Summary: Leadership 101 (John C. Maxwell)

Leadership is one of those topics that makes me uneasy, only because it seems to attract charlatans, especially within the corporate world. That’s why the word has some negative connotations to it, at least in my mind. But there is nothing mysterious or negative about true leadership.

Author John C. Maxwell proves this with his refreshing book, Leadership 101. While the title of the book does sound basic and unoriginal, the content of the book is surprisingly strong. It covers the topic of leadership — within the context of an organization — in a very clear and concise manner.

By taking the most powerful excerpts and quotes from the book, which is already a concise volume, I find that the knowledge can be refreshed, and thus retained, in a fraction of the time it would take to re-read the book in its entirety. Below is my personal summary.

(Note: If you would like to download a high-quality PDF version of this summary, just click here.)


Did you know that each of us influences at least ten thousand other people during our lifetime? So the question is not whether you influence someone, but how will you use your influence.

Sir Francis Bacon observed that knowledge is power. Back when he lived and information was scarce, that may have been true. But today, it would be better to say that knowledge empowers — as long as it’s what you need.


Why Should I Grow As A Leader?

Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.

Your leadership ability — for better or for worse — always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization.

The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be.

Leadership has a multiplying effect.

To change the direction of the organization, change the leader.

To reach the highest level of effectiveness, you need to raise the lid of leadership ability.

How Can I Grow As A Leader?

Leadership develops daily, not in a day.

What matters most is what you do day by day over the long haul.

“The secret of our success is found in our daily agenda.”

Leadership is complicated. It has many facets: respect, experience, emotional strength, people skills, discipline, vision, momentum, timing — the list goes on.

Leadership is influence.

The Four Phases of Leadership Growth:

  • Phase 1: I don’t know what I don’t know
  • Phase 2: I know what I don’t know
  • Phase 3: I grow and know and it starts to show
  • Phase 4: I simply go because of what I know

To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge.”
-Benjamin Disraeli

Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance.

Whenever you come across a golden nugget of truth or a significant quote, file it away for the future.

There is an old saying: Champions don’t become champions in the ring — they are merely recognized there.

If you want to see where someone develops into a champion, look at his daily routine.

Boxing is a good analogy for leadership because it is all about daily preparation.

Leadership doesn’t develop in a day. It takes a lifetime.


How Can I Become Disciplined?

The first person you lead is you.

No matter how gifted a leader is, his gifts will never reach their maximum potential without the application of self-discipline.

Self-discipline: No one achieves and sustains success without it.

A Disciplined Direction:

  1. Challenge your excuses
  2. Remove rewards until the job is done
  3. Stay focused on results

If you lack self-discipline, you may be in the habit of having dessert before eating your vegetables.

If you know you have talent, and you’ve seen a lot of motion but little concrete results — you may lack self-discipline.

Look at last week’s schedule. How much of your time did you devote to regular, disciplined activities?

How Should I Prioritize My Life?

The discipline to prioritize and the ability to work toward a stated goal are essential to a leader’s success.

Success can be defined as the progressive realization of a predetermined goal.

Twenty percent of your priorities will give you 80 percent of your production.

Examples of Pareto principle:

  • Time: 20 percent of our time produces 80 percent of the results.
  • Counseling: 20 percent of the people take up 80 percent of our time.
  • Products: 20 percent of the products bring in 80 percent of the profit.
  • Reading: 20 percent of the book contains 80 percent of the content.
  • Job: 20 percent of our work gives us 80 percent of our satisfaction.
  • Speech: 20 percent of the presentation produces 80 percent of the impact.
  • Leadership: 20 percent of the people will make 80 percent of the decisions.
  • Business: 20 percent of the people in an organization will be responsible for 80 percent of the company’s success.
  1. Determine which people are the top 20 percent producers.
  2. Spend 80 percent of your “people time” with the top 20 percent.
  3. Spend 80 percent of your personal development dollars on the top 20 percent.
  4. Determine what 20 percent of the work gives 80 percent of the return and train an assistant to do the 80 percent less-effective work.
  5. Ask the top 20 percent to do on-the-job training for the next 20 percent.

Remember: We teach what we know; we reproduce what we are. Like begets like.

If this person takes a negative action against me or withdraws his or her support from me, what will the impact likely be? If you won’t be able to function, then put a check mark next to that name.

Remember: It’s not how hard you work; it’s how smart you work.

The ability to juggle three or four high priority projects successfully is a must for every leader.

A life in which anything goes will ultimately be a life in which nothing goes.


  • Initiate
  • Lead: pick up the phone and make contact
  • Spend time planning: anticipate problems
  • Invest time with people
  • Fill the calendar by priorities


  • React
  • Listen; wait for phone to ring
  • Spend time living day-to-day reacting to problems
  • Spend time with people
  • Fill the calendar by requests

What is required of me?
What gives me the greatest return?
Am I doing what I do best and receiving a good return for the organization?
What is most rewarding?

I encouraged the audience to find something they liked to do so much they would gladly do it for nothing.

Keep priorities in place:

  • Evaluate: every month
  • Eliminate: “what am I doing that can be done by someone else?”
  • Estimate: what are top projects and how long will they take?

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.

William James said that the art of being wise is “the art of knowing what to overlook.”

“If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?”

If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more.
If I had it to do over again, I would risk more.
If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.

Secret of young concert pianists success: “Planned neglect.”

The good is the enemy of the best.

Efficiency is the foundation for survival. Effectiveness is the foundation for success.

How Do I Develop Trust?

Trust is the foundation of leadership.

There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection, and character.

Treat trust as your most important asset.

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.”
-General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

In short, character is the only effective bulwark against internal and external forces that lead to a country’s disintegration or collapse.

Character makes trust possible. And trust makes leadership possible.

No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”
-John Morley

How do leaders earn respect? By making sound decisions, admitting their mistakes, and putting what’s best for their followers and the organization ahead of their personal agendas.

No leader can break trust with his people and expect to keep the same level of influence with them. Trust is the foundation of leadership.

How Can I Effectively Cast Vision?

You can seize only what you can see.

Vision is everything for a leader. It is utterly indispensable.

Vision leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws him forward.

Vision starts within.

If you lack vision, look inside yourself. Draw on your natural gifts and desires. Look to your calling if you have one.

Vision draws on your history. It grows from a leader’s past and the history of the people around him.

True vision is far-reaching.

One of the most valuable benefits of vision is that it acts like a magnet — attracting, challenging, and uniting people.

The greater the vision, the more winners it has the potential to attract.

Do you know your life’s mission? What stirs your heart? What do you dream about? If what you’re pursuing doesn’t come from a desire within — from the very depths of who you are and what you believe — you will not be able to accomplish it.

The Unhappy Voice: Discontent with the status quo is a great catalyst for vision.

To fulfill a big vision, you need a good team. But you also need good advice from someone who is ahead of you in the leadership journey.

If you want to lead others to greatness, find a mentor.

Think about what you’d like to see change in the world around you.

The Higher Voice: Have you looked beyond yourself, even beyond your own lifetime, as you’ve sought your vision?

To improve your vision:

  • Measure yourself.
  • Do a gut check. What makes you cry? What makes you dream? What gives you energy?


Why Is Influence Important?

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

True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence.

Five Myths About Leadership

  1. The Management Myth — that leading and managing are the same thing. They aren’t.
  2. The Entrepreneur Myth — assuming that all salespeople and entrepreneurs are leaders. Not always the case.
  3. The Knowledge Myth — assuming those who possess knowledge and intelligence are leaders. Not automatically true.
  4. The Pioneer Myth — anyone out in front of the crowd is a leader. Being first isn’t the same as leading.
  5. The Position Myth — assuming that leadership is based on position or title. It’s not.

To be a leader, a person has to not only be out front, but also have people intentionally coming behind him, following his lead, and acting on his vision.

Positional leadership doesn’t work in volunteer organizations. If a leader doesn’t have leverage — or influence — then he is ineffective.

Most followers are pretty cooperative when their livelihood is at stake.

Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won’t follow.

“He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”

How Does Influence Work?

Real leadership is being the person others will gladly and confidently follow.

If there is an issue that needs to be decided, who is the person whose opinion seems most valuable?

You start to communicate effectively. This leads to recognition and recognition in turn leads to influence.

The 5 Levels of Leadership

1. Position (Rights) – People follow because they have to. Your influence will not extend beyond the lines of your job description. The longer you stay here, the higher the turnover and the lower the morale.

2. Permission (Relationship) – People follow because they want to. People will follow you beyond your stated authority. This level allows work to be fun. Caution: Staying too long on this level without rising will cause highly motivated people to become restless.

3. Production (Results) – People follow because of what you have done for the organization. This is where success is sensed by most people. They will like you and what you are doing. Problems are fixed with very little effort because of momentum.

4. People Development (Reproduction) – People follow because of what you have done for them. This is where long-range growth occurs. Your commitment to developing leaders will insure ongoing growth to the organization and to people. Do whatever you can to achieve and stay on this level.

5. Personhood (Respect) – People follow because of who you are and what you represent. This step is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organizations. Few make it. Those who do are bigger than life.

White collar workers are used to participating in decision-making and resent dictatorial leadership.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership begins with the heart, not the head.

On this level, the leader donates times, energy, and focus on the follower’s needs and desires.

People who are unable to build solid, lasting relationships will soon discover that they are unable to sustain long, effective leadership.

You cannot lead people without loving them.

Leadership Level 2:

  • Possess a genuine love for people.
  • Make those who work with you more successful.
  • Love people more than procedures.
  • Do “win-win” or don’t do it.
  • Include others in your journey.
  • Deal wisely with difficult people.

Leadership Level 3:

  • Initiate and accept responsibility for growth.
  • Develop and follow a statement of purpose.
  • Develop accountability for results.
  • Know and do the things that give a high return.
  • Communicate the strategy and vision of the organization.
  • Become a change-agent and understand timing.
  • Make the difficult decisions that will make a difference.

A leader is great, not because of his or her powers, but because of his or her ability to empower others.

A leader’s responsibility is developing others to do the work.

A true leader can be recognized because somehow his people consistency demonstrate superior performance.

You win people’s hearts by helping them grow personally.

Leadership Level 4:

  • Realize that people are your most valuable asset.
  • Place a priority on developing people.
  • Be a model for others to follow.

Leadership Level 5:

  • Your followers are loyal and sacrificial.
  • You have spent years mentoring and molding leaders.
  • You have become a statesman/consultant, and are sought out by others.
  • Your greatest joy comes from watching others grow and develop.
  • You transcend the organization.

The higher you go, the higher the level of commitment.

If you are leading a group of people, you will not be on the same level with everyone.

For your leadership to remain effective, it is essential that you take the other influencers within the group with you to the higher levels.

Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone. Not everyone will become a great leader, but everyone can become a better leader.

Will you use your leaderships skills to better mankind?

“Lord, may my life help other lives
It touches by the way.”

How Can I Extend My Influence?

The act of empowering others changes lives.

People under the influence of an empowering person are like paper in the hands of a talented artist. No matter what they’re made of, they can become treasures.

It doesn’t make much difference how much other knowledge or experience an executive possesses; if he is unable to achieve results through people, he is worthless as an executive.

Empowerment: It’s sharing yourself – your influence, position, power, and opportunities – with others for the purpose of investing in their lives so that they can function at their best.

When you delegate a challenging job to an employee and give her the authority she needs to get it done, you have empowered her.

But empowering others by giving them your authority has the same effect as sharing information: You haven’t lost anything. You have increased the ability of others without decreasing yourself.

Remember: When you empower people, you’re not influencing just them; you’re influencing all the people they influence. That’s impact!

You need to have the right attitude. Many people neglect to empower others because they are insecure.

They don’t want to be replaced or displaced, even if it means that they would be able to move up to a higher position and leave their current one to be filled by the person they mentor. They’re afraid of change.

You need to believe in others enough to give them all you can and in yourself enough to know that it won’t hurt you.

1. Evaluate Them

If you give inexperienced people too much authority too soon, you can set them up to fail.

When evaluating people you wish to empower, look at these areas:

  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Desire

No amount of skill, knowledge, or potential can help people succeed if they don’t have the desire to be successful.

Man is made so that whenever anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish”
-Jean La Fontaine

2. Model For Them

Model the attitude and work ethic you would like them to embrace. And anytime you can include them in your work, take them along with you.

3. Give Them Permission To Succeed

Help other believe that they can succeed. How? Two ways:

Expect it – People can sense your underlying attitude no matter what you say or do.
Verbalize it – Send them encouraging notes.

4. Transfer Authority To Them

Empowering others is more than sharing your workload. It’s sharing your power and ability to get things done.

No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.”
-Peter Drucker

Empowering leadership is sometimes the only real advantage one organization has over another in our competitive society.

5. Publicly Show Your Confidence In Them

You need to do it publicly. Public recognition lets them know that you believe they will succeed. And that you authority backs them up.

6. Supply Them With Feedback

You can’t let them go long without giving them honest, positive feedback.

People do what gets praised.

7. Release Them To Continue On Their Own

I neither ask nor desire to know anything of your plans. Take the responsibility and act and call on me for assistance.”
-Abraham Lincoln (letter to General Ulysses S. Grant)

If you head up any kind of organization, learning to empower others is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as its leader.

Empowering others can free you personally to have more time for the important things in life; increase the effectiveness of your organization, increase your influence with others and, best of all, make an incredibly positive impact on the lives of the people you empower.

How Can I Make My Leadership Last?

A leaders lasting value is measured by succession.

Value team leadership above individual leadership. No matter how good he is, no leader can do it all alone.

Succession is one of the key responsibilities of leadership.”
-Max Dupree

Achievement comes to someone when he is able to do great things for himself. Success comes when he empowers followers to do great things with him. Significance comes when he develops leaders to do great things for him. But legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him.

A leader hates to see something that he put his sweat, blood, and tears into starting to fail.

When all is said and done, your ability as a leader will not be judged by what you achieved personally or even by what your team accomplished during your tenure. You will be judged by how well your people and your organization did after you were gone. Your lasting value will be measured by succession.


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