Many of us have our favorite quotes, and I have often wondered, what makes some statements so powerful that they stick out? What makes some phrases relevant for generations?

Experts tell us that humans are aspirational, and when challenges arise we often turn to words of wisdom for support and renewal. Equally true is the fact that a quote can also capture our strongly held belief system in a brief statement.

For example, if you believe that each of us is capable of whatever we conceive, then you're probably a fan of this Napoleon Hill quote: "Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

But depending on whom you ask, quotes that make a difference, cause us to think, and become a mantra for how we live our lives often are a combination of good wordsmithing, human motivational psychology, and self-selection.

Personally, I have never sat down to write a quote, it just seems that a series of events, conversations, or presentations culminated with an initially unintended statement that really resonated with others.

Then a question surfaced, like, what did you say? I often had to think about it, at other times it was clear and easy to recall, and on a few occasions the answer was a sheepish "I don't remember."

But as I look back over the years, seven quotes to live and lead by stand out. They are lessons from the trenches of working with companies, teams, and individuals around the world for 30 years.

Here they are.

1. What really matters is not WHAT we do, but WHY and HOW we do it.

What we do can be important, but it should be a noble purpose that inspires the best of what we have to offer to come forth and find a better way. Victor Frankel once wrote: "Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by the lack of meaning and purpose." People want to be part of something bigger than themselves--they are desperate for it. Each of us has a right and an increasingly non-negotiable demand to do noble work that matters.

2. People will tolerate the conclusions of their leaders, but they will act on their own.

No one can change our conclusions but us. A direct, tell-and-sell presentation will never change what we believe and think. The formula for each of us to change our conclusions is to think, learn, challenge existing conclusions, and to replace or change our current conclusions about the way the world or our organizations work with new ones.

The key is that our behaviors won't change unless our conclusions change, and we alone hold the key to that safe.

3. It is not about a few of us having better answers, it is about all of us asking better questions!

Success is not determined by the learning speed of the brightest few of us, but by the learning, execution, and advocacy speed of all of us. This requires rigor and the practice of the art of thinking together.

4. People don't fight change; they fight being changed by someone else.

A cousin to No. 2, but different in that the pace and sequence of change has to be set by me. Leaders can do a great deal to help me on the journey, but it is my journey, not theirs.

5. If I don't feel valued, I will spend all my time justifying it for myself, rather than creating it for others.

Each of us has a basic human need to belong and to be valued. The feeling of being on the "outside" or not belonging can disintegrate into resentment, disengagement, and even the hope that others will fail.

This vulnerability of believing that I don't belong or am not valued can quickly show up in times of change and it requires leaders to make clear how they value their people and what they admire in them that will be vital to our mutual future.

6. People without understanding can't accept responsibility for change, people with it can't avoid it.

Many people don't truly understand the business or organization they work for. They are asked to do a job without a clear connection to why they do what they do, the workings of what they do, and the most significant challenges for how they must do things differently in the future.

An enlightened leader once said, "We have spent the last five years trying to teach our people how to do a better job but we never told them anything about the business. Now that we are exposing them to the big picture of the business, I am dumbfounded to the untapped intelligence of our people and how they can change the trajectory of our performance!"

7. Urgency, excitement, and advocacy can't flow from a leader's lips to a team member's heart. They are only ignited when our people co-think what we want to create, and see their critical role in bringing it to life.

This is a longer story, but the short version is that burning platform speeches, slide decks, company road shows, and organizational town halls that are intended to create urgency, excitement, buy-in, and advocacy are dead on arrival. Change is not a facts and figures game or a forced presentation--it must be a thoughtful, two-way conversation. Behavioral change is an emotional choice that is only possible from having an experience that changes your thinking and conclusions.

What are some of the most inspiring words and sentiments you have picked up along the way? Why did they resonate with you so deeply?

Published on: Jan 27, 2017