21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Summary & PDF

21 irrefutable laws of leadership book cover

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998) lists what author John Maxwell believes are the most important laws of leadership.

Bullet Summary

  • You can only lead when you are the most respected person in the group
  • Your leadership skills are the upper bound of your team’s effectiveness
  • People buy leaders first, and only after, maybe, they’ll buy into visions
  • Leaders put their people first

Full Summary

About The Author: John Maxwell is an American pastor, author and speaker.
He is also the author of “15 Invaluable Laws of Growth“, “25 Ways You Win With People” and “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn“.

Introduction

To get the most out of the 21 laws of leadership you must first understand that the rules can be learned.
And if you didn’t know that, you need to develop a growth mindset first thing-.

#1 – THE LAW OF THE LID 

Your level of leadership is your level of effectiveness 

The law of the lid says that if you are at level 8 on a leadership scale, 8 is also your maximum effectiveness.

Maxwell gives the example of the McDonald franchise.
Ray Kroc controversially introduced himself as the founder of the company. But he wasn’t the founder, he bought the company.

Maxwell says that the previous owners of McDonald had lower leadership abilities than Kroc and that’s why they couldn’t maximize the company’s potentials.

My Note:
I’m not sure the story in the example is really connected to leadership. I feel Kroc was probably more well versed into business systems (check The E-Myth Revisited).

I enjoyed the example of a buy-out firm.
The firm management would always fire the leaders of the organization they bought. Of course, says Maxwell, that makes sense. An organization is always intrinsically limited by the ability of its leaders.

My Note:
it reminded of Extreme Ownership when the authors say: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

#2 THE LAW OF INFLUENCE

The proof of leadership is in the followers

A leadership title does not make one a leader, says Maxwell.

The leadership must be earned through the people that want to follow you.
The final proof of leadership is in the followers.

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

#3 – THE LAW OF PROCESS

Leadership develops daily, not in a day

Your agenda today determines the type of leader you will be tomorrow.

Nobody likes to be lead by someone who is stagnant over time.
You need to grow over time -and make the people around you grow over time-.

#4 – THE LAW OF NAVIGATION

Leaders chart the course

You can’t get anywhere without a destination.
Good leaders have a clear vision of where they’re going and they craft a map accordingly.

#5 – THE LAW OF ADDITION

Leaders add value by serving others

Maxwell says we become valuable when we provide value to others.

Maxwell stresses here the importance of providing value not just materially, but also at an interpersonal level (also read The Social Exchange Theory).

Knowing who the people are, what they care about, what are their goals and dreams.
And assisting them along their way. Successful leaders also provide value by giving credit to the team.

Social Exchange Theory: 5 Laws of Social Success

Leaders Speak Last

Maxwell says that positional leaders are quick to speak.
But the successful leaders speak last.

And you will recognize the leaders because when you make a question everyone will look at them.

#6 – THE LAW OF SOLID GROUND 

Leadership is builds upon foundations of trust

Maxwell says that leaders earn trust and respect by putting what’s best for the organization and the followers ahead of what’s best for themselves.

It’s important you keep your standards up because you cannot break trust and keep influencing people.

#7 – THE LAW OF RESPECT

You can only lead when you’re the strongest of the bunch

Strongest does not refer to muscles.

Strongest means that people respect you the most.
And when people don’t respect you anymore, your legitimacy as a leader also dissolves.

#8 – THE LAW OF INTUITION

Maxwell says the most successful leaders don’t need to spend hours on all the facts and details.

They develop intuition.

My note:
This isn’t really intuition
, this is most of all experience.
With experience we learn what’s important and what’s not important, so we can only focus on that 15% of information that will give us
90% of confidence.
Read more on Blink my Malcom Gladwell.

#9 – THE LAW OF MAGNETISM

 Birds of a feather flock together

You will attract people who are like you.

People who work with you are not a consequence of HR or your company’s

If you’re not happy with the people around you, look within yourself first. Like the 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People say: real change is from within.

#10 – THE LAW OF CONNECTION

You can’t move to action unless you first move their hearts

Some leaders have an issue with the responsibility of the leadership to connect with the team.

They think they’re the leaders, so it’s up to others to step up to their plate.

But successful leaders take it upon themselves to build and relationship and connect emotionally.

#11 – THE LAW OF THE INNER CIRCLE

You are the average of the people you spend the most time with

Surround yourself with great people.

#12 – THE LAW OF EMPOWERMENT

Secure leaders empower others

Scared and weak leaders, like Henry Ford actually was, don’t want great men around them because they feel intimidated.

They prefer weak people, so they can feel strong and validated -and likely, they have a fixed mindset-.

Developing others and giving them responsibility is not only good for the people you empower, but also for yourself.

The more you empower, the more powerful you become

#13 – THE LAW OF THE PICTURE

One example is worth a thousand pictures

Maxwell famously says that “people do what people see”.
Show with your actions what the right course of action is, not with your words.

#14 – THE LAW OF BUY-IN 

People buy leaders, then visions

You cannot separate a leader from the cause he champions.

People don’t follow worthy causes first, they follow worthy leader who promote worthy causes (and sometimes, as history teaches, unworthy causes too).

#15 – THE LAW OF VICTORY 

Leaders find a way to win

Maxwell says that the best leaders share an unwillingness to accept defeat. And they keep going until they find a way to win.

#16 – THE LAW OF THE BIG MO 

Trend is your friend

The only way to change inertia and a negative spirit is to get going. Get some momentum on your side and no obstacle is too big to overcome.

#17 – THE LAW OF PRIORITIES 

Activity is not accomplishment 

Busy work is a waste of time and resources. Leaders put first things first.

#18 – THE LAW OF SACRIFICE 

To go up you have to give up

Leadership does come with certain perks, but also comes with responsibilities and sacrifices.

Similar to the message Simon Sinek shares in Leader Eat Last, Maxwell says that leadership means putting others ahead of yourself.

#19 – THE LAW OF TIMING 

Success comes from the right action at the right time

Master the art of timing, says the 35th law of power. Similarly, leaders must learn when it’s time to lead.

#20 – THE LAW OF EXPLOSIVE GROWTH 

Lead follower for linear growth; lead leader for exponential growth

To nurture leaders and set off an explosive growth, focus on the top 20%,

#21 – THE LAW OF LEGACY 

Time is the ultimate test of leadership

Great leaders make sure to leave behind capable organizations and teams that will thrive even after long they have gone.

21 irrefutable laws of leadership book cover

Real Life Applications

Pick Your Leaders
Refuse work for people or bosses who are not above you in the leadership scale. Don’t waste your time working for people whom you don’t trust. It really takes away a lot of joy from your life.

CONS

List Format
List format, bullet points, “laws” or “hacks” always make me fear for “attention seeking”.

This was not the case, the book is great.

But I think Maxwell could have reached even more people if he had chosen a different format.

Unscientific
The laws are great.
But they’re not grounded in science.
For a more scientific guide on how to be a leader, check “13 scientific laws of leadership“.

Review

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is a great book on leadership.

It really lists all the major traits, including the most foundational ones which I put in the bullet summary list.

For more, check out:

And of course, check out the course “Social Power” for real-life examples of true leadership.

Become a leader
Get the book on Amazon

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