Employees need motivation if you want them to work at peak productivity. Unfortunately, motivation can be hard to come by — and that’s where motivational quotes for employees come in.
Sometimes, all it takes is one powerful quote or piece of information to help resuscitate your employees’ enthusiasm.
Below are some of my favorite motivational quotes for employees from managers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, inventors, athletes, and more:
Motivational Quotes for Employees
1. Zig Ziglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.”
This is an appropriate quote to start with, and one that encourages consistency in maintaining your employees’ motivation. They need nurturing on a regular basis.
2. Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
This is especially important for leaders. It’s not just enough to tell your employees what to do; you have to demonstrate and embody the values you want them to emulate.
3. Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
It’s a classic quote for a reason. Oftentimes, our beliefs are self-fulfilling prophecies.
4. Seth Godin: “In a battle between two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it.”
This isn’t always good advice, but it can be inspiring when your employees feel self-conscious. Sometimes, confidence is enough to get you over the hurdle.
5. Shari R. Barr: “Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.”
The world is stressful and sometimes unforgiving. You can’t just expect things to go well or get better on their own; you have to expect the worst and prepare for it.
6. Jerry Porras: “When you put together deep knowledge about a subject that intensely matters to you, charisma happens. You gain courage to share your passion, and when you do that, folks follow.”
Charisma isn’t a natural quality; it’s one that’s cultivated with ongoing passion and enthusiasm.
7. Nicole Shepherd: “You never regret being kind.”
Kindness and basic etiquette can take you far in life, and you’ll be glad to see your employees treating each other with that consideration.
8. Andre Dubus: “Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.”
Employees tend to perform better when they’re outgoing; they’re more collaborative, and open to working with more people. Ridding yourself of your ego and self-consciousness can make you more productive.
9. Margaret Thatcher: “Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”
Emotional reactions can compromise your employees’ abilities to make logical decisions and form thoughtful criticism. This quote is a good reminder to stay as objective as possible.
10. Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
This is another one for your managers and team leaders. Good leadership isn’t about making people do things; it’s about making them want to do things.
11. Margaret Thatcher: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
Perseverance may be necessary if you want your ideas to stand out.
12. Alan Cohen: “To be content means that you realize you contain what you seek.”
Wants and needs can get in the way of achievements, especially if you’re the type who’s never satisfied. This quote can help your employees find satisfaction, which in turn can boost productivity.
13. Vince Lombardi: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
Your employees deserve to know that they don’t need to be perfect, but striving for perfection nonetheless can lead to greatness.
14. Rosalynn Carter: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.”
Achievements aren’t common in employees’ comfort zones. Good leaders aren’t afraid to push for more.
15. William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
These succinct statements illustrate the growth of a leader, and your employees will do well to internalize them.
16. J.P. Morgan: “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”
Employees often make excuses or claim a different motivation than what’s really driving them. Being honest about your own motivations can help you achieve more.
17. Robert Louis Stevenson: “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”
Everyone faces uncertainty, embarrassment, and other byproducts of fear. These are best confronted alone in a professional environment. But when you’re feeling bold, courageous, and strong, those feelings are contagious—so encourage your employees to share them.
18. Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Another Stevenson quote reminds us that our daily, in-the-moment efforts don’t often see immediate results. It takes time to cultivate the fruits of our labor.
19. Marcus Aurelius: “Think of what you have rather than of what you lack. Of the things you have, select the best and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them.”
Again, this quote encourages employees to feel satisfied. It’s good to stay motivated to continue seeking greater heights of achievement, but without grounding in contentment, it can lead to relentless perfectionism.
20. John D. Rockefeller: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
People often choose to stay in limiting roles because they’re safe. Encourage your employees to challenge themselves and take risks.
21. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
There’s always time to change your goals and habits.
22. William Arthur Ward: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
The expression of gratitude is powerful, both for the giver and the recipient. Encourage your employees to share their gratitude more frequently, and be sure to share your gratitude with your employees from time to time.
23. George Herbert. “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”
Waiting for the perfect moment is rarely productive, because the “perfect” moment doesn’t exist.
24. Vincent van Gogh: “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
Hopefully your employees won’t be dying anytime soon, but the point here is that it’s better to be enthusiastic and hardworking than bored.
25. Orrin Woodward: “Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.”
Again, we have tiers of leadership to consider. Good leadership isn’t about dictation or even direction; it’s about empowerment.
26. Jaachynma N.E. Agu: “Don’t blow off another’s candle for it won’t make yours shine brighter.”
This is an especially important one for competitive environments. Encourage your employees to support each other, rather than attempting to outshine each other.
27. Brandon Sanderson: “The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.”
If everything’s priority one, nothing is. This quote can help employees who feel overwhelmed still stay organized, prioritizing their tasks and projects.
28. Nelson Mandela: “A leader … is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
If you’re constantly providing advice and direction, you may be too forceful. Employees should try to inspire and enable each other to do their best work.
29. Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Nearly every project seems difficult the first time you approach it. Don’t let that stop your employees from doing their best work.
30. Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Evolution is driven by adaptation, rather than obtaining some image of perfection. Encourage your employees to remain flexible in all circumstances.
31. Ronald Reagan: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets people to do the greatest things.”
A manager’s job should be more focused on empowering others than achieving glory for themselves.
32. Charles Swindoll: “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it.”
Your employees can’t often control what happens to them, or control their environments. All they can do is respond to the circumstances they’re presented with as best they can.
33. Theodore Roosevelt: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
This encourages a laid-back style of leadership that not everyone will appreciate, but it should give your employees confidence that you’ve chosen them for a reason.
34. Patrick Lencioni: “Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
The more your employees trust each other, the more productively they’ll be able to collaborate. However, trust can only be built when your employees are willing to be vulnerable and imperfect with one another.
35. Yoda: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
Committing to an achievement, or even a task, will give your employees enough confidence and momentum to complete it.
36. Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
Again, deciding to take action is often more important than the action itself. Encourage your employees to be more decisive in their roles.
37. J. Petit Senn: “Happiness is where we find it, but very rarely where we seek it.”
What we think makes us happy is often at odds with what actually makes us happy; knowing that can help your employees find satisfaction in their jobs.
38. Klaus Balkenhol: “There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.”
Balkenhol was an equestrian, so he was training an entirely different species, but the principle remains important to understand.
39. Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Encourage your employees to learn concepts so well they could feasibly explain it to a five-year-old. Even complex ideas can be reduced to something simpler.
40. Dalai Lama: “Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”
We all imagine we’d be happier if we were less busy or if we hit a certain milestone, but sometimes, not getting what we want can help us achieve even greater heights, or challenge us in new, important ways.
41. Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Hopefully, this doesn’t encourage your employees to quit. Instead, spin it to encourage them to find more passion in their existing roles, or find new roles within your company.
42. Booker T. Washington: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
We shouldn’t think of our success as the number on our paychecks or the titles on our business cards. Instead, we should look back at how much we’ve grown.
43. Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”
Another Einstein quote here. Conventional “success” can be tricky to measure and trickier to achieve. Instead, help your employees focus on being the best people they can.
44. Tom Rath: “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.”
It’s better to be a specialist than a generalist, or a jack-of-all-trades. Help your employees see the value in specialization.
45. Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Failure is to be expected, at least occasionally. What really matters is how you respond to failure. Confucius has hundreds of valuable quotes to consider, but I’m only including one on this list.
46. Winston Churchill: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Again, it’s how you respond to failure that matters. Maintain your confidence and passion if you want to succeed.
47. Swami Vivekananda: “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life-think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”
I don’t entirely agree with this one, but I like its emphasis on focus. Only by focusing on an idea can you make it a reality.
48. Thomas A. Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
It takes a long time to find success, and too many people bail out just before that final threshold.
49. Robert Collier: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
There’s rarely some gigantic breakthrough that leads to success; instead, it’s the culmination of habits spread across thousands of productive days.
50. Jim Rohn: “If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”
Safe opportunities may feel secure, but they tend to be limiting. You have to take risks to see greatness.
51. Thomas John Carlisle: “Show me the man you honor and I will know what kind of man you are.”
Your employees will often seek to emulate the people they look up to. Help them choose and vet those candidates closely.
52. George S. Patton Jr.: “Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
It’s better to define an end goal and let your employees work to achieve it than it is to define their process for them.
53. Brad Szollose: “If you really want the key to success, start by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.”
This one is a mixed bag, but it has a nugget of real wisdom; merely following conventions and mimicking others’ strategies isn’t enough to help you become successful.
54. Mark Twain: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”
Everyone gets afraid or anxious. The truly courageous ones are the one able to conquer those fears and anxieties.
55. Jarod Kintz: “Wisdom equals knowledge plus courage. You have to not only know what to do and when to do it, but you have to also be brave enough to follow through.”
Some employees know what to do, but are perpetually afraid to take that next step.
56. Ralph Nader: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
From your current managers to your customer service staff, it’s important that all of your employees feel like leaders in some regard.
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57. George Addair: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
Fear and intimidation are obstacles that need to be overcome if you want to succeed.
58. Vaibhav Shah: “Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.”
It’s easy to idolize tech billionaires and landmark politicians, seeing them as overnight successes, but nearly all these individuals struggled for years, if not decades, to achieve those results.
59. Napoleon Bonaparte: “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
Leadership needs to have a foundation in optimism. Make sure your managers are constantly looking forward.
60. Ken Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
Even your smartest most productive employees won’t be able to individually outperform the group. Your best efforts will come from collaboration.
61. John E. Southard: “The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.”
Retaliation is unfortunately common in many workplaces, especially competitive ones. Nip that competitiveness in the bud, and instead encourage mutually beneficial cooperation.
62. Lucille Ball: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
It’s usually better to take a risk and fail than to never try anything in the first place.
63. Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
Mark Twain agrees.
64. Ayn Rand: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”
You may not want to show this to your most rebellious employees, but this quote does encourage autonomy—and therefore more productivity.
65. Bill Walton: “Success at the highest level comes down to one question: Can you decide that your happiness can come from someone else’s success?”
Don’t let your employees be satisfied being a mere cog in the machine; encourage them to form new ideas and push for their own success.
66. Nancy D. Solomon: “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”
Sometimes, asking is all it takes to get what you want. It’s also a valuable opportunity to learn more about what your employees want.
67. Henry David Thoreau: “If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.”
Don’t preach to your employees; just show them the data and let them make up their own minds.
68. Peter F. Drucker: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
This is a critical distinction for your team leaders to note.
69. Colin Powell: “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”
If your team is constantly getting along, something’s off. Ruffling feathers is a byproduct of hard work and self-driven initiatives.
70. Robert E. Lee: “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”
Emotional intelligence and self-control are two of the most important qualities for your employees to have.
71. Ray Goforth: “There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.”
If anyone puts one of your employees down, these are two good reasons for them not to listen.
72. John C. Maxwell: “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
Your leaders shouldn’t be too far ahead of your employees in terms of skill or ability, but they shouldn’t be too close either.
73. Ronald Reagan: “Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.”
This quote fits perfectly if you use a hands-off management style. You’ve hired these people because you trust them to do their jobs well—so trust them.
74. John Maxwell: “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
The same is true for collaborators on your team. This quote inspires humility, which is important in a collaborative environment.
75. Abraham Lincoln: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other one thing.”
It’s hard to improve your own productivity unless you’ve resolved to measure, understand, and work on it. Simply making the commitment to improve is half the battle.
76. John Maxwell: “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.”
Top performers aren’t ridiculously smarter, more talented, or more charismatic than their peers; they just work harder.
77. Jim Rohn: “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”
Your employees are going to face challenges, but there’s a big difference between trying to make your circumstances easier and improving yourself to respond to a bad situation.
78. Dale Carnegie: “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”
Let your employees embrace their own failures, and biggest challenges. Learning from failure is the fastest path to personal or professional growth.
79. Gertrude Stein: “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.”
Expressing gratitude is good for both the giver and the recipient. Encourage your employees to thank and be appreciative of each other.
80. Henry David Thoreau: “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
If you’re too focused on one end goal, you won’t spend enough time on the actual steps necessary to achieve it.
81. Tom Hopkins: “Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.”
Let your employees monitor each other, and be liberal with giving praise and compliments.
82. Peter F. Drucker: “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
Success doesn’t come out of nowhere; it usually starts with boldness in the face of a challenge.
83. Max De Pree: “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
Stagnation is the enemy of greatness. Don’t let your employees get too stuck in their rituals, or too used to the status quo.
84. Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Again, emotional intelligence is key for effective teamwork and management. Encourage your employees to think carefully about how they affect others’ feelings.
85. Pablo Picasso: “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”
This is a perfect discourager for procrastination; what we procrastinate, even short-term, often ends up never completed.
86. Bruce Feirstein: “The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”
Even great ideas are seen as ludicrous when they’re first brought up; don’t let that stop your employees from being creative.
87. Jimmy Spithill: “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.”
Employees on a team are sometimes tempted to let someone else take the reins, but this rarely pays off for them.
88. George Patton: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
In many situations, it’s better to take action based on your current understanding than to wait until you have a perfect plan in a perfect situation to start moving.
89. Ralph Moody: “Always remember, Son, the best boss is the one who bosses the least. Whether it’s cattle, or horses, or men, the least government is the best government.”
Whether you agree with this from a political standpoint, it often applies well to management and leadership. Hire people you believe in, and stand back.
90. Steve Jobs: “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”
You need passionate people on your team; end of story.
91. Barrie Davenport: “Low self-confidence isn’t a life sentence. Self-confidence can be learned, practiced, and mastered-just like any other skill. Once you master it, everything in your life will change for the better.”
Self-consciousness and low self-confidence are problems everyone can relate to, but these can be overcome by sheer force of will (and a bit of patience).
92. David Allen: “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”
Incentivize your employees to finish their tasks and work actively to clear their task lists when possible, rather than letting the work pile up.
93. Greg Anderson: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
That said, completing tasks shouldn’t be the only objective. Try to make your workplace environment truly enjoyable to be in, and allow your employees to enjoy it.
94. Frank Sinatra: “The best revenge is massive success.”
If your employees are frustrated or resentful of something in their personal or professional life, motivate them to achieve more in spite of it.
95. Thomas Szasz: “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time…serenity, that nothing is.”
With the number of shortcuts and productivity enhancers available to us, it’s easy to feel like almost everything is a waste of your time. In reality, even unfocused time can be peaceful—and well worth spending.
96. Donald McGannon: “Leadership is an action, not a position.”
Even low-ranking team members can exhibit leadership by inspiring others and being decisive in their own work. Conversely, just because someone holds the title of “manager” or “executive” doesn’t mean they’re a great leader.
97. Robert Schuller: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?”
Failure holds us back from too much. Don’t let it stop your employees from achieving greatness. Simply imagining how your life would be different if failure weren’t an option is an eye-opening exercise.
98. Napoleon Hill: “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”
Not everyone can lead a company or invent something wholly new. Instead, encourage your employees to be masters of their own disciplines.
99. Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Learning from failure is better than achieving immediate success. It teaches you more, and helps you stay humble.
100. Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
Empowering employees to say no can give them more confidence and control over their work.
101. Herbert Bayard Swope: “I cannot give you a formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: try to please everybody.”
Too many employees, especially inexperienced ones, are chronic people-pleasers. Confrontation and disagreement are often precursors to improvement and/or discovery.
102. Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Why would you listen to someone’s criticism or insults if you don’t take them seriously in the first place?
103. Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Gossip can destroy an office from the inside. Encourage higher forms of conversation among your workers.
104. Sheryl Sandberg: “Done is better than perfect.”
Perfectionistic thinking is a bad habit, and one that stops us from doing what needs to be done.
105. John Maxwell: “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
If your employees are presenting ideas, to you or someone else, make sure they present themselves as part of the package deal.
106. Plutarch: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”
Mastery over your mind can have incredibly powerful results on how you work and engage with others. Simple practices, like mindfulness meditation and self-discipline, are ideal here.
107. Sue Knight: “Do what you have always done and you’ll get what you have always got.”
If you want to achieve something greater than you’ve ever achieved before, you have to do something you’ve never done before—even if it’s just a small change to your daily habits, compounded over time.
108. Bruce Lee: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
This advice should be applied to every quote on this list. Not all of them will be useful to all your employees, but they should be able to sift through, find what works for them, and add their own unique twists to get by.
How you use these motivational quotes for employees is entirely up to you. You could use these quotes to motivate workers. You could have a “motivational quote of the day,” where you reveal them one at a time, or give your employees access to a bank of existing motivational information.
The real key to success is finding some combination of motivational strategies that encourage your employees to be more productive—then measuring and analyzing that increase in productivity. For more inspiration, see our massive list of productivity quotes or our list of motivational sales quotes.
Or for even more ideas, see our list of ways to motivate employees. And don’t miss our posts on team building activities for work and employee recognition ideas, as well as our big posts on employee engagement quotes, customer service quotes, and inspirational quotes to get you through hard times!
If you’re interested in learning more about your employees’ work habits, or dissecting their primary motivations, consider test driving EmailAnalytics.
EmailAnalytics helps you track key email metrics, including the number of emails your team members send and receive, the amount of time they spend on various email functions, and what their busiest days and times are. Sign up for a free trial today!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.
Thank you! What a fascinating article! I like so much this quote: “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell