30 Leadership Quotes from the World's Top Female CEOs

8 min read
Mar 8, 2019

Some people are motivated by kindness and gentle effort of leaders, while others respond to toughness and tenacity. Whatever your style of leadership, try learning something new from these 30 leadership quotes from the world’s top female CEOs.

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When it comes to leadership, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to motivating a team. Because all people are different, they also have varying motivating factors and preferences. Some are pushed by kindness and gentle effort, while others are motivated by toughness and tenacity. Whatever style of leadership you decide to implement, there’s always something you can learn from other leaders who’ve laid the foundation.

The following leadership quotes are from some of the most extraordinary female CEOs of the world, having proved to inspire, motivate, and empower those around them. Hopefully these women can do the same for you!


1. Meg Whitman – CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise

“Do what you love, and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a successful career.”

Takeaway: When you truly love what you do and do what you love, work doesn’t have to feel like work. Therefore, you’ll be passionate and eager to work, and success will come easier.

2. Marissa Mayer – Former CEO of Yahoo

 “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”

Takeaway: By facing your fears and taking calculated risks, you can experience more growth and progression in life. Inspire others to do the same.


 3. Irene B. Rosenfeld – CEO of Mondelez International, Inc.

“People vote with their hearts, not their heads.”

Takeaway: People tend to make decisions based on emotions rather than logic. Therefore, it’s important to impact people on an emotional level.

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4. Virginia M. Rometty – CEO of IBM

“Don’t let others define you. Define yourself.”

Takeaway: There are many types of people and personalities to match. Instead of being defined by who you think others want you to be, be the person you know you must be.


5. Indra Nooyi – CEO of PepsiCo

“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”

Takeaway: A great leader is someone who can get others to follow them. While there are many aspects of being a great leader, getting others to follow you is the first step.

6. Debra A. Cafaro – CEO of Ventas, Inc.

“Go through some difficult experiences. If you can live through them and learn from them, you have a much better chance of knowing what to do when the chips are down and everyone else is freaking out.”

Takeaway: Experience is life’s greatest teacher. Embrace your hardships and let them mold you into a better leader and person.

7. Lynn Good – CEO of Duke Energy

“I actually had someone say to me, 'Lynn, you're going to have very good days, and you're going to have very bad days. But it's rare that things are as good as they look, and it's rare that things are as bad as they seem.' So, having perspective, and challenging perspective, is important to making good decisions.”

Takeaway: The quality of life and your career is all about perspective. Things are never as good or bad as they seem. When leading others, teach the principle of keeping things in healthy perspective.


8. Denise M. Morrison – CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

“Leadership is service to others.”

Takeaway: The key to becoming a good leader is to strive to provide value to those around you. By being of service to others, you’ll gain followership, which in turn makes you a great leader.


9. Himanshu Bhatia – CEO of Rose International

"As a leader, it's a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow."  

Takeaway: Lead by example. If you want your company to be known for operating with integrity, you must do exactly that.


10. Marillyn Hewson – CEO of Lockheed Martin 

"Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do. Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they're doing it. That's purpose. And that's the key to achieving something truly transformational."  

Takeaway: Rather than being a delegator, it’s more important to be a motivator. Lead with “why” and give others a sense of purpose.


11. Abigail Johnson – CEO of Fidelity Investments

“I had many high-powered sales and marketing professionals who reported to me, but I also had thousands of call center representatives reporting to me. I had to learn to communicate to very different types of groups of managers with different orientations, different priorities."

Takeaway: As a leader of a group, it’s important to understand that people require different styles of communication. Adapt accordingly.


12. Ellen J. Kullman – CEO of DuPont

“With kids, they don’t do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Organizations don’t necessarily, either. You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to learn how to influence. 

Takeaway: Getting others to do what you want is not about authority, but about influence. If you can have a positive influence over others, they’ll be more likely to do what you ask of them without pushback.


13. Lisa Cash Hanson – CEO of Snuggwugg

"Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished."

Takeaway: A good leader guides his/her people while allowing them to still make decisions for themselves. By giving them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, they’ll be eager to perform better and do more for the company.


14. Alexandra Chong – CEO and founder of Lulu

“Build something you're passionate about. As an entrepreneur, you have to have the passion and drive to stay the course."

Takeaway: Lead with passion. If you’re passionate about the company and the work, success comes naturally.


15. Candice Carpenter Olson – Co-CEO of Fullbridge

“If you are committed to creating value and if you aren't afraid of hard times, obstacles become utterly unimportant. A nuisance perhaps, but with no real power. The world respects creation; people will get out of your way."

Takeaway: People will gain a greater level of respect for you when they witness your tenacity and resiliency through hard times. Lean into hardship, and over time people will become easier to manage.


16. Rachel Chong – CEO and founder of Catchafire

"I believe in a quiet, strong and grounded leadership. I think some of the best leaders are those whose work is widely known and respected but who, themselves, are relatively unknown."

Takeaway: It’s wise to keep your personal life separate from work life. As a leader, your personal brand is everything, so be strong and grounded.


17. Caroline Cummings – CEO and founder of Varo Ventures

"The comfort zone is a nice place, but nothing grows there. Take the leap today and start your business!" 

Takeaway: Getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to achieve more results. Whether starting your business or leading people in a company, overcome your fears and do what is necessary to be the best you can be.


18. Trish Bertuzzi – CEO of The Bridge Group

“Lean in, speak out, have a voice in your organization, and never use the word, ‘sorry’.”

 Takeaway: Be unapologetically you. If you have an opinion or statement to make, say it. Be engaged and sure of yourself as you navigate the workplace.


19. Caterina Fake – CEO and co-founder of Flickr

“Sometimes you climb the mountain, and you fall and fail. Maybe there is a different path that will take you up. Sometimes a different mountain.”

Takeaway: Regardless of the hardship or situation, there’s always a way to achieve success. Be creative and find other ways of approaching a task or situation.


20. Ursula Burns – CEO of Xerox

“I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them.”

Takeaway: Be bold and confident in who you are. Let your presence be felt and respected in the workplace.


21. Jess Lee – CEO of Polyvore

“I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, but just because you don’t fit the classic mold doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. You just need to find your own style and someone with a similar style who you can learn from.”

Takeaway: There are extroverted leaders and introverted leaders. Just because you may not be the type of leader most expect, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a great leader. Capitalize on your strengths and appreciate your weaknesses.


22. Tamara McCleary – CEO and founder of Thulium

“Building a brand means knowing your story and building and sharing that story.”

Takeaway: For others to appreciate the vision of your company, you must understand your story and share it with others. When you share the “why” of your company’s goals and actions, your people will have a clearer understanding of why they’re doing what they’ve been asked to do.


23. Leah Busque – CEO and founder of TaskRabbit

“I wake up every morning and think to myself, ‘How far can I push the company forward in the next 24 hours.” 

Takeaway: Lead with drive and determination. Set a clear goal for the day so that your actions follow suit.


24. Alaina Percival – CEO of Women Who Code

 “I realized that if I was willing to step up and be in the spotlight, I’d be able to make everyone else around me much more powerful as well.” 

Takeaway: By acting when others won’t or can’t, you empower others to act as well.


25. Claire Wasserman – CEO and founder of Ladies Get Paid

“Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Always be cultivating a support network so that when you stumble — and you will — they’ll be there to catch you.”

Takeaway: Some believe that asking for help from others may be viewed as a sign of weakness. Instead, however, it’s a strength. If you allow yourself to have a strong support network, you’ll never have to worry about being stuck – you’ll always have someone willing to help.


26. Adriana Gascoigne – CEO and founder of Girls in Tech

“You have to follow your dreams and be true to yourself, even if that takes you down a less popular road.”

Takeaway: Sometimes we must follow the road less traveled to be true to ourselves. Rather than trying to fit the mold of the standard leader, be innovative in your thinking and try approaching things in new ways.


27. Julie Sweet – CEO of Accenture North America

“There will be plenty of times where being a woman is probably not helping your career, so when it does, take the opportunity and then stand out. Really show that you’re something special.”

Takeaway: Unfortunately, being a woman in the workplace can sometimes be a weakness. Whenever the opportunity to stand out and show your talents presents itself, take it. Show others that you’re more than capable of doing the job.


28. Katherine Graham – former CEO of The Washington Post

 “To love what you do and feel like it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

Takeaway: When your work matters to others, work no longer feels like work. Do something with purpose that benefits others.


29. Carly Fiorina – Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

 “Do not be afraid to make decisions. Do not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Takeaway: Be fearless in your decisions. Even if you find that your actions are mistakes, maintain your integrity. Be bold in your actions and others will be inspired to follow.


30. Sallie Krawcheck – CEO and co-founder of Ellevest

“If you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances."

Takeaway: Inspiring others and achieving success requires taking chances and calculated risks. If you’ve been comfortable for a while, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone.


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