The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

By: John Maxwell



John Maxwell has come up with 21 irrefutable laws of leadership, laws which if applied, can make us all more effective, more efficient and more successful leaders. The book covers all touch points in leadership and is so full of great content, it’s not possible to cover all 21 laws in just ten minutes. So we’ve picked the five laws that we think will have the biggest impact on your business, and in your life.

Let’s get started...


According to Maxwell, leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. What does he mean? In a nutshell, the lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. So if your leadership rates an 8, then your effectiveness can never be greater than a 7. If your leadership is only a 4, then your effectiveness will be no higher than a 3.

To increase our effectiveness we have two choices: we can invest time and money on efficiency skills, looking to improve our performance or we can increase our level of leadership. Maxwell points out that the relationship between leadership and effectiveness is most evident in sports where results are immediate and obvious.

Take baseball, ice hockey or soccer. Just about every team has highly talented players. Lots of ability.

But not all are capable of being champions. Champions have identifiable leadership. And business is no different. Steve Wozniak was the brains behind Apple computer. But his leadership lid was low.

However as we know, that was not the case for his partner, Steve Jobs. His lid was so high that he built a world-class organisation.

So how can you apply the Law of the Lid? Maxwell suggests we ask others to rate our leadership. He recommends we talk to our boss, our spouse or partner (yes – they know us best!), a couple of colleagues, and a handful of people that we lead.

We should ask each of them to rate us on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) in each of the following areas: People skills, Planning and strategic thinking, Vision and results. We then average the scores, and compare them to our own assessment.

Based on these assessments, is our leadership skill better or worse than we expected? If there is a gap between our assessment and that of others, what do we think is the cause? How willing are we to grow in the area of leadership?


Who was first to reach the South Pole? Amundsen of course, but we all recall more about Scott’s failed attempt.

While Amundsen painstakingly planned his trip, studying the methods of the Eskimos and other experienced Arctic travellers Scott stuck to his own beliefs. Rather than using dogsleds like the local experts, Scott decided to use motorised sledges and ponies.

Motors stopped working only five days into the trip. The ponies were unsuitable for the low temperatures. As a result, the team members themselves ended up hauling the two hundred pound sledges. According to Maxwell, Scott’s expedition to the Pole is a classic example of a leader who could not navigate for his people.

Leaders who navigate do more than control the direction in which they travel. They have a vision for getting to their destination, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they’ll need on the team to be successful, and they recognise the obstacles long before they appear on the horizon.

Navigators examine the conditions before making commitments.

Good navigators examine not only measurable factors such as finances, resources, and talent, but also intangibles such as timing, morale, momentum and culture. Navigators listen to what others have to say: No matter how good a leader we are, we will not have all the answers. That’s why top-notch navigators gather information from many sources.

Navigating leaders get ideas from many sources. They listen to members of their leadership team. They talk to the people in their organisation to find out what’s happening on the grassroots level. And they spend time with leaders from outside the organisation who can mentor them. So how can we apply the Law of Navigation?

Maxwell suggests that for some project or major task that you are currently responsible for, we draw on our past experience, hold intentional conversations with experts and team members to gather information, and examine current conditions that could impact the success of our endeavour. Only after taking these steps should we create our action plan.


In most situations, unless you take strong measures to counteract it, you draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. That’s Maxwell’s Law of Magnetism: who you are is who you attract.

People attract—and are attracted to—others of similar background. Tribes, Teams, Societies, them what you want: people stick with those who reflect themselves. From Maxwell’s focus, leadership is no different: People are attracted to leaders whose values are similar to their own.

It doesn’t matter whether the shared values are positive or negative. Either way, the attraction is equally strong. People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. But we have to factor in the Law of Magnetism: if we are a 7 when it comes to leadership, we are more likely to draw 5s and 6s than 2s and 3s. The people we attract will be similar in style and ability to ourselves.

It just goes to show, that the better a leader we are, the better leaders we will attract. And that has an incredible impact on everything we do in our business. If we want to attract better people, we need to become the kind of person we want to attract. So how can we apply the Law of Magnetism?

Maxwell suggests, based on who we are attracting, we may need to grow in the areas of character and leadership. We need to find mentors willing and able to help us grow in each area, a professional whose ability you respect, or a professional coach.

Ideally, our leadership mentor should work in the same or a similar profession and be several steps ahead of us in his or her career.


When we see any incredibly gifted person, it’s tempting to believe that talent alone made him successful.

Wrong. Nobody does anything great alone. Leaders don’t succeed alone. There are no Lone Ranger leaders. Think about it: if you’re alone, you’re not leading anybody, are you?

A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Leaders have to deliver. There is no substitute for performance. But without a good team, they often don’t get the opportunity.

Their potential is determined by those closest to them. That is Maxwell’s Law of the Inner Circle. While most people create an inner circle of people, they are usually not strategic in doing so. We naturally surround ourselves with either people we like or people with whom we are comfortable. Few people give enough thought to how those closest to them impact their effectiveness or leadership potential.

One key to successful leadership is the ability to influence the people who influence others. How do we do that? By drawing influencers into our inner circle. The people in our inner circle must be adders or multipliers. They should have a proven track record as assets to the organisation.

The Law of the Inner Circle helps us progress. Once we’ve reached our capacity in time and energy, the only way we can increase our impact is through others. So how can we apply the Law of the Inner Circle?

Maxwell suggests we list the names of your inner circle members. Next to each name write what that person contributes. Look for holes and duplications. Then begin looking for people to fill the holes and consider how you might eliminate redundancies. And be prepared to challenge current members with potential to rise to your expectations.


According to Maxwell, the story of Easy Company, HBO’s “Band of Brothers” is a great study in leadership. When the leadership was good, it made the difference, not only in the way the soldiers performed but in the outcome of their battles and, ultimately, of the war.

Why did that make such a difference? Because people do what people see. That is the Law of the Picture. As with Commander Winters in Easy Company when the leaders show the way with the right actions, their followers copy them and succeed.

Great leaders always seem to embody two seemingly disparate qualities. They are both highly visionary and highly practical. Their vision enables them to see beyond the immediate.

The temptation for many leaders is to merely communicate about the vision. But that is not enough. A leader must also live the vision. The leader’s effective modelling of the vision makes the picture come alive. Good leaders are always conscious of the fact that they are setting an example and others are going to do what they do, for better or worse.

In general, the better the leaders’ actions, the better their people’s. Maxwell advises us as we strive to improve as an example to our followers to remember the following:

• Followers are always watching what we do: followers may doubt what their leaders say, but they usually believe what they do.

• It’s easier to teach what’s right then do what’s right: Followers want to see their leaders in action, doing their best, showing the way, and setting the example.

• We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others. If we work on improving ourselves first and make that our primary mission, then others are more likely to follow.

• The most valuable gift a leader can offer is being a good example: more than anything else, employees want leaders whose beliefs and actions line up. They want good models who lead from the front.

So how can we apply the Law of the Picture? Maxwell suggests we identify the three to five things we wish our people did better than they currently do now. List them. Now, we ask someone else to grade us against the same things.

If our self-scores are low, then we need to change our behaviour. If our scores are high, then we need to make our example more visible to our people.

So there it is, just 5 of John Maxwell’s 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. If you like what you’ve heard so far, go buy the book, there’s lots more to learn.