Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell has become a leadership classic, found on every leaders bookshelf. John Maxwell is the founder and chairman of The INJOY and a world renowned author of more than 30 books, with more than 7 million copies sold. Many of John Maxwell’s books have landed on the best seller list in publications such as the New York Times, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership surpassed the 1,000,000 shipped/sold mark early in 2003.

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The book provides insight and a detailed description of the following 21 irrefutable laws of leadership.

  1. The Law of the LidLeadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. Leadership ability is always the lid on personal and organisational effectiveness. Whatever you want to accomplish is restricted by your leadership ability.
  2. The Law of InfluenceThe true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t have influence you will never lead others. To change organisations you need influence. Leadership is not based upon holding position, leadership is about your ability to influence.
  3. The Law of ProcessLeadership develops daily, not in a day. Leadership is learnt over time, it’s the capability to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers. Successful leaders are learners.
  4. The Law of NavigationAnyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders have a vision for their destination, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they’ll need on the team to be successful, and they recognise the obstacles long before they appear on the horizon.
  5. The Law of E.F. HuttonWhen the real leader speaks, people listen. Don’t listen to the claims of the person professing to be the leader. Instead, watch the reactions of the people around him. The proof of leadership is found in the followers. “Being in power is like being a lady – if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher
  6. The Law of Solid GroundTrust is the foundation of leadership. To build trust, a leader must exemplify these qualities: competence, connection, and character. Character makes trust possible. And trust makes leadership possible.
  7. The Law of RespectPeople naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. People don’t follow other by accident. They follow individuals whose leadership they respect. Followers are attracted to people who are better leaders than themselves.
  8. The Law of IntuitionLeaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. Leadership depends on more than just the facts. Leaders see trends, resources and problems, and can read people. The law of intuition is based on facts plus instinct and other intangible factors. A leader has to read the situation and know instinctively what play to call. Leadership is more art than science.
  9. The Law of MagnetismWho you are is who you attract. Leaders are always on the look out for good people. In most situations you draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. The better leader you are, the better leaders you will attract.
  10. The Law of ConnectionLeaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. Effective leaders know that you first have to touch people’s hearts before you ask them for a hand. The heart comes before the hand. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To connect with people in a group relate to them as individuals. It’s the leader’s job to initiate connection with the people.
  11. The Law of the Inner CircleA leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. All great leaders have surrounded themselves with a strong inner circle.
  12. The Law of EmpowermentOnly secure leaders give power to others. The people’s capacity to achieve is determined by their leader’s ability to empower. “The best executive is the one who has the sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it” – Theodore Roosevelt.
  13. The Law of ReproductionIt takes a leader to raise up a leader. More than four out of every five of all leaders that you ever meet will have emerged as leaders because of the impact made on them by established leaders who mentored them. People cannot give to others what they themselves do no possess. The potential of an organisation depends on the growth of its leadership.
  14. The Law of Buy-InPeople buy into the leader, then the vision. The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader, and then the dream. People don’t first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes.
  15. The Law of VictoryLeaders find a way for the team to win. Leaders believe that anything less than success is unacceptable. And they have no Plan B. That keeps them fighting.
  16. The Law of the Big MoMomentum is a leader’s best friend. You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving forward. It takes a leader to create momentum. Followers catch it. And managers are able to continue once it has began. But creating it requires someone who can motivate others, not who needs to be motivated. Getting started is a struggle, but once you’re moving forward, you can really start to do some amazing things.
  17. The Law of PrioritiesLeaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Apply the Pareto Principle, If you focus your attention on the activities that rank in the top 20 percent in terms of importance, you will have as 80 percent return on your effort. As a leader, you should spend most of your time working in your areas of greatest strength.
  18. The Law of SacrificeA leader must give up to go up. Sacrifice is a constant in leadership. “When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself.” – Gerald Brooks
  19. The Law of TimingWhen to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. Only the right action at the right time will bring success. If a leader repeatedly shows poor judgement, even in little things, people start to think that having him as the leader is the real mistake.
  20. The Law of Explosive GrowthTo add growth, lead followers – to multiply, lead leaders. The key to growth is leadership. “It is my job to build the people who are going to build the company.” – John Schnatter. To go to the highest level, you have to develop leaders of leaders.
  21. The Law of LegacyA leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Just as in sports a coach needs a team of good players to win, an organisation needs a team of good leaders to succeed. A legacy is created only when a person puts his organisation into the position to do great things without him.

Recommendation

What I liked most about this book is that the leadership insights are practical and can be used daily to improve our leadership ability. I feel that this book should be the required reading for all of us who are striving to improve their leadership. I found the book to be easy to read and the examples provided were good, however, being a South African I sometime found it difficult to relate to the basketball and baseball examples used.

I strongly recommend this book be read by leaders at all levels. The book creates a great foundation from which to build your leadership knowledge and begin your personal leadership journey. I would suggest that you read one chapter a week and apply what you learn, the structure of the book makes this a great reading strategy.

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