The theme of the book is that leadership is essentially about developing others. Bosses command people, but leaders develop people. Leadership is also very much about influence, indeed, “influence” is a succinct definition of leadership, but influence comes because you invest in people. Maxwell lists five level of leadership:
- Positional leadership: people follow you because you have the title, but do not have much commitment to you or your goals. If you stay here too long, you will probably end up using control techniques to motivate people.
- Permissional leadership: people follow you because they know you care about them. This is foundational; you cannot skip this step. Obviously, you need to actually care about your people or you will be manipulating them.
- Production: people follow you because of what you have done for the organization. At this level, people get together because they want to get things accomplished.
- People development: people follow you because of what you have done for them.
- Personhood: people follow you because of what you represent. The few that reach this level are larger-than-life.
When you change groups, you start over from level one.
Since leadership is about developing people, integrity is one of the key characters of a leader. If you do not have integrity, you cannot win the trust of your followers, and hence, cannot lead. Related to this is that the higher up in leadership you go, the more you exchange rights for responsibilities. John D. Rockefeller said, “I believe that every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity, an obligation, every possession, a duty.” (41)
Another key character of a leader is a positive attitude. Maxwell quotes several studies showing the effect of attitude. Three randomly selected teachers with randomly selected students were told that they students were the top students. The teachers and students loved the class, and the students did about 30% better than the others, even though neither the students nor the teachers were above-average. Similarly, when Maxwell asks people to name a characteristic of someone they admire, 95% give an attitude of that person. Since attitude is so important, you need to take steps to create a positive attitude in yourself first, and your followers second. You can do this by determining what thinking results in the problem feelings, and replacing it with different thinking. You can also change your attitude by changing your behavior. If you want to cultivate thankfulness, for example, give everyone a compliment once a day.
The difference between a leader and a follower is that leaders have vision. They see what is not yet as thought it were. Simply pursuing your dream merely makes you an achiever; persuading others to follow your dream is what makes you a leader. Maxwell gives three levels of vision:
- Seeing now through the lens of reality.
- Seeing what will be through discernment.
- Seeing what could be.
Leaders live on all three levels. However, when you cast vision to people, you have to start from level one. Some people are stuck at seeing only level one and Maxwell does not identify how to deal with that. He does say that you bring people to level two by painting a picture of what could be, as well as identifying how the organizations goals can help achieve the individual’s goals. Finally, you need to invest in quality people to bring the organization to level three.
One of the jobs of a leader is to lead the organization through change. Change is inevitable, and essential for continued success. In fact, Maxwell lists contentment with the current state as a negative leadership trait. However, the problem with bringing change is that most people do not want to change. The leader must first change himself, the leader must make sure that the change benefits the followers. Then, to change the organization the leader needs to get the people to own the idea. This takes several exposures to the idea, since we rarely own a new idea the first time we hear it. However, it also requires that people be involved in the process, so make sure to ask for key influencers’ input in implementing the change and make sure they are supportive. Also, announce the change well in advance, be open to feedback, let them know you are confident that they can implement the change, and celebrate along the way as people implement pieces of it.
Solving problems is another function of a leader. In fact, the higher up in leadership you are, the more difficult the problems will be; if the problem were easy, people below you would have figured it out. The good thing is that problems and success are related. The boll weevil destroyed cotton production in the South, but it forced the replacement of a cotton monoculture with a much more diverse agriculture that also created more wealth, so much so that there is a monument to the boll weevil in Enterprise, Alabama. In fact, many people’s problems caused their success: Abraham Lincoln (poverty), George Washington (Valley Forge), Booker T. Washington (discrimination). Generally when people come to you with a problem, you should not solve it for them. Instead, give them the tools to solve it. Be their coach and walk them through solving it.
Maxwell also notes a few other important characteristics of leaders. One is prioritizing the important things. 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort, so figure out what that 20% is and make sure you do it. Another important characteristic is self-discipline—many noted leaders have said that their greatest enemy is themselves.
Finally, leaders prioritize developing their followers. As noted before, it is essential for the leaders to truly care about their people, and to seek their benefit. Too many “leaders” seek their own benefit; this is not leading, this is using people. Since we have finite time, invest in the 20% of your people that are the key influencers. Make sure you know their personal goals and help them achieve those at the organization. Also, make sure that your people know that they will get guidance when they need it, that have the opportunity to perform, and that they will be rewarded accordingly.
This book can be quickly summarized: leadership is influence; influence comes from developing your followers. Although simple in outline, Maxwell gives a lot of concrete suggestions on how to implement this. The book assumes that the reader has a leadership role, but people without a leadership role can still change themselves first. Coming from a place of some small leadership experience but no current role, this book feels like a great resource for the future. Most importantly, though, is the idea that leadership is developing your followers; leadership is getting others to own your dream. My previous thoughts on leadership were something vaguely that leadership is about directing people for organizational success. That is not something I want to do or feel like I am good at. But bringing people into my blue-sky dreams and developing them sounds much more exciting and is something that is actionable now.
- Leadership is mostly learned. You can be born with some amount, but mostly it is learning through observation, training, and, and self-discipline.
- Four kinds of leaders:
- Leading leader: born with leadership qualities, has seen leadership modeled, learned through training, has the self-discipline required to become a great leader.
- Learned leader: seen leadership modeled, learned through training, has the required self-discipline.
- Latent leader: has see little leadership modeled, is learning through training, has the required self-discipline.
- Limited leader: little exposure to leaders or leadership training, but has the desire to be a leader.
Ch. 1: The Definition of Leadership: “Influence”
- The definition of leadership is “influence.” A similar definition is “the ability to obtain followers.”
- Influence can be increased. Communicating effectively leads to recognition, which leads to influence.
- Five levels of leading:
- Position: you only get the authority that comes with your title. People follow because they have to.
- “Security is based on title, not talent.” (6) If you stay at level 1 too long, you start getting into org charts, tradition, politics, etc.
- “This level is often gained by appointment.” (6)
- “People will not follow a positional leader beyond his stated authority.” (6)
- “Positional leaders have more difficulty working with volunteers, white-collar workers, and younger people” (6) because volunteers are not working for money, white-collar workers expect to be part of the decision-making and resent dictatorial leadership, and young people are not impressed by symbols of authority.
- “The boss drives his workers; the leader coaches them.
The boss depends on authority; the leader on goodwill.
The boss says ‘I'; the leader, ‘we.’
The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
The boss says, ‘Go!'; the leader says, ‘Let’s go!’” (6)
- This is foundational. You cannot skip this step!
- You cannot lead people if you do not love them.
- At this level, people get together because they like getting together.
- At this level, people get together because they want to get stuff accomplished. (Presupposes #2)
- “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.” (10) “... the true leader can be recognized because somehow his people consistently demonstrate superior performance.” (10)
- The leader develops key leaders around him. “Loyalty to the leader reaches its highest peak when the follower has personally grown through the mentorship of the leader. ... At level 2: follower loves the leader; at level 3, the follower admires the leader; at level 4, the follower is loyal to the leader. Why? You win people’s hearts by helping them grow personally.” (10)
- The danger is that you get used to the people around you following you out of loyalty while newer people see you as a positional leader, so you need to have some way of continuing a personal touch. "Walk slowly through the crowd.” (11)
Ch. 2: The Key to Leadership: Priorities
- “Practical people know how to get what they want. Philosophers know what they ought to want. Leaders know how to get what they ought to want.” (19)
- 20 percent produces 80 of the results. So do the 20% of the things that give 80% of the results, invest in the 20% of the people that give 80% of the results, etc.
- How do you identify key people? If they withdrew their support, would you be able to accomplish your goals? If not, they are key.
- Leaders tend to initiate, followers tend to respond. Leaders choose who will fill their calendars, follows fill their calendars by those who request them.
- Make sure you know what your position requires of you; make sure it gets done.
- What gives me the best return?
- What is most rewarding about my job? Get your responsibilities to line up with what is most rewarding.
- Prioritize the highly important things.
Ch. 3: The Most Ingredient of Leadership: Integrity
- People expect leaders to have honesty, competence vision, and inspiration.
- People follow integrity. Leaders who have no integrity cannot win the trust of their followers.
- The higher up you climb in an organization, fewer rights and more responsibilities you have. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: “I believe that every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity, an obligation, every possession, a duty.” (41)
Ch. 4: The Ultimate Test of Leadership: Creating Positive Change
- Twelve troublespots of a leader (five are related to unwillingness to change):
- Has a poor understanding of people
- Lacks imagination
- Has personal problems
- Passes the buck
- Feels secure and satisfied (i.e. complacent)
- Is not organized
- Flies into rages
- Will not take a risk
- Is insecure and defensive
- Stays inflexible
- Has no team spirit
- Fights change (49 - 50)
- when they don’t have ownership of the idea.
- when the purpose is unclear (often because it gets handed down from above, instead of coming from their level)
- when the rewards don’t make the effort required
- when people are too satisfied with the status quo
- when people are always focusing on the negatives
- because it disrupts their routine (making things harder than before, like changing your golf swing takes a lot of effort, even though it will benefit you)
- because it creates fear of the unknown
- because it creates fear of failure
- Will this change benefit the followers?
- Is this change compatible with the purpose of the organization?
- Is this change specific and clear?
- Are the top 20 percent (the influencers) in favor of this change?
- Is it possible to test this change before making a total commitment to it?
- Are physical, financial, and human resources available to make this change?
- Is this change reversible?
- Does this change have both short- and long-range benefits?
- Is the leadership capable of bringing about this change?
- Is the timing right? (63)
Ch. 5: The Quickest Way to Gain Leadership: Problem Solving
- The four most common reasons for poor performance of people are: they don’t know what they should do, how to do it, why they are doing it, or things outside their control (e.g. work, home, life in general). The first three are training problems. The last is where problem solving comes in.
- Problems and success are related: water resistance is the main problem for boats, but is also the reason why boats can move; the boll weevil destroyed the cotton monoculture in the South, but forced a diversification that made the South wealthier.
- Many people’s problems caused their success: Valley Forge (Washington), poverty (Lincoln), poverty and discrimination (Booker T. Washington), etc.
- Not everyone wants to be problem-free; sometimes when you solve someone’s problem they find a new one.
- “If I can’t do something about a problem, it’s not my problem; it’s a fact of life.” (81)
- Many seemingly unsolvable problems have lots of solutions if you relax some assumptions. (e.g. the nine dot problem has many solutions, if you relax the assumptions of: you can’t go outside the grid, you have to go through the center of the points, the paper needs to be flat, you can’t cut up the paper into little pieces, stack them up and stick the pen through.
- Develop problem solvers:
- Invest time into people before they have a problem.
- Don’t solve their problem for them, walk them through solving their problem.
- Some approaches:
- “Never allow others to think you always have the best answers. This will only make them dependent on you.” (95)
- “Become a coach, not a king. A coach brings out the best in others, helping them to reach deep down inside and discover their potential. A king only gives commands.” (95)
- “List their solutions on paper. Integrate your ideas with theirs until they have ownership of them.” (95)
- “Ask them to decide on the best solution to their problem.” (95)
- “Policies change when their use is no longer essential. Principles do not change. ... Policies work well for lower management and operational matters. A policy’s intent is to give clear direction and allow a better flow in the organization. Many organizational problems will stay solved with the implementation of solid policy. ... A principle is for everyone in the organization at all times [e.g. ‘Always take the high road.']” (94)
Ch. 6: The Extra Plus in Leadership: Attitude
- When the author asks people to describe a characteristic of a friend they admire, 95% of the words are attitudes, not skills or looks.
- Your attitude influences how you see others: if you are suspicious of them, you will see them act suspiciously.
- Three random teachers were given a set of random students, but were told that the students were the smartest students. The students performed 20 - 30 percent better, and the students and teachers enjoyed the classes. The only difference was expectation.
- People with emotional problems are 144% more likely to get into an accident.
- Attitude is the most important factor in success, much more than technical skill.
- We can always choose our attitude. We may not be able to control our situation, be we can always choose how to respond to it.
- “Many times people who have suffered adverse situations in their lives become bitter and angry. Over time, their lives will be negative and hardened towards others. The tendency for them is to point back to a difficult time and say, ‘That incident ruined my life.’ What they do not realize is that the incident called for an attitude decision—a response. Their wrong attitude choice, not the condition, ruined their lives.” (105)
- Your followers catch your attitude.
- How to change your attitude:
- Identify problematic feelings
- Identify behavior that results in problematic feelings
- Identify the problematic thinking
- Identify the right thinking
- Commit publicly to the right thinking and develop a plan for thinking rightly.
- Changing your behavior will change your attitude.
- If you tell your kids “change your attitude,” it is too general. But if you have them do a concrete behavior (give a compliment to every member of the family every day) then their attitude (lack of thankfulness) changes.
Ch. 7: Developing Your Most Appreciable Asset: People
- Guy Ferguson:
- “To know how to do a job is the accomplishment of labor;
To be available to tell others is the accomplishment of the teacher;
To be able to tell others how to do better work is the accomplishment of management;
To be able to do all three is the accomplishment of true leaders.” (115)
- Three levels of people/work skills:
- “The person who works better with people is a follower.” (116)
- “The person who helps people work better is a manager.” (116)
- “The person who develops better people to work is a leader.” (116)
- “Everyone wants to feel worthwhile” (118) So learn how to make people feel important. Napoleon knew every officer in his army, and would chat with them about battles they were in, and asked about their hometown and family.
- “Everyone needs and responds to encouragement” (119) A study had people do ten puzzles, and were randomly told they did well (7/10 right) or poorly (7/10 wrong). Then they were given more puzzles, and the ones who were told they did well did better and the ones who were told they did poorly did worse.
- Henry Ford: “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” (120)
- “People ‘buy into’ the leader before they ‘buy into’ his or her leadership” (120)
- “Most people do not know how to be successful” (122)
- Most people think success is a point in time. Actually, it is a process of growth.
- Most people think success is learning to not fail. Actually, success is learning from failure.
- If people learn that you can make them successful, they will follow you.
- “Most people are naturally motivated.” Most kids are really excited to go to school for the first time, but after a few years, school manages to demotivate some of them.
- People want to be part of something significant.
- People want to be part creating the goal.
- Positive dissatisfaction. “Dissatisfaction can inspire change or it can lead to a critical spirit.” (124)
- Clear expectations.
Ch. 8: The Indispensable Quality of Leadership: Vision
- Four levels of vision:
- “Some people never see it. (They are wanderers)” (141)
- “Some people see it but never pursue it on their own. (They are followers)” (141)
- “Some people see it and pursue it. (They are achievers)” (141)
- “Some people see it and pursue it and help others see it. (They are leaders)” (141)
- Look behind: what have you learned? “Experience has taught me these principles about vision: the credibility of a vision is determined by the leader; the acceptance of a vision is determined by the timing of its presentation; the value of a vision is determined by the energy and direction it gives; the evaluation of a vision is determined by the commitment level of people; the success of a vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.” (146-7)
- Look around you: what is happening to others? You can’t be too far ahead of other people with your vision or it won’t be accepted.
- Look ahead of you: what is the big picture?
- Look above you: what does God expect of you? Richard Day: “Every golden era in human history proceeds from the devotion and righteous passion of some single individual. There are no bona fide mass movements; it just looks that way. There is always one man who knows his God and knows where he is going.” (148)
- Look beside you: what resources are available?
- Levels of seeing:
- Perception: seeing the now through the lens of reality.
- Probability: seeing what will be by discernment.
- Possibility: seeing what can be.
- Let them see that you care about them. Find a bridge between their goals and the organization’s.
- Paint a picture. Include hope, challenge, freedom, a way to begin. Put yourself in the picture. Put what the people love in the picture.
Ch. 9: The Price Tag of Leadership: Self-Discipline
- Many great leaders say that their biggest enemy is themselves. Self-discipline is essential.
- We must learn to do what needs to be done now, even if we don’t want to do it.
- “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.” Winston Churchill (171)
- We can’t handle having power; we need to have accountability or we start trying to keep the power.
- Focus on the results, not the activity. Work where you are best 80% of the time, where you are learning 15%, and where you are weak 5%.
Ch. 10: The Most Important Lesson of Leadership: Staff Development
- At some point, you are doing all that you can, and the only way to improve your productivity is to work through other people.
- You need to surround yourself with a team of excellent people. A little increase from everyone translates into a huge increase.
- Basic human needs that your environment must meet:
- People know what is expected of them.
- They know each of them will have an opportunity to perform.
- They know how they are doing.
- They know that they will get guidance when needed.
- They know that each will be rewarded according to his contribution.
- As a leader, you must have control of three areas: finance (the ultimate means of control), personnel (people determine the organization), planning (plans are the future of the organization).
- Seven deadly leadership sins:
- “Trying to be liked rather than respected.” (184)
- “Not asking team members for advice and help.” (184)
- “Thwarting personal talent by emphasizing rules rather than skills.” (184)
- “Not keeping criticism constructive.” (184)
- “Not developing a sense of responsibility in team members.” (184)
- “Treating everyone the same way.” (184)
- “Failing to keep people informed.” (184)
- Bobb Biehl says that 60-80% of an organization’s success is due to having a clear direction, the right team, and sound finances.
- When you hire someone, don’t hire them unless they “feel right” (assuming they have all the other qualifications). Make sure they and their spouse feel good about it, too.
- Winning teams don’t tend to have more skilled players than losing teams, but they are more committed.
- Fire people who aren’t doing their job satisfactorily. Keeping them frustrates everyone else. Firing them lets them go on to something they are more suited for.