The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership shows you that leadership is learned not inherited and that you can become a leader too, if you internalize some of the universal principles at play in any leader-follower-relationship.

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John C. Maxwell is a leadership legend. Originally coming from a church background, he’s become a leadership expert thanks to decades of leading various churches throughout the US, working as a pastor and teacher, and eventually transitioned into talking about leadership for executives and companies.

Today he’s leading a company that’s focused on providing leadership training and education to Fortune 500 companies and businesses. Starting in 1979, he’s also published dozens of books on the topic, some of which have become bestsellers, and having sold over 20 million copies in total.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership is his most popular one and it shares the very core principles at play in leader-follower relationships Maxwell has taken note of throughout his life.

Here are my top 3:

  1. Make sure you stand on solid ground and uphold the rules you want to inspire others to keep.
  2. Keep earning the respect of your followers.
  3. It’s okay to be a bad loser – it keeps you focused on winning.

No matter in what capacity you want to lead people, these rules are timeless, so let’s take a real good look at them!

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Lesson 1: A leader must always stand on solid ground. Stick to the rules you represent.

The number one element that empowers a leader to be successful (and lead the way in the first place) is trust. Even a tourist guide needs his group to trust him, because otherwise, why would they bother walking behind him for two hours?

Maxwell calls this the Law of Solid Ground. Without a good foundation of trust, it’ll be hard for a leader to do her work.

According to Maxwell, trust is built mainly on three things:

  1. Honesty.
  2. Fairness.
  3. Good judgement.

They’re all related. If you can’t judge a situation well, you’ll likely not treat everyone fairly, which in turn makes you seem dishonest. However, fairness is the easiest one to start with and focus on, because it simply means you’ll play by the same rules as everyone else.

It’s easy to remain fair, because it’s our default mode as human beings. What makes it hard is that it’s also both tempting and easy to take a shortcut here and there and quickly “adapt the rules” to a specific situation – but this never works out well.

When leaders think they’re above the rules, trouble follows – take Richard Nixon, for example, who thought legal rules wouldn’t apply to him and deemed an illegal break-in as an okay thing to set up.

Lesson 2: Your followers must respect you, but that respect has to be earned on a constant basis.

Trust gets people to put what you say into action. But to do that, they have to listen to you first, and that’s where respect comes in. A leader is by definition at the front of the group, and therefore, ahead of everyone else. This is the exact thing followers want from a leader. Having someone who’s more skilled, more determined and more courageous than they are go first and say: “It’ll be okay, follow me.”

Initially, followers will be drawn to you because of something you did that they respect. However, it’s important that you keep earning this respect over time, and one way to do that is to loyally devote yourself to their well-being.

For example, while Gandhi never employed violence as a means of demonstrating, he continued to risk being hurt himself every time he led another protest, which got him a lot of respect.

Being so loyal to your followers that you’re willing to get hurt for them is rare, and that’s what makes the Law of Respect such a powerful rule of leadership.

Lesson 3: Hating losing is a good thing if you’re a leader – it keeps you focused on winning.

When you lose at Monopoly, does that make you mad? Does it make you want to just take the board and throw it out the window? Well, today’s probably the first day someone will tell you that’s a good thing. According to Maxwell’s Law of Victory, giving up and losing are not valid options for a true leader.

Take Winston Churchill, for example.

He failed in school, failed in politics (he was defeated in every election except for the one that made him Prime Minister at age 62), failed in war (losing most of the battles he led his troops into in WWI and WWII), yet we remember Churchill as one of the best leaders in history.

That’s because he let none of these losses stop him from continuing to find new ways to win, which eventually led him to partner with the US and win WWII.

His, the ideal attitude of a leader, is summed up best in one of his most famous quotes:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill

The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership Review

The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership is a leadership classic. It’s a great read for independent artists and solo entrepreneurs building a tribe, startup founders creating a company and, of course, newly minted managers. It makes you think about how you interact with others and what kind of person you want to be, which is always worth ruminating about.

Who would I recommend The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership summary to?

The 28 year old young professional who just got his first position where she’s responsible for leading a team, the 45 year old manager, who gets his coffee from his secretary, and anyone who hates losing at board games.

Last Updated on August 5, 2022

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!