Mackay: To learn about leadership, follow John Maxwell's lead

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • Updated: March 1, 2013 - 5:32 PM

Follow the leader. It’s more than just a child’s game; it’s a fundamental skill in business.

John Maxwell is one of the most respected experts in the field of leadership. He’s written more than 70 books, most of which focus on leadership. Many have graced the New York Times bestseller list.

You may have heard John preach on the Hour of Power broadcasts from the Crystal Cathedral. John’s clients range from a National Football League team to West Point and a Fortune 500 company. More than 100,000 people listen to him every month and are members of the Maximum Impact Club. He’s the source of countless quotes that inspire the lives of millions of people.

John Maxwell offered up so many golden nuggets when I recently interviewed him that I want to share some of them with you.

John warns: “Too often we get to the top of the mountain and say, ‘Here we are as leaders. Come up here and join me.’ We don’t understand that you’ve got to go to where the people are.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to find out where people are and connect with them. Then when you connect with them, you can relate to them, and you can move them.”

Relationships are the foundation of leadership. You have to develop trust. As John says, “People won’t go along with you until they get along with you.” You have to get close to your people and connect with them. This goes against the previous generation, which felt there needed to be distance between leaders and their people.

I asked John, “What kinds of leadership experiences do businesspeople often lack?”

He talked about how most people believe that experience is the best teacher, but he disagrees. “Experience is essential to successful leadership, although I don’t think experience is the best teacher. Just because you are getting older and more experienced, doesn’t mean you’re getting better,” John said. “I know a lot of people who are getting older, but even if they’ve done the job for 30 years, they’re not getting any better. They’re not growing. They’re not learning.”

John also talked about the Achilles’ heel for a lot of leaders: They get a little momentum going, and they celebrate but don’t reflect. He thinks leaders should do more reflection and less celebration.

To reflect on his experiences, John asks, “What did I learn? What am I learning at this stage? And what am I going to change?”

He even has a reflection chair! “If you have a place to think, you’ll start thinking,” John reasons.

One of John’s most memorable quotes is, “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” So I asked him to explain. “Growth is not an automatic process. You and I will not grow automatically. It just doesn’t happen,” he said. “We don’t grow because we live. We don’t grow because we breathe. We don’t grow because we get a day older. If we’re going to grow, we’re going to grow because we’re intentional about it. I’ve found that when I stop learning, I stop leading.”

John feels everyone should have a growth plan. He believes you need to discover your strengths and grow them through a daily plan. “Don’t take the time to focus on your weak areas, because all you will do is get to average,” he warns. “And people don’t pay for average.”

In addition to growing your strengths, John believes you have to do one more thing. Every morning you have to ask yourself the question, “Who can I add value to today?”

Mackay’s Moral: “A successful person finds the right place for himself. But a successful leader finds the right place for others.” — John Maxwell

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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