Top 15 quotes on purpose and leadership from The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Posted on July 13, 2012


Go to the people:
live with them,
learn from them
love them
start with what they know
build with what they have.
But of the best leaders,
when the job is done,
the task accomplished,
the people will say:
“We have done it ourselves.”

– Lao Tzu

The book The Blue Sweater by the founder of Acumen Fund, Jacqueline Novogratz, tells her story and reflects some of her key experiences along her path. She takes the reader through a multitude of topics from more practical development work observations to thoughts on leadership, the psychology of war, the purpose of life and within all this and more, lots of lesson learned along the way. Below you will find what in my opinion is the top 15  quotes from the book related to purpose and leadership in a broad sense. I think the topics of purpose and leadership  – and the correlation between them – are more important than ever, and the leaders of tomorrow – a better tomorrow – will have to rethink traditional leadership and have the courage to go new ways. More purposeful ways. Therefore, I find these quotes very relevant and useful for inspiration and contemplation. It might inspire you, it might give you new ideas, it might confirm to you, what you already know – and perhaps it might make you want to start acting accordingly, or just serve as a kind reminder. See for yourself.

Purpose and leadership

I’m a part of all that I have met – Tennyson, Ulysses

“My first-grade nun had instructed me that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. I was learning that this lesson had to be combined with Shakespeare’s wisdom that one much ‘to thine own self be true.’ Add to this humility, empathy, a sense of curiosity, courage, and plain old hard work, and I was finally seeing the real path to leadership. Of course, humor is always a plus” (Novogratz, 2012: 163).

“(..) we would need moral imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of other people. It would mean having the courage as well to fall down and get back up and try to make progress all over again” (2012: 219).

” ‘Leading,’ Mayor Blackwell told us, ‘is a life long proposition – and the people who seem least like you are usually the people you need the most’ “(2012: 165).

WHI (WaterHealth International) is brining one of the most precious resources on earth to the world’s very poor and doing so in a way that makes sense, creates jobs, and respects the integrity and needs of all people. Doing this well requires a certain kind of leadership, one that starts with listening, knows how to collaborate, is not satisfied with easy but incomplete answers, and is driven by finding solutions for those with the least in a single world community” (2012: 277). For more information on WHI’s initiative and Acumen Fund’s involvement, read also Jaqueline Novogratz’s article The Value of Water.

” ‘You need to build a vision’ he would tell her, ‘as if you were building a temple. It takes focus on that vision, many generations to build it, no single source of leadership. It must be lasting and it must be done for the people.’ (..) Build a vision for the people and recognize that no single source of leadership will make it happen” (2012: 309).

We are connected, but the weave is sometimes fragile – Novogratz

“What is needed going forward is a philosophy based on human dignity, which all of us need and crave. We can end poverty if we start by looking at all human beings as part of a single global community that recognizes that everyone deserves a chance to build a life worth living” (2012: 214).

“There is reason to believe that people everywhere can lift themselves up, but they have to be given tools to do so. We can only open doors so that they can walk through them” (2012: 310).

” William Gibson wrote, ‘The future is here; it is just not widely distributed yet.’ It shouldn’t be all that difficult, but we have to increase our sense of urgency and allow farmers to change their lives and change the world in doing so” (2012: 259).

“In the end, goodness triumphs over the bad. It is our challenge to do good and to serve others without waiting for the good to be returned. I’m convinced that those people who cultivate universal love will have good fortune on earth. In serving others, I found light in a place of utmost darkness” (2012: 180).

“What is important is that individuals bring what they do best to the world” (2012: 306).

Make a commitment and the forces of the universe will conspire to make it happen – Goethe

“The challenge wasn’t whether to buy a couple of bottles of champagne; it was instead not to take our privilege for granted and to use it in an way that served the world and our highest purpose” (2012: 119).

” ‘I am so happy, too, though I never married. You know, there are so many paths in a life. But the best are the ones where you are living truth and searching for good and giving to others. Maybe that is what you are finding’. I was stunned. Maybe that is what I was finding. Maybe I just needed someone to remind me” (2012: 238).

“Neurological and psychological studies on human happiness bear out the fact that after reaching a certain financial level, an individual’s receiving an incremental dollar does nor correlate with the same increase in happiness. Moreover, scientist are finding, not surprisingly, that the one factor that does bring greater happiness is serving others. Of course, these scientist define happiness, much as Aristotle did, not as an episodic moment of bubbly lightness, but as a deep sense of meaning, purpose, and ultimately, abiding joy” (2012: 305).

“Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation” (2012: 149).

The key sum-up quote

“Each of us needs to develop the courage to listen to our whole heart and mind, to give love without asking for thanks in return, and to meet each person as a chance to know a new individual, not as a way of reaffirming prejudices. Our work should remind us all that the poor the world over are our brothers and sisters. But empathy is only our starting point. It must be combined with focus and conviction, the toughness to know what needs to get done and the courage to follow through. Today’s world needs more than humanitarians. We need individuals who know know to listen and who have real and tangible skills to share. We will succeed only if we fuse a very hardheaded analysis with an equally soft heart” (2012: 310).

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing – Arundhati Roy


Read other key quotes from the book here.

Source: The Blue Sweater – Bridging the gap between rich and poor in an interconnected world, Jacqueline Novogratz, 2012, Second Edition, HaperCollins, India.