Notes on The 21 Immutable Laws of Leadership

This post is an export of the notes I took while watching a YouTube lecture series by John C. Maxwell on what he calls The 21 Immutable Laws of Leadership.

1. The Law of the Lid

Leadership determines the highest level of effectiveness. Everything rises and falls based on leadership.

Maxwell tells a story about the first thing a certain hedge fund does after taking over a bankrupt company: they train all the leaders and fire the president. The reason?

“If the president was good, the company wouldn’t be bankrupt”

Rank yourself, and rank the lid numbers of those around you.

2. The Law of Influence

The true measure of leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Position – lowest level of leadership. “Rights” are granted to you and people follow you because they have to.
  • Permission – relationships. People follow you because they want to.
  • Production – results. People follow you because of what you’ve done for the organization
  • People – reproduction. People follow you because of what you’ve done for them.
  • Personhood – respect. You’ve done it for so long that people respect you. The highest level of leadership.

3. The Law of Process

Leadership develops daily, not in a day.

We overestimate the event and we underestimate the process.

Events encourage decisions. The process encourages development. The process matures people.

Leadership is many-faceted.

  1. Influence
  2. Navigation
  3. Empowerment
  4. Relationships
  5. Timing
  6. Momentum
  7. Sacrifice
  8. Attitude

The secret of our success is discovered in our daily agenda.

4. The Law of Navigation

Anyone can steer the ship but it takes a leader to chart the course.

A leader is one who sees more than others see.
A leader is one who sees further than others see.
A leader is one who sees before others see.

The number one responsibility of a leader is to define reality.

Max Dupree


  • Pre-determine your course of action – think before others; see before others.
  • Lay out your goals – use each one as stepping stones.
  • Adjust your priorities.
  • Notify key personell (have a good team and have them help you make plans). Have the meeting before the meeting.
  • Allow time for acceptance – people change slowly.
  • Head into action.
  • Expect problems – motion causes friction.
  • Always point to your successes (because there’s always someone who will point to your failures).
  • Review your progress daily.

5. The Law of E.F. Hutton

When the real leader speaks, people listen.

This law is related to The Law of Influence.

When there’s a decision to be made, people in the room will look at the real leader (whoever is in charge). If there’s another “true” leader then you should align with them beforehand. The meeting before the meeting.

Positional leaders vs. real leaders, title vs. following:

  • Positional leaders influence positional people.
  • Real leaders influence everyone.

When you have to tell people you’re the leader of the pack, you’re not.

Real leaders become real leaders because of

  • Character
  • Relationships
  • Knowledge
  • Intuition
  • Experience
  • Past successes
  • Ability

6. The Law of Solid Ground

Trust is the foundation of leadership.

Consistent confidence. Consistent character. Consistent competence.

We either grow and increase our trust level or it decreases. You lose it a lot quicker than you get it back.

A leader can’t continually break trust with people and continue to influence them.

With integrity, the longer I lead, the better it gets.

7. The Law of Respect

People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. Just like the Law of the Lid – the organization won’t grow “bigger” than you are, and you can’t attract people better than you are.

The more leadership you have, the more your recognize it in others.

Respect is not a given, it’s earned.

  1. Have respect for other people.
  2. Courage – the ability to make decisions that benefit your people or your company but not you.
  3. Be someone who has success. People want to be with people who will take them to the top.
  4. Consistency. Be someone who is dependable.
  5. Add value to others. Take others to a level they wouldn’t go on their own.
  6. Pure leadership ability. Maxwell doesn’t say much about this one but it seems to be an innate quality.

Two “acid tests” of respect

  • The response of people when you ask for commitment – they will only commit if they respect you.
  • The response of people when the leader asks them to change. If they will change, they respect you.

8. The Law of Intuition

Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. The Law of Intuition, along with the law of Timing is the most difficult law. Being good at this law puts you at the biggest advantage.

It’s not the fastest that wins, it’s the first to cross the finish line (did you give yourself a head start?) and intuition is what lets you get there first.

Who you are determines what you see.

Like a birder pointing out all the invisible birds on a walk through the forest.

What you’re gifted in, you’re intuitive in. Think Clifton Strengths. Leaders are readers of people, of opportunities, of the environment, of timing, of motives, of the future, of the placement of people, and of process.

9. The Law of Magnetism

Who you are is who you attract.

Like begets like.

A team should be an extension of the coaches personality.

Your mission, priority, age, values, background, and attitude attracts similar people.

10. The Law of Connection

Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.

People won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you.

  • To connect with people, connect with yourself. Know thyself.
  • Share with openness and sincerity.
  • What you ask your people to do, do it. Be a tour guide, not a travel agent. Don’t send people, take people.
  • Know your people. Spend time with them. Leaders walk slowly through the crowd. “Leadership by walking around.”
  • Communicate on the level of your people.
  • Give yourself totally to the people and the message.
  • Believe totally in the people and in the message.
  • Share how the vision or message has touched you.
  • Offer direction and hope. Leaders are dealers in hope.

11. The Law of the Inner Circle

A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to them. If a leader is going to reach his potential, he’ll have to reach people.

Do the people around you have buckets of water or buckets of gasoline?

It’s absolutely essential to your success to have good people around you in your inner circle.

  • No longer be or become the lone ranger.
  • Assess them. Hold them accountable. Evaluate them.
    • Potential – can they raise themselves up?
    • Positive value. Do they give or take your energy? Lifters and leaners.
    • Personal value
    • Production value – do they raise up others?
    • Proven value – have they done it for so long that you trust them.
  • Develop your leadership team. Grow your people, grow your company.

12. The Law of Empowerment

Only secure leaders give power to others.

You either go up with your people, or you go down with your people.

We fail to empower others because of:

  • Insecurity
  • Job security
    • Maybe people should lose the job if they can’t train someone else to do the job.
  • Ego
  • Co-dependence – you can’t lead people if you “need” people.

You have to value people to add value to them. You also have to know and relate to what they value. You can only add value to others when you make yourself more valuable.

13. The Law of Reproduction

We teach what we know because we reproduce what we are.

The Law of Reproduction is a cousin to the Law of Magnetism. Once you draw the leaders, this is how you develop them.

We teach what we know, we reproduce what we are.

It takes a leader to know a leader. It takes a leader to show a leader. People do what people see.

Why don’t leaders lift up other leaders?

  1. They’re insecure.
  2. They spend too much time with followers. (Ego stroking)
  3. If you can find potential leaders you increase your odds of producing potential leaders. Leaders are hard to find. Availability (on the job market) is not usually an attribute of a great leader.
  4. If you’re not going somewhere, when the train slows down, they’re off.
  5. We don’t recognize the compounding value of developing leaders.
  6. Leadership is often viewed as a competitive effort rather than a cooperative effort.

14. The Law of Buy In

People buy into the leader, then the vision. Organizations don’t buy into the vision without buying into the visionary.

Sell yourself, then sell your vision.

The leader finds the dream then the people. The people find the leader, then the dream.

Steps to buy in:

  1. The obvious need for the obvious problem
  2. The leader sees the problem and the potential. The leader is a vendor of hope.
  3. The leader has a plan. A vision.
  4. The leader believes in the people.
  5. The leader believes in the future.
  6. The leader shares this belief with the people.
  7. The people believe in the leader’s belief.

15. The Law of Victory

Leaders find a way for the team to win. Victorious leaders find the alternative to victory unacceptable. They determine what victory is and go after it with everything they have.

  • Leadership is responsible.
  • Losing is unacceptable.
  • Passion is unquenchable.
  • Creativity is essential.
  • Quitting is unthinkable.
  • Commitment is unquestionable.
  • Victory is inevitable.

16. The Law of the Big Mo

Momentum is the leader’s best friend. Sometimes the only difference between winning and losing is momentum.

  • Momentum is the great exaggerator
  • Momentum makes leaders look better than they are
  • Momentum makes followers perform better than they are
  • No momentum makes leaders look worse than they are

With momentum it takes less energy to solve problems.

Management works on problems, leaders work on momentum.

A moving train can smash through a 5 foot thick concrete wall, without it, it can’t go over a 1 inch block.

You can either spend your life working on problems or you can spend your life creating momentum.

Leaders are like thermostats, they control the temperature. Followers are like thermometers, they record the temperature.

When you’re winning, nothing hurts. When you’re losing, everything hurts.

How do you get momentum?

  1. Understand its value.
  2. Figure out what the motivating factors are in your organization.
  3. Remove the de-motivating factors in your organization.
  4. Schedule times for direction and celebration (together). Always give direction at celebration times–take advantage of the momentum to give them the next challenge.
  5. Recognize and honor the people who are moving the ball forward.
  6. Practice character leadership. Lead with enthusiasm and hope even if the future doesn’t seem very bright. Quit waiting to feel good to lead. Quit waiting for your first victory.

17. The Law of Priorities

Leaders understand activity is not necessarily accomplishment.

The Pareto Principle.

If you have 10 things to do and you prioritize them correctly and you only do the top 2, you’re going to get 80% of the results. Conversely, if you do the bottom 8, you only get 20% of the results.

  • It’s not how hard you work, it’s how smart you work.
  • Organize or agonize.
  • Choose or lose.
  • Evaluate or stalemate.
  1. Requirement – what is required of me.
  2. Return – what gives me the greatest return.
  3. Reward – what gives me the greatest reward.

The four things John does (his personal strengths):

  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Creating / writing
  4. Networking

If you have 100 people in your organization and prioritize them, the top 20 give you 80% of the returns. Spending time with the bottom 20% is not effective. Are you a counselor or an equipper?

18. The Law of Sacrifice

A leader must give up to go up.

Get up.
Grow up.
Gather up (build your team).

To get to the top you have to give up something. For everything you gain, you must lose something.

The higher you go, the fewer options you have. This is what it means to be a “servant leader.” You don’t (or shouldn’t) lead because the perks of leadership. Pay on the front-end.

  • There’s no success without sacrifice. You can fall off the top by accident, but you can’t roll off the top by accident. Only take the essentials to the top. Give up the rest.
  • The higher the level of leadership, the more you’ll give up.
  • You have to give up to stay up.
    • affirmation
    • financial gain
    • immediate pleasure (for personal growth)
    • quantity of life for quality of life
    • security for significance
    • addition for multiplication

19. The Law of Timing

When to lead is as important as where to go and what to do.

Along with the law of intuition, this is the second most difficult law to learn.

You gotta know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.

The wrong action at the wrong time = disaster.
The wrong action at the right time = mistake.
The right action at the wrong time = resistance.
The right action at the right time = success.

  1. Understanding
  2. Maturity
  3. Confidence
  4. Decisiveness – timing doesn’t wait.
  5. Experience
  6. Intuitiveness
  7. Preparation – “I will prepare and sometime my time will come.” Lincoln

How to know?

  • First — define reality, then lay it on the line
  • After you’ve identified the issue
  • After you’ve met with the influencers. The meeting before the meeting.
  • After you’ve received buy in from them.
  • After you’ve communicated the vision.
  • After you’ve modeled the behavior you desire in others. People do what people see.
  • After you’ve overcome each of the issues and you can point at your successes

Once you’ve done that–make the decision.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth

Leaders who develop leaders multiply.

Follower’s math = addition
Leader’s math = multiplication

Leaders who develop leaders vs. leaders who develop followers:

  1. Desire – leaders who develop followers need to be needed. Leaders who develop leaders want to be succeeded. Ego satisfaction.
  2. Focus – leaders who develop followers focus on people’s weakness. Leaders who develop leaders focus on their strengths. People don’t pay for average.
  3. Priorities – leaders who develop followers devote attention to the bottom 20%
  4. Ability –
  5. Attitude – Leaders who developer followers lift up themselves (vs others)
  6. Time – Leaders who develop leaders invest in others.
  7. Expectations – leaders who develop leaders ask for much commitment
  8. Leadership – leaders who develop leaders lead everybody differently
  9. Impact -leaders who develop leaders impact the next generation

21. The Law of Legacy

A leaders lasting value is succession.

A relay race is always won or lost in the baton handoff.

  • Achievement comes when you can do great things for yourself.
  • Success comes when you empower followers to do great things with them.
  • Significance come when you develop leaders to do things for him.
  • Legacy comes when you develop your organization to do great things without him.

Make a difference with people who want to make a difference: people’s whose abilities are matched with their passions.

Legacy is making a difference with people who want to make a difference doing something that makes a difference.

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