I have read most of John Maxwell's previous books and reviewed several of them. In recent years, it seemed to me that he was recycling many of the same ideas, albeit finding new applications for them. In this volume, he offers his perspectives on "years of living in a leadership environment and learning through trial and error what it means to be a leader. The lessons I've learned are personal and often simple, yet they can have a profound impact. I have spent my entire life mining them. I think of each chapter as a gold nugget. In the hands of the right person, they can add tremendous value to their leadership." He hastens to point out that he is still learning, that many others have made significant contributions to this book, that what he learned can also be learned by nearly anyone else, that much of what he shares is the result of leadership mistakes he has made over a period of 40+ years, and that the value of the material will depend almost entirely on the extent to which she or he effectively applies the lessons learned.
In my opinion, this is Maxwell's most valuable book thus far because it combines the strengths of a vivid memory, a keen mind, a caring temperament, unadorned eloquence, and a sincere desire to help enrich the lives of others. He carefully organizes his material within 26 chapters. In each, he focuses on a "golden nugget" of insight. When concluding, he suggests that the danger of a book like this "is that it is easy to breeze through it, understanding the concepts that are contained in it but not actually [begin italics] doing [end italics] anything with them." In this context, I am reminded of Thomas Edison's suggestion that "vision without execution is hallucination."
I especially appreciate Maxwell's skilful use of two sections that provide "Application Exercises" to complete a self-audit on the key points in each chapter and a "Mentoring Moment" that suggests how to share with others (e.g. direct reports) the lessons learned so that they can also benefit from them. Hopefully, this will help them, in turn, to help others to benefit from "the leadership gold." He also clusters sequences of key points highlighted with bold face. I also appreciate Maxwell's strategic use of dozens of relevant aphorisms from various sources, located in the margins of each chapter. For example:
"Criticism is something you can avoid easily - by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing." -Aristotle
"The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers." - Max Depree
"The business schools reward difficult behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective." - Warren Buffett
"Nothing else distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time." - Peter Drucker
"The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them." - Zig Ziglar
"It's wonderful when the people believe in their leader. It's more wonderful when the leader believes in the people." - John Maxwell
"I am more afraid of an army of one hundred sheep led by a lion than an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep." - Count Talleyrand
"It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." - J.K. Rowling
To a much greater extent than in any of his more than 40 other books, Maxwell trains his reader to master the Socratic method (i.e. rigorous, relentless interrogation) by using that method when presenting the "leadership gold" he has mined throughout his life and career thus far. Extending the metaphor, he helps his reader to recognize the "fool's gold" that so many so-called leaders cherish: announce rather than inquire, intimidate rather than encourage, threaten rather than nourish, ridicule weakness rather than recognize strength, etc. These people tend to be what Jean Lipman-Blumen characterizes as "toxic leaders, destructive bosses, and corrupt politicians."
I highly recommend this book to anyone preparing for or who is only recently embarked on a career that could lead to leadership responsibilities. Also, to those who now have such responsibilities and recognize the need to increase their effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of those entrusted to their care. (One of the "toxic" leader's least attractive qualities among many is her or his absolute certainty that there is nothing more to learn.) Those such as I who have already read several of Maxwell's other books will find much that is familiar in this volume. In fact, there are no head-snapping revelations, nor does Maxwell make any such claim. I do not damn with faint praise when suggesting that he presents the "lessons learned from a lifetime of leading" with simplicity. On the contrary that's a compliment. Oliver Wendell Holmes once asserted, "I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give anything for simplicity on the other side of complexity." So would John Maxwell as he continues to learn, to teach, and to lead.