In compiling these quotes, I asked dozens of CEOs, founders, one famous Hollywood storytelling guru who advises businesses on the craft, to offer a quote that they continue to reference in either motivating themselves or their team.

This is what they came up with:

1. "A great leader should be one part John Wayne, and one part Yoda."

Deacon Webster, chief creative officer of Walrus, tries hard to be more of a John Wayne/Yoda whenever possible, because it's a great way to put the role of leadership in perspective.

"Sometimes leaders need to step up and fearlessly take on the things that nobody else wants to do," he says. "And other times they need to simply offer clarity and a bit of wisdom. Either way you need to be an ace in the hole for your team. If they've got John Wayne/Yoda on their side, they're feeling pretty good facing whatever is in front of them."

2. "This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bill Johnson, CEO of Citi Retail Services, says that most of his team can recite this quote by heart.

"I've used it so many times and in so many different contexts," he says. "It speaks to making the best of every situation, of always looking at the positive and seeing challenges as opportunities. As difficult as it might be to see it, there is something to be gained from every circumstance."

3. "I vow[ed] that someday I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the Earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns." -- Sir Ernest Shackleton

Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of Endurance International Group, has always been inspired by Shackleton, an explorer whose goal was to be the first man to cross Antarctica from sea to sea.

Says Ravichandran: "During the expedition, disaster struck--his ship was crushed, and Shackleton spent six months keeping his 28 men alive in a thousand-mile trek across the tundra. In the end, every man was saved. Their ship was called the Endurance, and it is the inspiration behind the name Endurance International Group."

4. "Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found."

Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun, likes this quote because it captures how she operates as a leader and an individual."

"I've found that using meditation helps me get to a place of creativity and positive action when dealing with challenging situations and people."

5. "The harder I work, the more luck I have."

Mike Cagney, CEO & co-founder, SoFi, says that many people attribute this quote to Jefferson. "But it's not clear he said it," he says.

6. "People who cut corners go around in circles."- Anonymous.

This is Crowdtap CEO Sean Foster's favorite quote. "It means just do the work," he says.

7. "A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness."

Piers Fawkes, Founder PSFK, thinks it's "Better to nip a problem in the bud, no matter how uncomfortable it's going to make you."

8. "I fear not the man who has practices 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee

Andy Crestodina, Principal of Orbit Media, says that to be formidable in business (and anything in life), we need to practice. "A lot," he says. "This quote reminds me of the Calvin Coolidge quote 'Press On' but it's more forceful, figuratively and literally. But the meaning is the same. Persistence wins every single time."

9. "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it." --Theodore Roosevelt

Early in his career, Stephen Baker, now CEO of Attivio, when turning the corner from individual contributor to manager, needed to learn to delegate and to trust his team to execute on his vision in their own ways.

"My disposition is for perfection," he says. "So enabling and entrusting others without constantly asking for updates, reviewing work, etc. was very unnatural for me. I came across this quote during that time and often refer to it, especially as I mentor new managers and helping them understand how to scale themselves."

10. "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."--from children's novel Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Exupry

This is the favorite quote of Andreas Bodczek, CEO and co-founder, Fyber & RNTS Media

11. "Life is a game of inches, and the inches we need are everywhere around us. The winners will be the teams comprised of people who are willing to fight for every inch."--Al Pacino's character in Any Given Sunday

Tapad CEO and Founder Are Traasdahl says this quote "speaks to the grit and spirit of every successful team I have ever worked with."

12. "What the mind of man can conceive and believe...the mind of man can achieve." -from Napoleon Hill

Larry D. Young, president and CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple Group, says that "a good coach can make his team believe and put them on the path to achieve."

13. "Change before you have to."--Jack Welch

Sloan Gaon, CEO of PulsePoint, says that, in ad tech, this phrase is not only an inspiration, but also a survival tactic.

"As the marketplace landscape is shifting daily, with a new M&A transaction occurring every minute, the mantra of keeping your head above water is no longer enough, as consumers and investors alike are fixated on the future."

14. "You will miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

This is Dominik S. Richter's favorite quote. He's global CEO & founder of HelloFresh.

15. "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."- Howard Thurman

This is Glen Meakem's favorite quote. He's the founder & CEO of Forever, Inc.

16. "How should a human being lead their life?"

Robert McKee, Hollywood storytelling guru, says this is the question that Aristotle asks us.

"You want to live a meaningful life with all the struggle and all the ups and downs," he told me in an interview, "but above all you feel that this struggle is worth the suffering because you are pursuing and experiencing meaning. It doesn't mean I'm happy. It's just 'meaning'."

And that, from McKee, for all business owners who face struggle and ups and downs, sums it up rather succinctly, answering the "why" of why we do what we do.


"If there's no difference between your products and the competition's, then you need to be really talking about the difference between your customers."

- Josh Weltman, Mad Men co-producer