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Book:  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Author:  John Maxwell

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Maxwell, J. (2007). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership : follow them and people will follow you. New York, NY: HarperCollins Leadership.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. The one thing you need to know about leadership is that there is more than one thing you need to know about leadership. To lead well, we must do 21 things well. Despite the fact that we must do 21 things well to be excellent leaders, it is reality that none of us does all of them well. Once you've discovered which law you are average or below, begin looking for team members whose skills are strong where yours are weak. Remember, none of us is as smart as all of us. The greater the number of laws you learn, the better leader you will become. Each law is like a tool, ready to be picked up and used to help you achieve your dreams and add value to other people. Pick up even one, and you will become a better leader. Learn them all, and people will gladly follow you. (pg. xx)

  2. I want to encourage you to make yourself a lifelong learner of leadership. Read books, listen to tapes regularly, and keep attending seminars. And whenever you come across a golden nugget of truth or a significant quote, file it away for the future. In five years, you'll see progress as your influence becomes greater. In ten years, you'll develop a competence that makes your leadership highly effective. And in twenty years, others will likely start asking you to teach them about leadership. Some will be amazed. They'll look at each other and say, "How did you suddenly become so wise?" You can be a great leader, but it won't happen in a day. Start paying the price now. (pg. 28)

  3. If something I'm doing can be done 80 percent as well by someone else, I delegate it. If you have a responsibility that someone else could do according to that standard - or that could potentially meet that standard - then develop and train a person to handle it. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it. Remember, leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. (pg. 210)


Other Key Ideas:

Your leadership ability - for better or for worse - always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization. Leadership ability is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness. (pg. 7)

A widespread misunderstanding is that leading and managing are one and the same. Up until a few years ago, books claimed to be on leadership were often really about management. The main difference between the two is that leadership is about influencing people to follow, while management focuses on maintaining systems and processes. (pg. 13)

Church is the most leadership-intensive enterprise in society. What is the basis of this belief? Positions leadership often doesn't work in volunteer organizations. There is no leverage. In business, bosses have tremendous leverage in the form of salary, benefits, and perks. Most followers are pretty cooperative when their livelihood is at stake. But in voluntary organizations the thing that works is leadership in its purest form: influence. Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won't follow. To find your best leaders, see who can get people to follow them when they have no leverage - when they have to recruit volunteers. That is the mark of true leadership ability. (pg. 18)

The secret of our success if found in our daily agenda. If you continually invest in your leadership development, letting assets compound, the inevitable result is growth over time. See what a person is doing every day, day and after day, you'll know who that person is and what he or she is becoming. (pg. 25)

It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers. Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day's progress. (pg. 25)

Every past success and failure you've experienced can be a valuable source of information and wisdom - if you allow it to be. Successes teach you what you're capable of doing and give you confidence. However, your failures often teach greater lessons. They reveal wrong assumptions, character flaws, errors in judgement, and poor working methods. Ironically, many people hate their failures so much that they quickly cover them up instead of analyzing them and learning from them. If you fail to learn from your mistakes, you're going to fail again and again. Most leaders are activists. They tend to look forward - not backward - make decisions, and move on. Leaders need to take time to reflect and learn from their experiences. (pg. 39)

How can a leader walk right by a group of people they work with and not even say hello to them? Don't say "I've got a lot of work to do today and I really want to get started." You just walked past your work. Never forget that leadership is about people. You must serve others before you are served. (pg. 54)

How important is trust for a leader? It is the most important thing. Trust is the foundation of leadership. It is the glue that holds an organization together. Leaders cannot repeatedly break trust with people and continue to influence them. It just doesn't happen. (pg. 61)

Trust is like change in a leader's pocket. Each time you make good leadership decisions, you earn more change. Each time you make poor decisions, you pay out some of your change to the people. All leaders have a certain amount of change in their pocket when they start a new leadership position. Whatever they do either builds up their change or depletes it. If leaders make one bad decision after another, they keep paying out change. Then one day, after making one last bad decision, they run out of change. When you're out of change, you're out as the leader. In contrast, leaders who keep making good decisions and keep recording wins build up change. Even if they make a huge blunder, they still have plenty of change left over. (pg. 63)

Trust is the foundation of leadership. Leaders build trust by consistently exemplifying competence, connection, and character. People will forgive occasional mistakes. But they won't trust someone who slips in character. People will tolerate honest mistakes, but if you violate their trust you will find it very difficult to ever regain their confidence. You need to treat trust as your most precious asset. (pg. 63)

How do leaders earn respect? By making sound decisions, by admitting their mistakes, and by putting what's best for their followers and the organization ahead of their personal agendas. Good leaders rely on respect. They understand that all leadership is voluntary. When leaders show respect for others - especially for people who have less power or a lower position than theirs - they gain respect from others. (pg. 66)

Leaders see everything with a leadership bias. Their focus is on mobilizing people and leveraging resources to achieve their goals rather than on using their own individual efforts. Leaders who want to succeed maximize every asset and resource they have for the benefit of their organization. For that reason, they are continually aware of what they have at their disposal. (pg. 94)

Effective leaders are always on the lookout for good people. I think each of us carries around a mental list of what kind of people we would like to have in our organization or department. In most situations, you draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. People who are drawn to you probably have more similarities than differences. 1) In just about any organization, most of the time the people who come on board are similar in age to the leaders who hire them. 2) Rarely have I seen positive and negative people attracted to one another. People who view life as a series of opportunities and exciting challenges don't want to hear others talk about how bad things are all of the time. Attitude is one of the most contagious qualities a human being possesses. 3) People attract - and are attracted to - others of similar background. Employers tend to hire people of the same race. People with education tend to respect and value others who are also well educated. This natural magnetism is so strong that organizations that value diversity have to fight against it. 4) People are attracted to leaders whose values are similar to their own; whatever character you possess is what you will likely find in the people who follow you. 5) People with similar levels of energy are attracted to one another. 6) People are attracted to talent and excellence and are most likely to respect and follow someone who possesses their kind of talent. 7) The people you attract will have leadership ability similar to your own. (pg. 106)

Some people have problems connecting with staff because they believe that is the responsibility of followers. They often think, "I'm the boss. I have the position. These are my employees. Let them come to me." But successful leaders are always initiators. They take the first step with others and then make the effort to continue building relationships. (pg. 119)

If you want to increase your capacity and maximize your potential as a leader, your first step is always to become the best leader you can. The next is to surround yourself with the best leaders you can find. Never forget that a leader's potential is determined by those closest to him. (pg. 137)

The best executive is the one who has enough sense to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self restraint to keep from meddling when they do it. Only empowered people can reach their potential. When a leader can't or won't empower others, he creates barriers within the organization that followers cannot overcome. (pg. 145)

Just as children watch their parents and emulate their behavior, so do employees watching their bosses. If the bosses come in late, then employees feel that they can, too. If the bosses cut corners, employees cut corners. People do what they see. (pg. 161)

The majority of leaders emerge because of the impact made on them by established leaders who modeled leadership and mentored them. (pg. 163)

You cannot ask those who work for you to do something you're unwilling to do yourself. (pg. 165)

If you model enthusiasm to your people day in and day out, you attract like-minded people to your team, department, or organization and motivate them to achieve. You will begin to see forward progress. Once you do, you will begin to generate momentum. (pg. 201)

Every person who has achieved any success in life has made sacrifices to do so. Many working people dedicate four or more years and pay thousands of dollars to attend college to get the tools they'll need before embarking on their career. Leaders must give up to go up. That's true of every leader regardless of profession. Talk to leaders, and you will find that they have made repeated sacrifices. Effective leaders sacrifice much that is good in order to dedicate themselves to what is best. (pg. 222)

When you have no responsibilities, you can do pretty much anything you want. Once you take on responsibility, you start to experience limitations in what you can do. The more responsibility you accept, the fewer options you have.(pg. 223)

If you develop yourself, you can experience personal success. If you develop a team, your organization can experience growth. If you develop leaders, your organization can achieve explosive growth. 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. There is no other way to experience explosive growth. (pg. 249)

When you're leading a group of people, the weakest staff members typically consume 80 percent of your time. However, proactive leaders don't allow the bottom 20 percent to take all their time. They seek out the best 20 percent - the people with the greatest leadership potential - and invest their time developing them. They know that if they develop the best, the best will help with the rest. (pg. 250)

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