My employer invited me to a leadership conference in April where John Maxwell was the keynote speaker.  His ability to capture the audience’s attention impressed me.  He made you feel like a friend was giving you advice.  His career started in ministry, but Maxwell wanted to reach the most people he could, so he shifted to leadership.  He became a public speaker and even then realized his limitations with how many people he could reach, so he decided to become an author.  He has published over 100 books, many of which became bestsellers.  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is one of his most notable books, and he referenced it multiple times during his lecture.  I bought the book then and put it on my to-read list.

Core Principles 

There are a lot of one-liners in this book that I wrote down while reading it, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you believe in that core principle, this book will add value to your organization and your life.  Each law has a core principle tied to it as well, but it all leads back to that quote: the success, the failures, the growth, and the culture of an organization rise and fall on its leadership.  Through the laws addressed in the book, a few overarching themes to discuss are the influence of a leader, the personal growth you need as a leader, developing trust with your employees, empowering employees to become more leaders, and the legacy you want to leave. 

Influence

John believes that leadership is all about influencing others and that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.  It is on the leader to find a way for the team to win, similar to how a coach finds a way for his team to win—referencing famous basketball coach John Wooden several times about how influential he was to his players, which created the success they experienced at UCLA.  I loved this quote from the book: “He who thinks he is a leader without followers is just taking a walk.” He uses this quote to say that the true measure of leadership is influence- nothing more, nothing less.

Personal Development

In the book, it’s said that the hardest person to lead is yourself.  There is much discussion about how who you are as a person reflects the type of leader you are and, ultimately, how well you succeed.  Reassuring enough, leadership, in his opinion, can be learned and mastered.  Leadership develops daily, not in a day, as progress is a process.  You can experience growth over time by having a daily agenda and working toward slowly developing these principles. 

Trust 

Consistent character builds integrity and trust in your organization.  Your team has to trust you if you expect them to follow you.  Building a connection with your team is imperative before you ask them to buy in.  Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Trust builds respect.  John references two of my favorite basketball legends in this section: Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan.  Jordan is the GOAT (not up for argument) and one of the best on-court leaders the sport has known.  However, Jordan respected Jackson as his coach because he trusted his vision for the team. 

Lead Leaders

As a leader, John believes empowering and developing other leaders is essential. He says, “To add growth, lead followers; to multiply growth, lead leaders.” This approach involves creating a ripple effect by investing time and resources into training, mentoring, and empowering individuals on your team who can lead their own teams, departments, or initiatives. Trained does not equal transformed, and you want transformed employees to become the next leaders in your organization.

A transformed employee is one who has evolved from simply performing tasks to taking on leadership roles in the organization. They become more proactive and take the initiative to fix problems, they consider the long-term impact of their efforts and align them with the organization’s goals, they hold themselves accountable for good results, they adapt to changes and challenges, they work well with others and are committed to personal and professional growth. As a leader, you want to identify and groom employees who show the potential to achieve these qualities. 

Legacy

In the book, John Maxwell states that a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. He emphasizes this with the quote, “Legacy isn’t leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people.” While it’s common to think of legacy in monetary terms, particularly when considering leaving a legacy for your family, the true essence of a leader’s legacy in business lies in developing leaders who will continue to drive the company’s vision and growth after you’re gone. The ultimate goal for many in business is to eventually replace themselves, and the true measure of your leadership legacy will be reflected in how well your successor continues the organization you started.

Personal Reflection

After reading this book, it is impossible not to do some self-reflection.  I noticed some weaknesses and gaps in my leadership skills, but some strengths became obvious and needed capitalization. I appreciated that Maxwell mentioned you don’t have to perfect all 21 laws. “Leadership develops daily, not in a day”, he says. Reflection is just the first step, after acknowledging the weaknesses, I think there is an obligation to invest time in learning about the laws that need improvement. Time could be invested in finding a mentor who possesses those skills and learning from them, reading books on the topic, or attending leadership conferences/workshops to improve in this area.

In addition to reflecting and learning to improve on your weaknesses, there is also value in surrounding yourself with a team that is strong in the areas where you are weak to complement your skills and balance out your leadership. John talks about that in the Law of the Inner Circle, saying “A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him”. 

Strengths

One of my biggest strengths is the law of victory: my unwillingness to accept defeat.  I am naturally highly competitive, and this competitiveness helps me see the big picture and refuse defeat as a leader, business owner, and medical provider. 

The law of the picture talks about how people do what they see, not just what they are told, meaning we must lead by example.  I think this is a strength of mine: in business, I want to be the hardest worker in the room, and in medicine, I want to be the fastest and best provider in the company.  I don’t expect people around me to be able to do something I am not doing, and I agree that it is impossible to be a good leader if you are not a good example. 

Weaknesses

The law of priority states that being busy doesn’t mean you are productive, and you need to evaluate your priorities using three characteristics: requirement, return, and reward.  I certainly say yes to too many things, which can become overwhelming, creating stress and limiting my productivity.  I struggle to prioritize the most important things in my life and need to work on this.  

The law of empowerment is another law I naturally struggle with.  I have had times when it is difficult for me to delegate tasks for fear that they won’t get done like I want them to.  This does not make me a good leader.  A good leader takes others along the journey with them.  The book references that as a leader, you should: 1.  Be productive 2.  Let others watch you do something and do it with you, 3.  Let them do it while you are with them 4.  Let them do it, and then 5.  Let them do it and bring someone else to watch them do it.  See one, do one, teach one, as we often say in medicine.  I need to empower more people to take action without my meddling.  I will work on this weakness as well.

Strengths and Criticisms of the Book 

Maxwell is a great author.  His writing style is easy to follow, and he uses practical examples to follow each law.  Another strength of these laws is their timeless application.  I was reading the 25th-anniversary version of this book, and these principles are still relevant today and are universally applicable.  I appreciate that the book encourages readers to evaluate and elevate their leadership abilities and find ways to improve their leadership skills. 

My main critique is that it doesn’t dive deep enough into the nuances and challenges of being a leader and makes all of this seem too easy.  As leaders, we face diverse environments and situations that make implementing some of these laws difficult.  Also, there is not much account for the hierarchy of leaders in a company.  If you are in a lower leadership position, it will be difficult to create widespread organizational change without the buy-in from those above you, but it certainly can start with you.

Conclusion

Overall, I liked the book.  I took three pages of notes and did a lot of self-reflection on becoming a better leader in my organization and business.  I love how John talks about how leadership begins with you, and sometimes, this is the most challenging part to reflect on and make a change.  This book would benefit you if you are interested in leadership, find yourself in a leadership role, are a business owner, or are any individual looking for personal development tips and tricks.  In other words, anyone who wants to become a better leader.