Great Quoteson Leadership,Learning, andChange

Making the case for leadership, learning and change

Here are some of my favorite quotes on leadership, learning and change. I have used them to help make the case for development programs and to educate and inspire leaders on the importance of leadership and learning.

My next blog will share some research (evidence) which can be used in the same way: both to inspire and challenge.

Learning and change:

An organization’s capacity to improve existing skills and learn new ones is the most defensible competitive advantage of all.  (Hamel & Prahalad)

The rate of learning by individuals, teams and the company as a whole must meet or exceed the pace of change in the external environment. (Michelle Darling, VP of HR, CIBC)

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. (Arie de Geus, Head of Planning, Royal Dutch/Shell)

People are the only long-term competitive advantage and lifelong learning is the only way to fully develop that advantage. (Richard Teerlink, CEO, Harley Davidson)

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.  (Aldous Huxley)

Strategic Learning:

Developing more talented employees is not the end, but the means to the end of creating a competitive organization. (Dave Ulrich)

Learning and development add value to the business only when they help a business achieve its primary goals and create new opportunities. (Dave Ulrich)

Leaders building leaders:

The ultimate challenge of leaders who are senior managers is to develop the next generation of leaders more capable than themselves. (Dave Ulrich)

I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. (Ralph Nader)

Just as the true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple but another tree… the true fruit of a leader is not a follower but a new leader. (Christian A. Schwartz)

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. (Greek Proverb)

We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. (Navajo Proverb)

The value of good talent:

At the end of the day, you bet on people, not strategies. (Larry Bossidy)

When you are talking about the contributions of hundreds or thousands of individuals, what you’re really looking at is a very broad spectrum that goes from the bare minimum that an employee will do to avoid getting fired to the very best job that a person is capable of. The difference in productivity between those two polar extremes is astronomical. (Frederick W. Smith)

If we think the people are not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion. (Thomas Jefferson)

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. (Abraham Lincoln)

Any company that’s going to make it in the 90s and beyond has got to find a way to engage the mind of every single employee. If you’re not thinking all the time about making every person more valuable, you don’t have a chance. (Jack Welch)

The New Employee Contract:

Source (edited): Joel Kurtzman, “Thought leader: Jeffrey Pfeffer,” Strategy & Business, Issue 12 (3rd Quarter 1998):

Charlie Bresler, Senior VP for Human Development at Men’s Warehouse, stands up in front of all the students at their training center (called “Suits University”) and asks:

“What business are we in?” Everybody says, “We’re in the men’s clothing business.” And he says no. And somebody says, “We’re in the tailored men’s clothing business.” He says no. Somebody else says, “We’re in the men’s formal wear business.” He says definitely no. Finally there is silence. Then he says, “What’s my title? Senior VP for Human Development. And that’s the answer. We are in the people development business.”

Bresler then describes a new covenant: “Our deal is we are going to build you, we are going to develop your human potential and along the way, we’re going to teach you how to sell men’s clothing. In return, you will provide great service and help develop the firm. The two things come together and that’s the key to our success.”

Joel comments:

Companies today can no longer guarantee lifetime employment. Investing in talent development, however, can enhance lifetime employability and thus earn the loyalty of many smart and talented employees.

And really, what choice do we have? An old school leader once told me that training employees would only enable the talented ones to leave. “What choice do we have?” I responded. “Keep our employees as stupid and useless as possible so they can never leave us?” “What a ridiculous, self-destructive HR strategy that would be.”

Research demonstrates, in fact, that investing in employee development will make employees stay longer and be more productive during their stay.

The Power of Learning 

The single most important investment we can ever make in life is investment in ourselves.  We are the instruments of our own performance and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw. (Stephen Covey)

The only person over whom you have direct and immediate control is yourself. So, the greatest asset to constantly develop, preserve and enhance are your own capabilities. And no one can do it for you. You have to do it for yourself. It is the single greatest investment you can make because it leverages everything else. (Stephen Covey Leadership Center)

In a discussion of lifelong learning in his book Leading Change, John Kotter contrasts two people who are roughly equal in talent and skill and asks how much difference a relatively small learning differential will make over a period of time. He offers this example: If Fran is learning at a rate of 6% per year and Janice is learning at a rate of 1% per year, the difference appears to quite insignificant (5%). However, for Fran and Janice, the difference between a 5% and a 1% growth rate over twenty years is huge. If they each have 100 units of career-related capability at age thirty, twenty years later, Janice will have 122 units, while Fran will have 321. Peers at age thirty, the two will be in totally different leagues at age fifty. (John Kotter)

Einstein & Lao Tzu:

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. (Albert Einstein)

No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew. (Albert Einstein)

If you give a man a fish, he will have a meal.
If you teach him to fish, he will have a living.
If you are thinking a year ahead, sow seed.
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.
If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people.
By sowing a seed once, you will harvest once.
By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold.
By educating the people, you will harvest one hundredfold.
(Lao Tzu)







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