18 Quotes That Have Inspired Leaders for Thousands of Years

18 Quotes That Have Inspired Leaders for Thousands of Years

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Sometimes a nugget of wisdom from the past can be energizing as a cup of coffee. Here are 18 of my favorite quotes from Roman philosophers, historians and thinkers.

1. “Say not always what you know, but always know what you say.”
— Claudius

As a leader, the temptation to talk is strong. It can even be tempting to bloviate regarding subjects you’re less than well-informed about. Resist the first temptation as often as you can — listen more than you speak — and the second one always.

2. “Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man.”
–Pliny the Elder

Running a business is not for the faint of heart. It can be easy at times to capitulate to despair and discouragement. Don’t do it. Stay inspired, and you’ll inspire others in turn.

3. “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”
–Marcus Aurelius

It took me a long time to learn to trust my instincts about myself. What some people told me were weaknesses of character turned out to be strengths. Learn to believe in yourself, and to tune out gratuitous criticism.

4. “We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.”
–Vegetius

What makes a successful army will make a successful business — constant practice, steady habits and ceaseless education in every aspect of entrepreneurship.

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5. “Hasten slowly.”
–Augustus

Move fast and grab opportunity when it arises, but always be thoughtful and measured in your approach.

6. “I see the beard and cloak, but I don’t yet see a philosopher.”
–Aulus Gellius

Vanity metrics — such as what you wear and drive — are far less important than wisdom and expertise.

7. “If fortune favors you do not be elated; if she frowns do not despond.”
–Ausonius

It’s inevitable to experience ups and downs. Sometimes the ups will be very good; sometimes the downs will be very bad. Don’t overreact to either.

8. “Nothing is miserable unless you think it is so.”
–Boethius

You’ve heard it your whole life: You are what you think. It’s true. Practice thinking positively just like you practice anything else.

9. “He plants trees to benefit another generation.”
–Caecilius Statius

Make your business strong — put down deep roots — for others as much as for yourself.

10. “Hateful is the power, and pitiable is the life, of those who wish to be feared rather than loved.”
–Cornelius Nepos

Being loved by your employees and colleagues is superior to being feared. Period.

11. “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”
–Horace

Don’t forget to laugh while at work. Some of my greatest relationships are with co-workers, and part of the strength of these relationships is that we’re safe being silly around each other.

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12. “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.”
–Julius Caesar

Forget about grand gestures and blazes of glory. They’re easy because they’re brief and self-gratifying. Cultivate the art of patience through trials instead, and you’ll come through for yourself and others when courage is needed.

13. “All wish to possess knowledge, but few, comparatively speaking, are willing to pay the price.”
–Juvenal

Study is difficult. Reading and thinking and listening are hard. Make time for them anyway.

14. “Many difficulties which nature throws in our way, may be smoothed away by the exercise of intelligence.”
–Livy

In the face of a crisis, don’t react emotionally. Use your brain instead.

15. “Great fear is concealed under daring.”
–Lucan

Everybody that you admire — all of your heroes, from athletes to artists to entrepreneurs — gets scared. Don’t let the mere presence of fear dissuade you from making bold moves.

16. “Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.”
–Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Live now. Love every stage of growing your business. Don’t pine for what’s coming — life’s too short not to appreciate every moment.

17. “The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.”
–Lucretius

Set specific goals along with strategies for achieving them, and patiently peck away at them like water on stone.

18. “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
–Marcus Tullius

Look to the past to learn for the present and future. Study the lives of those who did great things, and learn from their failures as much as their successes.

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About the Author — Levi King is co-founder and CEO of Nav, a free way for business owners to manage their entire credit and financial life. King is a six-time entrepreneur who has started successful businesses in the manufacturing, hospitality, retail financial services, and franchising spaces. He has accessed financing more than 30 times and founded Nav to provide small-business owners with a resource to help ease the process.

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