[note: This was originally published at Why Read The Manual last year on August 28th – that site’s broken, so I’ve transposed this review here for preservation, because I still believe much of the information in this book is relevant. The text is dated – it’s eight months old, after all – but the review is still quality. I think. What do you think?]
When I was promoted last year and given my own store location to manage, I was given two books for my birthday (which happened to be two weeks after the promotion). One of them was John C. Maxwell‘s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership: Follow Them And People Will Follow You“. A year later, no longer with that position, I’m working on building my momentum and presense in the company, in order to get moved up again, so I figured it was time to finish reading the book.
For the sake of clarity, I failed in my position leading a store. I was unprepared to make the jump from being a friend-who-gave-orders to the guy that people go to when they have trouble, and expect to provide direction. I can’t in honesty say that, had I finished reading this book the week I took over the location I’d be there running it still, but having read the remainder of the book, I can with certainty say that the guidance Maxwell provides would have been of measurable benefit.
What is the message?
At its core this book delivers a simple lesson; if you’re going to be a leader, you’ve got to be on a mission. You have to be prepared not to seek privilege, but to seek challenge, to overcome adversity, and to be willing to sacrifice. The best leaders are there to support those they lead in service to a common goal. The worst are there to grab everything they can for themselves from salary to title to recognition. These messages are at once simple and complex, but this is where 21 Laws shines – Maxwell effectively breaks down the necessities for good leadership just far enough to address the complexity of the idea of leadership, and yet remains direct enough in the explanation and examples of each law to make the ideas transmittable to just about everyone.
One of the wonderful devices John Maxwell uses in this book are the stories. Tales of Lance Armstrong building a team around him because even though he’s the hero, heroes need support – this, from the Law of the Inner Circle. There are also stories about Steve Jobs in the Law of Intuition and, of course, the parable of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Law of Sacrifice. Each of these simple, memorable stories transmits the point Maxwell is shooting at very well, and does so in a manner that most people can idenfity with.
So for all its uses, who could make the best use of this book?
Well, for one, myself. I work retail. I deal with staff who I have no authority over, and customers who believe I’m an idiot drone out to steal their money. The approach this book teaches adds value to the way I work, and allows me to approach anyone on an even footing, and ensure that, assuming I follow all of these directions, even if I can’t help a customer with something directly, I’ll be able to provide some kind of value – any kind of value – and make their day better.
Anyone who has ever failed in a leadership position will find this book, and a number of others I’ll list at the end of this review, useful if they’re coming at reading it from a self-improvement perspective. When you have experience to base your questions on, the answering becomes easier. Those looking for a quick fix need not read; this book presents a process that must last the remainder of your leading days if you want it to work for you.
Managers, bosses, bossy people and anyone else now in, or looking for a leadership position absolutely must read this one. If you’re worried about your own leadership abilities before reading something like this, keep the following in mind: bad leaders do not make effort to study leadership! If anyone has ever told you you suck at your job being a leader, go out and read 21 Laws, or the QBQ (which I’ll be reviewing later) or anything by Seth Godin.
Some of this stuff can get fairly sublime, however, and of the books I’ve read so far, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is one of the most down-to-earth, straightforward books about how to influence people in positive ways. If you’re at all interested in either becoming a good leader, or recognising the differences between leadership styles for good or for bad, I’d say this is a winner.
Some Light Weekend Reading: