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Time for Reflection: A Weekly Inspirational Series

By Pepper de Callier

I have been collecting quotes for more than 50 years—philosophers, statesmen, military leaders, writers, and business leaders—my collection has all of these categories and more.  In this series, Time for Reflection, I will share with you some of my favorite quotes. Some of these quotes are inspirational, some are more insightful, but all are relevant to the challenges of today—the 21st century—as we navigate our own life journeys.  Indeed, they are worth taking some time to reflect upon.

Here’s today’s quote: "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." - Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America.

In my work with executives and Boards of Directors, one of the most frequent discussions that I am drawn into is one about attitude and the role it plays in effective leadership.  My position on this, however, is not what most people expect to hear from me.  Most people expect me to immediately extol the virtues of a positive attitude as the sine qua non of an effective leader, but what they don’t expect to hear is that the term positive attitude, without the proper context, means nothing to me.  One often thinks of someone who is upbeat, smiling, and outwardly happy as having a positive attitude.  To me this is nothing more than delusional optimism and is not believable in the real world and, therefore, not the trait of a leader whom people will follow through the many ups and downs and unknowns of what we have come to know as the 21st century.  In order to understand the type of attitude—the right attitude—for successful leaders in this century, I often cite the leader of one of history’s greatest military victories in the 15th century.

For the moment, cast your mind back to a cold, dreary, wet, autumn day in October—the year is 1415, and the British king, Henry V, leads his army, made up of mostly shopkeepers, farmers, peasants, who have been marching for three weeks in the cold rain, onto the battlefield of Agincourt in France.  Many are sick, all are hungry and on the brink of exhaustion.  They are facing the French army, which is well rested, well fed, and in possession of some of the finest horses, armor, weaponry, and soldiers in Europe.  The French occupy the high ground and they outnumber the English five-to-one.

The morning of the battle, Henry addresses his troops and tells them, honestly and openly, that they face a terrible battle this day.  He acknowledges the seriousness of the challenge and even asks those who do not feel up to it to leave and he will give them money and safe passage back to England, because he does not want the brave men who will fight this day to die in their company.  Then, Henry tells a story, a story of his vision of victory, what it will feel like and how people will admire the brave men who fought next to him today. The result was remarkable in the extreme; the French lost more than 10,000 soldiers that day and the English, less than 100.  

This is what my version of a positive attitude for the 21st century looks like: openly acknowledging the challenge and difficulties to be faced, painting a picture of victory, and—most importantly—leading by example.  This is what leadership looks like.  This is what the right attitude looks like for life’s “battles” in the 21st century.

Till next time, please reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s words and Henry’s example and think about how they might apply to your life today.  Take care--Pepper

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at