Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell – leadership book review

Developing the Leader within you 2.0 - leadership book review

The reason why leadership became such an important subject these days is due to the fact that people realize the following: when you become a leader, your hole life changes. Everything goes up and down with leadership and the world becomes a better place when people become better leaders.

Your development as a leader has the power to change everything about you: you will become more effective, your weak points will improve, and your impact will be amplified exponentially.

Developing the Leader Within You (we are reviewing the updated 2.0 version released in 2018), cited by many to be the best book you can read at the beginning of your leadership career, revolutionized the way leaders are made and in the process sold more than one million copies. Twenty-five years after its original release, the author returns to his classic text to include the leadership insights and practices he’s learned in the decades since the book first appeared. Thoroughly revised and with two completely new chapters, this new edition updates the foundational principles for transformative leadership that Maxwell has used as a leader for more than 40 years.

No matter what arena you are called to–family, church, business, nonprofit–the principles Maxwell shares in this book will positively impact your own life and the lives of those around you.

About the author

John C Maxwell is a leadership expert, speaker, and author. After serving as a senior pastor for 14 years he founded an international leadership development organization working to help leaders from more than 80 nations. He is annually speaking to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point and the National Football League. He is a best-selling author and in May 2014, Maxwell was named the No. 1 leadership and management expert in the world by Inc. Magazine.

I. The definition of leadership – Influence

Leadership is influence, the capacity of attracting followers. Looking back in history, we can see great leaders that influenced millions of people around the globe. Some of them used their influence in a good way and some in a bad way (as you well know the ones from the former group did not end well), but you need people following you, otherwise, like John Maxwell puts it: “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”.

When you interact with a group of people that are trying to solve a problem, you can always observe the dynamic of influence and the leader of the group by asking yourself the following questions (the actual official rank of the ones involved does not really matter):

  • Which is the person who has the most valued opinion?
  • Towards whom are people looking for answers? Who is the person who is most observed during the discussion?
  • Who is the individual the others tend to quickly agree with?
  • Who do people trust and follow?

Having this in mind it is clear that the best investment you can do (not only as a leader) is to develop your influence today, because if you want to achieve something in the future you may need help from other people. In his book Power and Influence, Robert L. Dilenschneider talks about the triangle of power composed of communication, recognition and influence (in other words: communicate better, get recognition and then try to influence people). John Maxwell developed this idea by stating the 5 levels of leadership.

The 5 levels of leadership

1. Function (Rights) – people follow you because they have to

The Leader inspires enthusiasm, the boss inspires fear.

This is the basic level of leadership because it represents the stage before the real influence is gained. Most of us start with this level, and this is probably the time when we learn the most about the ability to lead. During this time we may encounter in our group people with more experience and knowledge than we posses and whose opinions are valued by the others. We must try to co-operate with them and learn as much as we can from the challenges we are facing so that our leadership will only become stronger with time.

True leaders know to make a difference between just a function and true influence:

The BossThe Leader
Is the ruler of his peers, actions based on authority.Is the mentor of his peers, actions based on goodwill.
Inspires fear.Inspires enthusiasm.
Says I.Says We.
Searches for the culpable.Searches for remedies.
Knows how to realize something and says “go to work”.Shows how to realize something and says “let’s go”.

Bosses that remain on this level for a long period of time are usually using borrowed authority (they tend to say “it must be done this way because my boss wants it this way”) and people follow them just because they have to. Their colleagues usually respond “it’s not my job” when they are asked for extra help (like staying a bit late or trying harder to solve a thing).

Function is a good starting point, use this time to learn as much as you can about leadership, but it is not wise to stay too long at this level. The self-confidence of a leader also grows with the level of his capability and influence.

If you are on this level with a group of people, you should focus on:

  • Knowing very well your attributes and duties;
  • Doing your job at a level of excellence;
  • Do more than it is expected of you;
  • Take responsibility for you actions and do not rely on your rank only to help you lead;
  • Learn from your mistakes and learn something from every leadership opportunity;

2. Permission (Relationship) – people follow you because they want to

If, with time, you establish a connection with the people you are working with and you are building sincere relationships with them, then you will start to gain real influence. This will make all of you to want to work together and cooperate more. The energy of the group will grow, the environment will become increasingly more positive and people will stay longer in the organisation.

“The talent of leadership is to make people work for you when they are not obliged to do so”

Fred Smith, CEO and management consultant

Those who are not willing to build solid and lasting relationships will shortly discover that they can not be long-term efficient leaders.

Almost anyone can successfully accomplish these first two leadership levels without having any special abilities: you just have to do good enough to be awarded a leadership position and if you care about the people you are working with and you want to learn to work with them you will gain influence. But your influence will be limited if you do not move to the next level: that of obtaining really good results.

If you are on this level with a group of people, you should focus on:

  • Knowing the team dynamic and appreciating the people around you;
  • Try to see everything from the other people’s perspective. Make it your objective to help and show that you care more about them than the rules. Emphasize ‘we’ attitude over ‘you’;

3. Production (Results) – your colleagues appreciate and admire you for what you did for the team

Successful companies gain a lot of their profit due to the ability of their leaders to obtain results. If you attend meetings where everyone gets along with everyone in a relaxed atmosphere but the productivity lacks, the leadership of the group is still on level 2. Level 3 is reached once those meetings become productive, even though not everybody attending is happy.

When the results are clear, the people you work with become more motivated and the loyalty increases. Goals are reached, the team works in synergy and everyone sees their situation improving. Companies with leaders that have mastered the first 3 levels usually have no issue in retaining their employees.

If you are on this level with a group of people, you should focus on:

  • Taking the responsibility not only for your results but also for the results of your team;
  • Leading through the power of example and try to have results;
  • Accepting the idea that the responsibility towards your own personal development is yours alone;
  • Helping the ones around you to contribute their best to the success of the organization;

4. Forming people (Replication) – people are loyal to you because you helped them personally

The most rewarded leaders in a company are the ones who create other leaders. It is great to obtain results together with a happy and invested team, but it is even greater to develop the team so that it can one day manage itself. The leaders you help create will remember your mentorship

Leaders become great not because they have power, but because of their ability to give others decision power

John C. Maxwell – Developing the Leader Within you 2.0

If you are on this level with a group of people, you should focus on:

  • Embracing the idea that people are your greatest asset;
  • Putting people in the best place for them to have success. Offer those around you the opportunity to develop their leadership capabilities;
  • Being open and honest about your personal development journey;

5. Peak (Respect) – all about reputation inside and outside your field of work

This is the last level on the leadership scale and very few people manage to get to this level. Those who manage spent a lot of years helping other leaders reach the 4th Level. They are also known outside their own organisations, field of work, or country and are even remembered and revered after their death. Personalities who reached this level include Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Aristotel and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Aspiring to get to this level is a good thing, but one should focus more on mastering the first 4 levels, given that the respect of others is not something we can fabricate or control, it will come out of their own good will.

If you are on this level with a group of people, you should focus on:

  • Influencing the most promising 20% of the people you lead;
  • Teaching them to develop other leaders;
  • Amplifying your influence in the organization to increase its success, but use it also outside your organization in order to make a difference.
Things to keep in mind about the 5 levels of leadership:
  • Your relationship with every people you work with can be on a different level. Every time you change your workplace or enter a new group of people you are beginning with the first level and you are forced to move your way up;
  • Every time you add a new level to your relationship with someone your influence over them will increase;
  • You can not really “jump levels”. If you do you will need to go back and complete the other ones also. The levels are build upon each other, and they can not be replaced by one another;
  • The higher you are on this scale, the longer it will take to reach the next level. It takes less time to lose a level than to gain one. Maintaining a level takes effort too.
  • When you want to increase your influence it is a good idea to focus on a limited group of people (you can pick one person from work and one from you personal life)

II. The key of leadership – priorities

What is so important about setting priorities and what benefits can this bring? For those who have leadership experience it is obvious that getting clarity and prioritizing tasks is one of the most beneficial things to do not only for obtaining better results but also for increasing the morale of your co-workers. One of the main reasons employees get stressed out is the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty about their work, progress and results. Just taking some time to prioritize the tasks together with them will not only calm them down, but will also help them to concentrate better and thus having better results.

One of the most popular ways to split the tasks based on their value is the Eisenhower Matrix (which was also present in the Stephen Covey’s book ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ as the priority quadrants).

The Eisenhower Matrix

To increase productivity and quality of life, we should focus more on the tasks from the second quadrant and try to remove as much as we can from the ones in the forth one. This means we will always act on the most important things before they become urgent, thus reducing the tasks in the first quadrant and the stress linked to it.

Being proactive means choosing, being reactive means loosing.

John C Maxwell – Developing the Leader Within You 2.0

The Pareto Principle stands by the same principle: focus on about 20% of your activities (or employees) because they will generate 80% of the results.

Reflect on how you usually set your priorities. The long term objective is to find a balance between requirements, profit and rewards. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the activity you usually receive compliments for?
  • What is the activity usually asked from you?
  • What activities can you do that will increase your results, recognition or income?

At the end of chapter two (priorities), the author describes an exercise that can help with evaluating the most important tasks you do at your job.

Set up a Margin

“The margin is the space that exists between the tasks we have to finish and our own limitations.”

Richard Swenson

A. You know more about yourself when you have a “margin”

Multiple studies have concluded that about 90% of the leaders who obtain excellent results have a great EQ level. The recognition and understanding of your own emotions can be developed by reflection, especially when you are alone. Those moments are hard to find when you are overwhelmed with work and you have no time for introspection. This is why it would be a good idea to have planned intervals of time when you do not have something to do, because running from one meeting to another will not leave time for thinking. In other words, the margin increases your EQ. Even if you are ‘a man of action’ you will not become an effective leader if you do not reserve yourself time to think about important actions. As a leader, it is your duty to ‘see more, before others do’.

B. Having a “margin” will help with energy levels

People are not made to work non-stop. They need to have moments of relaxation: more sleep, physical exercises, listening to music, etc. As a leader this is especially important since your level of energy is contagious.

So how do we create this ‘margin’? The formula is made out of three variables:

  • Planning: try to have 20% of your time not planned, even if it sounds counter-intuitive.
  • Apply Pareto principle: focus on what is more important.
  • Delegation: Try to delegate as much as possible the tasks from the third and forth quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix (non-important).

III. The foundation of leadership – character

Improving your character will make you feel great internally and that will in turn improve the external results. By focusing on appreciating the people you work with, you will avoid falling into the trap of your own ego.

A. Building trust

Success in leadership is not governed only by the character of the would-be leader. But every leader has something to lose if he does not posses a good character because this is the quality that will make his team members trust him.

Trust is essential in the leadership process. In order to build it, the leader must take the first step by acting in the best interest of the team. If his actions are genuine, the team will be inspired and will begin to trust the leader. A good way to win someone’s trust is to help with a problem (even as little as making that person look better inside a group) without expecting anything in return. The colleagues you help will always remember your generous act. But keep in mind that trust and reputation are build slowly and need to be maintained also.

If you focus on improving your character it will be just a matter of time until you will have build a great reputation also. Then, you can also benefit from the transitivity of trust (people who trust the people inspired by you, will also trust you) and thus your circle of influence will increase.

If I focus on the appreciation of those around me, on improving the management of my own life and on following a correct system of values, my character becomes stronger.

John C. Maxwell – Developing the leader within you 2.0
Pope Francisc – a symbol of humility and great leadership character

Being a leader means that you must always look for ways of improving your character. In a discussion with the author, Pope Francisc presented many “leadership diseases” that exist in our wold. Here are a few of them:

  • Thinking of ourselves as immortal or immune – which contravenes with the principle of modesty;
  • The Alzheimer in Leadership – when leaders forget the people and mentors who helped them;
  • Rivalry and bragging – when ranks and advantages become the main thing leaders are focused on;
  • Mental and emotional callousness – which brings lack of compassion;
  • Excessive time booking – which brings stress and agitation;
  • Existential schizophrenia – when leaders live a double life and become hypocrites, speaking ill of others behind their back.

After this discussion, the author compiled a list of questions that can help us avoid these leadership diseases:

  • Do I feel superior to the people I work with?
  • Is there an imbalance between my professional life and the other areas of my life?
  • Do I focus too much on plans and not enough on intuition and improvisation?
  • Am I unable to express my gratitude to my mentors or other people I interact with?
  • Am I too satisfied with my benefits and privileges?
  • Am I isolating myself from clients and the most important employees?
  • Do I look egocentric to those around me? Do I deny the achievements of others and always put my success first?
  • Am I unable to create a fun and professional environment that people can enjoy being part of?

B. The Four Dimensions of Character

In his book Derailed, Tim Irwin is presenting the four dimensions of the character that successful leaders have in mind:

1. Authenticity

Sometimes the leadership we provide seems to work great, and sometimes it is hard to achieve the level of satisfaction that we need. But we are not always losers and unfortunately we are not always winning either: what matters is the fact that we learn from our experiences.

Many inexperienced leaders fall into this trap: they happen to gain a great victory and they believe they can and must win in everything they do from then on. Because of that, they are afraid to talk about their failures because they may lose other people’s trust. This is wrong because in this way they are depriving their peers of valuable advice and also people may find out or even feel that something is missing in their stories. More can be found on this idea in the Ego Is the Enemy book review.

Because John Maxwell is a public person, he feels that people always see him in favorite circumstances and thus he receives more credit than he deserves. Because of that, he likes to focus in his speech less on his achievements and more on the failures who helped him reach success.

2. Management of your own life

Character correlates with taking the right decisions. There are leaders who have a great IQ but still struggle when faced with serious decisions. In order to improve our character, we need to better manage our life using the following simple rule: Take the difficult decisions regarding your own values before being confronted with pressing matters. It is impossible to preserve a great character if you do not know who your values are (like integrity or honesty).

The author compiled a list of questions in order to make sure you are always “grounded” as a leader:

  • Coherence: am I the same person not matter the context or company?
  • Choices: am I taking the decisions that would help others even though I have nothing to gain?
  • Achievement recognition: am I ok with recognizing the efforts of the ones around me and also their contribution to my success?

When you have a set of values fixated in your mind you can more easily notice and deal with toxic external influences that may contradict your internal principles.

3. Modesty

Nobody wants to work with an arrogant leader who only looks out for himself and all people want to work with someone that leads with modesty. With time and experience, a leader realizes that his actions should be less about gaining a feeling of importance and more about how much he can improve the life of those around him.

I think the first test a person must take is modesty. When I say modesty, I do not mean the situations when that person is doubting his or her power. Because truly exceptional people have the curious feeling that greatness is not theirs – it just manifests through them.

John Ruskin

Modesty is something that we continually learn through our life. We all have weak points, but modesty develops when we accept them and we become more permissive with the ones of other people.

4. Courage

There are moments in life when a leader feels obliged to lead his people to places where he was never before. In those situations, you may not feel competent, experienced, powerful or wise enough. The author advises that in those situations, the leader needs to identify his weak spots, have faith (maybe make a prayer) and act as he sees fit in that moment.

In order to improve our character we need to always reflect on things, have a brutal sincerity with ourselves and display the courage to do what is needed. Do not fear acknowledging your mistakes: as long as you keep in mind these 4 principles, you are wiser today than you were yesterday.

IV. The supreme test of leadership – creating a positive lasting change

It is easy to take over something that works fine and just stay the course. The leader of a complete transformation is the person capable to take over an organization that is going down fast, stop the regression and then create a positive momentum. In order to accomplish that, a lot of things need to be changed.

But abruptly changing the way of working is not an easy thing to do. In general, people do not fear change but they do fear changing themselves – they are afraid they could not live up to the new expectations and they will be ridiculed when trying a new approach. The leader should not let his people feel alone in times of change – he needs to be calm and supportive.

Here are the steps the author successfully used for more than 50 years to prepare when faced with a challenge involving a big change:

  • Establish exactly what needs to be changed and create an action plan, then identify the priorities.
  • Talk with the people that will coordinate the change (keep it small circle). If any issues are found, re-iterate the plan and try again.
  • When planning is ready, talk with the rest of the team, but give them time to accommodate with the new idea.
  • Expect that issues will appear. Calmly analyze the situation and encourage your team to take action.
  • Praise the victories, even the small ones. Periodically take note of the progress made.
  • Give assurances that you know the current state of things (the teammates are usually afraid they know more than the leader). When asked about the situation, present the facts in a clear way and show attention, do not always respond to worries with an ‘everything is fine’ attitude when that is not really the case.

As a leader, it is less important how far you can go. It is more important how far you can help your people go.

John C. Maxwell – Developing the Leader Within you 2.0

Keep in mind that people first accept the leader and then his vision. If they agree with and trust their leader, they will also agree with the changes he proposes.

V. The quickest way to consolidate the leadership position: solving problems

It is a great truth, because once we are aware of it, we transcend it. When we realize that life is hard – when we understand this thing and we accept it – then life becomes less difficult.

M. Scott Peck – The road less traveled

It is true that life is hard for every person. But for a leader, life is significantly harder because he must manage not only his problems, but also the ones of the people he leads. In a well-managed organization, the issues are solved at the lowest levels – this means that upper management must solve the hardest problems that come up. For a senior manager, it is a rare situation when two days go by in a row without facing problems. Every day they are either pre-crisis, post-crisis or during a crisis. Maybe this is why when psychiatrists are asked what is life they respond: “life means stress, so you would better try to like it”.

According to the author, the answer to solving the problems in order to have a more peaceful and productive life as a leader is pragmatism. Pragmatism allows a person to do things that others consider problematic by seeing them as opportunities. Problems are only that if you allow them to. There are also good sides to them, like:

  • Fixing the problems consolidates the leadership position;
  • They help you to better know yourself and the ones you work with;
  • They help us grow and become a better version of ourselves;

When great leaders are faced with problems, they manage to solve the situation and they are often defined by their reaction to the issue. Or, as the author puts it:

Bury someone in the Valley Forge snow and you have George Washington. Raise a man in a very poor family and you have Abraham Lincoln. Add a paralysis on top and you have Franklin D. Roosevelt. Oppress someone in a society dominated by racial discrimination and you have Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington and Marian Anderson.

The author himself detailed two instances when problems brought him greater success in the long run. First, when we left his job as the pastor of a church, he found out that the people frequenting the church dropped down by 70%, because he did not train someone to take his place. So he decided to focus on creating better leaders and this is why now, years later, he wrote more than 100 books and helped in creating and improving leaders all around the globe. Second, due to an injury he was forced to held a lecture sitting on a chair. When he did that, he instantly felt more connected with the audience, so he kept this way of preaching for the rest of his career, even after the injury was long gone.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.

Max de Pree

As a leader, you need to pay attention to the way in which people react when faced with challenges, but also help them to approach the problem in the right way. With time you can observe and study the way someone reacts to a problem so that you can offer your support – not in fixing the problem yourself, but in giving advice and solving it together.

“The simple problems will not come to you. If they would have been easily solved, someone else would have done it already.”

Advice from President Eisenhower to his successor, John F. Kennedy, one day before the latter officially became president
US Presidents Eisenhower (left) and JFK (right) were both defined by the decisions they made facing some of the most dangerous times of our history.

So, what would be some general guidance about fixing problems?

  • From time to time it is good to take a step back and look at the big picture in order to prevent problems before they appear.
  • Always clarify the situation. Problems can be fixed only after they were simplified.
  • Ask questions and debate the problem before making big decisions:
    • People feel better when they take part in debates for making a decision, even if the decisions proposed by them do not win;
    • During a debate, use the 10/80/10 rule: as a leader you must be more involved in the beginning (10%) in order to define the problem and in the end (10%) to make the decision . The other 80% are free discussions consisting in proposals and Q/A between all the team members.
    • Ask (yourself) who wants to manage the problem? Being capable is not enough. To fix a problem energy is required and the person who wants to fix the issue will be the last one to give up.
    • Ask yourself some questions as well: who knows what I should know? Who needs to accept the change and how much will it take? What do I feel? What do I believe it will happen?
  • Create an environment where it is safe to ask questions:
    • Eliminate cliques – people are afraid to come with new ideas if that would affect their influence or position;
    • Encourage people to bring ideas and appreciate the good ones. Be a mentor, a guide, not a king – you do not have all the answers, but you ask questions to find out mas much as you need.

Search in every problem something new to learn. If you manage to transform a problem in something that grows you and the organization you are in, you are a positive factor of change. As a leader you need to see the problems you face in a different light than the ones around you, as a chance to learn more about yourself, your team and the opportunities you have thus improving the life of those around you.

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