Powerful Leadership

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The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell


John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” is helpful in measuring your own personal growth in leadership abilities, as well as in finding the areas of challenge or need for growth. The premise of this book is not to say there are only 21 principles concerning leadership, rather, according to Maxwell, there are 21 “laws” to leadership that are universally true no matter where one may lead in any culture or area of society.


Below is a brief summary of each law, from which you may choose which your company will benefit from most:


Maxwell defines the Law of the Lid by saying “leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential.

When you leverage the law of the lid and assess your own leadership, then you will have a straightforward view of who your followers are, where they might land on the leadership scale, and areas in which you can grow in to raise your leadership lid.

Every leader can grow, but it takes a dedication to do so and a willingness to work for it.


Maxwell’s definition for the Law of Influence is that “the true measure of leadership is influence nothing more, nothing less.

The best leaders leaders realize that leadership is always about raising people up to their highest potential, even if it means they one day become better leaders than themselves.

Leadership is not determined by having a title. It doesn’t matter if you are CEO, Pastor, Director, Manager, or Man of the House, you are not a leader if people do not follow your lead. Maxwell says, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.

He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.


The subtitle for this chapter is, “Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day.” This means that you can tell where a person will end up by watching their daily habits and priorities. It means that as a leader, we must have a personal plan for growth. Maxwell writes, “What can you see when you look at a person’s daily agenda? Priorities, passion, abilities, relationships, attitude, personal disciplines, vision, and influence” All of those things contribute to the destination you will arrive at later on in your journey of life. Therefore, it doesn’t matter at all where you hope to end up, if you do not first determine which road you ought to be traveling on to get there.

The law of process also comes into play as we set out to lead others. Maxwell says, “Just as you need a growth plan to improve, so do those who work for you.” This means that as we lead others, we have to set them on a course for success as well.


This law follows closely after the law of process. Once you have determined the process to get where you are going personally, the next step is being able to navigate your business or organization through the challenges and obstacles to reach to success. This is more than vision-casting. This is determining what it will take to fulfill the vision. Maxwell says it this way: “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.


The Law of Addition law simply says, “leaders add value by serving others.” Maxwell says that we add value to others when we truly value them and intentionally make ourselves valuable to them. He says, “90 percent of all people who add value to others do so intentionally.” The most helpful way we do this is to actually get to know the people we are leading, find out their priorities, goals, hopes, and dreams, and then figure out what we can do to assist them in getting where they need to go.


Maxwell defines The Law of Solid Ground by saying, “trust is the foundation of leadership” which is perhaps the greatest challenge leaders face in the 21st century.

Maxwell says that we build trust “by consistently exemplifying competence, connection, and character,” and that we must “treat trust as our most precious asset.”


Similar to the high necessity of trust, is the necessity of respect. The Law of Respect reminds us that “people naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.


Maxwell says that “every person possesses intuition” and “people are intuitive in their area of strength.” Therefore this law says that using intuition, “leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias.” The Law of Intuition is based on facts and instinct as well as other ever-changing factors such as “employee morale, organizational momentum, and relational dynamics.” Out of all of the leadership skills one can develop over time, intuition may be the hardest because it relies on more than just leadership experience. It has a lot to do with your natural aptitude for seeing all of these factors at once and naturally discerning possible actions and probable outcomes.


The Law of Magnetism states, “who you are is who you attract,” or more simply, you will attract people like yourself. This can be a good thing in many cases, but is also a call to action to know your weaknesses and seek to grow out of them. Maxwell says, “Leaders help to shape the culture of their organizations based on who they are and what they do,” and “not only do people attract others with similar attitudes, but their attitudes tend to become alike.”

According to Maxwell, “Like attracts like. That may seem pretty obvious. Yet I’ve met many leaders who expect highly talented people to follow them, even though they neither possess nor express value for those people’s giftedness.” Therefore, “if you want to grow an organization, grow the leader” and “if you want to attract better people, become the kind of person you desire to attract.” Then, once you are attracting the people you want to have following you, then its time to take yourself and those people to the next level together.


Maxwell summarizes The Law of Connection by saying, “leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.” Another way to say this is that people will not follow you until they are emotionally bought into the vision you are casting. There is also some tie in here with the famous quote, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Maxwell says, “you develop credibility with people when you connect with them and show that you genuinely care and want to help them.”

To truly connect with people you have to value them, learn about them, and then adapt to who they are. Do not expect people to change themselves in order to follow you. You must change yourself in order to invite them in.

The law of connection means that we understand people’s self-identity, meet them where they are, and build connection with them first before we try to get them to follow us or buy into the vision of where we want to go.


The Law of the Inner Circle states that “a leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him.” This is similar in effect to the law of magnetism, which says your followers will look like you, except that this says you will begin to look like those with whom you surround yourself. To leverage the law of the inner circle then, we must surround ourselves continually with people we admire and respect; people we want to become like as we grow. You are most like the top 5 people you hang around with. Who are you spending your time with?


Following closely behind the law of the inner circle is the Law of Empowerment. This law states that “only secure leaders give power to others.” This means that secure leaders spend their time “identifying leaders; building them up; giving them resources, authority, and responsibility; and then turning them loose to achieve…” Insecure leaders, on the other hand, spend their time suspicious of those around them, and do everything they can to undermine people’s potential and growth.

Maxwell says, “The truth is that empowerment is powerful-not only for the person being developed but also for the mentor. Enlarging others makes you larger.” Therefore, to take advantage of this law in our lives, we must come to understand that as we develop the leaders around us we not only inadvertently raise our own value as a leader, but our organizations are benefitted in the process as well.


The Law of the Picture says that “people do what people see.” This may be one of the highest laws in understanding that everything rises and falls on leadership. Character matters. Maxwell says, “When the leaders show the way with the right actions, their followers copy them and succeed.”


The Law of Buy-In says, “people buy into the leader, then the vision.”  If we roll this back to the law of the picture, this means that if your credibility as a leader is questionable at best, you are not going to have people willing to follow the vision you are casting because they doubt you can get them there.


The Law of Victory states that leaders find a way for the team to win. Maxwell writes, “Every leadership station is different. Every crisis has its own challenges. But I think that victorious leaders have one thing in common: they share an unwillingness to accept defeat. The alternative to winning is totally unacceptable to them. As a result, they figure out what must be done to achieve victory.

This is the way a leader thinks who embraces the law of victory. They take responsibility, get creative, and throw all of their experience and passion into reaching success. There is a no-quit attitude and they are very persistent. These leaders are always inspiring to those behind them, even when the challenge gets difficult.


The Law of the Big Mo states that “momentum is a leader’s best friend.” Maxwell says this is “because many times (momentum) is the only thing that makes the difference between losing and winning. When you have no momentum, even the simplest tasks seem impossible… On the other hand, when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and troubles seem inconsequential.”

This law particularly comes into place when everything is a challenge, and it seems to take forever to get anything done. However, just like a train slowly gaining speed, once that same organization gets moving, there is no stopping it. In physics this phenomenon is referred to as the law of inertia, which states in part that “an object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

This truth is the same when it comes to leadership. An organization with forward momentum is hard to slow down. The challenge is in getting that momentum built up in the first place (and making sure the momentum is in the direction you want the organization to go). Maxwell says, “creating momentum requires someone who has vision, can assemble a good team, and motivates others. If the leader is looking for someone to motivate him, then the organization is in trouble.


Are you being productive, or just being busy?” This is at the heart of the Law of Priorities, which says, “leaders understand that activity is not necessarily about accomplishment.

Maxwell says, “when we are busy, we naturally believe that we are achieving. But business does not equal productivity. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment.” This means prioritizing, which “requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what’s important, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.” Sometimes what is highest on that priority list is not comfortable or easy.

Key to leveraging the law of priorities is called “the Pareto Principle” or more commonly “the 80/20 principle.” Maxwell says that if we will spend most of our time working on the things in the top 20% of importance, it will give us 80% of the return we are looking for. This means things like giving 80% of your time to your top 20% of employees.


The Law of Sacrifice gives us a glimpse into the heart of a leader: “a leader must give up to go up.” Maxwell says, “there is a common misperception among people who aren’t leaders that leadership is all about the position, perks, and power that come from rising in an organization… The life of a leader can look glamorous to people on the outside. But the reality is that leadership requires sacrifice.


For natural leaders, many of the principles discussed up to this point can be fairly easy to live by. Even those who may not be born-leaders, but who have invested time and effort to grow in this area, may have a lot of success with them. Yet, when we come to the Law of Timing, I believe this is where many leaders can begin to struggle. This law teaches us that “when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go.”

Maxwell gives a few summary statements. He says, “the wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.” “The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.” “The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.” However, “the right action at the right time results in success.”

As we develop our leadership abilities, we have to go beyond simply knowing how to lead. We must also learn to discern when it is the right time to do so.


The Law of Explosive Growth says, “to add growth, lead followers,” but, “to multiply, lead leaders.” Maxwell further explains this distinction by saying, “if you develop yourself, you can experience personal success. If you develop a team, your organization can experience growth. (But) if you develop leaders, your organization can achieve explosive growth.” He adds, “You can grow by leading followers. But if you want to maximize your leadership and help your organization reach its potential, you need to develop leaders.” Maxwell summarizes this law by saying, “leaders who develop leaders experience an incredible multiplication effect in their organizations that can be achieved in no other way — not by increasing resources, reducing costs, increasing profit margins, improving systems, implementing quality procedures, or doing anything else.


The final law in the book is the Law of Legacy which states, “a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.” The chapter starts by asking, “What do you want people to say at your funeral? That may seem like an odd question, but it may be the most important thing you can ask yourself as a leader.

Maxwell says, “most people simply accept their lives — they don’t lead them.” To be sure, my favorite statement made in this chapter, if not the entire book is, “someday people will summarize your life in a single sentence. My advice: pick it now!

He ends the chapter with the thought, “our abilities as leaders will not be measured by the buildings we built, the institutions we established, or what our team accomplished during our tenure. You and I will be judged by how well the people we invested in carried on after we are gone.” This is the greatest challenge a lifelong pursuit of leadership will face, but it is also the only thing that will matter in the end.


As you can tell, there is a great deal of helpful information that it is rightly described by many as one of the most helpful books available on the topic of leadership. We hope this summary is valuable and informative and inspires you to take action to start or continue to grow yourself and those that follow you.

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