Full-time motivational speaker and bestselling author John C. Maxwell, a former priest, has written more than 70 books during the last four decades, but, arguably, none of them enjoys the rock status of his 1998 classic, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”
Even those who think it’s cheesy (looking at you, Ann Grevers), agree that Maxwell’s guidelines work and can do a lot of good to anyone who applies them in their lives.
Even today, 20 years and a million leadership books later, Maxwell’s well-researched, insightful, and sometimes amusing “irrefutable laws of leadership” are well worth your time. “What’s so special about them?” – you might wonder.
Well, correct us if we’re wrong, but not many of the books have the power to both grab your attention and to be as perfectly structured as a mind-map.
Just like most of Maxwell’s books, the content of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” is already a draft-summary and thus serves as a perfect reminder for whenever you want to put your newly acquired knowledge in use.
In addition to that, Maxwell’s writing is impeccably clear, quite motivational, simple as an elementary schoolbook, and – yes – cheesy. But, to paraphrase Pam from The Office, we like cheesy. Let us tell you why.
We don’t need to tell you that there are two kinds of people on this planet: followers and leaders.
Followers are incapable of successfully executing the long-term objectives of a company and cannot even comprehend its long-term vision. They will always look for cover and support whenever things get a little messy.
If you are one of them, then this book is not for you. You are better off as a follower. If you don’t want the responsibilities of a leader and would rather live your life for today than for tomorrow, you are probably never going to be a good leader.
The economy, unfortunately, does not feel sorry for companies led by followers. On the contrary: most of these companies have failed or are bound. The real leaders are the ones who are willing to make sacrifices and are in tune with these 21 laws. They follow them, and the people follow them because of this.
A leader is not a tyrant: even in ancient times, people followed leaders and rebelled against rulers. They were able to recognize good sense and a well-designed, long-term plan. When they couldn’t do that, history helped them: the civilizations that survived were the ones led by great leaders.
Sometimes, this meant determination and resolve; and other times it meant delegating and sharing power. The goal was always the same: accepting challenges head-on and expecting nothing less than a total victory.
Some things never change, do they? Though technology marches forward and cultures differ from place to place, the principles of leadership, as Maxwell says, are constant.
"Whether you’re looking at the citizens of ancient Greece,” he goes on, “the Hebrews in the Old Testament, the armies of the modern world, the leaders in the international community, the pastors in local churches, or the businesspeople of today’s global economy… leadership principles are unchanging and stand the test of time.”
Before moving on to them, Maxwell informs his readers to keep in mind the following four ideas while reading the book:
1. The laws can be learned. Some are easier to understand than others, and others are easier to apply than yet a third group. But, regardless: every one of them can be acquired.
2. The laws can stand alone. Though each of the laws complements all the others, you don’t need one to learn another.
3. The laws carry consequences with them. As Maxwell says: “Apply the laws, and people will follow you. Violate or ignore them, and you will not be able to lead others.”
4. These laws are the foundation of leadership. In other words, if you want to become a leader, they are not merely meant to be learned, but to be practiced and properly applied.
One more thing: these laws don’t contradict each other and have cumulative power. Meaning that any of them will help you, but the more of them you learn, the better leader you’ll become. Consequently, the greatest leaders are the ones who’ve learned and are regularly applying all of Maxwell’s laws.
Time to open the toolbox, right?
Do you have talent and skills?
That is great!
Unfortunately, they can only take you to the threshold of success. As talented as you may be, you’ll never make it without proper leadership skills.
The abler you are as a leader, the more effectively you can transform your skills into something valuable.
Leadership skills differentiate those who succeed from those who do not.
You need to understand the difference between managing and leading.
Many people think that these things are one and the same, and also think that good managers are good leaders as well.
However, that is not the case.
Leaders inspire, motivate, and influence people. Managers, on the other hand, make sure that operations run smoothly.
Another thing you may have a wrong idea about is that having enough knowledge or being the first in everything will automatically make you a good leader.
Nope: just like everything else, leadership is also a skill and has to be learned and earned through proper dedication and lots of hard work.
In other words, you don’t just become a leader overnight; you become day by day.
Planning and preparation are the main ingredients of leadership: you need to know what you want from your followers, and where you want them to follow you to.
Communicate your goals clearly, and allow the key staff members to accept the direction you have proposed.
Of course, there will be problems and obstacles along the way, so you should make sure that you review the taken course regularly, if not daily.
You cannot become a true leader just by assigning yourself that title.
True leadership, as stated above, is directly linked to influence. To march forward, a leader must have the ability to build bridges and relationships, possession of the proper strength of character, and a leader must also be heard.
People don’t trust tyrants; they trust leaders. And when people trust leaders, they move mountains for them.
It works the other way around as well: it is imperative that you, as a leader, trust your followers completely.
Furthermore, you need to have a strong character and earn people’s respect for them to follow you.
Your reputation and influence should command respect.
Just think of Harriet Tubman: an uneducated black woman born into slavery, she lived such an exemplary life that it was almost difficult for others not to follow her.
You can never become a great leader if you are not a curious and wise person thirsty for knowledge.
However, that is not enough: you need to have intuition as well. Intuition, of course, is not easy to define, but you know what we mean when we use that word.
Maxwell says that, contrary to what you may believe, it is not an inborn trait but can be developed through experience and over time.
It empowers leaders to read both people and circumstances in a heartbeat and allows them to act upon this understanding accordingly before others are even aware of the need for action.
Just think about the average character of your friends.
Isn’t it obvious that we attract people who are quite similar to us in terms of qualities and mindsets? Isn’t it obvious that we surround ourselves with those who share our values, attitudes, experiences, and even abilities?
You know where we’re heading: next time you start blaming your followers, take a moment and first examine yourself.
We guarantee you that you’ll find some areas that need to be improved.
Connecting with people on an emotional level is another thing you should be able to do as a leader.
Even at the times when you are addressing a room full of people, you need to try to connect with every one of them as individuals.
It’s just regular, old human nature: we want to be touched, we want to feel as if our leaders speak directly to us.
Having the right people in your circle is essential since you do not want to be wasting your time and energy on individuals with always-say-die attitude.
Instead, you should invest your time and energy only in people who help you stride forward, and possess strong leadership potential to take the matter in their hands in your absence.
To ensure constant progress and development of your company, you have to develop the full potential of your employees.
And, as expected, you can do that by constantly motivating and empowering them.
Yes, some people are naturally inclined to become leaders, while others realize this only in times of crisis.
But studies have shown – over and over again – that most of the leaders out there have become great by being mentored by other great leaders.
So, look for a mentor.
And when you do, make sure that they are experienced people you look up to. It would help if these people are complementary to your weaknesses, i.e., they possess the most knowledge about the things you possess the least.
Remember: leadership is not only a profession but a way of life. You do not develop leadership skills merely for your office – you develop them so that they become part of your everyday nature so that you become a leader.
People will not follow you because of your vision or your appearance – but because of who you are.
Many studies demonstrate this: when followers decide whether they want to follow someone or not, it is his credibility and integrity that is the deciding factor.
You need to understand that, to “win” in any situation, you need a little help from your friends. Winning is not a solitary effort, but a team effort.
Think of any great athlete, even the ones in the individual sports. Could they have become what they are without the help of a team of people? Would they have been able to win trophies if they played just for themselves?
Generating momentum is important since it will inspire your followers to accomplish more.
It’s reasonable simple logic: win small as often as you can, so that the number of amounted victories create the atmosphere for that big and famous victory for which you’ll be remembered by.
Make sure you are aware, at all times, of your strengths and weaknesses. Merely being active is not enough: delegate some tasks.
Know your priorities, and focus on the things at the top of the list. To prioritize, you should always know which activities reap the most rewards, and which tasks you must do.
Leave the rest to the others.
Of course, being a good leader does not come without sacrifices.
There will be times when you will need to sacrifice your time and energy for tasks that will bring you no compensation whatsoever.
But, then again, no leader has reached and stayed on the top without such dedication.
People say that “timing is everything.”
And they say it for a reason: when to lead is just as important as what to do and where to go.
There are some moments when you just need to relax and do nothing; and some others when, in the absence of a good leader, companies can crumble over a single night.
Although technology is still not there, unfortunately, to allow great leaders to clone themselves, the know-how has found a way to do the next good thing.
“If you lead followers,” says Maxwell, “then you’ll only add growth to one company; however, if you lead other leaders, then you’ll multiply and create enough material for several companies.”
So, for faster growth, develop other leaders and teach them to develop their own followers instead of doing all the leading yourself.
In other words, the more leaders your company has, the stronger it becomes. And the better the leaders you leave behind you, the more respected your legacy.
Da Vinci once noted that every good teacher produces at least one student better than him; remember that and treat your potential successors accordingly.
If you want to become a leader – or, moreover, a better leader – then “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” should be one of the first books on your to-read list.
Simple, readable, practical, effective – it has all the qualities a modern book should possess.
No wonder it’s still sought-after and widely read – even two decades after its publication. Maxwell must have tapped into something. And even if that something is not the deep grammar of leadership, it is certainly something magnetic and usable.
Be the leader you want your leaders to be: strong, smart, far-sighted. Trust your followers if you want to be trusted, and train your leaders to outgrow your if you want a legacy.
And if you need to learn another trick or two in addition to Maxwell’s 21 laws, do take a peek inside our summary of Awdhesh Singh’s “The Secret Red Book of Leadership.”
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