Here are 25 key lessons that capture and distill what I think are some of the most important insights from John Maxwell:
1. Leadership is influence.
Maxwell defines leadership as influence. It’s simple, effective, and precise. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell says, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time – either to increase your level of influence with others or to erase it.”
2. Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a process.
Leadership starts right where you are, from the inside out. Maxwell says, “Most people who want to get ahead do it backward. They think, ‘I’ll get a bigger job, then I’ll learn how to be a leader.’ But showing leadership skill is how you get the bigger job in the first place. Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a process.”
3. Just do it.
Forget motivation and just do it. Maxwell says, “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”
4. Your attitude towards life is still under construction.
According to Maxwell, your attitude towards life is constantly being shaped by the following factors: personality (who are you), environment (what’s around you), word expression (what you hear), adult acceptance/affirmation (what you feel), self-image(how you see yourself), exposure to new experiences, association with peers (who influences you), physical appearance (how you look to others), and marriage, family, and job (your security and status.) Maxwell believes that your environment shapes you more than your personality or other inherited traits, and that your outward actions are a direct reflection of your self-image (we tend to act consistently with how we see ourselves.) In Attitude 101, Maxwell says, “Whether you are eleven, forty-two, or sixty-five, your attitude toward life is still under construction. It’s never too late for a person to change his attitude.”
5. Use principles to guide you.
Drive from durable principles instead of a bunch of rules and policies. According to Maxwell, “policies are many, principles are few, policies will change, principles never do.”
6. Leadership is a collection of skills.
Leadership is something you can learn and improve at. Maxwell says, “Although it is true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved.”
7. Build trust through competence, connection, and character.
You won’t follow somebody you don’t trust. As a leader, you have to build trust. Maxwell says, “There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection, and character.”
8. Success is a journey, not a destination.
Don’t think of success as a place. Think of it as a path. Success is a journey you can enjoy a day at a time. Take the right people with you on your success journey. In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell identifies 10 things to look for when figuring out who to invest in or who to bring with you: 1) make things happen, 2) see and seize opportunities, 3) influence others, 4) add value, 5) attract other leaders, 6) equip others, 7) provide inspiring ideas, 8.) possess uncommonly positive attitudes, 9) live up to their commitments, and 10) have loyalty.
9. Success is a daily thing.
You can be successful one day or one decision at a time. Maxwell says, “If you can handle today correctly, tomorrow will take care of itself.”
10. Success is a decision at a time.
Maxwell says, “You don’t become a success when you get your diploma. You became a success when you decided to go to college. When you get your diploma you get the rewards of success.”
11. Seven Steps for success
In Success One Day at a Time, Maxwell shares 7 steps for success: 1) make a commitment to grow daily, 2) value the process more than events, 3) don’t wait for inspiration, 4) be willing to sacrifice pleasure for opportunity, 5) dream big, 6) plan your priorities, and 7) give up to go up.
12. Look for the landmarks of success.
The highest levels of success require a series of significant trade-offs. Maxwell identifies the following trade-offs that serve as landmarks: 1) achievement over affirmation, 2) excellence over acceptability, 3) personal growth over immediate pleasure, 4) future potential over financial gain, 5) a narrow focus over scattered interests, and significant over security.
13. Leadership is a visual thing.
The greatest leadership is by example. Maxwell says, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
14. Everybody needs encouragement.
No matter who you are, you still need encouragement. Maxwell says, “Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up.”
15. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
In Your Roadmap for Success, Maxwell says we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, “… success depends more on your attitude than it does on how important you think you are. Life should be fun. Even if your job is important and should be taken seriously, that doesn’t mean you should take yourself seriously. You’ll go farther in life and have a better time doing it if you maintain a sense of humor, especially when it comes to yourself.”
16. Use failure as a springboard.
Unsuccessful people avoid taking any risks to try and avoid failure. Successful people turn failure into feedback. They don’t dwell on mistakes or the negative consequences of failures. Instead, they focus on the rewards of success and on learning from their mistakes. In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell shares 10 ways to fail forward effectively:
1) appreciate the value of failure
2) don’t take failure personally
3) let failure redirect you
4) keep a sense of humor
5) ask why, not who
6.) make failure a learning experience
7) don’t let failure keep you down
8.) use failure as a gauge for growth
9) see the big picture
10) don’t give up.
17. Win with people.
Growing people is the key to growing your success. Maxwell says, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership” and “true success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next generation.” In 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell says, “Great leaders don’t use people so they can win. They lead people so they can all lead together. If that is truly your motivation, you can become the kind of person that people want to follow – whether they are beside, above, or below you in the organizational hierarchy.” Maxwell makes people development a priority. To avoid spreading himself too thin, he focuses 80 percent of his time developing only the top 20 percent of the people around him. Maxwell says, “your time is limited, and it makes more sense to help a few learn how to fly and reach their potential rather than show a big group only enough to whet their appetite.”
18. Let people fly with you for a while.
In Maxwell’s experience, the most effective way to mentor and ramp people up is the same way craftspeople have done for years: 1) do it, 2) I do it — and you watch, 3) you do it – and I watch, 4) you do it.
19. Ten principles for personal growth.
In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell shares 10 principles for improving your personal growth: 1) choose a life of growth, 2) start growing today, 3) be teachable, 4) focus on self-development, not self-fulfillment, 5) never stay satisfied with current accomplishments, 6) be a continual learner, 7) concentrate on a few major themes, 8.) develop a plan for growth, 9) pay the price, 10) find a way to apply what you learn.
20. Don’t make happiness your measure of success.
Happiness is fleeting while success is a stable path. In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell writes, “The continual search for happiness is a primary reason that so many people are miserable. If you make happiness your goal, you are almost certainly destined to fail. You will be on a continual roller coaster, changing from successful to unsuccessful with every mood change. Life is uncertain, and emotions aren’t stable. Happiness simply cannot be relied upon as a measure of success.”
21. Achievement over affirmation.
Focus on achievement rather than worry about fitting in. Maxwell says, “Affirmation from others is fickle and fleeting. If you want to make an impact during your lifetime, you have to trade the praise you could receive from others for the things of value that you can accomplish. You can’t be ‘one of the boys’ and follow your destiny at the same time.”
22. Four kinds of people when it comes to relationships.
In Success 101, Maxwell says there are 4 kinds of people when it comes to relationships: 1) some people add something to life (we enjoy them), 2) some people subtract something from life (we tolerate them), 3) some people multiply something in life (we value them), 4) some people divide something in life (we avoid them.)
23. Lead yourself exceptionally well.
Leadership starts from the inside out. Lead yourself first. In Success 101, Maxwell identifies 7 areas that successful people must self-manage: 1) you emotions, 2) your time, 3) your priorities, 4) your energy, 5) your thinking, 6) your words, and 7) your personal life.
24. Treat people like a “10.”
Who gets your better effort? … a leader who treats you as a “2” or a leader who treats you as a “10”? Maxwell says that in his experience, people usually rise to the leader’s expectations – if they like the leader. Treat people like a 10 if you want their best. Maxwell says one way to do this is to focus on a skill or strength that somebody has that is a “10.” If you can’t find a “10” in terms of skill, then rather than write somebody off, look to a non-skill area where the person can grow into a “10”, independent of skill, such as attitude, desire, discipline, and perseverance.
In the 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell says there are two ways to get ahead: production and politics. Maxwell says avoid office politics and instead focus on production. Maxwell says that people who rely on production: depend on how they grow, focus on what they do, become better than they appear, provide substance, do what’s necessary, work to control their own destiny, grow into the next level, base decisions on principles. On the other hand, people who rely on politics: depend on who they know, focus on what they say, appear better than they are, take shortcuts, do what’s popular, let others control their destiny, hope to be given the next level, base decisions on opinions. Maxwell shares 6 ways to avoid politics: 1) avoid gossip, 2) stay away from petty arguments, 3) stand up for what’s right, not just for what’s popular, 4) look at all sides of the issue, 5) don’t protect your turf, and 6) say what you mean, and mean what you say.