10 Motivational Quotes to Inspire Your Employees

A close-up of two people holding a speech bubble that has the word ‘motivation’ written on it

Sometimes, when you’re responsible for motivating employees, it can be difficult to find the right combination of words. You want to get through to your staff and inspire them to achieve their targets, but you don’t quite possess that linguistic je ne sais quoi.

In such cases, why not let someone with a little more oratory flair do the talking for you? We’ve selected 10 of the best motivational quotes for employees so that there’s always a snappy and memorable line to fall back on within your management repertoire.

1. ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.’ – Aristotle

Even though it sounds like a drearily predictable slogan for a corporate marketing campaign (NatWest, we’re looking at you), these words – originally attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle – ring true in an individual sense, too.

By reminding your employees that they should take pride and care in everything that they do – no matter how small or menial the task – you create high standards and a cyclical culture of excellence. It’s the same reason you should make your bed every morning, too; before you’ve left your bedroom, you’ve already achieved one task, putting you in a success-driven mindset for the rest of the day.

2. ‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.’ – Michael Jordan

The benefits of teamwork in the workplace have been extolled to the point of fatigue, but it’s still worth reminding everybody from time to time that, regardless of talent, real success is bred by working together.

Any organisation needs people who can produce great work, attract good clients or bring something unique to the table, but nobody can do everything on their own. Jordan should know, too, having won an astonishing six NBA Championships during his glittering career.

3. ‘I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.’ – Frank Costello

Originally spoken by Jack Nicholson’s fictional Boston crime boss in 2006’s The Departed, this line demonstrates that if we want to move out of the mailroom and into the executive suite – or whatever career goal it is that we want to achieve – then it’s up to us as an individual to go out there and get it. Nobody’s going to hand it out for free, after all.

Encouraging a sense of ambition in your employees is also beneficial to the organisation. As best-selling author Paulo Coelho asserts in his 1988 classic The Alchemist: ‘When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too’.

4. ‘There is only one way to avoid criticism. Say nothing. Do nothing. Be nothing.’ – Aristotle

Strong organisations don’t silence the ideas of their employees; they actively encourage them. And in order to entice people to speak up and contribute, you need to remind them that nobody ever changed the world by keeping quiet.

This quote from Aristotle (who was clearly a very wise cookie) reinforces the idea that, yes, you might get a bit of negative feedback if your idea doesn’t take off, but it’s far preferable to being thought of and treated as ‘nothing’.

5. ‘There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.’ – Susan Cain

Conversely, talking too much without really saying anything can have the opposite effect. You don’t want your employees to be afraid of coming forward with ideas, but you also don’t want to spend half your day shooting down silly suggestions, either.

This advice should focus your employees’ minds as well as comfort the more introverted members of your team, especially those who are constantly getting drowned out by the more vocal elements of your workforce.


6. ‘You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.’ – Irish proverb

There’s a tendency in organisations – big and small – to often talk about doing things but never actually seeing them through. This proverb is a timely reminder that all the team meetings in the world are going to be pointless unless they’re followed by actions.

On an individual level, it also discourages procrastination. As much as you might not want to file those accounts or finish that report, the only way that it’s ever going to get done is if you pull up your sleeves and just do it.

7. ‘Very often, a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.’ – AC Benson

As a boss, it can sometimes be difficult to retain your best employees, especially if they feel as though they are not being challenged enough. When you’re confronted by a worker who’s looking to move on, though, it might be worth drawing on this advice.

After all, when people are unhappy, they’re often quick to assume that their job is the issue, but that isn’t always the case. Maybe they need to lower (or higher) their expectations, get a new perspective on things or make certain changes in their personal life; whatever it is, implore your employees to always look a little deeper.

8. ‘Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.’ – Lucius Annaeucus Seneca

In any line of business, there’s always an unexpected opportunity lying in wait around the corner. Whether it’s an important customer account, a competitor going bust or a sudden market shift, things have a habit of happening that you simply can’t foresee.

What you can do, though, is be ready and prepared when that unexpected stroke of luck comes your way. If you have a team that is flexible, adaptable and able to take on multiple roles when the need arises, then you can steal a march and capitalise while the iron is hot.

9. ‘Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.’ – Theodore Roosevelt

In terms of motivation and carrot dangling, this quote is about as direct as it gets. If your employees want to get promoted and take home a bigger paycheque, then they need to take the initiative and grow beyond their expected means.

While this meritocratic approach is followed by nearly every company in the world, it’s a solid reminder that, in order to progress, you need to demonstrate that you have the ability – or at least the potential – to take on more.

10. ‘If you hit the target every time, it’s too near or too big.’ - Tom Hirshfield

If your employees are constantly in a comfort zone, then the effects are going to be bad for everyone. Not only will business stagnate as your rivals leave you in the dust, but your staff won’t grow or develop, either; indeed, if they have any sense of ambition, they’ll simply up sticks and leave.

This quote is a reminder that you always need to push yourself and think bigger than you did before. Don’t settle for the low hanging fruit; rather, strive to go after tougher and more rewarding challenges.

If your employees have the mindset that they can always improve, then your team will evolve into a formidable prospect.

Regardless of your management style, it’s okay to lean on the wisdom of others now and then. Many of these concepts are timeless and applicable to any industry, so however you choose to word them, they will still have the same credibility.

A motivated workforce is a productive one, too, so don’t be afraid to throw in a bit of ancient Greek philosophy when the occasion calls for it. After all, it’s a brave employee who’ll tell you that Aristotle was wrong.

What’s your favourite quote on the list? Let us know in the comments below!