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4 Leadership Quotes Every Strong Entrepreneur Needs to Memorize

They’re hung on the walls of my office. I’ve returned to them hundreds of times.

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BY Alexa von Tobel - 30 Jul 2018

4 Leadership Quotes Every Strong Entrepreneur Needs to Memorize

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you walk into my office, you learn quickly that I have a thing for leadership quotes.

I have printed out and hung dozens of them on my walls. There are quotes from modern-day tech bosses alongside timeless thinkers like Euripides and Aristotle. And while the tried-and-true values are similar, they vary because different situations require different leadership styles.

I love to have these on the walls because whether it's a quick minute or an entire week where I need motivation (we've all had one of these, yes?), the quotes bring me perspective, calm and a constant reminding of who I want to continue to be as I grow.

Here are three that I've returned to hundreds of times.

1. "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right." --Henry Ford

Attitude is everything. This is especially true when you're running a company -- or trying to get one off the ground. If you show up with the guns-blazing, can-do, I-will-not-take-no-for-an-answer attitude, you don't have to have all the right answers. When I was leading the early team at LearnVest, people trusted that I would run through every wall and figure it all out. That is the attitude that people wanted to follow.

I have a motto -- Get up, dress up, show up. That means get up early (literally, wake up before everyone else in your house), put on real clothes and show up with a great attitude. The great attitude part has two components: real sleep and getting exercise that morning. And of course, your best cup of coffee.

2. "She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails." --Elizabeth Edwards

This quote always moves me. As entrepreneurs, we cannot just be married to our own ideas. Sometimes it's not. Freaking. Working. You cannot fall in love with your own opinion. You have to let data show you the real answers.

I learned this early. If data isn't working, if people aren't buying your product, you have to be ready to sell a different product. If the customers aren't lining up around the corner, or people aren't signing up, then we need to adjust.

At the outset of LearnVest, we were committed to the mission of helping America's wallets. But we were flexible about how we helped. So, we iterated our product. We built financial planning software that now is an integral part of Northwestern Mutual's entire platform. By the time we got acquired, we were on our dozenth iteration of that software.

I apply this to myself, too.

There were so many different times where I realized I had to adapt how I addressed a situation. Situation A required one version of me. But situation B required a different one. This was true at each stage of my company's growth--when we went from 20 to 50 employees then 200 and beyond, but it was especially apparent after Northwestern Mutual acquired LearnVest. I realized that one of the ways I needed to lead was to help employees manage the change we all experienced as a result.

3. "If you want your life to be simple, you shouldn't be a leader." --Jack Ma

I was lucky to hear the Alibaba chairman speak at a conference in Miami. He had so many incredible things to say but when he said this, it shook me to my core.

Being a leader necessarily complicates your life. It means personal growth, stress, hard decisions, and incredible passion and excitement. There were countless times, when I was growing LearnVest, when the buck stopped with me. So, whether I was on vacation, at the grocery store, or a family BBQ, I needed to lead my team, and they knew that I would be accessible and accountable. And, despite the hundreds of sleepless nights that I've had (and continue to have, as Northwestern Mutual's Chief Innovation Officer) over the last decade, I still find it rewarding.

So, if you are up for the challenge, by all means sign up.

If your office is also littered with quotes that inspire you, share them in the comments. I've still got some wall space to fill -- and a lot to keep learning.


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