The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
By John C. Maxwell
1. The Law of the Lid: Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness
Leadership ability is the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness.
Personal and organizational effectiveness is proportionate to the strength of
To change the direction of the organization, change the leader.
2. The Law of Influence: The true measure of leadership is influence—nothing more,
If you don’t have influence, you will never be able to lead others
Five myths about leadership:
1. The management myth. Here are the truths:
The best way to test whether a person can lead rather than just manage
is to ask him to create positive change.
Managers can maintain direction, but they can’t change it.
To move people in a new direction, you need influence
2. The entrepreneur myth. Here are the truths:
Not all salespeople and entrepreneurs are leaders.
People may be buying into what they have to sell, but they aren’t
3. The knowledge myth. Here are the truths:
Those who possess knowledge and intelligence aren’t necessarily
The ability to lead equates to leadership.
4. The pioneer myth. Here are the truths:
Misconception: Anyone who is out in front of the crowd is a leader.
Being first isn’t always the same as leading.
To be a leader, a person has to not only be out front, but also have
people intentionally coming behind him, following his lead, and action
on his vision.
5. The position myth. Here are the truths:
Leadership is not based on position.
It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes
Hard work is required to gain influence and earn the right to become the leader.
The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to
He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.
3. The Law of Process: Leadership develops daily, not in a day
Leadership is like investing, it compounds.
Becoming a leader is a lot like investing successfully in the stock market. If your
hope is to make a fortune in a day, you’re not going to be successful.
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Leaders are learners.
The four phases of leadership growth:
1. Phase 1—I don’t know what I don’t know
As long as a person doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t
2. Phase 2—I know what I don’t know
We are placed in a leadership position and discover that no one is
following us; we need to learn how to lead.
3. Phase 3—I grow and know and it starts to show
You recognize your lack of skill and begin the daily discipline of
personal growth in leadership.
Start paying the price now; it won’t happen in a day.
You’re pretty effective as a leader, but you have to think about every
move you make
4. Phase 4—I simply go because of what I know
Your ability to lead becomes almost automatic.
Get there by obeying the Law of Process and pay the price.
To lead tomorrow, learn today.
Your leadership ability is not static; no matter where you’re starting from, you can
Champions don’t become champions in the ring—they are merely recognized
4. The Law of Navigation: Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the
Navigators see the trip ahead.
A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see,
and who sees before others do.
Navigators draw on past experience.
Navigators listen to what others have to say.
Navigators examine the conditions before making commitments.
Navigators make sure their conclusions represent both faith and fact.
Navigation strategy: (PLAN AHEAD)
o P—Predetermine a course of action
o L—Lay out your goals
o A—Adjust your priorities
o N—Notify key personal
o A—Allow time for acceptance
o H—Head into action
o E—Expect problems
o A—Always point to the successes
o D—Daily review your plan
The secret to the Law of Navigation is preparation
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It’s not the size of the project that determines its acceptance, support and success;
it’s the size of the leader.
5. The Law of E.F. Hutton: When the real leader speaks, people listen.
Don’t assume that everyone will follow you just because you are the appointed
The real leader holds the power, not just the position.
Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.
If you see a disparity between who’s leading the meeting and who’s leading the
people, then the person running the meeting is not the real leader.
How to figure out who is the real leader: When somebody asks a question, who
do people watch? Who do they wait to hear? The person they look to is the real
The real test of leadership isn’t where you start out. It’s where you end up.
The proof of leadership is found in the followers.
Two kinds of leaders:
o Positional leaders:
Need the influence of the real leader to get things done
Influence only the other positional leaders
o Real leaders:
Need only their own influence to get things done
Influence everyone in the room
Seven key areas that cause real leaders:
1. Character—who they are
Leadership always begins with the inner person
People sense the depth of his character
2. Relationships—who they know
You’re a leader only if you have followers, and that always requires
the development of relationships.
The deeper the relationship, the stronger the potential for leadership.
3. Knowledge—what they know
Knowledge alone won’t make someone a leader, but without it, you
can’t become one
You need a grasp of the facts, and understanding of the factors
involved, and a vision for the future.
4. Intuition—what they feel
Leadership demands an ability to deal with lots of intangibles.
Leadership is more than just a command of data.
5. Experience—where they’ve been
The greater the challenges you’ve faced in the past, the more likely
followers are to give you a chance.
Experience doesn’t guarantee credibility, but it encourages people to
give you a chance to prove that you are capable.
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6. Past Success—what they’ve done
A good track record speaks to followers.
When you extend yourself, take a risk and succeed, followers have another
reason to trust your leadership ability and listen to what you have to say.
7. Ability—what they can do
The bottom line for followers is what a leader is capable of.
As soon as they no longer believe you can deliver, they will stop listening.
6. The Law of Solid Ground: Trust is the foundation of leadership
When it comes to leadership, you just can’t take shortcuts, no matter how long
you’ve been leading your people.
To build trust, a leader must exemplify competence, connection and character.
Character communicates consistency.
Character makes trust possible. And trust makes leadership possible.
Character communicates respect.
How do leaders earn respect? By making sound decisions, admitting their
mistakes, and putting what’s best for their followers and the organization ahead of
their personal agendas.
7. The Law of Respect: People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves
Leaders go their own way when a group first comes together.
Soon people change direction to follow the strongest leaders.
People naturally align themselves and follow leaders stronger than themselves.
8. The Law of Intuition: Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias
Leadership intuition is often the factor that separates the greatest leaders from
merely the good ones.
Based on facts, plus instinct and other intangible factors.
The best leaders read and respond.
A leader has to read the situation and know instinctively what play to call.
Natural ability and learned skills create an informed intuition that makes
leadership issues jump out to leaders.
Leaders are readers of their situation.
Leaders are readers of trends.
Leaders are readers of their resources.
Leaders are readers of people.
Leaders are readers of themselves.
Who you are dictates what you see.
Three levels of leadership intuition:
1. Those who naturally see it
Leaders born with exceptional leadership gifts. They can build upon it
and become world-class leaders of the highest caliber.
2. Those who are nurtured to see it
Abilities can be nurtured and developed.
Develop your intuition.
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3. Those who will never see it
Don’t have a leadership bone in his body and who has no interest in
developing skills necessary to lead.
Leaders solve problems using the Law of Intuition.
Leadership is more art than science.
9. The Law of Magnetism: Who you are is who you attract
Effective leaders are always on the lookout for good people.
Who you get is not determined by what you want. It’s determined by who you
It is possible for a leader to go out and recruit people unlike himself, but those are
not the people he will naturally attract.
If you think your people are negative, then you better check your attitude.
You and the people who follow you share common ground in several of these key
areas: attitude, generation, background, values, life experience, leadership ability
The better leader you are, the better leaders you will attract.
If you think the people you attract could be better, then it’s time for you to
10. The Law of Connection: Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand
You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion. The
heart comes before the head.
The stronger the relationship and connection between individuals, the more likely
the follower will want to help the leader.
Connect with people one at a time. To connect with people in a group, relate to
them as individuals.
It’s the leader’s job to initiate connection with the people.
The tougher the challenge, the greater the connection.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.
11. The Law of the Inner Circle: A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to
Every organization has an inner circle.
Try to bring five types of people into your inner circle:
1. Potential value—those who raise up themselves
2. Positive value—those who raise morale in the organization
3. Personal value—those who raise up the leader
4. Production value—those who raise up others
5. Proven value—those who raise up people who raise up other people
Never stop improving your inner circle.
Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off
everything you possibly can to them.
12. The Law of Empowerment: Only secure leaders give powers to others
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The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what
he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while
they do it.
The people’s capacity to achieve is determined by their leader’s ability to
Barriers to empowerment:
o Desire for job security
o Resistance to change
o Lack of self-worth
The only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable.
13. The Law of Reproduction: It takes a leader to raise up a leader
People cannot give to others what they themselves do not possess. Followers
simply cannot develop leaders.
Leaders who develop leaders:
o See the big picture
o Attract potential leaders
o Create an eagle environment (ie, leader casts a vision, offers incentives,
encourages creativity, allows risks, and provides accountability)
14. The Law of Buy-In: People 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 at first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who
promote worthwhile causes.
People want to go along with people they get along with.
When followers don’t like the leader or the vision, they look for another leader.
When followers don’t like the leader but they do like the vision, they still look for
When followers like the leader but not the vision, they change the vision.
When followers like the leader and the vision, they will get behind both.
You don’t get credit for being “right”. Your success is measured by your ability
to actually take the people where they need to go. But you can do that only if the
people first buy into you as a leader.
15. The Law of Victory: Leaders find a way for the team to win.
Victorious leaders feel the alternative to winning is totally unacceptable, so they
figure out what must be done to achieve victory, and then they go after it with
everything at their disposal.
Three components of victory:
1. Unity of vision
2. Diversity of skills
3. A leader dedicated to victory and raising players to their potential.
Leaders who practice the Law of Victory have no Plan B. That keeps them
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16. The Law of the Big Mo: Momentum is a leader’s best friend
It takes a leader to get things started.
Leaders always find a way to make things happen.
Two keys: preparation and motivation.
Momentum makes leaders look better than they are. Followers look past
shortcomings and forget about the mistakes the leader has made.
Momentum helps followers perform better than they are.
Momentum is easier to steer than to start.
Momentum is the most powerful change agent.
17. The Law of Priorities: Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily
A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and
yells, “Wrong jungle!”
To be effective, leaders must order their lives according to these three questions:
1. What is required?
Anything required that’s not necessary for you to do personally should be
delegated or eliminated.
2. What gives the greatest return?
Spend most of your time working in your areas of greatest strength.
3. What brings the greatest reward?
The things that bring the greatest personal reward are the fire lighters in a
18. The Law of Sacrifice: A leader must give up to go up
You have to give up to go up.
One sacrifice seldom brings success.
Sacrifice is an ongoing process, not a one-time payment.
When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself.
If leaders have to give up to go up, then they have to give up even more to stay
For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for
everything you gain, you lose something.
The higher the level of leadership people want to reach, the greater the sacrifices
they will have to make.
19. The Law of Timing: When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go
Timing is everything.
The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.
The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.
The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.
The right action at the right time results in success.
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20. The Law of Explosive Growth: To add growth, lead followers—To multiply, lead
Leaders who develop followers add one at a time.
Leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth.
Leaders who develop followers:
o Need to be needed
o Focus on weaknesses
o Develop the bottom 20 percent
o Treat their people the same for “fairness”
o Hoard power
o Spend time with others
o Grow by addition
o Impact only people they touch personally
Leaders who develop leaders:
o Want to be succeeded
o Focus on strengths
o Develop the top 20 percent
o Treat their leaders as individuals for impact
o Give power away
o Invest time in others
o Grow by multiplication
o Impact people far beyond their own reach
21. The Law of Legacy: A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession
Leaders who leave a legacy of succession:
o Lead the organization with a “long view”
o Create a leadership culture
o Pay the price today to assure success tomorrow
o Value team leadership above individual leadership
o Walk away from the organization with integrity
A legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to
do great things without him.
Conclusion: Everything rises and falls on leadership
Personnel determine the potential of the organization.
Relationships determine the morale of the organization.
Structure determines the size of the organization.
Vision determines the direction of the organization.
Leadership determines the success of the organization.
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