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3 Quotes That Speak to Leadership

by Timothy Tiernan on May 20, 2013
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Wisdom and philosophy for leadership in a grant writing setting

It’s Monday and I’ve decided to apply my philosophy degree—in one post of three easy quotation installments. I've realized that these wisdom bites can be applied to any leadership (or nonleadership) position, whether you're a city manager, municipal grant manager, nonprofit grant writer, or person who stumbled on this blog because she was looking for a Seneca quotation. Whoever you are, I hope this article serves as a starting point for your own thread of ideas.


“To lead people, walk behind them.”—Lao Tzu (fl. 6thcentury BCE)

  • Interpretation: Typically we think of leading as stepping ahead of the crowd, so this advice seems a bit counterintuitive. Lao Tzu advises that from the back of the pack you can effectively observe and serve. Learn your group by being the caboose, and you will effectively keep the team on track. Step aside or behind, demonstrating that you are as much a part of the team as the others.
  • How do I apply this? One example might be vigilant communication, whether you’re asking questions about grant funding needs (and doing your research) or coordinating with your grant writers. 
  • Where’ve I heard of this guy? Probably this quote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (good inspiration for overcoming [grant] writer’s block). Considered the father of Taoism, Lao Tzu is best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching, which is packed with leadership wisdom.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”— attributed to Seneca the Younger (4 BCE – 65 CE)

  • Interpretation: This quotation speaks for itself. You’ve already done the work by the time things click. 
  • How I apply this? Anticipate the unforeseeable, so when the unforeseeable arises, you’re still ahead of those reporting deadlines. When someone asks how you pulled it all off, you say, “Prudence.”
  • Where’ve I heard of this guy? Maybe a philosophy course, but likely this quote. The Stoic philosophy, famously followed by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (here's a book of his that Steve Forbes likes), emphasized self-control and fortitude to overcome emotions.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”—Sun Tzu (c. 544 BCE – c. 496 BCE)

  • Interpretation: In terms of any competitive atmosphere, do what you do well. Well, do it better than the rest and you win without fighting.
  • How do I apply this? Focus on your goals and focus on resolving your inner conflicts. Don't let emotion be your dictator.
  • Where’ve I heard of this guy? He's the author of the military treatise The Art of War. In Sun Tzu and the Art of Business, the ancient strategy is applied to the arena of 21st c. business strategy: win without warring by gaining market share.

What are your ideas on these quotations? Share some of your own that have been applicable in your work setting.

About eCivis

eCivis is the nation's leading grants management software solution and the ideal platform for improving local governments' and community-based organizations' grants performance. For more information about eCivis, visit www.ecivis.com. For media inquiries, contact media@ecivis.com.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to download the following article on corporate grant seeking:

Corporate Grant Seeking