Top Ten CEO Quotes on People Management 2015

Back in January, I posted a snappy article on performance management. It wasn’t full of the latest research, complicated metrics or breaking news, but it certainly inspired a lot of you. Which got me thinking, we don’t always need cutting-edge data to instigate a change. Sometimes, we just need an inspirational word from someone worth listening to.

When you’re looking for an inspiring approach to people management, the tech companies are a good place to start. In a year when Netflix’s culture document went viral, Google was once again crowned the no. 1 place to work, and Intel’s OKR strategy infiltrated Accenture (one of the biggest companies in the world), it became pretty obvious that these guys are leading the way. So what can we learn about people management from the CEOs presiding over these HR whirlwinds?

Marissa Mayer

1. “Work for someone who believes in you, because when they believe in you, they’ll invest in you.”
– Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, knows the importance of investing in individuals.


Mark Zuckerberg

2. “Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time.”
– For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it’s all about managing to strengths.


Larry Page

3. “We don’t have as many managers as we should, but we would rather have too few than too many.”
– Larry Page, founding CEO of Google, isn’t a fan of micro-managing.


James Spenceley

4. “If there’s someone really good who has excellent industry experience, we like working with them, [they have] common sense and fit our values, we just hire them, because the biggest thing is having smart people who work well together.”
– Vocus Communications CEO James Spenceley focuses on hiring the right personality types.


Taso Du Val

5. “Teaching your employees something new creates an instant connection, and they will respect you for it.”
– For Taso Du Val, CEO of freelancer networking site Toptal, it’s all about continued development and on-the-job learning.


Brian Chesky

6. “You gotta build a team that is so talented, they almost make you uncomfortable.”
– Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnB, focuses on talent.


Eytan Lenko

7. “The key thing is really aligning everybody so they all understand where you’re going.”
– Eytan Lenko, CEO of Aussie company Outware, knows that a clear vision is important.


Ginni Rometty

8. “I’m a big believer in lessons learned. Constantly with the team we go over, why? Why? Why? … The only bad mistake is a mistake you don’t learn from.”
– For Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, on-the-job-training takes many forms.


Brad Smith

9. “Millennials … are more socially and globally connected … than any prior generation. And they don’t question; they just learn.”
– Intuit’s CEO Brad Smith recognises that younger workers have different learning and development expectations.


Reed Hastings

10. “At most companies, average performers get an average pay rise. At Netflix, they get a generous severance package.”
– Netflix is known for bucking silicon valley’s people management trends. What do you think of CEO Reed Hastings attitude to performance management?

49 best quotes on feedback

Great feedback is a critical element of best-practice performance management. This week, I’m sharing some of my favourite quotes on feedback – from Winston Churchill to Elon Musk, there’s some powerful thinking here on the how and why of giving better feedback.

At Cognology, as we design our product suite that allows hundreds of thousands of employees to give and receive feedback more effectively, these quotes inspire me every day.

They’re also great to read before giving feedback to your team (you’ll always find some advice appropriate to the situation you’re facing).

Have you got a favourite quote on feedback that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below – I’ll make sure it’s included.

49 quotes on the power of feedback

Bill Gates quotes on feedback

1. “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
– Bill Gates

2. “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
– Frank A. Clark

3. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard

4. “Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let
people see you value both feedback and ideas.”
– Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

5. “Mistakes should be examined, learned from, and discarded; not dwelled upon and stored.”
– Tim Fargo

6. “What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.”
– Anonymous

7. “There is no failure. Only feedback.”
– Robert Allen

8. “Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.”
– Ed Batista

9. “No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”
– Jim Yong Kim

10. “True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.”
– Daniel Kahneman

Elon Musk quotes on feedback

11. “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
– Elon Musk

12. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw

13. “Examine what is said and not who speaks.”
– African proverb

14. “Employees who report receiving recognition and praise within the last seven days show increased productivity, get higher scores from customers, and have better safety records. They’re just more engaged at work.”
– Tom Rath

15. “There are two things people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.”
– Mary Kay Ash

16. “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

17. “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
– Elbert Hubbard

18. “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
– Yehuda Berg

Tony Robbins quotes on feedback

19. “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”
– Tony Robbins

20. “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.”
– Paul J. Meyer

21. “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”
– Buddha

22. “Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”
– Jim Rohn

23. “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
– Winston Churchill

24. “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
– Sydney J. Harris

25. “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”
– Brian Tracy

26. “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”
– Bill Gates

27. “Why did God give me two ears and one mouth? So that I will hear more and talk less.”
– Leo Rosten

28. “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
– Joyce Brothers

29. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– John Quincy Adams

30. “Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.”
– B. R. Ambedkar

31. “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
– Albert Einstein

Bruce Lee quotes on feedback

32. “Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”
– Bruce Lee

33. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
– Harvey S. Firestone

34. “Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

35. “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”
– Kim Collins

36. “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.”
– Tom Peters

37. “Never be afraid to fail. Failure is only a stepping stone to improvement. Never be overconfident because that will block your improvement.”
– Tony Jaa

38. “He who busies himself with things other than improvement of his own self becomes perplexed in darkness and entangled in ruin. His evil spirits immerse him deep in vices and make his bad actions seem handsome.”
– Ali ibn Abi Talib

39. “The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”
– John Locke

40. “There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”
– Oscar De La Hoya

41. “Improvement begins with I.”
– Arnold H. Glasow

42. “The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”
– George Will

43. “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
– Marilyn vos Savant

44. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

45. “It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.”
– Immanuel Kant

46. “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.”
– Carl Jung

47. “To become more effective and fulfilled at work, people need a keen understanding of their impact on others and the extent to which they’re achieving their goals in their working relationships. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for them to gather this information and learn from it.”
– Ed Batista

48. “In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.”
– Carol Dweck

49. “We can’t just sit back and wait for feedback to be offered, particularly when we’re in a leadership role. If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it.”
– Ed Batista

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Image Credits:

Bill Gates World Economic Forum Annual Meeting New York 2012 CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Elon Musk – The Summit 2013 By Heisenberg Media (Flickr: Elon Musk – The Summit 2013) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Tony Robbins The Twitter Conference – Tony Robbins by Brian Solis, on Flickr
Bruce Lee By Johnson Lau CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Top 76 quotes on Performance Management

Regular readers will know I write a lot about performance management (see some of the best examples here, here and here). Today I wanted to share some of my favourite performance management quotes.

I’ve included 76 fantastic performance management quotes from a range of CEOs, political leaders, business thinkers, writers, celebrities and sports stars.

If you’ve got a favourite quote that you think we’ve missed, jump into the comments below. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

CEOs on performance management

Bill Gates 2004

  1. “In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count like customer satisfaction and performance… you thrive on that.”
    – Bill Gates
  2. “Trust gives you the permission to give people direction, get everyone aligned, and give them the energy to go get the job done. Trust enables you to execute with excellence and produce extraordinary results. As you execute with excellence and deliver on your commitments, trust becomes easier to inspire, creating a flywheel of performance.”
    – Douglas Conant
  3. “When you’re a manager, you work for your company. When you’re a leader, your company works for you.”
    – Stan Slap
  4. “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”
    – Doug Conant


  1. “There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
    – Jack Welch
  2. “Employees engage with employers and brands when they’re treated as humans worthy of respect.”
    – Meghan M. Biro
  3. “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”
    – Stephen R. Covey
  4. “Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”
    – Zig Ziglar
  5. “Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”
    – Sam Walton
  6. “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.”
    – Charles Schwab
  7. ”I have yet to find a man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
    – Charles Schwab
  8. ”There is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognise ability.”
    – Robert Half
  9. “Given the right circumstances, from no more than dreams, determination, and the liberty to try, quite ordinary people consistently do extraordinary things.”
    – Dee Hock

Political figures on performance management

Michelle Obama official portrait headshot

  1. “If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that.”
    – Michelle Obama
  2. “It is no use saying “we are doing our best.” You have to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
    – Winston Churchill
  3. “Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on. The country cannot afford amateur hour in the White House.”
    – Donald Rumsfeld
  4. “To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart.”
    – Eleanor Roosevelt

Margaret Thatcher headshot

  1. “Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
    – Margaret Thatcher
  2. “Leadership is the ability to get people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.”
    – Harry Truman
  3. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
    – Ronald Reagan


  1. “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.”
    – Nelson Mandela
  2. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
    – John F. Kennedy
  3. “Don’t let your ego get too close to your position, so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn’t go with it.”
    – Colin Powell
  4. “Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.”
    – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  5. “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”
    – Colin Powell
  6. ”How far would Moses have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?”
    – Harry S. Truman
  7. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
    – John Quincy Adams
  8. “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
    – Ralph Nader
  9. “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.”
    – Theodore Roosevelt
  10. “Compromise: the art of sharing a pie in such a way that everyone thinks he has the biggest part.”
    – Ludwig Erhard

Business thinkers on performance management

  1. “If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.”
    – Henry Cloud
  2. “A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.”
    – Peter Drucker


  1. “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”
    – Peter Drucker
  2. “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
    – John C. Maxwell
  3. “Difficult times disrupt your conventional ways of thinking and push you to forge better habits of thought, performance and being.”
    – Robin S. Sharma
  4. “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting. If we want different results, we must change the way we do things.”
    – Tom Northup
  5. “The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.”
    – Dale Carnegie
  6. “To be successful, innovation is not just about value creation, but value capture.”
    – Jay Samit
  7. “An effective leader is also an effective listener.”
    – Artika Tyner
  8. “When I hear people complaining about how hard life is I always ask them “Compared to what?”
    – Sydney Justin Harris
  9. “Business is a combination of war and sport.”
    – Andre Maurois
  10. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.”
    – Andrew Carnegie
  11. “The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.”
    – Eric Hoffer
  12. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.”
    – Walter Lippmann
  13. “Your number one customers are your people. Look after employees first and then customers last.”
    – Ian Hutchinson
  14. “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
    – Simon Sinek
  15. “Executives owe it to the organisation and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs.”
    – Peter Drucker

Stephen Covey (author) - FMI Show Palestrante

  1. ”Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
    – Stephen R. Covey
  2. “Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.”
    – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dan Ariely - PopTech 2010 - Camden, Maine

  1. “The bad news is that ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes. … The good news is that by simply looking at something that somebody has done, scanning it and saying ‘uh huh,’ [you] dramatically improve people’s motivations.”
    – Dan Ariely
  2. “When you prohibit failure, you kill innovation.”
    – Dan Pallotta
  3. “In a battery, I strive to maximize electrical potential. When mentoring, I strive to maximize human potential.”
    – Donald Sadoway
  4. “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”
    – Stanley McChrystal
  5. “Facebook and Twitter aren’t the real problems in the office. The real problems are what I like to call the M&Ms, the Managers and the Meetings.”
    – Jason Fried
  6. “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
    – Ken Blanchard
  7. “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.”
    – Warren G. Bennis
  8. “A good leader is not the person who does things right, but the person who finds the right things to do.”
    – Anthony T. Padovano

Celebrities on performance management

Tina Fey Bossypants 2011 Shankbone

  1. “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”
    – Tina Fey
  2. “When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
    – Ellen DeGeneres
  3. “When you train your employees to be risk averse, then you’re preparing your whole company to be reward challenged.”
    – Morgan Spurlock
  4. “The only place you can win a football game is on the field. The only place you can lose it is in your heart.”
    – Darrell Royal
  5. ”Any business or industry that pays equal rewards to its goof-offs and eager beavers sooner or later will find itself with more goof-offs than eager beavers.”
    – Mick Delaney

Historical figures on performance management

  1. “His promises were, as he then was, mighty; But his performance, as he is now, nothing.”
    – William Shakespeare

Busto di Aristotele conservato a Palazzo Altaemps, Roma. Foto di Giovanni Dall'Orto

  1. “What the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions.”
    – Aristotle
  2. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
    – Sun Tzŭ
  3. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
    – Lao Tzu
  4. “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
    – Aristotle
  5. “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”
    – Robert Louis Stevenson
  6. “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
    – George S. Patton Jr.
  7. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
    – Napoléon Bonaparte

Santi di Tito - Niccolo Machiavelli's portrait

  1. “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
    – Niccolo Machiavelli
  2. “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”
    – William Blake
  3. “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”
    – Benjamin Disraeli
  4. “If you command wisely, you’ll be obeyed cheerfully.”
    – Thomas Fuller
  5. “Experience, the name men give to their mistakes.”
    – Oscar Wilde
  6. “Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it…. Success is shy-it won’t come out while you’re watching.”
    – Tennessee Williams