything, and I will show you one who knows nothing. If you open yourself up to possibilities, there is no knowing what you will discover about yourself. The greatest leaders are the ones who recognise they do not know it all, are confident enough to admit it, and then surround themselves with people who can help them fill in the gaps. There is no room for new ideas in a closed mind. Keats tells us that succinctly.
David Ogilvy (2011-1999)
Hire people who are better than you are, then let them get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.
David Ogilvy was one of the most important figures in the world of global advertising, and his influence is still felt today. He believed in people, and the quality of those around him. “If each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we will become a company of giants,” he said. Early in his career Ogilvy spent a year working for the polling organisation Gallup, and it was there he saw the value of research. He came to understand that the most effective advertising had its roots in reality. For him authenticity was everything. Advertising existed to sell products and services, and it would do that best if the people producing the adverts understood customers and their needs – that insight seems obvious now but, like many obvious ideas, it was revolutionary at the time.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
Like Oscar Wilde, Churchill left many quotable quotes. A towering political figure, his moment was the Second World War when he articulated the world’s opposition to fascism and stood his ground against everything Hitler could throw at him. He once said he knew history would be kind to him, because he would write it. And he did. A man of letters, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his magnificent histories, biographical writing and “his brilliant oratory defending exalted human values”. Churchill was not without his faults, he could be stubborn and opinionated and, at times, hubristic. But his dogged determination in the face of difficulty appealed to people, and not just in his home country. “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” was his blunt advice. Such was his celebrity in the United States that he was the first foreigner to be granted honorary citizenship.
Lew Grade, Baron Grade of Elstree (1906-1998
If you need the answer today, the answer is no.
I heard this quote in an interview Grade gave many years ago. I think it was on the Parkinson Show, but the source is lost in the fog of time. It’s one of the best bits of advice I have ever heard. Grade was an old-style impresario, and one of the pivotal figures in the development of Independent Television in Britain. He was in at the beginning, it launched on September 22 1955. Not without a sense of humour, when he lost a fortune backing the movie Raise the Titanic, he observed that it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic. Not one to sit on his hands and wait, one of his other bits of sage advice was: “You can’t wait for the phone to ring, you have to ring them.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. (From the Little Prince)
A genuine pioneer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was an old-style adventurer who was also an acclaimed writer. The Little Prince is his masterpiece. Ostensibly a story for children, it distils a life’s experience flying the mail across Europe, Africa and South America in crude aircraft unfit for the task. Saint-Exupéry was an aviator in an era where to fly was to to live at the edge of human existence, and his experiences informed his writing. Another of his books, Wind, Sand and Stars, is a remarkable exploration of the risks those early aviators faced, but it also captures the beauty of a world then unexplored. Saint-Exupéry’s plane disappeared on a reconnaissance flight towards the end of the Second World War.
Roger Bannister (1929-2018)
Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finishing line, I figured I was dead.
Sportsmen and women are a constant source of inspiration. Their trials, tribulations and successes are often a metaphor for success in life and in business. A few individuals achieve feats once considered impossible. Roger Bannister, the first man to run the mile in under a minute, is one of those. It is hard now to fully appreciate how remarkable his achievement was, but he is living testimony that if you have confidence in yourself and belief in your abilities, you can achieve the impossible. Less than two months later, his record was broken, he’d changed our understanding of what was achievable.
John F Kennedy (1917-1963)
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not.
Within five months of speaking these words, Kennedy was dead. Who knows what would have happened if he had survived the assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. It is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of history. The Kennedy we are left with is the fallen hero. Hope died with him. We know now he had his flaws – his private life would not have survived the media scrutiny it would have received today. But somehow his image remains untarnished, and his Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage is essential reading for all leaders. This quote, classic Kennedy, comes from a speech he made to the Irish Parliament in June 1963 on his triumphal visit ‘home’ to the country of his forefathers. In a world that has become increasingly cynical, it is worth remembering the power of dreams.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
Marie Curie was a pioneer – the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first to win it twice, she advanced our understanding of radioactivity and its application, and she discovered two elements: polonium (named after her native Poland) and radium. Her achievements stand on their own merits, but the scale of them is remarkable given she was a woman operating in a man’s world. She was and remains the most inspirational woman scientist in history; and her work continues to impact on people’s lives today.
Peter Drucker (1909-2005)
The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I”. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I”. They don’t think “I”. They think “we”; they think “team”. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.
Peter Drucker was one of the greats of management education. Drucker devoted his life to understanding how organisations worked, and he wrote extensively on organisational management. For him, the key to success was harnessing the active and collective effort of individuals in a common purpose. In the late fifties, Drucker recognised that the economy would increasingly rely on brainpower and he coined the phrase “knowledge worker” to describe the type of people it would need. He also developed the concept of management by objectives. Drucker’s single-minded commitment to good management through a long life helped transform business. His writings are a fund of sound advice.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
One of the fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was a man with a world view, and one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment. A jack of all trades and master of many of them, he left a lasting legacy as an educationalist in the form of the the University of Pennsylvania. He believed in harnessing education for the good of humanity – applying it to meet real world challenges – not for him Ivory Towers and introspection. His advice above is sound, we have all said things that would have been best left in the inner recesses of our minds.
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)
Someone said to me: “If fifty per cent of the experts in Hollywood said you have no talent and should give up, what would you do?” My answer was then and still is: “If a hundred per cent told me that, all one hundred per cent would be wrong.”
She lived her life like a candle in the wind, sang Elton John. Monroe is one of those complex figures who defies categorisation. Portrayed by the Hollywood machine as a dumb blonde, she was anything but. We live in a world which admires individuality, but is scared of individuals. Humans are pack animals and suspicious of outliers. It takes real heroism to stand out from the crowd, and few survive. Monroe’s death is shrouded in mystery, innuendo and suspicion. One way or another, the system got her, but for a brief moment her star shone and she transcended humble beginnings and all the obstacles put in her way.
Alexander the Great (356-323BC)
I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
Alexander the Great, the name says it all. A charismatic leader, his star blazed all too briefly in the ancient world, as he built an empire. His military tactics are still taught to would-be generals. Alexander was not just a strongman. His teacher was Aristotle and his success came from combining brain and brawn. The quote is one every leader should meditate on. The leaders who fail are the ones who surround themselves with those who do not challenge. Alexander’s words also echo down the centuries. The phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ defines the performance of allied generals in the First World War.
Leadership at one time meant muscles, but today it means getting on with people.
What to pick? Gandhi has left behind a fund of inspirational quotes. All of them stress our common humanity, and the need for us to work together in peace to build a better world. This quotation should be on every leader’s desk. We rarely achieve things on our own. Leadership is about inspiring others to achieve a common purpose – you don’t do that by flexing your muscles, you do it by building relationships and recognising that in each one of us there is the capacity to do great things.
The Queen, Elizabeth II (1926-)
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Duty is the word which defines the reign of Elizabeth, now the longest serving monarch in British history. The quote comes from a speech she made on her 21st birthday, some five years before she ascended to the throne on the death of her father George VI. In a world where there is too often a gap between what people say and what they do, Elizabeth has stayed true to her words. She has lived a largely uneventful life in an eventful world, providing stability in amid social, political and cultural change. In its own way hers has been a heroic life, putting service ahead of naked self-interest.
T E Lawrence (1888-1935)
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
A troubled and enigmatic figure, Lawrence of Arabia continues to cast a spell 80 years after his death in a traffic accident – and not just because of David Lean’s stunning film of his life. Quite what he would make of the mess we have made of the Middle East is anyone’s guess. Lawrence was ahead of his time. He was an individualist who was not afraid to take risks; he challenged authority; he was a thinker – unafraid of taking on the accepted wisdom. A world full of Lawrences would be mad, and world without them would be sterile.