HR & Management

5 quotes from famous female business leaders and what SMEs can learn from them

9 min read

21 November 2018

Reporter, Real Business

Sick of only hearing words of business motivation from men? Well, it's your lucky day as five inspiring female business leaders share their best quotes about each stage of the entrepreneurial journey.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, hell, even Elon Musk, when we think of business leaders and the inspirational (and downright wacky) things they have said over the years, it’s often the words of male entrepreneurs that spring to mind.

Whilst we, in the business community, can be inspired by the sayings and musings of successful entrepreneurs, perhaps by hearing from different kinds of entrepreneurs, we may learn different things and gain new insights.

Whether you’re a militant feminist or indifferent to ‘the gender debate’ and all it entails, you can’t deny that by-and-large, the existence of globally recognised female business leaders is something of a new thing.

Because the acceleration of women as business founders and CEOs is still so recent, it makes sense that we acknowledge some of the interesting things they’ve said, as it might help us understand the struggles they’ve overcome to get to where they are today.

But as we will discover, the sayings that have sprung from the female leaders below are universally relatable to the struggles that all business leaders, great and small, male and female, experience on a daily basis.

As we know all too well, there are many stages to the entrepreneurial journey, from the tricky founding of a business to coping with the lonely times, and even navigating growing pains later on. With this in mind, let’s look at what five leading women in business had to say about each of them:

1. Starting a business: Anita Roddick, founder, The Body Shop

“Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave to me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out.”

Even if you think that your new product or service isn’t original, chances are that it is.

You may think your just ‘doing something well’ as opposed to creating something entirely unique, but the fact that you’re able to launch a business in the first place, and have attracted loyal customers, means you’re offering something that is different in some form.

Whether that’s a radically different kind of product or service, or simply that you’re engaging with customers in a new and exciting way, you’re offering customers something different to what they’ve experienced before, that’s why they are engaging with you – and that key difference may be as simple as providing a refreshingly ‘good service’.

2. Staying motivated: Sheryl Sandberg , COO, Facebook

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the sh** out of option B.”

Staying motivated and pushing your business forward means that you can’t just give up when one method fails. You need to be resourceful at all times.

Key to this is patience. If an investment drive fails for example, what are you going to do? Throw in the towel and give up the business? No!

Some of the best businesses tried and failed many times before they struck gold, and you have to make sure you remain hungry for success, even if the path to it is not straightforward.

To stay motivated, ensure you tackle each setback with consideration and use your analytical skills to find a better way.

Think of these moments of ‘failure’ as a litmus test to see how effective you are as a business leader.

When your business is established and successful, you’ll need to captain the ship (that includes your business and your team) and navigate the choppy waters that you will inevitably encounter at some point in the future.

Bad times will always come, as good times do, and as a business leader, you need to be able to help your team through both.

3. Becoming a leader: Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief, American Vogue


“People respond well to those that are sure of what they want.”

If you’re a business founder with a clear objective and company mission, or if you’re devising a business plan to appeal to investors, being clear about what you want, or what you are looking for to make your business grow, makes you the kind of business leader people want to invest in and join as a team member.

Knowing what you want means you believe your business offers something tangible, relevant and even unique to investors, clients and customers.

Knowing what you want signifies strength, purpose and makes you a leader worth listening to.

No one’s going to trust or support a business founder that is unsure about their product or service and doesn’t state with conviction what the purpose of their business is.

Having this purposeful attitude will inspire employees both existing and potential, to work for you. A leader without conviction or a clearly stated passion for what they do will fail to inspire anyone.

4. Be open to learning: Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx

“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

Starting and running a successful business is part of a process, and this process involves trial and error. No business leader is perfect, and no one knows everything they’re meant to.

Part of the fun of encountering gaps in your knowledge, and even making mistakes, is that it helps you learn and grow as a business leader.

The worst thing you can do is cover up mistakes and pretend you’re immune from them. As a business leader, clarity and transparency are all-important.

Especially if you’re managing staff, set an example of this transparent culture and own up when you make mistakes yourself.

If you don’t, your junior staff may feel intimidated and cover up their own, which can lead to bigger problems later on.

Establish the fact that you and your team are on a journey together, ensure that everyone feels comfortable enough to vocalise issues when they arise so that all can learn from them as a business –  and as a team.

5. Planning for the future: Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co.

“If you always have one eye on some future goal, you might miss out on a better and newer course that might have opened up.”

If business leadership is about anything, it’s mostly about ensuring a balance. As the founder or CEO, you’re meant to be the mastermind of the company’s wider strategy.

Because this concept can be abstract at times, you must be open to change at ALL times. In a business, numerous things can happen every day that might mean the path you were set on taking is no longer available to you.

This is why you must be open to changing paths frequently and be able to devise multiple strategies at any one time.

No one said that being a business leader was going to be easy. Part of the price you pay for the prestige of the title is the pressure of always having to look ahead and be responsive and reactive to changes and opportunities constantly.