33 Inspirational Leaders We Should Listen to in 2021

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We get asked time and again ‘which leaders should I listen to?’

There are the obvious ones, like Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, but we’re always looking for new voices to guide our leadership style.

We cross-checked Fortune’s greatest leaders with global search volumes in Google for ‘*name* + quotes’ and ‘quotes by *name*’ to see which leader’s inspirational quotes we seek out the most.

Here are the top 33 leaders we seek out the most: 

Leader Monthly Global Search Volume
Bill Gates 26500
Greta Thunberg 9310
Satya Nadella 320
Michael J Fox 260
Meghan Markle 210
Aliko Dangote 160
Melinda Gates 160
Tim Cook 160
Prince Harry 110
Jacinda Ardern 100
Tony Bennett 80
Jordan Peele 50
Doug McMillon & Lisa Woods * 40
Pony Ma (aka Ma Huateng) * 40
William McDonough 40
Anna Nimiriano 20
Charlie Baker 20
Chip Bergh 20
Claudia Dobles 20
Dr. Marc Harrison 20
Fatma Samoura 20
JoAnne Jenkins 20
José Andrés 20
Kapil Mohabir 20
Katrina Lake 20
Kyaw Hla Aung 20
Leo Varadkar 20
Margrethe Vestager 20
Marilyn Bartlett 20
Robery Mueller 20
Sean Mcvay 20
Tristan Walker 20
William J Barber 20

*search volumes combined for two persons


Inspirational quotes from well-known leaders

If you’re sick of Mark Twain telling you “the secret of getting ahead is getting started,” here are lesser-known motivational quotes to energise your leadership style.

Bill Gates

Unsurprisingly, Bill dominates our list. Quotes from Microsoft’s founder tot-up 26,500 searches a month around the world.

Our favourite quote: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Melinda Gates

Fortune merge Bill and Melinda into one leadership force on its 2019 list. But according to search volume, Melinda is a voice of authority in her own right. She gathers interest from 160 inspiration-seekers worldwide per month.

Our favourite quote: “If you don’t set your own agenda, somebody else will. If I didn’t fill my schedule with things I felt were important, other people would fill my schedule with things they felt were important.”

Prince Harry

The Duke of Sussex is a more candid and sensitive leader than ever before, but surprisingly few people seek out his point of view. Just 110 people worldwide search for his quotes.

A quote to make you punch the air: “There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face – as so many of you can relate to – I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been. Because in today’s digital age, press fabrications are repurposed as truth across the globe. One day’s coverage is no longer tomorrow’s chip-paper.”

Meghan Markle

Fortune makes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a powerful double-act in its greatest leaders list. But like Melinda Gates, Meghan is a tour de force leader and deserves her own space. Her honesty catches the imagination of people world-over – 210 people worldwide search for ‘Meghan Markle quotes’.

Meghan on gender equality at the senior levels: “Women make up more than half of the world’s population and potential, so it is neither just nor practical for their voices, for OUR voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making.”

68,000 people every month ask Google for ‘motivational quotes’, whereas 93,000 request ‘inspirational quotes’

Michael J. Fox

Wait a minute Doc, are you telling me you built a time machine? Michael J. Fox is an actor well-known for his portrayal of Marty McFly in the film series, Back to the Future. But he is also the founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, funding research for Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease typically affects people when they’re around 60 years old. For star actor Michael J. Fox, it hit at 29. Fox was diagnosed in 1991 but didn’t publicly reveal his disease until seven years later. That decision was fueled in part by a desire to raise awareness about Parkinson’s and fund research to fight the degenerative disorder of the nervous system. Two decades later, Fox has become one of the most respected advocates in medicine.

From the silver screen into your leadership style: “If you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything.”

Jacinda Ardern

A trail-blazing woman whose tactics eliminated COVID-19 before any other nation and juggled the demands of a new-born baby while fulfilling her role as PM.

On leadership as a conduit: “To me, leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being the bridge, or the thing that is missing in the discussion and trying to build a consensus from there.”

Robery Mueller

One-time director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is well-known for the Mueller Report which accused the Russian government of interfering with the 2016 presidential election in a ‘sweeping and systemic fashion’. His bravery, honesty and integrity set him apart.

On the qualities of FBI workers: “For the men and women of the FBI, bravery is reflected not only in the physical courage often necessary in the job. It can be seen in the courage of conviction, in the courage to act with wisdom in the face of fear, and in the courage, it takes to admit mistakes and move forward”

Satya Nadella quotes

Nadella is the CEO of Microsoft Corporations and is responsible for achieving huge revenue during his term. He makes hard decisions in order to balance growth, training and workplace culture – isn’t that what every leader wants to do?

On bringing people together: “[There are] two billion first-line workers and 77% of these two billion workers feel they don’t have the tools… the real opportunity for us is to bring knowledge workers and first-line workers together to empower companies and people. And that’s what we’re doing with Microsoft 365.”

Greta Thunberg quotes

Now that’s a search history to be proud of. The trail-blazing environmentalist’s inspiring speeches are searched for 9,130 times a month world-over.

A short, but powerful quote: “I have learned you are never too small to make a difference.”

Aliko Dangote quotes

Dangote founded Dangote Cement and is Africa’s richest man (and the 162nd wealthiest person in the world) – that’s pretty inspiring. He’s working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate malnutrition in Nigeria.

A quote about his mindset: “Every morning when I wake up, I make up my mind to solve as many problems, before retiring home”

Tim Cook quotes

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, is tapped for inspiration 160 times a month globally.

A quote to get your head in the game: “The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.”

Jordan Peele quotes

Horror director Jordan Peele smashed box office expectations, raking in $70 million in just the opening weekend for his critically acclaimed film, ‘Us’. His stand out leadership qualities lies in his ability to creatively tackle societal demons without shying away from the issues.

A quote about taking risks: “I love biting off more than I can chew and figuring it out”

Tony Bennett quotes

Tony is a basketball coach that’s led teams from ‘humiliation to celebration’ and encourages his teams to vent their frustrations publicly, as a motivation tool.

Globally his quotes gain attention from 80 people.

Leadership quotes you might not have heard before

Are you ready for some fresh inspiration? These are the leaders gracing the pages of Fortune’s greatest 50 leaders whose might be a little less-well know on a global scale, but they are some of the richest, most successful and pioneering people in the world – aspiring leaders, listen and learn.

Pony Ma (aka Ma Huateng)

Pony Ma, otherwise known as Ma Huateng, chairs Tencent Holdings, one of China’s largest businesses. This low profile personality is voted as one of the world’s most influential people. Flying under the radar, Pony Ma is China’s richest man. He is a leader that believes in taking action, he is quoted as saying “Ideas are not important in China – execution is,” referring to the fact that in China your competition doesn’t wait around in imitating your ideas.

Margrethe Vestager

A force to be reckoned with, Margrethe Vestager is the European Commissioner for competition, who has gone after some of the corporate big boys over anti-competitive behaviours and tax avoidance. Google, Facebook and Apple have all had Margrethe at their doorstep. It appears that Vestager is a stickler for accountability and responsibility; Silicon valley takes heed, Vestager says “if it’s in your algorithm, it’s your responsibility.”

Claudia Dobles

Claudia is Costa Rica’s First Lady, who pledged to decarbonise Costa Rica by 2050. An architect and urban planner, she’s now in charge of turning that promise into reality. She told The New York Times that disposing of all fossil fuels would make Costa Rica a global leader in the fight against global warming. “We need to start providing answers,” she said.

Chip Bergh

Chip is the CEO of Levi Strauss. When he took over in 2011, the denim maker was a shadow of its iconic former self. Bergh brought the cool back, marketing Levi’s as hip Americana with a celebrity pedigree, driving revenues by 26%. But as a non-retail and e-commerce expert (albeit with a sterling track record from Proter&Gamble), he faced resistance when he joined Levi: “My first job was to stare down the brutal facts and get people to embrace the brutal facts and then lay out the course for change.” His love of the brand drove him to innovate and manage the challenge to turn the business around.

Sean Mcvay

He’s the head Coach LA Rams and the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. He took his team to the Super Bowl, and although he didn’t win, much of the rest of the league wants a carbon copy of the 33-year-old. McVay’s up-tempo offensive style turned the Rams into a nearly unstoppable force and has triggered a youth movement. The team culture – its values and vision – are  hand-picked by Sean and plastered all over the walls:

The standard is the standard.

Situational masters.

We not me.

Our rule – be on time.

Tristan Walker

Tristan specialises in demographic futureproofing. He’s the genius co-founder behind Code2040 and the CEO of Walker&Co (recently acquired by Procter&Gamble) and is at the forefront of preparing businesses for an almost complete culture merge in 2040. He recognised that people of colour weren’t represented in consumer goods and the products that did exist were poorly branded and overpriced. He set about dealing with those frustrations: “I’m going to respect those things before anybody else does, and really create a long-term view around celebrating this beautiful community and culture,” he told the New York Times in 2018.

Charlie Baker

Charlie is the Governer Massachusetts. What’s surprising is that his approval ratings routinely land near 70% – it’s a remarkable feat for a Republican leading a famously liberal state. He’s a change agent and turnaround specialist, who doesn’t rock the boat enough to let the Democrats in. His ability to please everyone comes from a drive to win 100% of the vote, not just the people who agree with him. “Success is measured by what we accomplish together,” he said.

JoAnne Jenkins

JoAnne is the CEO of AARP and a champion for the elderly in America, raising awareness for escalating medication costs. She works tirelessly to end age discrimination at work. “Why do we insist on perpetuating stereotypes that will affect each and every one of us someday?” she asked.

Katrina Lake

Katrina is the CEO of fashion subscription service, Stitch Fix. She’s worth $380m today, but had modest beginnings, starting her company from her apartment in 2011. In 2017, at 34, she became the youngest female founder ever to take a company public. She’s been quietly changing the game for women leaders in corporate environments. “Be known as a great resource. Are you an Excel genius? An expert on local restaurants? Fabulous at proofreading? Go beyond your job description by being an open resource for others in the company who could benefit from your talents. I believe that paying it forward will serve you well one way or another in the future,” she said.

William McDonough quotes

William designed green offices spaces for Nike and Adidas but is now working towards revolutionising degradable plastics, cleansing our oceans and rivers of harmful materials. He’s redefining carbon and is changing the reprimand narrative surrounding human’s place in the ecosystem – “The world is getting better because we’re here…carbon is positive, we’re just doing the wrong things with it,” he said. He’s an endless source of inspiration because he’s an optimistic inventor at heart: “We achieved our mission to the moon. Let’s look home from that lofty perch and reimagine our mission on Earth – that is what we need to do here. Together, we can upcycle everything. The world will be better for our positive visions and actions.”

Leo Varadkar

Leo is Ireland’s youngest, openly gay and ethnic minority prime minister. He’s manoeuvred Ireland to become Europe’s fastest-growing economy and stared Brexit bravely in the face to get a good deal. He’s a down-to-earth leader who surprises and delights, for example: “Some have asked whether there is a limit to what we can achieve. My answer is that the limit does not exist.” Half of that quote is taken from Tina Fey’s hit comedy, Mean Girls. What a surprising breath of fresh air that was within a Coronavirus briefing!

Dr. Marc Harrison

Marc is the CEO of a non-profit healthcare company, Civica Rx – he’s an influential and disruptive figure in healthcare, looking for innovative ways to make medication accessible for everyone. Under his watch, he wants to eliminate shortfalls and price hikes and prevent people from suffering at the hand of industry-whims.

He’s determined and true to the cause: “Unlike for-profit companies, Civica Rx is a public asset whose mission is to ensure that essential generic medications are accessible and affordable. These are drugs that have emerged from the patent-protection period and are in the public domain. The company will work to ensure they remain that way,” he said.

Fatma Samoura

Fatma is the first female secretary-general of FIFA. Under her watch, she rid the organisation of corruption, started a female division and increased the number of women on the books from 32% to 48% 2016.

She sees her challenges and confronts them, head-on. She told the BBC: “There are people who don’t think that a black woman should be leading the administration of FIFA. It’s sometimes as simple as that. It is something we are fighting on a daily basis on the pitch – I don’t want any racist person around me. Nobody asks a man when he takes a position if he’s competent to do the job. They just assume that he can do the job. For a woman to make her way up to the top – you need to prove every single day that you are the best fit for that position.”

Kyaw Hla Aung

actKyaw is an activist and lawyer from Myanma. He helped to protect Rohingya people from discrimination, opened schools for Muslims, won the Aurora Prize for humanitarianism, and donated all the prizemoney to displaced Rohingya. His strength is bringing identity and a voice to a silenced people, he can persuade and convince others to he’s because he speaks with integrity and honesty.

Anna Nimiriano

Anna Nimiriano is South Sudan’s only female Editor-In-Chief who was named the 2019 African Laureate for WAN-IFRA Women in News Editorial Leadership Awards.

Her advice for focusing on tasks in front of you: Sometimes there is a risk of focusing on all the problems around you instead of the work at hand.

José Andrés

José Andrés is a chef and founder of the not-for-profit organisation, World Central Kitchen. It aims to provide meals to those who are affected by natural disasters.

He has many projects outside the kitchen which feed countries in need across the world.

During his GWU Commencement Speech, José spoke about community: “The world is yours to claim not because of a diploma, but because we have each other and never forget that we are only as good as the people we have around us.”

Doug McMillon and Lisa Woods

Doug McMillion is the CEO of Walmart whilst Lisa Woods is the company’s Senior Director for U.S benefits. Both were worried about the increasing costs of healthcare within the USA and knew this would impact on their employees. Launching a Centre of Excellence programme (COE), Woods enabled employees to get treatment at some of the top hospitals while the company pays for the bills. The results show that employees who are treated by the correct professionals recover faster and as a result return to work sooner.

Doug’s wise words about reaching the top: “Whatever you’ve been asked to do and whatever your role is now, do it really well and do it with integrity”.

Marilyn Bartlett

Marilyn is the Special Projects Coordinator for the State of Montana. She is also well known for leading change for government employee’s health insurance plans in Montana by taking on the challenge with a fierce attitude and remained committed to succeed.

Marilyn on fighting for change: “I would say just keep your goal in mind. Stay focused. Have each other’s back and be open to hearing what might come forth.”

William J Barber

William J. Barber II is a pastor in North Carolina and keen activist fighting against poverty, racism and voting rights. He organises Moral Monday protests for supporters to protest about issues in society that contribute to racial and economic inequality.

A quote from Reverend Barber about the new justice movement: “We are working together in the revival and calling for a moral revolution of values. And as we travel the country and we see some things that’s why I am so concerned about those that say so much about what God says so little, while saying so little about what God says so much.”

Kapil Mohabir

From a young age, Kapil faced extraordinary challenges. He lived on a small crop farm in Guyana with his impoverished family – without access to large markets, they couldn’t make a decent living. He went on to study at Harvard Business School and returned to Guyana to try and tackle these economic vulnerabilities. He set out to create sustainable farming. Now his large company empowers communities and creates jobs, plus helps local farmers to develop sustainable and clean procedures.

Kapil speaking about his business Plympton Farms: “I always knew I wanted to come back to Guyana and do something preferably in agriculture.”

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Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda is TSW's Head of Marketing. Her articles are largely about the benefits of professional development investment.
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