10 Great Leadership Speeches

Hillary ClintonGreat leadership is tightly bound with the ability to communicate effectively. This is especially true for those who would lead social movements or serve in high public office.

To inspire people to sacrifice, to persevere in the face of difficulties, to achieve more together than they would separately, requires a command of language and a superb sense of timing. Here are 10 examples of superior leadership communication, words that still matter today.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt — First Inaugural Address, 1933
“In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor: the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others; the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”

FDR used radio to reach more Americans with Fireside Chats.

FDR used radio to reach more Americans with Fireside Chats. Photo: Tony Fischer

George Washington — Farewell Address, 1796
“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.“

Barbara Jordan as keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. (AP photo)

Barbara Jordan as keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. (AP photo)

Barbara Jordan —Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, 1974

“When [the Constitution] was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in…’We, the people.’ “ I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We, the people.’ ”

Martin Luther King, Jr. — I Have a Dream, 1963
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Robert F. Kennedy — Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968
“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

RFK, Indianapolis the day MLK was shot. Photo: Bill Eppridge

RFK, Indianapolis the day MLK was shot. Photo: Bill Eppridge

Sojourner Truth — The Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio, 1851
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”

Hillary Rodham Clinton — 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995
“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

Winston Churchill — To the House of Commons, 1940
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we
shall never surrender.”

JFK speaks to crowds at the Berlin Wall

JFK speaks to crowds at the Berlin Wall

John F. Kennedy — West Berlin, 1963
“Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

Abraham Lincoln — Second Inaugural Address,1865
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

20 Unusual Leadership Quotes

Tecumseh, Native American leader of the Shawnee

Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee


1) When the legends die, the dreams end; there is no more greatness. — Tecumseh

2) Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. — James Bryant Conant

3) The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’ — Isaac Asimov

4) A leader is a dealer in hope. — Napoleon

5) The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. — William Wordsworth

Bella Abzug in 1971, when she served in the House of Representatives and co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus

Bella Abzug in 1971, when she served in the House of Representatives and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus

6) Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. — Maya Angelou

7) The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes. – Bella Abzug

8) If something can corrupt you, you’re corrupted already.
Bob Marley

9) Beware of all enterprises requiring new clothes. — Thoreau

10) America would be a better place if leaders would do more long-term thinking. — Wilma Mankiller

11) The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering. — Bruce Lee

12) The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom. — Lady Bird Johnson

13) Never wound a snake; kill it. — Harriet Tubman

14) I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. — Eartha Kitt

Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farmworkers Movement

Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farmworkers Movement

15) In some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence. — Cesar Chavez

16) I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim. — Frida Kahlo

17) Judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. — Simon Bolivar

18) Leadership is how to be, not how to do. — Frances Hesselbein

19) It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men. – Samuel Adams

20) I won’t quit to become someone’s old lady. — Janis Joplin

The Nonprofit Branding Bandwagon

Nonprofit Branding BandwagonI first wrote about the branding bandwagon back in 2007, when it seemed that every large nonprofit I knew was  spending serious money — and I mean hundreds of thousands of dollars —  for corporate style tag lines, logos, commercial partnerships and strategies that they thought would attract media coverage and recognition from potential donors. At the time I complained that, while I understood the desire to stand out from the crowd, I  thought nonprofits’ embrace of corporate branding practices was unwise in terms of mission fulfillment. Positioning a charitable organization as a corporate brand might impress some people, I conceded, but that wouldn’t necessarily move a nonprofit toward its mission, and it might serve to undermine the credibility of other nonprofits working on the same cause.

Social Change Organizations

I still hold this view and believe it is particularly true for those organizations dedicated to cultural change and social justice. Changing the world is a big and costly job. There’s plenty of work to go around, so why fight one another? It’s ironic that nonprofits are the only organizations expected to collaborate with their “competitors.” Look behind that irony, though, and you will see that there is some logic to this. There are very few, if any, nonprofit organizations that have truly unique missions. Mostly, the differences are matters of strategy and tactics – various ways of reaching similar goals and producing goods and services that benefit society. Social benefits such as housing the homeless, fighting for voting rights or preserving wilderness are not generally things from which profits can be made. That’s why nonprofit organizations exist in the first place.

Cooperation vs. Competition

In business, competition clearly drives innovation and improvement, but we need to ask ourselves if the same is really true in the nonprofit sector. When multiple organizations share a similar mission – one that is difficult and costs money rather than generates profits – it seems smarter to cooperate rather than spend resources to outshine one another. I continue to question why nonprofits — and those of us who work with them — have jumped on the branding bandwagon with so little thought of the long-term implications. I suppose the reason is based on fear. Fear of missing out on a big donation. Fear of seeing a rival quoted instead of oneself. Fear of not having clout in the advocacy arena. Advocates think — hope — that branding will position them to win and, to be frank, we consultants encourage it.

But what if nonprofits didn’t give in to the fear? What if the best of them partnered to apply jointly for funding? What if they divided up chunks of work and didn’t duplicate things that others were already doing? What if nonprofits insisted on having models of marketing, branding and communicating that were not mere grafts from the corporate world, but were designed and built just for the nonprofit universe?

A New Model

When I first asked those questions, there wasn’t much around that didn’t come right out of a typical corporate brand book. Now there is much more research being done to identify marketing techniques and ways of work that preserve each nonprofit’s distinctions, yet resist the pressure to compete when competition is unproductive. Among them is a new nonprofit branding framework developed by Harvard researcher Nathalie Kylander. Called IDEA, an acronym that stands for Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Affinity, the framework is featured in a book, The Brand IDEA, which Kylander co-authored with Julia Shepard Stenzel. It was released earlier this year by Jossey-Bass/Wiley. While I’m not entirely in love with this approach, I do think it has some constructive suggestions for nonprofit branding, particularly in its “Affinity” section.

You can read more about the role of branding in the nonprofit sector on the website of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University and in the Spring 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.