Archives For John C. Maxwell

Leadership Theories

January 2, 2018 — Leave a comment

Leadership has been around since the beginning of the human species. In the bible it’s Adam and Eve, but we ask ourselves, who was the real leader in the Garden of Eden? Adam for following the guidelines, or Eve for taking the risk at a possible better future, even after severe warnings from the top leader. Whenever two or more people get together, eventually someone emerges as the leader, but why? I believe that leadership does start from within, we all have a motive for wanting to lead others. But we need to lead ourselves first, in order to lead others better.

The basic leadership process, as defined in The Leadership Experience by Richard L. Draft, is “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes.” If we dig into that statement deeper, we can understand why on average, only about 30 percent of workers are engaged at work. The leader doesn’t take the energy required to develop relationships in order to find a shared purpose with their employees, so they use more authoritarian styles of leadership. Did you ever have someone tell you that you had to do something because “they signed your paycheck,” and for some that may be enough.

The understanding of different types of leadership has expanded drastically in just the past century. Before the preindustrial and pre-bureaucratic era was the Great Man Theory. Only men were viewed as great leaders, they held the positions of power so they were viewed as the leaders. Of course there are always those outliers, we can all think of great woman leaders in history, but most where born into those leadership roles.

During the 1920’s, Leadership Trait Theory research started to look at what traits leaders consistently have that separates them from non-leaders and contributed the most to their success?  Leadership traits could be identified, but the researchers wanted to be able to predict leaders, or train individuals in those specific traits. The research couldn’t consistently identify specific traits between successful leaders, so ultimately the research failed. Traits alone do not make a great leader.

In the 1950’s researchers started to look at what leaders did, not who they are. Leadership Behavior Theory looked at the behavior of effective leaders to ineffective leaders, and how they behaved toward followers. The research showed that behaviors could be learned and practiced, even if it was unnatural for them, but with any type of behavior changes, we can always resort back to the more unproductive behavior or habit.

A personal insight for me, since I’ve been training leaders for over twenty years I see how some leaders adopt the appropriate leadership behaviors, but eventually resort back to more unproductive behaviors. Often I’ve wondered what I did wrong, why didn’t the training stick? I was even called into a Directors office once and asked what I’ve been teaching in the leadership classes because someone who went through a number of classes in the past, was struggling again as a leader. My answer was that when a leader adopts positive leadership behaviors they may resort back to their more natural leadership style, unless the positive behavior is consistently reinforced.

Leadership Contingency Theory looked at how leadership behaviors successfully impacted different situations, which is why it’s also called situational theory developed by Hersey and Blanchard (The Situational Leader). This theory emphasizes that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, different situations in different organizations with different people may take different leadership behaviors to reach a successful outcome.

Researchers didn’t start looking at Leadership Influence Theory until the early 1970’s, and continued to be the main focus until the early 1990’s. This was a period of economic globalization, when economic powerhouses started changing from large corporations to individual internet start-ups. The study of charismatic leadership showed that someone didn’t need a leadership position to influence others. Charismatic leaders influence people to change by effectively communicating an inspiring vision. Individuals started to look for more reason to work then a paycheck, what was their passion? The charismatic leader can cast the vision to get followers buy-in. The ability to lead others wasn’t dependent on someone’s position, but how you influence people. The team leadership concept emerged during this period and the individual with the most knowledge or influence in a specific area would take the lead.

“Leadership Is Influence, Nothing More, Nothing Less.”
~ John C. Mawell

Leadership Relational Theories started emerging in the late 1970’s, and focused on how leaders and followers interact and influence each other? Leadership is viewed as a relational process that engages all participants and enables them to help achieve the vision. Interpersonal relationships are seen as being the most important facet of leadership effectiveness. Two common leadership styles that emerged from relational theory is Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership, both focus on building positive relationships to better influence others.

With the recent focus on relational leadership, the research turns toward the traits and behaviors of those individuals who build better relationships, and it’s generally woman, who some scholars claim to be better leaders. The Harvard Business Review article, Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” by Zenger and Folkman reported in a study they conducted on 7,280 leaders which showed that female leaders not only where more effective as leaders, but scored higher on 15 of the 16 leadership competencies.

What will emerge as the next leadership theory? If I was to guess, it would be self-leadership theory.  Currently if you Google “self-aware leadership” you’ll get close to 2,000 results, not many when you think about it, especially compared to “Servant Leadership” at almost 500,000 results. You influence others the way you’ve been influenced by others in the past, it’s a behavior that we develop, and sometimes it’s a negative behavior, and we need to ask ourselves why, what are we trying to protect?

I believe it comes down to satisfying our own ego, some leaders find pleasure when they succeed themselves, no problem with that as long as it’s not at the expense of others. Some find fulfillment in helping others succeed, they’ve already achieved the level of success they want and now their passion comes from helping others achieve their success. That would be called significance, when you’ve helped so many people achieve their own success that they value the relationship, and in turn will help you achieve your goals.  It reminds me of Zig Ziglar quote on how to achieve success, “Help enough people get what they want, and they’ll help you get what you want.”

How do you plan to help others get what they want in 2018?.



The Leadership Experience by Richard L. Draft,

The Center for Leadership Studies,,

Are Women Better Leaders than Men? By Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2012.


Keep Your Mind on the Main Thing                                       

What is your main thing? Unfortunately for some of us, the main thing is chosen by someone we work for.

What becomes even more troublesome is when your main thing is different from the bosses’ main thing.

Worse yet is when your bosses main thing changes with the passing hour, you can never focus on a project long enough to get finished.

John outlines a couple of decisions he’s made in order to keep himself more focused and productive;

  1. I determine not to know everything.
    • What happens when the boss needs to know everything before making a decision? The decision doesn’t get made, or it’s made too late and the company lost a valuable opportunity.
  2. I determined not to know everything first.
    • I don’t know if this is even possible, is it? How can you know everything first?
  3. I determined to let someone represent me.
    • Trust is the main factor here. Your reputation is one of the most valuable things a person has. Are you willing to let someone speak on your behalf if you don’t trust them?
  4. I determined to stay with my strengths and not work on my weaknesses.
    • Here is a tough task for any leader. I know it is for me. I either don’t want to ask other people or I just do it. Of course, if I do it then it can always be done better by someone else. Most of the time I just need to swallow the pride and reach for a hand.
  5. I determined to take charge of what took my time and attention.
    • What do you spend the most time on, do you even know?

John suggests that you keep track of how you spend your time. Once you see how your days break down and the amount of time you spend on unnecessary tasks, or ones that should be delegated, you’ll be able to focus more on the main thing.

I know I struggle to keep on the main thing, at home and at work. It comes down to priorities, doesn’t it? Some people will spend a Sunday watching football, working on their house, or volunteering at church. It’s what you value; recreation, your property, or others. But everything must be in balance, if you’re house is falling apart because all you do is watch television, then you may need to adjust your priorities.

What becomes a problem is when your MAIN THING isn’t one of your daily priorities. If nothing else, take time to think about it and what you can do tomorrow to get one step closer to your true purpose, which I hope, is your main thing!

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold

Your Biggest Mistake is Not Asking What Mistake You’re Making                                           

I can’t even think how many times I don’t ask what kind of mistakes I’ve made, and that’s just in one day!

Do you get upset when someone points out a mistake you made? I have to admit, I even get short with some people who tell me I made a mistake. I think to myself, “if you don’t like it do it yourself,” instead of asking, “how can it be done better.”

You should welcome criticism, shouldn’t you? But it all depends on how it is given, and by whom. Whenever you need to talk to someone about a mistake they made be sincere, tell a story about the time you made a similar mistake, and offer some guidance.

It all sounds good doesn’t it, but asking others about your mistakes is really hard for some people. Some bosses don’t like to let their employees know that they are even capable of making a mistake, their ego will only hamper motivation, but also decrease morale for those that work with them.

John Maxwell outlines in this chapter five things that you need to do to fail successfully;

  1. Admit your own mistakes and weaknesses.
    • This is one of the hardest things to do for some folks. The shocking truth to it is that most people already know what mistakes you’ve made and what you’re weaknesses are. If you talk to them about it, you’ll ease their fears because they think you don’t know!
  2. Accept mistakes as a price of progress.
    • Do you know how to not make any mistakes? Easy, don’t do anything. Of course then you have to give up your dreams, motivations, and passions. If your pursue any of those, you’ll make mistake, so get over it.
  3. Insist on learning from your mistakes.
    • How do you learn from your mistakes? One way is to reflect on what went wrong and what you should do differently the NEXT time. Those that don’t reflect on their mistakes either make them again or give up. Another good thing to do is to keep a journal. Thomas Edison did as he made 10,000 mistakes while perfecting the light bulb.
  4. Ask yourself and others, “What are we missing?”
    • Everyone sees things differently, to some extent. Other people have different experiences, so they may be able to help you fix the mistake.
  5. Give the people around you permission to push back.
    • Does your boss let you push back? If you do, how effective have you been? If the people you work with won’t give you honest feedback when needed, quit your job immediately. I say this because if you ever resisted feedback from your employees they’ll find pleasure in seeing you make mistakes. They may even help you make some mistakes.

The main thing needed between the leader and those he works with is trust. Without it you’ll definitely struggle to succeed. If they don’t trust you they won’t be honest with you when you ask, “What mistakes have I made in this relationship?”

Don’t Manage Your Life – Manage Your Time                               

Here’s a controversial subject, some folks think that they can manage time. I agree with John, time cannot be managed, its infinite and you can’t buy more.

But if you think about it, you can buy time. If you’re in a position financially, you can pay someone to do the tasks you don’t want to, the things you’re not good at. That way you can have more time to do what you are really good at. As Charles Spezzano writes in his book What To Do Between Birth And Death: The Art Of Growing Up, “You don’t really pay for things with money, you pay for them with time.”

So let me get this straight, you don’t pay with money, but time? It takes time to make money.

If you pay someone to do the things that are not in your strengths or priorities, then you can make more money working in your strengths.

John outlines three things that people who manage themselves poorly are guilty of;

1)      They Undervalue Their Uniqueness Doing What Others Want Them To Do.

  • If you don’t control your time others will. Your life will follow their agenda. Make sure you schedule time to work and learn in your strength areas.

2)      They Ruin Their Effectiveness by Doing Unimportant Things.

  • Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is, ‘What are we busy about?’” How do you decide what is important for your most valuable asset, time?

3)      They Reduce Their Potential by Doing Things Without Coaching or Training.

  • It always amazes me when managers don’t encourage or even expect their employees to go to training. As John points out in this chapter that a if a organization invests 10 percent in capital expenditures they’ll get a 3.8 percent increase on productivity. But a 10 percent increase in training led to a 8.5 percent increase in productivity.

What do you do to manage your time? Everyone has the same amount of it during the day. The difference between success and survival is how you chose to use your time.

Think about the top two or three things that would give you the most value and focus on it till it’s done. You have to have a process and what works best for me is to just do it, even if you don’t feel like it.

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold


Do the right thing;
Do it today;
Do it with no hope of return or promise of reward;
Do it with a smile and a cheerful attitude;
Do it day after day.
Do it, and someday,
There will come a day
That will be a payday
For all the yesterdays
You spent focused on the current day –
That will not only give value to today,
But will make each future day
Outshine each yesterday.
And what more could you ask of a day?

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Principles for Graduates

WIN THE DAILY BATTLE                                

People who achieve daily success have learned to conquer four common time-wasters.

Time put to no useful purpose, not even relaxation.

Putting off things that should be done now.

Time frittered away on the
Details of side issues, to the detriment of the main issue.

Lack of preparation, thoroughness, or perseverance, usually resulting in time-consuming mistakes.

~ Leadership Principles for Graduates, John C. Maxwell

A Thorn In Your Side?

As you discover your purpose in life and pursue your dreams, you will inevitably spend more and more of your time doing what you enjoy and do best.

That’s good. You can achieve your dreams only if you focus on your priorities.

But success requires something else: discipline. One of the best ways I know to improve discipline is to do something you don’t enjoy doing – every day. If you learn to do what you must, you will be able to do what you want.

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Principles for Graduates

Exercise for Success

Think of the pursuit of your dreams as being like a major athletic event. Train for it. As you prepare and “exercise,” you will get stronger – mentally, emotionally, and physically. To successfully achieve your dream, you need to keep improving. The best way to do that is to …

  • keep your body fit.
  • keep your heart flexible.
  • keep your mind open.
  • keep your comfort zone expanding.

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Principles for Graduates

It takes a leader to:

  • KNOW a leader (Recruiting & Positioning)
  • SHOW a leader (Modeling & Equipping)
  • GROW a leader (Developing, Empowering, & Measuring)

~ John C. Maxwell, The 5 Levels of Leadership


Sometimes we don’t know what we want until someone tells us we can’t have it. That’s what happened with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He was wounded three times during the Civil War, and while home on medical leave he decided to go to law school. His father, a renowned physician who dominated his family, scorned the young man’s decision. “What the use of that? A lawyer can’t become a great man.” Many years later, while still serving on the U.S. Supreme Court at the age of ninety, Holmes recalled his father’s words and how they spurred him to pursue his dream and prove his worthy as a lawyer.

~ John C. Maxwell, Leadership Principles for Graduates