4 Leadership Quotes That Matter

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360.
Flash Sale—save up to $200 on registration. Ends Thursday. Secure Your Seat »

Join Les McKeown at our Entrepreneur 360 conference on Oct. 7 in New York City for insight on how to motivate, engage and align your team to produce scalable, profitable growth. Register now

Like everyone trying to grow their business, I often turn to proven successful figures and business leaders for words of advice.

These type of quotes are not hard to find. There are a lot of business platitudes out there. Thousands of business books are published each year, newspapers and magazines groan with “celebrity” CEO interviews and social media allows prominent figures to communicate directly with the public in a way not possible just a decade ago.

As a result, the good advice gets buried under a morass of contradictory, half-formed, anecdotal opinion. Surf the Internet for long enough, and you'll likely find an authoritative quote from a prominent figure that states the exact opposite of whatever deeply-held business principle you hold dear.

But on rare occasions, it’s possible to stumble upon a quote that encapsulates real wisdom. Here are four such quotes that I've discovered in my three-decade career.

Related: How Bill Gates Became a Leadership Legend

1. "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." -- former world boxing champion Mike Tyson

When you get into the ring, the time for plans and planning is over. The time for action has begun, so you better have perfected your “A” game and be ready to execute and improvise. It’s make it or break it time.

Does this mean that planning is a useless activity? Far from it -- effective planning is vital to business success -- but at some point, it’s time to step up and see if you can take the heat.

2. "We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions." -- researchers Herbert Simon and William Chase

You may be more familiar with the more media-friendly version of this quote -- the so-called 10,000-hours rule from Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers -- but Simon and Chase's Nobel Prize-winning study forms the basis of Gladwell's assertion.

Since Gladwell’s book was published, the rule’s specifics have been hotly contested. The underlying concept, however -- that brilliance and mastery take time -- holds up.

In an age that lauds a get-rich-quick mentality, coming up with a great new app or business model and flipping it for millions (or billions) is a viable career option.  However, for those interested in building something that lasts, mastery -- and the patience, focus and dedication required to attain it -- is the key to success.

Related: 25 Insightful Quotes From 25 Legendary CEOs

3. "Because your brain doesn't have a brain." -- author and productivity expert David Allen

You won't find this specific wording in any of David Allen's books (he made it as an aside during a podcast we recorded together), but it's the single greatest argument for mastering personal productivity that I've heard.

The idea is that your brain needs to be free to think in the moment. It can’t be holding all kinds of notions about what you should be doing when; it’s not built for it. As Allen says, your brain isn’t smart enough to remind you of things as they need to get done; often, it will remind you of something at 3 a.m. when you can’t act on it.

The flood of incoming data your mind is forced to process each day is massive. Unless you find a meaningful way to capture and manage it externally, it will eat you alive. Allen recommends keeping a clear head by writing everything down, identifying the next action that needs to be taken for each task and referencing the list regularly.

4. "Let's get real, or let's not play" -- author and sales consultant Mahan Khalsa

This is actually the title of a book, but it provides fundamental life advice, namely: Be an adult in the world. Drop the posturing and petty pretenses we all engage in everyday, and focus on developing a work ethic, pursuing the truth and remaining open to all of life’s possibilities.

Related: 21 Inspiring Quotes That Will Motivate Your Entrepreneurial Pursuits