“When a thing has been said and well said, have no scruple: take it and copy it.” – Anatole France

Well, considering intellectual property and copyright laws, maybe instead of “take and copy,” leaders can borrow and attribute. Quotes tend to be short, memorable, and, if used effectively, inspiring and motivating.

Whenever a leader makes a statement, his or her goal is to spur people to higher levels of learning, development, and performance. A well-timed, well-chosen quote can be a powerful tool to that end.

A few top choices for leaders:

“For a leader, there is no trivial comment.”

– Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & In Life, One Conversation at a Time.

Leaders are always on stage. People – from employees to suppliers to shareholders – watch and listen all the time. A stray comment can devastate a team member; an offhand remark can stay with someone for years or come back to haunt the one who said it. Positive or negative, the words of leaders have tremendous weight. As Scott writes, “Our individual wakes are larger than we know.”

“Stop apologizing and produce the performance that doesn’t require it.”

– Vistage member.

Ever notice how other people give excuses, while you give reasons? The truth is leaders expect performance, not excuses or reasons. It’s this simple: if people perform, they don’t need to apologize. In this particular situation, the Vistage member responded to someone who was better at creating excuses than he was at doing his job. In just a few words, he cut to the heart of the issue.

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

-Albert Einstein

When leaders ask their people to step outside of a daily rote function and innovate, a quote like this can clarify the need to think “outside the box.” It says, “We can’t stay where we are. We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, and we have to be more intentional in our problem solving. The problems we are trying to solve require new thinking. How are we going to do that?”

“You get what you tolerate.”

Variations of this are attributed to everyone from Susan Scott to psychologist Henry Cloud to the 24th Air Force. The point is that sometimes leaders need to lead themselves. If the results or behaviors they’re seeing from their people are not up to par, whose fault is that? People get what they are willing to put up with.

For leaders, this can be a revelation, an inspiration when they realize that they have a responsibility here. It becomes motivational when they say, “I can’t tolerate this, and I’m going to do X and Y to change it.”

Many of the thoughts, ideas, and intentions leaders need to convey can be found in quotes. Why not take advantage of the wisdom – and brevity! – of others to make the point, to inspire, and to, hopefully, help people motivate themselves to perform at higher levels?