Mar 20, 2010

Book Review: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell has long been recognized as the book on leadership.

If I have one complaint about the book it is this: the principles found in the 21 Laws can be used by everyone, not just leaders. When we think about a "leadership book" we think about something that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company would read. Most people wouldn't bother to read the book and study the principles, because they do not see themselves as leaders. And, sadly, if that is their attitude, they never will be leaders.

Picture if you will a gas station attendant named Skippy. His is a position most in our society would view as a lowly one. Skippy is probably making minimum wage, manning the pumps and cleaning dead bugs off of people's windows. After pumping the gas, he swipes the customer's credit card at the pump and hands them their receipt. But, if they want to pay with cash or check (as you should be doing...), there's a problem. In order to process the cash, Skippy has to run inside to the cash register, ring up the sale and run back out to the waiting customer.

This only takes a moment for each transaction, but if you multiply that moment times hundreds of customers a day, significant time is lost. At peak periods, the line can stretch back out to the street and potential customers are forced to go down the road to the competitor. Skippy realizes there needs to be a change. The gas station is losing customers and sales, and his feet really hurt at the end of the day!

The solution seems simple to Skippy. If there was a work station located out by the pumps with a cash register in it, he could ring up the sale there. Simple. Easy. Quick. Everyone wins. So Skippy goes to his boss and asks him to put in the work station and register. The boss thinks for moment and says no.

The boss knows it will cost to get an electrical outlet wired in out by the pumps, and figures that Skippy is just being lazy, not wanting to come in to ring up the sale.

So, Skippy continues to do things as he always has. Sales are lost, his moral is low and his feet still really hurt.

Now Skippy would never feel the need to read a leadership book. He's just an attendant at a gas station. He's not a leader. The one time he's had a good idea, he got shot down by his boss. But, if Skippy would take the time to invest in himself, he would see that by employing some the of the 21 Laws, he could help his boss see the advantage of having the register.

Skippy could've started at Law 6, The Law of Solid Ground. Leadership is about trust. Did Skippy give his boss any reason to not trust him? Had his boss caught him avoiding hard work in the past? If there's no reason for the boss not to trust Skippy, it wouldn't hurt for Skippy to remind the boss that he's a hard worker who is willing to do whatever it takes. When people know they can trust you to do the right thing, they are more likely to hear what you have to say and follow.

Then there's Law 4, the Law of Navigation. Instead of just asking for the work station, Skippy could have helped his boss understand the problem and it's negative consequences. Then he could have explained the answer he had come up with and its benefits. The shortest distances between two points may be a straight line, but if you can't convince someone to follow you then you are going nowhere. When presenting an idea, we have to help our audience by navigating them down the path we took ourselves in the process of coming up with the idea. Be a good guide and don't leave your party stranded in the wilderness.

Just these two of the 21 Laws could have helped Skippy take his first step towards being more than just a gas station attendant. Just think what they could do for you...

Not a reader? John Maxwell has a series of podcasts in which he quickly summarizes each law. He's got such a great voice...

(Full disclosure: any awesomeness related to this post is due to the fact I was eating bacon during it's typing.)

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