Summary of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”: This book discusses the invisible rules that govern leader; this book helps to understand what leadership is, under what conditions it emerges and how some people manage to come together and accomplish their projects while others fail to do so; to illustrate this, author John C. Maxwell, draws on his experience as a pastor in the United States and uses many historical examples.
By John Maxwell, 2002, 346 pages
Note: this is a guest review written by Vincent, from the blog ‘Destination Leadership.’
Review and Summary of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”:
Law of Leadership 1: The Law of the Lid
A person’s effectiveness depends on their leadership abilities. They act like a lid: the better you are a leader, the more efficient you are.
To illustrate this law, John C. Maxwell (the author of the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) tells a story of the McDonald brothers. In the 1930s, they opened a fast food restaurant, which quickly became very successful. They then had the idea of developing the concept of their franchise restaurant.
However, even though they were both excellent restaurant managers, they were poor leaders, unable to think big. Because despite the high demand (some months they received more than 300 calls and letters asking for information on their concept), they only managed to sell their concept to around ten people.
It was only when they sold their franchise rights to Ray Kroc that the fast food chain experienced rapid growth. Indeed, Kroc opened 100 restaurants in four years, and more than 500 in eight years. Today the chain has tens of thousands all over the world.
Kroc was a great leader, a visionary. He may not have been as good a restaurant owner as the McDonald brothers, but he had the ability to carry out a major project and give himself the means to achieve it. His skill level may have been lower than that of the two brothers, but his leadership level was much higher.
Law of Leadership 2: The Law of Influence
Without influence, you will never be able to lead others.
People often get it wrong about leadership. They hear that such a person has such a title, or such a position and conclude that the person must be a great leader. While this is sometimes true, a person’s position has little to do with their ability to be a good leader.
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C Maxwell refers to five myths about leadership that persist in people’s minds:
- The management myth: Too many people think that leadership and management are the same thing. This is entirely untrue. A leader leads other to follow him, while a manager focuses on maintaining systems and processes; he has no influence.
- The entrepreneur myth: An entrepreneur is not a leader if he does not have the ability to influence and transform others (both their customers and their employees)
- The knowledge myth: A person’s leadership does not depend on their knowledge. You can meet great researchers or philosophers who have no influence on others.
- The pioneer myth: Being the first to do something doesn’t necessarily make you a leader.
- The position myth: It is not your position in an organization that gives you leadership. Some people don’t have prestigious titles, and yet they have a lot of influence.
“He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” If you cannot influence others, they will not follow you, and if they do not follow you, you are not a leader. Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.
Law of Leadership 3: The Law of Process
Leadership develops daily, not overnight.
While it is true that some people are born more gifted than others, leadership is a skill set that can be learned and developed. But it takes time, because it’s a complex phenomenon with many factors.
A study has shown that it’s the ability to learn and improve one’s skills that distinguishes leaders from followers. The best leaders are students and are constantly learning.
The 4 phases of leadership growth:
- Phase 1 – Not knowing what you don’t know: Most people are not aware of the importance of leadership; they are in phase 1.
- Phase 2 – Knowing what you don’t know: You enter phase 2 when you start a position that requires leadership and you realize that nobody is following you and you have to learn.
- Phase 3 – Improving: The work begins to pay off and you begin to see the first results, this is phase 3.
- Phase 4 – Knowing: When you are in phase 3, you can be a good leader, but you must think about each of your actions. In phase 4, everything becomes automatic, and you become quite efficient.
Developing leadership is a daily task; it requires discipline and consistency. Whatever your level is today, you can improve.
Law of Leadership 4: The Law of Navigation
A leader carefully plans how he will achieve his goal.
Leaders visualize the journey they want to take before setting off; they know what they will need to succeed and what obstacles they will encounter on their way.
They draw on:
- Their previous experience: All past experiences can be sources of information and wisdom. The successes show what you can achieve with your gifts and skills; failures, mistakes not to make again and lessons to be learned from it.
- What others say: You can’t learn everything from the past, that is why a good leader requests information from people with different skill profiles, both within and outside your organization.
- Conditions: Aware of their responsibilities, the leader thinks carefully before making a decision. He determines the cost before making commitments.
- Their intuition and the facts: Good leaders have a positive attitude. They have the intuition that they can achieve their project and understand that they must believe in it to succeed. But they must also be realistic and not have any illusions. They understand that they cannot minimize the importance of the obstacles. The challenge is to find the perfect balance between optimism and realism.
John C. Maxwell then shares his planning method:
- Plan actions
- Determine the goals
- Adjust your priorities
- Notify key people
- Allow time for acceptance
- Take action
- Anticipate problems
- Always point to success
- Review your schedule daily
Law of Leadership 5: The law of Speech
When the real leader speaks, others listen.
The position doesn’t make the leader. If when a person speaks, everyone shuts up to listen to him, it’s a sign of his leadership. When someone asks a question, he is the one everyone looks towards.
If you have to tell others that you are the leader, you aren’t the leader.
To become the “real” leaders within groups, you must focus your attention on 7 areas:
- Your character (who you are): True leadership always begins with a personality that attracts others.
- Your relationships (who you know): You are a leader only if others follow you, and this always requires developing relationships. Whenever you start a new position of leadership, seek to immediately develop your relationships.
- Your knowledge (what you know): Information is essential for a leader; it gives him/her the necessary credibility with others. Without it, no leadership is possible.
- Your intuition (what you feel): Leadership needs more than just data, it also requires knowing how to “feel” situations (see the law of intuition below).
- Your experience (where you have been): The more you have faced great challenges in the past, the more likely you will be followed. You will be given your chance more easily.
- Your past success (what you have accomplished): Nothing speaks louder than a fine list of achievements.
- Your skill (what you can do): As long as your supporters think you have the skills to succeed, they will continue to follow you.
Law of Leadership 6: The Law of Trust
Trust is the foundation of leadership.
To gain the trust of others, a leader must have three qualities: competence, connection and character. People will forgive mistakes due to skills, but not those due to bad character. In this area, the slightest mistake is fatal.
When you lead others, it is as if they agree to take a trip with you. And how this trip unfolds depends on your character.
Having a good character is to be consistent. Others need to know that they can rely on you day after day. You will gain their respect by making good decisions, admitting your mistakes, and putting what is best for your supporters and your organization before your own interests.
Never break the trust of your supporters, otherwise you will lose your influence with them.
Law of Leadership 7: The Law of Respect
People naturally follow the best leaders.
No one will follow you by accident, but because they respect your leadership. We are all naturally drawn to those who are better leaders than ourselves.
Of course, in some cases good leaders will follow worse leaders, out of respect for the person or the hierarchy. But it remains unusual and unnatural.
When a group of strangers meets, after a discovery phase, the best leader will naturally take charge.
Law of Leadership 8: The Law of Intuition
Leaders assess everything with a leadership bias.
Of all the laws of leadership, this is probably the most difficult law to understand. Why? Because it explains that leadership does not just depend on the facts, but also on instinct.
Intuition distinguishes excellent leaders from those who are merely good.
Those who have it instinctively know how to assert leadership in the situations they encounter. They can spot signals that others miss and link them to the situation. They know how to instinctively determine if their objectives are achievable with the material and human resources at their disposal.
Some people are born with it, others develop it through training.
Law of Leadership 9: The Law of Magnetism
Your personality determines whom you attract.
Most of the time, we like to hang out with people who are like us. Therefore, a leader naturally attracts people who share his/her profile. The group they lead will therefore become an extension of their personality.
Obviously, leaders must also surround themselves with different people so that they complement their profile, but these kinds of people will not be naturally attracted to the leader.
Of course, the people you attract aren’t 100% like you, but you have more similarities than differences in the following areas:
- Leadership skills
Recruiting a good profile does not only depend on human resources, but also on you and the type of candidates you attract.
Law of Leadership 10: The Law of Connection
You must first touch a person’s heart before asking them to take action.
Emotion is a powerful lever to get the people you meet to take action. Effective leaders know that they must first touch a person’s heart before asking for help.
Developing an emotional connection with others is not only done in front of a group but also face to face with each individual. The stronger the relationship and connection between people, the more supporters will want to help their leader.
You develop credibility with others by connecting with them and showing them that you really want to help them.
You don’t have to have a lot of charisma to make it happen.
One of the keys to connecting with others is to know that even in a group you must connect to people individually, understand that it is a set of unique people, each with their dreams and ambitions.
Many leaders mistakenly think that the connection effort must come from the supporters. “I’m the boss, they’re the employees, it’s up to them to come with me”. However, good leaders know that it is their responsibility to initiate, and that it is also up to them to continue to build the connection. It’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely necessary for the success of an organization, hence the importance of developing exceptional communication.
When a leader has built a solid bond with his supporters, this is reflected in their loyalty and their work ethic. The vision of the leader becomes the aspiration of the supporters.
Law of Leadership 11: The Law of the Circle
A leader’s potential is determined by those close to him.
Each effective leader is surrounded by intelligent and competent people. It is always better to do internal promotion than external recruitment, but it’s not always possible.
Within organizations there are always three groups of people:
- Those who accept leadership and do their utmost.
- Those who are skeptical and need to be convinced.
- Those who are negative and reject leadership.
No point in trying to convince those of the last group. It’s necessary to concentrate on the first and second groups as a priority. There are five types of people who can add value to your inner circle:
- Those with potential who are trying to improve.
- Those who are positive and motivate the members of the organization.
- Those with personal value, who improve the leader.
- Those with production value, who improve others.
- Those with proven value, who elevate those who elevate others.
Law of Leadership 12: The Law of Empowerment
Confident leaders empower others.
A weak leader thinks that if he helps out too much a subordinate, he himself will no longer be essential to the organization. When in reality the opposite happens: the more power you give, the more you get.
The empowerment of subordinates is frightening because it brings change.
Many people derive their self-esteem from their work or position, and when you threaten to change one or the other you threaten their self-esteem. On the other hand, change motivates confident people because they know that they can adapt, and that the change will bring improvement. They know that the best things happen when you give others credit.
To empower others, you must believe in them.
Law of Leadership 13: The Law of Reproduction
It takes a leader to raise up another leader.
Over 80% of good leaders have been mentored by another leader. Only leaders are capable of developing other leaders, because their knowledge is unique.
But not all leaders do it because they don’t see the point, don’t have the time, or are afraid to empower others (see previous law).
If you want to develop your leadership, spend time with the best leaders you know.
The field doesn’t matter, humans are humans. For example, a leader of a large sports team can teach leadership to business leaders.
When you understand this law, you recognize its incredible effects. If a company has bad leaders, its situation can only get worse.
Law of Leadership 14: The law of Buy-In
People buy into the leader before buying into the vision.
Before you want to present your vision to your supporters, ask yourself if they value you enough. People often go backwards. They wrongly think that if their cause is good, people will automatically follow them.
In reality, leadership doesn’t work like that. People don’t follow good causes; they follow good leaders. When you know that, your understanding of leadership changes completely.
Before thinking about your vision, ask yourself, “Have I provided my supporters with good reasons to follow me?”
A leader embodies his message. If you think the leader is credible, then the message will be.
If a group believes neither in its leader nor in his vision, it will seek another leader. If it believes in the vision but not in the leader, it will also seek another leader.
On the other hand, if it believes in the leader but not in the vision, it will ask that the leader change his vision. And when it believes in the leader and in the vision, it will give him its full support.
In leadership, you shouldn’t want to go too fast and be accepted by the group before presenting your vision.
Law of Leadership 15: The Law of Victory
A leader always finds a way to bring victory to his team.
Each situation is different, each crisis is unique, yet all leaders have one thing in common: they refuse to give up.
They are different from the others: They shine when the pressure is on. Personal glory doesn’t interest them. When they fail, they don’t get discouraged and they persevere.
Whether you work in a sports team, in the army, in a company or in an administration, you must bring together three components to win:
- A united vision: Everyone must strive to achieve the same goal.
- Diverse skills: Skill profiles should be complementary.
- A leader who pursues victory and helps others to reach their potential: A group can have the most competent people in the world, without a leader it will not win, because it’s the leader who provides the required motivation, empowerment, and coordination.
A leader chases after the accomplishment of his goal; he puts his ego aside to gain victory.
Law of Leadership 16: The Law of Momentum
Momentum brings invaluable assistance to the leader.
Each leader must create change in his organization. For this, he must build on momentum. He knows that he should first start with small steps to initiate a virtuous circle and bring about greater progress. Because without momentum, even the smallest of tasks can seem insurmountable, whereas when you have already had success, you trust yourself more and you feel ready to climb mountains.
To create momentum, two elements must be brought together: preparation (gathering the necessary skills) and motivation (making the group want to make the first changes).
Momentum is a magic ingredient. It gives a sense of power and makes group members better; it’s the most powerful agent of change.
Law of Leadership 17: The Law of Priorities
A leader understands that being active is different from being productive.
A leader should prioritize all his life, regardless of his environment.
To do this, he must ask himself 3 questions:
- “What is required?”: We all have obligations. If something is not truly necessary, remove it from your priority list or delegate it.
- “What will bring the greatest results?”: As a leader, you need to work on what you are most effective at. If a task can be performed as well by someone on your team, delegate it.
- “What will bring the greatest reward”: A leader works best when he achieves something he knows will bring him the greatest personal reward. Passion transcends.
All great leaders know that it’s not because they work that they are productive. The ability to identify and achieve priorities is essential to them. They calculate the benefit of performing an action based on the time it will take.
Law of Leadership 18: The Law of Sacrifice
A leader must give up in order to go up.
A leader sometimes has to make sacrifices to accomplish the goals he has set for himself. It can mean giving up his free time and seeing his family less, lowering his own salary, making layoffs, drastically reducing the expenses of his organization, dealing with people he doesn’t like. All of these actions can cause him to be unpopular or ridiculed.
When a situation seems blocked, something has to be sacrificed to move it forward.
When choosing to assume a leadership position, you must stop thinking about yourself. All that should matter is the fulfillment of the vision. All the great leaders had to make sacrifices to rise.
There is no success without sacrifice.
Law of Leadership 19: The Law of Timing
Timing is just as important as vision and actions.
Great leaders know that the moment of leadership is essential. With each action of a leader, there can only be four possible outcomes:
- The wrong action at the wrong time brings disaster.
- The right action at the wrong time leads to resistance.
- The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.
- The right action at the right time brings success.
You have to be able to seize opportunities when they arise, even if you don’t feel completely ready, because the opportunity to win can disappear just as quickly as it comes.
In leadership, it’s not enough to know how to analyze the situation and establish a good action plan, it’s also necessary to find the ideal moment to act.
Law of Leadership 20: The Law of Explosive Growth
To grow, lead supporters. To multiply, lead leaders.
The key to growth is leadership. If you only think about developing yourself, your organization will not grow as fast as if you also develop others. Always help others reach their potential. The leaders of tomorrow are developing today.
To assess the effectiveness of an organization, you have to count the number of leaders it has and not just stop at its number of employees, because leaders have the ability to influence those around them and create a positive dynamic.
And to go even higher, an organization should create programs to develop leaders of leaders.
Developing leaders is not an easy task, as they are difficult to find and recruit. They are also more difficult to hold on to because they have an energetic nature and always want to move forward.
Law of Leadership 21: The Law of Legacy
The value of a leader is measured by the legacy he leaves behind.
A good leader must do two things to properly prepare for his departure:
- Make your organization as strong as possible
- Prepare a successor to resume activity
To leave the best possible succession, a leader should:
- Lead with a long-term vision
- Create a culture of leadership
- Make sacrifices to win tomorrow
- Favor team spirit over individuality
- Leave the organization with integrity
Thus, he ensures that the organization will continue to function just as well after his departure.
Succession is one of the key responsibilities of leadership, yet far too many leaders neglect it. Success comes when a leader gets to do great things for himself. Success comes when he does great things with his supporters. The significance stems from being able to make great leaders work for themselves. But a succession only happens when a person leads his organization to create great things without him.
Sooner or later, a leader always ends up leaving his organization, and he has a duty to prepare it to continue on without him.
Book critique of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”:
When you want to accomplish major projects, getting the support of others and becoming a leader is necessary, but few people know how to do it naturally because we are not taught leadership in school.
I greatly appreciated The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership because it shatters a lot of myths about leadership and allows you to truly understand what it is to be a leader. The personal and historical accounts the author uses provide examples of how these laws work in the real world. When I read it, I discovered that I made some mistakes and I understood why I should act differently in the future.
Being a good leader is difficult, and I find The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to convey the required mentality: ambition, planning and connecting with others.
It shows us that success does not happen by chance and that there are rules to follow when accomplishing major projects.
On the other hand, I would criticize him for sometimes lacking in clarity and for not giving enough details. John C. Maxwell presents a law and gives some examples, but in some of the laws, it’s not enough to really understand what he means.
The other criticism I can make is that it lacks concreteness. He sets out the principles but provides limited means of concrete action. It’s a good theory book, but it will need to be supplemented with more practical works to effectively use the principles.
Strong points of Laws of Leadership:
- Allows understanding of what leadership is and how it works
- Valuable personal and historical examples
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is a well-written book accessible to all
Weak points of Laws of Leadership:
- Sometimes lacks clarity
- Lack of concrete action proposals
My rating :
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