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"Follow [the rules], and people will follow you." John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Volatility. Complexity. Brutal competition. Hyper-connectedness. Twenty-first century owners and executives have to lead at the speed of change - making decisions even as the ground shifts under their feet. In such a landscape, are "irrefutable" laws of leadership relevant? John C. Maxwell argues that the "principles of leadership are constant." The world changes; effective leadership does not. Not only are Maxwell's 21 laws applicable for today's leaders; they're essential.

An Instruction Manual for Leadership

Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, "Rather than an esoteric examination of leadership, this book is more like a foundational instruction manual." Maxwell's approachable style is complemented by illustrative examples and practical steps that leaders can take to improve. Today. Now. It's not theory; it's an action plan. Following are Maxwell's first seven laws. How are they relevant and applicable to your leadership?

1. The Law of the Lid: Ability determines a person's level of effectiveness.

There is a lid, or cap, on your effectiveness as a leader. If you have a low ability to lead, then you have a low lid on your potential. If you have a high ability to lead, then you have a high lid on your potential.

Say that your ability to lead is a 4 (on a scale of 1 to 10); your level of effectiveness will not be higher than a 3. If you lead at a 9, then your effectiveness can be no higher than 8. Maxwell writes, "Your leadership ability - for better or worse - always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your of your organization."

In other words, you can enjoy success but if you have a low leadership lid, you're not going to achieve the results that you want - or your organization needs.

Maxwell points to Steve Wozniak as an example. There is no doubt that Wozniak is a genius; many credit him as the brains of Apple. But Steve Jobs was the face. Wozniak had a low leadership ability; it was the mesmerizing Jobs who transformed Wozniak's brilliant ideas and innovations into a global juggernaut.

Raising the Lid

So you've got a lid; does that mean you can't grow beyond that? Not at all. According to Maxwell, "By raising your leadership ability, you can increase your effectiveness by 600 percent. Leadership has a multiplying effect."

To begin to raise your leadership lid:

  • List your major goals.
  • Assess your leadership skills.
  • Ask others (colleagues, peers, direct-reports) to rate your leadership on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Compare your assessment to their scores, and ask yourself if you're willing to grow and change. Yes? You're in the right place.

2. The Law of Influence: The true measure of leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less.

Leadership is earned. You don't get it from being a manager, an entrepreneur, or a pioneer. You don't get it by being the most knowledgeable or by having a title of power. You get it through influence. The late Princess Diana, for example, had a title, and she worked to increase her influence. The "People's Princess" patronized over 100 charities and worked tirelessly on behalf of AIDS organizations. After her divorce, she lost her title - but she never lost her influence or the respect of the people.

Building Your Influence

It is possible to increase your influence. Maxwell outlines the following steps:

  • Examine which leadership myths you have believed. (e.g. did you think leadership came with a title or when someone started a business?)
  • Think about how you persuade people to follow you and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in the following areas:
    • Character.
    • Relationships (who you know).
    • Knowledge.
    • Intuition.
    • Experience.
    • Past successes.
    • Ability.
  • How can you improve in low-scoring areas?

3. The Law of Process: Leadership develops daily, not in a day.

Rome wasn't built in a day - nor is a leader made in one. "What matters most is what you do day-by-day over the long haul." Successful leaders are those who commit to lifelong learning and development. It's about getting a bit better each day.

Elite athletes prove the Law of Process. As Maxwell writes, "Champions don't become champions in the ring - they are merely recognized there... If you want to see where someone develops into a champion, look at his daily routine."

Learning to Lead

Approach leadership as a continual journey and commit to learning:

  • Create a personal growth plan, which includes (at least) attending one conference a year, reading one leadership book a month, and reading an article each day.
  • Encourage growth in your people; mentor them, recommend best reads, facilitate training, and nurture a learning culture.

4. Law of Navigation: Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.

The key to effective navigation is preparation. Before leaders take their people on a journey, they have to ensure they provide the best chance of success. To do this, they draw on past experiences, fully examine the conditions before making commitments, listen to others, and develop conclusions based on "faith and fact."

Navigating Towards Better Results

Maxwell developed an acronym (PLANAHEAD) that can help you become a better navigator:

  • Predetermine a course of action.
  • Lay out your goals.
  • Adjust your priorities.
  • Notify key personnel.
  • Allow time for acceptance.
  • Head into action.
  • Expect problems.
  • Always point to the successes.
  • Daily review your plan.

5. Law of Addition: Leaders add value by serving others.

Leadership isn't about how far we can advance ourselves, but how far we can help advance others and our organizations. According to Maxwell, 90% who add value to others do so intentionally. To be effective, we must make a conscious effort to make things better for other people.

Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, for example, believes that treating his people well - helping them advance in their careers and lives - is the secret to his company's success. Employees' pay is 42% higher than retail rivals, and Sinegal's compensation is well below market. The result: the lowest rate of turnover in retailing.

Adding Value

Follow these guidelines to become an "adder":

  • Truly value others; intentionally help others.
  • Make yourself more valuable to others.
  • Know and relate to what others value.

6. Law of Solid Ground: Trust is the foundation of leadership.

Just as there is no leadership without influence, there is no influence without trust. Leaders earn trust when they display competence, connection, and character. Stakeholders will forgive an occasional mistake or misstep; they won't tolerate lapses in character, which is inextricably linked with trust.

Leading on Solid Ground

Ensure that your character communicates:

  • Consistency (predictability).
  • Potential (what you can and have achieved).
  • Respect (for self and others through making sound decisions, admitting mistakes, and putting others and the company first).

7. Law of Respect: People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.

Walk into a room with a group of new people: automatically, and instinctively, leaders will assert themselves. After a time, the strongest leader emerges, and people gravitate towards him or her. While chains of command can put a weaker leader "above" a stronger leader, people naturally follow the more capable.

Developing Your Leadership Muscles

To emerge as the strongest leader in any room:

  • Demonstrate your natural leadership ability.
  • Show respect for others, especially those in subordinate positions.
  • Show courage. Do what's right, even if you risk failure.
  • Succeed. Lead the team to victory; nothing encourages people to follow like success.
  • Be loyal. Stick with your team and look out for your followers.
  • Add value to others. This lasts long after the official relationship has ended.

The principles of leadership may not change, but what makes Maxwell's Laws so compelling is that you can. Not only can you become a better leader, but if you practice and apply these rules, you will become a better leader.

Continue on to part 2 of this article series for laws 8 - 15.


Larry Hart

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