Developing the Leader Within You

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John C. Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You (1993) is a guide to forming the necessary traits required of a leader. A leader is someone who can attract, motivate, and mentor followers who help bring the leader’s vision to life. A born leader is rare, but, with practice and patience, one can acquire most of the qualities that define successful leaders.

The path to effective leadership is a five-level process that starts as soon as an employee has direct reports, or people who work directly below, report to, and are managed by the employee. On this first level, a potential leader exhibits a willingness to teach, encourage, and regard the staff as a team. On the second level, a budding leader must use interpersonal skills, such as getting to know the staff, to convince the team to perform well. On level three, the visionary leader introduces and clearly defines important goals. The leader must wholeheartedly believe in these goals before followers will be convinced they are worth achieving. A strong leader encourages the team to work above and beyond the ordinary to produce exceptional results. On the fourth level, a tested, trusted leader coaches a crack team of next-generation influencers to carry the vision farther. Level five allows the proven leader to acknowledge success and requires many years to attain.

Each of the five levels requires specific qualities that must be mastered before the aspiring leader moves up to the next. For instance, on the first level, a future leader will always take responsibility and improve the culture by proposing smart solutions. No level can be skipped and there’s nothing to gain by hurrying from one to the next. Steady and meaningful progress comes when a leader takes the time to master character traits that project inner strength, confidence, and compassion.

The successful leader models the behavior that followers should exhibit. Consistency, which can be developed through self-discipline, is a key factor in attracting and keeping followers. Leaders whose words sync with their deeds inspire trust in their followers. Trust can be lost when leaders do not regularly and honestly evaluate their actions, identify bad habits, and correct them. Bad habits can include not sharing responsibility with or belittling employees. The leader’s positive attitude is another key to influence and must be monitored and maintained.

It is important for leaders to hire the right people and bring them along as they rise in the ranks. Successful leaders solve small problems before they get worse and determine how to keep a problem from happening again. They can best accomplish this problem-solving by motivating staff to offer creative, out-of-the-box ideas and choosing the best solution. Convincing other people to change is challenging. The change will be perceived as positive only when the followers’ fears are recognized and accounted for. Communicating the benefits of positive change for each individual and for the overall vision is a skill every responsible leader must master.

The key insights for this book are:

  1. Everyone, no matter how unassuming, will influence many people over a lifetime.
  2. The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, can help set priorities. According to this rule, the effective leader focuses on developing 20 percent of the team that generates 80 percent of the revenue.
  3. The trait of integrity attracts followers but also benefits the leader, whose inner strength and firm resolve help build an honorable reputation.
  4. To quell anxiety about change, a leader should include staff in the run-up to a transformation, encourage input, and communicate regularly about progress.
  5. A good leader has an ear to the ground to address problems early, encourages creative solutions, and develops policies to stop problems from returning.
  6. Expectations and attitudes are linked. A leader will succeed or fail by assuming the attitude that projects optimism or defeat.
  7. Influence is a serious responsibility, and a leader should get to know and care for followers.
  8. Followers will strive for a vision in which they see the things that matter to them.
  9. Meeting regularly with employees to discuss job performance and improvement is more effective than annual reviews.
  10. An outstanding leader encourages trusted employees to take risks and prepare for bold moves.

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