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 Book Review

Book Summary Preview :
21 Laws of Leadership

By John C. Maxwell

Book review by Uwaoma Eizu at the Potters Lounge Ikoyi.

The potters lounge is more than a place. It is a platform, a centre in Ikoyi where young people come together to hang out with core successful professionals monthly as they find a purpose driven life through the most attractive platforms. It's in line with our vision to guide and raise the next generation of success stories that will deliver professional excellence in their fields of endeavor while building a world with value.



Considering that our world and society is faced with serious leadership problems, there's a need for the book 21 Laws of Leadership. This was the idea behind its review at the Potters Lounge. We live in a world where a lot feel that leadership is power instead of influence. This is the reason why we have a lot of powerful people but very few leaders. The John Maxwell book sets the facts straight through striking points, examples and illustrations. The book 21 Laws of Leadership gives quite a lot of useful insights.


Now the leadership being talked about here is not the stereotypical leadership that equates position or power as seen in politics, business or any structured organization. John maxwell clearly differentiates this when he talked about positional leadership and real leadership. At this point I realized that the changes and positions of the world up to  today, was actually carried out by most people who never held a leadership position.. From Malcolm to Ghandi, from muhammed to Jesus, from mother theresa to princess diana.. These are people whose lives and death struck the world. But they never really held any position.

Here are some of the striking points in the book:

The book helps differentiates between positional leadership and real leadership. It draws insights as to how the greatest leaders in our world really never held positions. But they did shape the world and have influenced generations.

The book explains how leadership can be developed. It is a process, leadership develops daily and not in a day.

It also outlines how the word "leadership" is synonymous to "influence". With the book, John Maxwell explains how leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.

John C. Maxwell offers lively stories about the foibles and successes of Lee Iacocca, Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana, and Elizabeth Dole in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Readers can expect a well-crafted discussion that emphasizes the core attitudes and visions of leadership. Maxwell uses the same tell-it-like-it-is approach that he honed in the bestselling Developing the Leader Within You. For instance, when explaining "The Law of Influence," Maxwell states that "job titles don't have much value when it comes to leading. True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed or assigned. It comes only from influence and that can't be mandated." Even after Princess Diana was stripped of her title, Maxwell says she was still able to lead a global effort toward banning land mines because of her sophisticated ability to influence others.

If readers are looking for a step-by-step formula, Maxwell's list of "laws" will probably seem too chatty and anecdote driven. There are no

The Laws
#1 "The Law of the Lid" asserts his basic premise that leadership ability determines the ultimate level of a person's effectiveness. If you have gifts and abilities, you'll make a greater impact the better leader you become. While some people may be blessed with a natural aptitude for leadership, Maxwell contends that leadership "skills" are learnable. You don't have to be a "born leader." You can apply yourself and become a much better leader than you are.

#2 "The Law of Influence." Here's another bedrock proposition: Leadership = Influence, no more and no less. Many church and secular leaders grossly misunderstand this point. They think that Leadership = Power. Maxwell argues that your leadership scope is how many people you influence, not how much organizational power you can wield from your position or office. On the basis of these two concepts, Maxwell constructs a whole philosophy of leadership. He explains the laws of "Solid Ground," "Respect," "Intuition," "the Inner Circle" and many others.

Some are especially intriguing. "The Law of E.F. Hutton," for example, is based on a TV ad campaign that ended with the motto: "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen." Maxwell's Law #5 says you can quickly tell who the real leader/influencer in a group is, because when this person speaks, everyone at the table listens, nods, and begins to express assent. Maxwell learned this at his first church where he discovered the real leader was Claude, even though Claude wasn't even the church moderator. Maxwell then learned to influence Claude and let Claude lead the others.

The Law of Process:
“Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day”
Becoming an effective leader does not happen over night. It takes years of study and practice to develop one’s leadership abilities to a high level. While some of Maxwell’s laws are easier to grasp than others, the good news is that in time they can all be effectively mastered.

The Law of Navigation:

“Any One Can Steer a Ship, but It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course”

Although most people do not recognize it, most businesses are run in the same manner. Corporate executives create policies and expectations (the course) and their subordinates are expected to follow these expectations.

Maxwell professes that he is not the best “navigator”, and he shares an acrostic he has used throughout his career when planning important operations:

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 success.
Daily review of your plan.

The Law of Addition:

“Leaders Add Value by Serving Others”
In the Law of Addition, Maxwell argues that great leaders nurture other great leaders below them. He explains the selfless leadership qualities of Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and how his employee first mentality has built his company into a leading national retailer with a highly motivated (and loyal) workforce.

The Law of Solid Ground:

“Trust Is the Foundation of Leadership”
Maxwell believes that trust is the most important aspect of a leader. “It is the glue that holds organizations together”.

In order to build trust Maxwell encourages leaders to consistently exemplify competence, connection, and character. If you’re followers see you ability to lead varies from day to day, they will begin to lose faith in you as a leader.

The Law of Respect:
“People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves”

This was one of the more enlightening chapters for me. In it, Maxwell explains how people of varying leadership abilities interact with one another. When a group first comes together, the leaders within in the group naturally take off in their own direction they feel the group should go. As the group continues to interact, the leaders (and most of the followers) begin following the strongest leader within the group.

In this chapter, Maxwell shares the top six ways that leaders gain others’ respect from his own observations and personal experiences.

Natural Leadership Ability: Although we can all improve our leadership skills, some people are more gifted than others.

Respect for Others: People will follow you because they want to, not because the have to. Autocratic leaders rule people with fear, the goal of an effective leader based on respect.

Courage: People will respect a leader who is not afraid to take calculated risks in order to advance the team.

Success: If people see you achieving success in your goals, they will be more inclined to follow you as a leader.

Loyalty: Followers want leaders to be loyal to them. Followers hold leaders accountable to see that they have the resources and expectations to see a task through to completion. If you drop the ball on your followers, they will lose respect in you as a leader.

Value Added to Others: Elevating followers around you will earn you more respect as a leader than constantly pushing people down or holding them back. People will respect you and support you if they know you have their best interests in mind.

Maxwell also shares Harriet Tubman’s story of leadership and how she came from very humble origins to play an integral part in the formation of the Underground Railroad.

The Law of Intuition:

“Leaders Evaluate Everything with a Leadership Bias”

In the Law of Intuition, Maxwell claims that everybody is intuitive, but not all people are intuitive in the area of leadership. Generally speaking, people are intuitive in their area of expertise. As you continue in your growth as a leader, so to will your leadership intuition. “Natural ability and learned skills create an informed intuition that makes leadership issues jump out at leaders.”

The Law of Magnetism:

“Who You Are Is Who You Attract”

In the Law of Magnetism
 Maxwell explains how we attract followers similar to ourselves. These similarities span several key areas:

Generation: We can not control our age, but as we advance through our professional and social lives, we often surround ourselves with peers of the same general age.

Attitude: If you’re an optimistic and happy individual, chances are you will attract followers with a similar outlook on life. On the other hand, if you are always worried about what the day will bring expect the followers you attract to be equally disheartened.

Background: If you where raised in a hard working blue collar neighborhood, chances are you will attract followers from a similar background.

Values: What are you values? How important is family, religion, politics, etc. in your life? In all likelihood, the individuals that seek you out as a leader will share similar values.

What does this mean to you as a leader? Maxwell states that if you find the people you attract to be unreliable and untrustworthy, then examine your own character and see if there are any shortcomings.

The Law of Connection:

“Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand”

In what I consider one of his most poignant leadership examples in his book, Maxwell compares and contrast how President George W. Bush handled two distinct national tragedies.

In the case of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 President Bush made an immediate connection visiting “Ground Zero” and standing alongside firefighters and search and rescue workers as they looked for survivors. We all remember the iconic images of President Bush standing amid the wreckage with his arm around battered firefighter Bob Beckwith.

Ironically, nearly four years of leadership experience later, George W. Bush showed virtually no connection with the Gulf Coast States of Louisiana and Mississippi as they responded to the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina during August 31st, 2005.


In his second opportunity to implement the law of connection, President Bush failed miserably and his lack of leadership during the crisis greatly undermined the recovery efforts.

Maxwell summarizes the law saying “You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion…The heart comes before the head”.

The Law of the Inner Circle
“A Leader’s Potential Is Determined by Those Closest to Him”

No matter how great of a leader you may be, if you do not have an inner circle of family, friends, and/or associates, you will find it extremely difficult to reach your full potential as a leader. As leaders, we cannot do everything ourselves, we need to rely on other individuals who have expertise in certain areas to provide guidance and support.

Even the President of the United States has an Inner Circle. Although, he may have had only brief personal relationships with some of his cabinet members, each was chosen because of a particular skill set they possessed that would benefit the administration as a whole and help further the prosperity of the nation.

The Law of Empowerment:

“Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others”

To fully develop as leader, you must establish the ability to trust others around you. Maxwell retells the story of the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford. As talented an inventor and visionary as Ford was, his inability to trust and empower those below him severely limited the Ford Company’s ability to adapt to changing times.

Although he was pressured routinely to update the company’s aging Model T so that it was more competitive with those offered by other companies, Ford stubbornly refused. Had Ford been more nurturing with his engineering department, and empowered them to research new automobile technology, the company may have been able to retain the dominance it eventually lost in the automotive business.

Maxwell furthers his point by saying “to push people down, you have to go down with them”.

The Law of the Picture:

“People Do What People See”

Perhaps one of the most widely known of Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is the Law of the Picture. Although most of us do not refer to it by this name, we all know the importance of leading by example.

If you take shortcuts around the right way to do things, those below you will do the same. You cannot say one thing and do another.

This is another law that I can directly relate to as a ship captain. If my crews here me saying something about a safety issue on board my ship, they may need a little extra encouragement to recognize the importance of my message. If they see me doing something about a safety issue on my ship, they generally don’t need any further encouragement. They are “on board” with my message!

The Law of Buy-In:
“People Buy into the Leader, Then the Vision”
According to Maxwell, most people do not follow a worthy cause until someone they look to as a leader promotes it. If you admire someone, you are more receptive to their vision. “The leader finds the dream and then the people”.

On the other hand, if you do not buy into your supervisor, you will have a hard time buying into his vision and moving forward as a result oriented team.

The Law of Victory:

“Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win”

As leaders, we often find ourselves in management scenarios of varying complexity on any given day. So what separates victorious leaders from managers who cannot seem to consistently meet these daily challenges? Maxwell claims “victorious leaders share an unwillingness to accept defeat”.

Becoming a victorious leader means you must do everything within your power to see that the task is completed safely, and in a timely manner. As a leader you are responsible that your team has the resources and skill to complete a task safely, but as a victorious leader, you must hold yourself accountable for the results and avoid letting your team get sidetrack from safely reaching the goal.

Maxwell also identifies his three components of victory in this chapter.

Unity of Vision: Each team member needs to be on the same page in regards to the teams goals. If one team member is looking out for himself, and not the best interest of the team, the talents of individual team members will never be fully utilized by the group.

Diversity of Skill: The individual talents of a group’s team members need to be cherished. Every one of us bring a unique set of skills to the table, no one does everything well, and in most everyone does something better than the rest. As leaders, our job as leaders is to identify the unique skills of our subordinates and utilize them to the team’s advantage. This leads us into Maxwell’s third and final component of victory.

A Leader Dedicated to Victory and Raising Players to Their Potential: Maxwell drives this point home with a famous quote from legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz:

    “You’ve got to have great athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is. You can’t win without good athletes, but you can lose with them. This is where coaching makes the difference”.

As a leader you must keep the collective talents of your team on a course for success.

The Law of the Big MO:

“Momentum Is a Leader’s Best Friend”

No matter how talented of a leader you are, it is hard to get people on board with your ideas, vision, or project, without momentum. Maxwell talks about baby steps and how to capitalize on small victories to tackle bigger challenges as a leader.

As an example he uses the story of Pixar animation and how they used momentum to build up their small animation studio to become a successful multimillion dollar enterprise.

You don’t need to be a cutting edge animation studio to use the law of momentum to your advantage; Maxwell says that “even average people can perform far above average in an organization with great momentum”.

The Law of Priorities:

“Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment”

The Law of Priorities is another one of my favorite leadership laws. As a ship captain I am continually bombarded with issues of varying complexity and relevance. With a 200 person crew and 835 ft ship to manage, my desk can quickly become case study in in-efficiency. Keeping track of each issue, and finding time to accomplish them can be a full time job in and of itself.

I was enlightened by Maxwell’s introduction of the Pareto Principle (otherwise known as the 80-20 rule). The Pareto Principle suggests that “if you focus your attention on the activities that rank in the top 20 percent in terms of importance, you will have an 80 percent return on your effort”.

In other words, if you have 10 issues that require your attention, the two most important issues will give you an 80 percent return on the time you devote to them.

The Law of Sacrifice
“A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up”

In most cases, successful leaders have made great sacrifices to be where they are. Whether more time than they would have liked away from family while working on their career, taking a pay cut to accept a job that was a better experience, or just going above and beyond what is expected of them in their current position, leaders must be willing to sacrifice to reach their full potential.

In the Law of Sacrifice, Maxwell shares how Martin Luther King, Jr. effectively utilized the law of sacrifice to advance a cause he eventually paid the ultimate price for.

The Law of Timing:

“When to Lead Is As Important As What to Do and Where to Go”

In the Law of Timing Maxwell retells the tragic events leading up to the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For the most part, few people would question the leadership qualities of Mayor Ray Nagin. He was a fresh voice in a city (and state) where corruption had been running rampant.

Although Mayor Nagin had great leadership skill, and certainly knew the consequences of a Category 4 hurricane reaching hitting the City of New Orleans, his timing in ordering an evacuation of the city was off.

“If a leader repeatedly shows poor judgment, even in little things, people start to think that having him as the leader is the real mistake”.

The Law of Explosive Growth:

“To Add Growth, Lead Followers – To Multiply, Lead Leaders”

In this straight forward chapter, Maxwell explains how gaining followers can only go so far in growing and organization. If you truly want to grow your organization, you need to turn those followers into leaders, so that they too can attract a new set of followers.

Henry Ford tried to operate his corporation by leading only his followers and pushing down anyone who exhibited leadership ability. He saw it as a threat to the entity he had created. Had he instead nurtured aspiring leaders within his company, and developed their growth, there is no telling how successful the Ford Motor Company may have become.
The Law of Legacy:
“A Leader’s lasting Value