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

Developing the Leader within you 2.0 - leadership book review

VI. The asset of leadership: attitude

A. Good attitude is a sign of superior levels of leadership

You have probably noticed that the most senior leaders have the best attitude. For a leader, the disposition is more important than the position – you need to be in a good state in order to motivate people and create a positive atmosphere. The ideal attitude for a leader is composed by the following traits: determination, tenacity, concentration, dedication and decisiveness.

Good leaders do not complain – nobody likes constant complainers! When things are not working as planned, great leaders gather their people around and start working towards a solution.

But how to maintain a positive attitude when things are not just right? The answer is gratefulness. It is true that sometimes emotions can overwhelm us, and we can not stop them from coming, but we can stop them from stopping us. We can do this using the feeling of gratefulness towards others, either expressed or just felt by us in silence. Once we start being grateful for the small things, we notice even more things to be grateful for (a journal in this sense can help).

B. Understand other perspectives before trying to change attitudes

You and your team are facing a difficult period, but as a wise leader you maintain a positive attitude and you want to impress the same emotion on your team. Before you do that, you need to place yourself in their shoes, and see how the situation can be improved: different people will see the situation in a different light.

In order to make impactful changes – especially in difficult times – you need to do more than it is asked from you. This time-proven concept will put you on top of your game, given the widely known fact that 75% of people do not complete their promises while only 5% are going the extra mile.

“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn”

John Wesley

In order to realize this you need to raise your standards, thus setting a great example for each individual inside your team.

C. What is the best attitude towards failure?

How you see failure as a leader is profoundly impacting the emotional state of the team. Even the best teams can be affected by fear and stress which can also make a bad situation go worse.

A mistake is a total failure only if you have nothing to learn from it. Both the leader and the team can learn and better their way of thinking following a setback. The only people who do not make mistakes are the ones that do not try anything new and are not evolving, which will greatly affect them in the long term.

Actually success can be tricky if it makes you feel like there is no more room for progress.

The scheme for failing forward usually requires a positive mindset to get through the Comeback phase

See failure as part of the process. Many times failure is the price of success

John C Maxwell

Remember the 24 hour rule: if you are successful after a great endeavour, “party” for one day. If you failed, “mourn” for one day. But do not let yesterday dictate the attitude of today.

The danger of success

Try to be prepared and always have a plan of what to do next if things do not go as planned. Success can be multicolor: if something did not go right, it can open a new opportunity.

VII. The Soul Of Leadership – Serving people

The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not impress.

But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.

Eugene B Habecker
A servant leader sees his job as an opportunity to serve others

Going back on the levels of leadership described in chapter I, the author first wanted to name the last level (the 5th one) the ‘servant level’ linked to the amazing concept of servant leadership, but he was afraid that most readers will misunderstand the term. What made the author realize the importance of servant leadership was a quote from Zig Ziglar which stated: “If you help people obtain what they want, they will, in turn, help you obtain what you want”. This means that you need to think of yourself more like being a part of the team rather than speaking from an elevated position. Checking your ego while also being genuinely interested in the struggles faced by your team is the most progressive way to achieve great things and attain leadership mastery.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

Lao Tzu

How to become a servant leader?

Caring about the personal growth of your peers and measuring success in the value you bring to other people are basis of servant leadership. When you decide to serve others as a leader, the success of the team becomes your success also.

Try to answer the following questions and find real-life situations where you can apply the answers:

  • What do other people need from me everyday but they they do not want to ask?
  • What do I need to do to help my people more?
  • Ask yourself and the others, what it is to be done in order to exceed expectations?
  • How do I know I serve others accordingly?
    • respect the promises made;
    • keep your direct boss close so that you know the leadership trend;
    • how does the situation look from the other side of the table?
  • What are the relations, experiences and knowledge you have that can help you help others? (your strong points)
  • Do not rely on your position or function;
  • Believe in people and their potential
  • Create an environment full of encouragements
  • Measure success based on the value you provide to others

VIII. The indispensable quality of the leader – HIS VISION

Vision offers meaning to those details that we tend to otherwise overlook in our day-to-day activities. We often find ourselves in a routine as if we are doing the same thing over and over again without making much progress. But if we see the same tasks and responsibilities through the “vision lenses”, the situation seems to change. Vision makes your world concentrate around an idea and it brings order into chaos. And here is what usually happens when people are lead without a vision:

  • The energy of the entire team decreases;
  • Personal interests of the team members will become more important than the common goal;
  • Teammates will distance themselves from one another, decreasing productivity and making the deadlines harder to be achieved.

What you see determines what you can become, but you can only see what you are ready to see. For years, the author thought about the following question: “do leaders create the vision, or is vision the one that creates the leader?“. The answer seems to be the latter. It is the job of the leader to have the vision that will bring everything to life, share that vision with his followers and create the change he wants to see in the world. In other words, great leaders understand that they need to believe in a thing before they see it happen – unlike the followers who need to first see something before they believe in it. This is the reason why leaders need to see “more and before others”. The leaders who fail to do that will loose the trust of their followers.

Try to surround yourself with people that have a vision – it is almost impossible to stay around great leaders and not become one yourself. Ask yourself who would you need to meet and who can help you with that.

Do you own your dream?

It is now clear that having a vision is very important in your leadership career. But do you have your own vision or is it borrowed from someone else?

When someone else owns your dreamWhen you own your dream
You will not feel that what you are born to do what you do.You will feel that what you do is bringing out the best in you.
It will be a burden on your shouldersIt will be like you have “wings for your mood”
It will drain your powersIt will energize you
Will make you sleepyWill keep you awake at night
Will take you away from your strong pointsWill take you out of your comfort zone
You will fulfill othersYou will fulfill yourself
Others will have to keep you accountable in order for you to do the job wellYou will feel like you are doing what you were born to do, no need to be supervised

A true vision must have “weight” – it can guide you, give you joy and credibility along your journey. A vision without weight is just another way to depression.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Carl Jung

IX. The Price of Leadership – Self Discipline

Good leaders exercise their self-discipline capacity before trying to involve others. Self-discipline comes before success in leadership, it is truly the price of it.

In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.

Harry Truman
“You have proven you can rule yourself, now you must learn to rule others,” the Reverend Mother said to Paul “Something none of your ancestors learned” – Dune 2021

Our greatest challenge as leaders is to first rule ourselves. We can not expect to lead others further than we have gotten – we need to take some journeys inside ourselves before going outside.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly

Thomas Henry Huxley

Day by day we need to decide if we are committed to pay the price of leadership. The easy decisions with a short-term result make things harder long-term and vice-versa. The paradox is that the things that we consider most difficult and harder to accomplish will become exactly the activities that will lead us to create an easier life, like we all want to have. The thinking that elevates us is willful, consistent and intentional, while the one that brings us down is random, without consistency.

Our everyday thinking is based on the attitude that we have about life. There are a lot of people who expect life to be easy and that makes them wait for something good to come up without any effort from their part. The choice is to either wait for the success to find us and reach a plateau or we can take control of our own life and make things happen. If we are not the ones ruling ourselves, others will be happy to take the position. Most people don’t act as quickly as they should on things. They find themselves subject to the Law of Diminishing Intent, which says, “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.”

Here are some common traits in leaders with great self-discipline:

  • They avoid temptations;
  • They know when to use their energy:
    • No one can function at their 100% in every moment of their life, but knowing when to give 100% from what you got is an essential part of self-discipline (like the great Ali in boxing). Some good leaders even look at their calendar to schedule the moments when they need to be at their best in terms of energy and effort.
    • As Gary Keller puts it: “Make sure you know what matters most every single day”.
  • They live by the principle: “you pay now and you play later”
    • Taking care of your health, finances and personal development from a young age will bring great benefits in your later years. If you only do what you want in the moment, you will never have what you truly want long-term.
    • The momentary discomfort inflicted by discipline is less painful that the great regret that will follow if you don’t make the right choices. Do what you know you must do, even if you’re not in the mood.
  • They know it is easier to develop discipline in their strong points of force and passion
    • Self-discipline requires fuel which comes from inspiration and motivation that ties into your strengths. Usually the things you are good at are the ones that can inspire others and motivation is a side-effect of passion – if you like to do a thing you are also motivated to do it.
    • Stop doing things that you’re not passionate about and start doing things that you feel will make a difference because of your unique talents in doing it.
  • They know consistency is the mandatory premise for excellence
    • Being consistent consolidates your reputation. Everyone can be good now and then, but only the self-disciplined are constantly good, and this is why they are remarked by others.
    • Perhaps there is no greater compliment for leaders than “I know I can count on you”. You can offer people a feeling of safety if they observe that we are consistent and they can count on you.
    • Leaders are behavioral models for the ones they lead. If the leader is consistent in his performance, is always punctual and keeps his word, then most of his people will try to do the same.

X. Extend your leadership area – personal development

Your capacity to evolve will dictate you capacity to lead. If you try to lead based on what you once learned and you are not developing your skills in the present, your days as a leader are numbered. Your leadership career is dependent on your devotion to personal development.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer

As psychologist Herbert Gerjuvoy puts it: “The illiterate of the future will not be the one who can’t read or write, but the one who can’t let go of what we knows in order to learn something new”. The passing of time guarantees only the fact that we grow old, not necessarily better. With age it gets harder and harder to keep motivation and strive for growth. Here are five methods identified by the author to keep you active in your pursuits as the years pass by:

  • Ask questions – old people tend to not be curious about other people anymore. To stop being curios means loosing your interest in life – keep learning!
  • Keep your standards up – avoid getting tired of things.
  • Surround yourself with other people – don’t get absorbed by your own person.
  • Keep a straight posture – it’s harder and harder to keep your back straight as you grow old.
  • Keep your anchor in reality – old people always talk about past times. Do not forget to also keep looking forward.

Every level of growth brings a new challenge

Gerald Brooks

In order to grow, we need to embrace the change and learn to deal with discomfort. The comfort zone means doing the same things in the same way, with the same people and getting the same results. This is why people who get stuck in their comfort zones are asking themselves why their lives are not getting better – doing the same things will not help you reach success. Continuous growth implies continuous change. In this way we are similar with a useful elastic band – when the tension between the point you are currently in and your goal is gone, so is your growth.

If we do not change we do not grow and if we don’t grow, then we can’t say we lived either. Growth implies a temporary loss of safety, giving up restrictive familiar patterns, sure but unsatisfactory work, values you don’t believe in anymore or relationships that have lost their meaning. As Dostoievski said: “making a new step, saying a new word, this is what most people are afraid of”. True fear should be the other way around.

Gail Sheehy

If you want to grow as a leader and as a person, you need to be able to give up the impression that you are always right to find out what is truly the correct path of action. Doing this does not mean you need to posses a great IQ, a unique talent or pure luck. It just means you have to be able to change from time to time and not get too comfortable. As the telecommunication leader David Lewis puts it: “being mediocre means being forgotten after you’re gone. People remember the successful ones through their contribution and they also remember the ones who failed because at least they tried. But the majority of people are simply forgotten because they were part of the mediocrity”.

The greatest reward from growth is not what we get from it, but who we become afterwards. During you leadership career you will have many goals and objectives to reach, but always keep in mind that long-term it is better to be focused on growth rather than objectives:

Leader focused on objectivesLeader focused on growth
Keeps his focus on the destination.Keeps his focus on the journey.
Motivates people.Matures people.
Objectives are temporary.Growth is a life process.
Provokes people.Changes people.
When the objective is reached, it’s over.When the objective is reached, we move forward.
Question about objective: how much time will it take?Question about growth: How far can we go?
Objective-focused leader vs Growth-focused leader

Growing to the level of your leadership potential will take time and will necessitate sustained effort. You will have to clarify your intentions and put them to practice, work hard and invest your time and financial resources to become more aware of what you can truly realize. As Napoleon Hill said “It does not matter what you intend to do, but what you are doing right now” – your leadership skills need to be cultivated every day.

And how do you measure improvement? Having a goal like “I want to grow as a leader” will not help you in tracking your progress. But, if you begin by trying to improve your communication skills you can set a goal like : “In six months I want to be able to host a 15 minutes presentation that will be impactful and will bring me praises from my colleagues, and I also want to speak clearly and firmly anytime my presence is required in a meeting”. In other words, making a goal more specific will increase your chances to achieve it.


Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell is a great general leadership book, especially for the ones who are starting on this path: it teaches the fundamentals explaining what leadership is all about, why it is so important to improve your character and attitude, how to become more disciplined and focused in the pursuit of your true vision and why solving issues and serving your people are the noblest virtues you can aspire to achieve.

Reading and applying the information from this book will also make you think more about your daily habits towards personal development and, through the questions presented and the reflective exercises, you will discover what your strengths are so that you can successfully lead others and create a positive lasting change.

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