Leadership Gold: Lessons I've Learned from a Lifetime of Leading

Leadership Gold: Lessons I've Learned from a Lifetime of Leading

by John C Maxwell


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Smart leaders learn from their own mistakes. Smarter ones learn from others’ mistakes—and successes.

John C. Maxwell wants to help you become the smartest leader you can be by sharing Leadership Gold with you. After nearly forty years of leading, Maxwell has mined the gold so you don’t have to. Each gold nugget is contained in one of twenty- six chapters designed to be a six-month mentorship from the international leadership expert. Each chapter contains detailed application exercises and a “Mentoring Moment” for leaders who desire to mentor others using the book.

Gaining leadership insight is a lot like mining for gold. You don’t set out to look for the dirt. You look for the nuggets. You’ll find them here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785214113
Publisher: HarperCollins Leadership
Publication date: 03/30/2008
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 143,909
Product dimensions: 9.50(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 31 million books in fifty languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association® and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from every country of the world. A recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, as well as the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He can be followed at Twitter.com/JohnCMaxwell. For more information about him visit JohnMaxwell.com.

Read an Excerpt

Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Leading

By John C. Maxwell
Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2008 John C. Maxwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7852-1411-3

Chapter One
If It's Lonely at the Top, You're Not Doing Something Right

My father's generation believed that leaders should never get too close to the people they lead. "Keep a distance" was a phrase I often heard. Good leaders were supposed to be a little above and apart from those they led. As a result, when I began my leadership journey, I made sure to keep some distance between me and my people. I tried to be close enough to lead them, but far enough away to not be influenced by them.

This balancing act immediately created a lot of inner conflict for me. Honestly, I liked being close to the people I led. Plus, I felt that one of my strengths was my ability to connect with people. Both of these factors caused me to fight the instruction I had received to keep a distance. And sure enough, within a few months of accepting my first leadership position, my wife, Margaret, and I began developing close friendships. We were enjoying our work and the people in the organization.

Like many leaders early in their career, I knew that I would not stay in this first job forever. It was a good experience, but I was soon ready for bigger challenges. After three years, I resigned to accept a position in Lancaster, Ohio. I'll never forget the response of most people when they realized we were leaving: "How could you do this after all we have done together?" Many people took my departure personally. I could see they felt hurt. That really bothered me. Instantly, the words of older leaders rang in my ears: "Don't get too close to your people." As I left that assignment to take my next leadership position, I promised myself to keep people from getting too close to me.

This Time It's Personal

In my second position, for the first time in my leadership journey, I could employ staff to help me. One young man showed great promise, so I hired him and began pouring my life into him. I soon discovered that training and developing people was both a strength and a joy.

This staff member and I did everything together. One of the best ways to train others is to let them accompany you to observe what you do, give some training, and then let them make an attempt at doing it. That's what we did. It was my first experience in mentoring.

I thought everything was going great. Then one day I found out that he had taken some sensitive information I had shared with him and violated my confidence by telling others about it. It not only hurt me as a leader, but it also hurt me personally. I felt betrayed. Needless to say, I let him go. And once again, the words of more experienced leaders rang in my ears: "Don't get too close to your people."

This time I had learned my lesson. I once again determined to keep space between me and everyone around me. I would hire staff to do their jobs. And I would do my job. And we would only get together at the annual Christmas party!

For six months I managed to maintain this professional separation. But then one day I realized that keeping everyone at a distance was a double-edged sword. The good news was that if I kept people at a distance, nobody would ever hurt me. But the bad news was that no one would ever be able to help me either. So at age twenty-five, I made a decision: As a leader, I would "walk slowly through the crowd." I would take the time-and the risk-of getting close to people and letting them get close to me. I would vow to love people before trying to lead them. This choice would at times make me vulnerable. I would get hurt. Yet the close relationships would allow me to help them as well as be helped by them. That decision has changed my life and my leadership.

Loneliness Is Not a Leadership Issue

There's a cartoon in which an executive is shown sitting forlornly behind a huge desk. Standing meekly on the other side of the desk is a man dressed in work clothes, who says, "If it's any comfort to you, it's lonely at the bottom too." Being at the top doesn't mean you have to be lonely. Neither does being at the bottom. I've met lonely people at the bottom, on the top, and in the middle. I now realize that loneliness is not a positional issue; it is a personality issue.

To many people, the leader's image is that of an individual standing alone at the top of the mountain, looking down on his people. He's separated, isolated, and lonely. Thus the saying "It's lonely at the top." But I would argue that the phrase was never made by a great leader. If you are leading others and you're lonely, then you're not doing it right. Think about it. If you're all alone, that means nobody is following you. And if nobody is following you, you're not really leading!

What kind of a leader would leave everyone behind and take the journey alone? A selfish one. Taking people to the top is what good leaders do. Lifting people to a new level is a requirement for effective leadership. That's hard to do if you get too far from your people-because you can no longer sense their needs, know their dreams, or feel their heartbeat. Besides, if things aren't getting better for people as a result of their leader's efforts, then they need a different leader.

Truths About the Top

Because this leadership issue has been so personal to me, I've given it a lot of thought over the years. Here are some things you need to know:

No One Ever Got to the Top Alone

Few leaders are successful unless a lot of people want them to be. No leaders are successful without a few people helping them. Sadly, as soon as some leaders arrive at the top, they spend their time trying to push others off the top. They play king of the hill because of their insecurity or competitiveness. That may work for a time, but it usually won't last long. When your goal is to knock others down, you spend too much of your time and energy watching out for people who would do the same to you. Instead, why not give others a hand up and ask them to join you?

Making It to the Top Is Essential to Taking Others to the Top

There are a lot of people in the world who are willing to give advice on things they've never experienced. They are like bad travel agents: they sell you an expensive ticket and say, "I hope you enjoy the trip." Then you never see them again. In contrast, good leaders are like tour guides. They know the territory because they've made the trip before, and they do what they can to make the trip enjoyable and successful for everybody.

A leader's credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping others achieve personal success. To gain credibility, you must consistently demonstrate three things:

1. Initiative: You have to get up to go up. 2. Sacrifice: You have to give up to go up. 3. Maturity: You have to grow up to go up.

If you show the way, people will want to follow you. The higher you go, the greater the number of people who will be willing to travel with you.

Taking People to the Top Is More Fulfilling Than Arriving Alone

A few years ago I had the privilege of speaking on the same stage as Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Mount Everest. During lunch I asked him what had given him the most fulfillment as a mountain climber. His answer surprised me.

"I have helped more people get to the top of Mount Everest than any other person," he replied. "Taking people to the top who could never get there without my assistance is my greatest accomplishment."

Evidently this is a common way of thinking for great mountain guides. Years ago I saw an interview with a guide on 60 Minutes. People had died while attempting to climb Mount Everest, and a surviving guide was asked, "Would the guides have died if they were not taking others with them to the top?"

"No," he answered, "but the purpose of the guide is to take people to the top."

Then the interviewer asked, "Why do mountain climbers risk their lives to climb mountains?"

The guide responded, "It is obvious that you have never been to the top of the mountain."

I remember thinking to myself that mountain guides and leaders have a lot in common. There is a big difference between a boss and a leader. A boss says, "Go." A leader says, "Let's go." The purpose of leadership is to take others to the top. And when you take others who might not make it to the top otherwise, there's no other feeling like it in the world. To those who have never had the experience, you can't explain it. To those who have, you don't need to.

Much of the Time Leaders Are Not at the Top

Leaders rarely remain stationary. They are constantly on the move. Sometimes they are going down the mountain to find new potential leaders. At other times they are trying to make the climb with a group of people. The best ones spend much of their time serving other leaders and lifting them up.

Jules Ormont said, "A great leader never sets himself above his followers except in carrying responsibilities." Good leaders who remain connected with their people stoop-that's the only way to reach down and pull others up. If you want to be the best leader you can be, don't allow insecurity, pettiness, or jealousy to keep you from reaching out to others.

If you find yourself too far from your people-either by accident or by design-then you need to change. True, there will be risks. You may hurt others or be hurt yourself. But if you want to be the most effective leader you can be, there is no viable alternative. Here's how to get started:

1. Avoid Positional Thinking

Leadership is relational as much as it is positional. An individual who takes a relational approach to leadership will never be lonely. The time spent in building relationships creates friendships with others. Positional leaders, on the other hand, are often lonely. Every time they use their title and permission to "persuade" their people to do something, they create distance between themselves and others. They are essentially saying, "I'm up here; you're down there. So do what I say." That makes people feel small, alienates them, and drives a wedge between them and the leader. Good leaders don't belittle people-they enlarge them.

Every year I invest time teaching leadership internationally. Positional leadership is a way of life in many developing countries. Leaders gather and protect power. They alone are allowed to be on top, and everyone else is expected to follow. Sadly, this practice keeps potential leaders from developing and creates loneliness for the one who leads.

If you are in a leadership position, do not rely on your title to convince people to follow you. Build relationships. Win people over. Do that and you will never be a lonely leader.

2. Realize the Downsides of Success and Failure

Success can be dangerous-and so can failure. Anytime you think of yourself as "a success," you start to separate yourself from others you view as less successful. You start to think, I don't need to see them, and you withdraw. Ironically, failure also leads to withdrawal, but for other reasons. If you think of yourself as "a failure," you avoid others, thinking, I don't want to see them. Both extremes in thinking can create an unhealthy separation from others.

3. Understand That You Are in the People Business

The best leaders know that leading people requires loving them! I've never met a good leader who didn't care about people. Ineffective leaders have the wrong attitude, saying, "I love mankind. It's the people I can't stand." But good leaders understand that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. You must like people or you will never add value to them. And if you become indifferent to people, you may be only a few steps away from manipulating them. No leader should ever do that.

4. Buy Into the Law of Significance

The Law of Significance in The 17 Indispensible Laws of Teamwork states, "One is too small a number to achieve greatness." No accomplishment of real value has ever been achieved by a human being working alone. I challenge you to think of one. (I've made this challenge at conferences for years and no one has succeeded in identifying one yet!) Honestly, if on your own you can fulfill the vision you have for your life and work, then you're aiming too low. Occasionally a person will introduce himself to me by saying, "I am a self-made man." I am often tempted to reply, "I'm so sorry. If you've made everything yourself, you haven't made much."

In my organizations I don't have employees; I have teammates. Yes, I do pay people and offer them benefits. But people don't work for me. They work with me. We are working together to fulfill the vision. Without them, I cannot succeed. Without me, they cannot succeed. We're a team. We reach our goals together. We need each other. If we didn't, then one of us is in the wrong place. * * *

People working together for a common vision can be an incredible experience. Years ago when operatic tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti were performing together, a reporter tried to find out if there was a competitive spirit among them.

Each singer was a superstar, and the reporter was hoping to uncover a rivalry between them. Domingo dismissed it. "You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music," he said. "You can't be rivals when you're together making music."

For many years now I have tried to maintain that kind of attitude toward the people I work with. Our focus is on what we are trying to accomplish together, not on hierarchies or professional distance or the preservation of power. I've come a long way from where I started in my leadership journey. In the beginning my attitude was that it was lonely at the top. But it has changed, following a progression that looks something like this:

"It's lonely at the top," to "If it's lonely at the top, I must be doing something wrong," to "Come up to the top and join me," to "Let's go to the top together," to "It's not lonely at the top."

Nowadays I never "climb the mountain" alone. My job is to make sure the team makes it to the top together. Some of the people I invite to go along pass me and climb higher than I do. That doesn't bother me. If I know I was able to give them a hand and pull them up along the way, then I feel very fulfilled. Sometimes they return the favor and pull me up to their level. I'm grateful for that too.

If you're a leader and you feel isolated, then you're not doing something right. Loneliness on the part of a leader is a choice. I choose to take the journey with people. I hope you do too.

If It's Lonely at the Top, You're Not Doing Something Right


1. Are you better at the science or art of leadership? Some leaders are better at the technical side of leading: strategy, planning, finances, etc. Others are better at the people part: connecting, communicating, casting vision, motivating, etc. Which is your strength?

If you are more of a technical person, never lose sight of the fact that leadership is a people business. Take steps to improve your people skills. Try walking slowly through the halls so that you can talk to people and get to know them better. Read books or take courses. Ask a friend who is good with people to give you some tips. Seek counseling. Do whatever it takes to improve.

2. Why do you want to be at the top? Most people have a natural desire to improve their lives. For many, that means climbing the career ladder so that they can gain a higher position. If your only motivation for leading is career advancement and professional improvement, you are in danger of becoming the kind of positional leader who plays king of the hill with colleagues and employees. Spend some time soul searching to discover how your leadership can and should benefit others.

3. How big is your dream? What is your dream? What would you love to accomplish in your life and career? If it's something you can accomplish alone, you are missing your leadership potential. Anything worth doing is worth doing with others. Dream big. What can you imagine accomplishing that would require more than you can do on your own? What kinds of teammates would you need to accomplish it? How might the trip benefit them as well as you or the organization? Broaden your thinking and you will be more likely to think of climbing the summit with a team.


Excerpted from LEADERSHIP GOLD by John C. Maxwell Copyright © 2008 by John C. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     v
Searching for Gold     vii
If It's Lonely at the Top, You're Not Doing Something Right     1
The Toughest Person to Lead Is Always Yourself     11
Defining Moments Define Your Leadership     20
When You Get Kicked in the Rear, You Know You're out in Front     32
Never Work a Day in Your Life     41
The Best Leaders Are Listeners     49
Get in the Zone and Stay There     57
A Leader's First Responsibility Is to Define Reality     66
To See How the Leader Is Doing, Look at the People     74
Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School     85
Keep Your Mind on the Main Thing     96
Your Biggest Mistake Is Not Asking What Mistake You're Making     105
Don't Manage Your Time-Manage Your Life     114
Keep Learning to Keep Leading     124
Leaders Distinguish Themselves During Tough Times     134
People Quit People, Not Companies     143
Experience Is Not the Best Teacher     154
The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting     164
Be a Connector, Not Just a Climber     174
The Choices You Make, Make You     184
Influence Should Be Loaned but Never Given     193
For Everything You Gain, You Give Up Something     203
Those Who Start the Journey with You Seldom Finish with You     213
Few Leaders Are Successful Unless a Lot of People Want Them to Be     223
You Only Get Answers to the Questions You Ask     232
People Will Summarize Your Life in One Sentence-Pick It Now     244
Conclusion     253
Notes     255

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Leadership Gold: Lessons I've Learned from a Lifetime of Leading 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is amazing how God places people in our lives to impact the events that surround us. I had the priviledge to hear Dr. Maxwell teach at a conference several months ago and the topic was Leadership Gold. I have since read the book which is truly an important message for leaders. He caused me to rethink about where reality is in my own set of circumstances. His style of teaching and his own personal experiences helped me grasp the message and begin to refocus. By first defining reality we can develop a realistic starting point to lead from.
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RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
After years of writing and lecturing about leadership, and after decades of practicing it, John C. Maxwell created this book as a reflection on all he has learned about guiding others. He shares leadership lessons he experienced firsthand as well as those culled from other experts. His 26 "gold nuggets" address various aspects of leadership, such as developing relationships, nurturing tomorrow's leaders, and recognizing and responding to "defining moments." At the end of each chapter, Maxwell offers "Application Exercises" to show readers how to put the lessons to practical use, and "Mentoring Moments" to help them teach the principles to others. As in most of Maxwell's books, his strength lies not in his originality but in his ability to distill offerings from many different sources into pithy quotes and simple, easy-to-learn portions. Maxwell readers will encounter much familiar wisdom but, nonetheless, getAbstract finds that this is a warm and helpful text for emerging and current leaders in every field.
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BelindaEllsworth More than 1 year ago
I recently read John C. Maxwell's book Leadership Gold: Lessons I've Learned from a Lifetime of Leading and can recommend it as a good reference piece for lessons in leadership. It's one that you can go to time and time again to look for some help with different aspects of leadership. It has some great nuggets of wisdom that can assist you when you come up against challenges, or you want to get a different perspective. A lot of his examples are a little dated and may be difficult for a younger reader to relate to, and sometimes he doesn't really provide adequate background for his examples, which can make it challenging to make connections to your own business. For instance, he refers to Winston Churchill as one of the greatest leaders and then references the "many challenges he faced" as part of one of the book's lessons. However, many of us would be hard-pressed to know exactly what challenges Maxwell means. This may not be a beach read, or even a leadership book that you'd become immersed in and finish quickly. What you'll find is that it's a great tool for finding pertinent information on a particular topic. You could just flip to a section and read a lesson. In fact, some valuable aspects of the book are the "application exercises" he includes at the end of each lesson. These exercises really help reinforce the message and give you specific action steps you can use toward applying that lesson and really learning it and benefiting from it. So often we read great tips and never implement them. With Maxwell's lesson and exercise structure you can avoid that trap and come away from each visit to the book with real benefits for your business.
StanR More than 1 year ago
Leadership Gold is another outstanding production by John Maxwell. Those of us who are familiar with John's past works know very well that he assembles material into a work that's captivating, compelling, and just plain GREAT! You laugh, you learn, and then you go out and lead better than before. The 26 topics in Leadership Gold all have relevance to just about anyone, and each is presented in the typical 'Maxwell' way, including John's own personal wisdom and wit, clips and quotes from numerous leadership pros who John acknowledges. I have made presentations that referred to John's material and they consistently go over as 'winners'!. I can't wait for John's next book!