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.