Book Review – “Developing the Leader Within You” by John C. Maxwell, part 1

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As I’ve mentioned previously, one of my favorite personal development authors is John C. Maxwell.  I just love the topics he writes about.  He provides practical strategies and guidelines that a person can put into practice immediately, using case studies to exemplify his points.  There’s not a whole lot of extraneous fluff, just solid application.

I first read Developing the Leader Within You (aff.)
when I was 21 years old, a college drop out, and living in a van down by the river (just kidding; I was living in a rented room on the back of a house in a bad part of town.  Not sure which is worse).  I’ve read it at least five other times in the eleven years since then, and every time I have to use a different color highlighter to call out stuff I’ve missed previously.  It speaks to me each time I pick it up, because I see so many areas that I need to focus on in my own life, before I can begin to lead others.  You lead yourself first before anyone else.

Maxwell discusses 10 traits that an individual needs to focus on in his or her own life, in order to become more effective in their leadership roles.  We’ll cover the first five in this entry, and hit the final five next time.   I’d do it all at once, but the first five are over 1000 words already.  I make sure you get your money’s worth here, but 2000 words seemed a little excessive.

Chapter 1 – The Definition of Leadership – Influence

Being able to cause other people to move in the direction that they need to go to achieve the aims of the organization is all there is to being a leader.  Whether or not that direction is correct (or even right, if you follow the difference) is irrelevant.  You only become a leader by gaining followers.  Maxwell notes that many people would define leadership as a position, not as the ability to influence, but that’s only one facet of being a leader.  You are initially given a position of authority, but people don’t follow positions; they follow people.  The only way to become a leader is to invest the time and energy into an organization (and the people that make up that organization) to prove that you’re someone worth following.  As Maxwell says, quoting an old statement, “A man who thinks he’s a leader, but who has no one following, is merely taking a walk”.

Chapter 2 – The Key to Leadership – Priorities

As a leader, you need to set priorities.  Maxwell discusses the Pareto Principle, which states that an organization derives 80 percent of its results from 20 percent of its people.  You can’t do everything for everyone in your organization, so you need to take the time and effort to prioritize.  Work in the areas which will produce the greatest return, and don’t focus on areas that aren’t high yielding.  This goes for people, projects, and everything else.  Ruthlessly protect the priorities you’ve set, because it’s impossible to do everything.

Chapter 3 – The Most Important Ingredient of Leadership – Integrity

Integrity.  That’s what it’s all about.  Most people, I think, have a concept in their mind of what the word “integrity” means.  It means you don’t lie, or mislead, you keep your word, and all that other stuff.  That certainly is a part of what integrity is, but the definition is actually more broad.  It’s “the state of being complete, unified”.  It means that who you are on the outside is the same as who you are on the inside.  You don’t present one persona to your friends and another to your business associates; you are who you are, no matter what company you’re in.  If you can demonstrate this quality to those you’re attempting to influence, they’ll realize they can trust you.  They’ll begin to know that you will do what you say you’re going to do, and that allows them to have confidence in the vision you’re trying to sell.  If they don’t think you’ll pave the way for the organization to reach the goals it’s set, or that you’ll give up in the middle of the process, you’ll never develop much of a following.

Chapter 4 – The Ultimate Test of Leadership – Creating Positive Change

What people are looking for in a leader is someone who can create positive change in the organization.  A leader brings not only new goals and visions, but the means to get from where the organization currently is to where it needs to be.  The sad fact is that many people will resist change, because it’s scary.  They don’t know what’s going to be around the next bend in the road, and so they’re more secure with the situation they know.  Even if the vision of where the group is going is better than where they are, a lot of people won’t be up for it.  It is the true test for a leader:  to motivate those in the organization who are resistant to change, or find ways to work through the challenges without them.  And, let’s not forget that the first change that has to occur in any organization is within the leader him/herself.  You have to motivate yourself to become better before anyone else will believe you can help them improve their own situation.

Chapter 5 – The Quickest Way to Gain Leadership – Problem Solving

What people are looking for in a leader is the ability to get them from where they are to where they need to be (as was stated earlier).  In order to do that, the leader has to be able to solve the challenges that arise in the way of the organizations’ goals.  One of the most important abilities a leader must possess is the ability to discern between a problem and an environment.  Problems are things that can be controlled or changed; environments are things that cannot.  A leader has to identify the issues that can be changed, and find ways to work around the issues that can’t.

So, that’s it for the first five chapters.  We’ll finish up with the final five soon.  If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, you can find Developing the Leader Within Youat Amazon (that’s an affiliate link, btw).

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