John Quincy Adams? Dolly Parton? Peyton Manning? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following quote about leadership appears on my son’s T-Shirt and all over the web, attributed to John Quincy Adams:
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
That can’t possibly be right, can it? It sounds so modern, even New Age. And yet we’re being told it even precedes Thoreau and Emerson. Who really said that?
Quote Investigator: This quotation does appear to be modern, and QI has located no evidence that John Quincy Adams spoke or wrote the words. The earliest version of this statement found by QI was printed in a 1997 book titled “The Most Important Thing I Know” that compiled inspirational thoughts from a variety of prominent individuals. An entertainer who built a multi-million-dollar business empire offered the following remark [MIDP]:
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”
Small changes to the phrasing above yield the popular current version attributed to Adams. QI believes that Parton is the most likely originator of this quotation. If an earlier version of this sentiment influenced Parton then she does not mention it, and QI has not yet found evidence of its existence.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1939 a Missouri newspaper printed a comment from a pastor of Gillum Church who was trying to inspire his parishioners. The message consisted of a series of two word injunctions using the word “more”. The terms “learn more” and “do more” were included. Hence, the quotation is somewhat similar to the saying under investigation, but it is clearly distinct, and it does not mention leadership [GCPS]:
Whereupon, let us learn more, care more, love more and possibly do more in making a better world and our own community a more enjoyable place in which to live.
In 1997 the musician and businesswoman Dolly Parton wrote a version of the saying, and it was printed in the book “The Most Important Thing I Know” as noted above.
In 1998 the football star Peyton Manning received the prestigious Sullivan award that is presented annually to an outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. His acceptance speech reported in a Knoxville, Tennessee newspaper included a segment from the quotation. Manning did not take credit for the phrase, and he did not provide an attribution [KTPM]:
Manning added: “If my actions on the field and having my name on this Sullivan Trophy inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, as so many have said, I only hope they don’t limit that potential to sports.”
In 2000 a review of the book “The Most Important Thing I Know” in a Tulsa, Oklahoma newspaper singled out the quote from Parton and reprinted it [TODP]:
Some of the responses are quite inspiring, but the sources can be surprising. From these two responses it’s hard to tell which one comes from country singer Dolly Parton and which one is from the pen of President Clinton.
“True excellence requires a worthy dream, a good idea of how to realize it, and the courage to risk failure to achieve it.”
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are an excellent leader.”
The answer: Clinton then Dolly.
The earliest citation located by QI that credited the quotation to John Quincy Adams was published in a 2002 business book titled “The Paradox of Power: A Transforming View of Leadership”; however, the author may have been repeating an ascription provided by another source [PJQA]:
You must lead and motivate from the middle. The motivator in the middle is the motivator who truly inspires people to do and be their best, John Quincy Adams challenged all managers when he wrote, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
In 2003 a high school valedictorian in New York selected the quotation as advice for his fellow class members. The words were credited to Adams [SNSV]:
My advice to my graduating class: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams.
In 2004 Dolly Parton presented a variation on her earlier statement that included the phrase “care more” [ASDP]:
“I am thrilled Governor (Rod) Blagojevich shares my vision to inspire all children to dream more, learn more, care more and be more,” Parton said in a statement. “It’s exciting that Illinois wants to join us. Maybe other governors will follow their lead and jump on board. The more the merrier.”
In 2005 Jack Canfield, co-creator of the successful book series Chicken Soup for the Soul, attributed the saying to Parton and not to Adams [SPDP]:
If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are an excellent leader.
Songwriter, singer, actor, entrepreneur, Oscar nominee, Country Music Association Award winner, and Grammy winner who currently oversees a $100 million media empire
In conclusion, Dolly Parton crafted a version of this idea that was published in 1997. By 2002 the phrasing was slightly altered, and the statement was reassigned to John Quincy Adams. QI has not yet found evidence for the existence of this quotation before 1997.
(Many thanks to Bill Camarda for posing this question and for motivating this exploration.)
[MIDP] 1997, The Most Important Thing I Know: Life Lessons From Colin Powell, Stephen Covey, Maya Angleou and Over 75 Other Eminent Individuals, Compiled by Lorne A. Adrain, Pages 60-61, Cader Books, New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
[GCPS] 1939 December 2, Moberly Monitor-Index and Democrat, Gillum Church Pastor’s Subjects, Page 2, Column 2, Moberly, Missouri. (NewspaperArchive)
[KTPM] 1998 February 26, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Manning’s dream: to inspire others by Jimmy Hyams, Section Sports, Page C1, Knoxville, Tennessee. (NewsBank)
[TODP] 2000 June 27, Tulsa World, Now read this by Jason Collington, Section Living, Page 1, Tulsa, Oklahoma. (NewsBank)
[PJQA] 2002, The Paradox of Power: A Transforming View of Leadership by Pat Williams, Paradox 2: A Wise Leader Dares to Be a Fool, Page 49, Warner Books, New York. (Google Books preview and Amazon Look Inside)
[SNSV] 2003 June 12, The Post-Standard (Syracuse), Solvay Valedictorian, Section: Neighbors West, Page 23, Series: Graduation 2003, Syracuse, New York. (NewsBank)
[ASDP] 2004 January 23, Aiken Standard, People & Places: Illinois adopts singer Dolly Parton’s reading program, Page 10, Column 3, Aiken, South Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
[SPDP] 2005, The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want To Be by Jack Canfield with Janet Switzer, Principle 64, Page 432, HarperCollins, New York. (Google Books preview)