Lessons Learned from John Maxwell

“Success is not a destination thing, it’s a daily thing.” — John Maxwell

When I think of leaders and leadership, I think of John Maxwell.

He is a speaker and author, and leadership is his super skill. He leads by example but more importantly, he’s created an amazing knowledge base of leadership patterns and practices through his books and speaking engagements.

John Maxwell is a Leader of Leaders

Maxwell’s life’s work is writing and talking about leadership. His books take up multiple shelves at the bookstore. In fact, he’s written more than 50 books. The beauty of John Maxwell’s books is that he talks with you, not at at you, while at the same time challenging you to become a better version of yourself.

John Maxwell’s books equip you with a wide range of ideas and language to help you frame out and master key areas of your life including your attitude, relationships, leadership skills, and success. Along the way, he shares stories to bring the ideas to life and to share how he learned these lessons from the school of hard knocks and from multiple mentors.

From failing forward, to going on your success journey, to building a positive attitude, to winning with people, Maxwell covers a variety of personal development and leadership skills that you can use in work and life.

I hope you enjoy these lessons as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together …

25 Lessons Learned from John Maxwell

Here are 25 key lessons that capture and distill what I think are some of the most important insights from John Maxwell:

1. Leadership is influence.

Maxwell defines leadership as influence. It’s simple, effective, and precise. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell says, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time — either to increase your level of influence with others or to erase it.”

2. Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a process.

Leadership starts right where you are, from the inside out. Maxwell says, “Most people who want to get ahead do it backward. They think, ‘I’ll get a bigger job, then I’ll learn how to be a leader.’ But showing leadership skill is how you get the bigger job in the first place. Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a process.”

3. Just do it.

Forget motivation and just do it. Maxwell says, “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever.

o it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”

4. Your attitude towards life is still under construction.

According to Maxwell, your attitude towards life is constantly being shaped by the following factors: personality (who are you), environment (what’s around you), word expression (what you hear), adult acceptance/affirmation (what you feel), self-image(how you see yourself), exposure to new experiences, association with peers (who influences you), physical appearance (how you look to others), and marriage, family, and job (your security and status.)

Maxwell believes that your environment shapes you more than your personality or other inherited traits, and that your outward actions are a direct reflection of your self-image (we tend to act consistently with how we see ourselves.) In Attitude 101, Maxwell says, “Whether you are eleven, forty-two, or sixty-five, your attitude toward life is still under construction. It’s never too late for a person to change his attitude.”

5. Use principles to guide you.

Drive from durable principles instead of a bunch of rules and policies. According to Maxwell, “policies are many, principles are few, policies will change, principles never do.”

6. Leadership is a collection of skills.

Leadership is something you can learn and improve at. Maxwell says, “Although it is true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved.”

7. Build trust through competence, connection, and character.

You won’t follow somebody you don’t trust. As a leader, you have to build trust. Maxwell says, “There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection, and character.”

8. Success is a journey, not a destination.

Don’t think of success as a place. Think of it as a path. Success is a journey you can enjoy a day at a time. Take the right people with you on your success journey.

In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell identifies 10 things to look for when figuring out who to invest in or who to bring with you: 1) make things happen, 2) see and seize opportunities, 3) influence others, 4) add value, 5) attract other leaders, 6) equip others, 7) provide inspiring ideas, 8.) possess uncommonly positive attitudes, 9) live up to their commitments, and 10) have loyalty.

9. Success is a daily thing.

You can be successful one day or one decision at a time. Maxwell says, “If you can handle today correctly, tomorrow will take care of itself.”

10. Success is a decision at a time.

Maxwell says, “You don’t become a success when you get your diploma. You became a success when you decided to go to college. When you get your diploma you get the rewards of success.”

11. Seven Steps for success

In Success One Day at a Time, Maxwell shares 7 steps for success: 1) make a commitment to grow daily, 2) value the process more than events, 3) don’t wait for inspiration, 4) be willing to sacrifice pleasure for opportunity, 5) dream big, 6) plan your priorities, and 7) give up to go up.

12. Look for the landmarks of success.

The highest levels of success require a series of significant trade-offs. Maxwell identifies the following trade-offs that serve as landmarks: 1) achievement over affirmation, 2) excellence over acceptability, 3) personal growth over immediate pleasure, 4) future potential over financial gain, 5) a narrow focus over scattered interests, and significant over security.

13. Leadership is a visual thing.

The greatest leadership is by example. Maxwell says, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

14. Everybody needs encouragement.

No matter who you are, you still need encouragement. Maxwell says, “Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up.”

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

In Your Roadmap for Success, Maxwell says we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, “… success depends more on your attitude than it does on how important you think you are. Life should be fun. Even if your job is important and should be taken seriously, that doesn’t mean you should take yourself seriously. You’ll go farther in life and have a better time doing it if you maintain a sense of humor, especially when it comes to yourself.”

16. Use failure as a springboard.

Unsuccessful people avoid taking any risks to try and avoid failure. Successful people turn failure into feedback. They don’t dwell on mistakes or the negative consequences of failures. Instead, they focus on the rewards of success and on learning from their mistakes. In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell shares 10 ways to fail forward effectively:

  • 1) appreciate the value of failure
  • 2) don’t take failure personally
  • 3) let failure redirect you
  • 4) keep a sense of humor
  • 5) ask why, not who
  • 6.) make failure a learning experience
  • 7) don’t let failure keep you down
  • 8.) use failure as a gauge for growth
  • 9) see the big picture
  • 10) don’t give up.

17. Win with people.

Growing people is the key to growing your success. Maxwell says, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership” and “true success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next generation.”

In 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell says, “Great leaders don’t use people so they can win. They lead people so they can all lead together. If that is truly your motivation, you can become the kind of person that people want to follow — whether they are beside, above, or below you in the organizational hierarchy.”

Maxwell makes people development a priority. To avoid spreading himself too thin, he focuses 80 percent of his time developing only the top 20 percent of the people around him. Maxwell says, “your time is limited, and it makes more sense to help a few learn how to fly and reach their potential rather than show a big group only enough to whet their appetite.”

18. Let people fly with you for a while.

In Maxwell’s experience, the most effective way to mentor and ramp people up is the same way craftspeople have done for years: 1) do it, 2) I do it — and you watch, 3) you do it — and I watch, 4) you do it.

19. Ten principles for personal growth.

In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell shares 10 principles for improving your personal growth: 1) choose a life of growth, 2) start growing today, 3) be teachable, 4) focus on self-development, not self-fulfillment, 5) never stay satisfied with current accomplishments, 6) be a continual learner, 7) concentrate on a few major themes, 8.) develop a plan for growth, 9) pay the price, 10) find a way to apply what you learn.

20. Don’t make happiness your measure of success.

Happiness is fleeting while success is a stable path. In Your Road Map for Success, Maxwell writes, “The continual search for happiness is a primary reason that so many people are miserable. If you make happiness your goal, you are almost certainly destined to fail. You will be on a continual roller coaster, changing from successful to unsuccessful with every mood change. Life is uncertain, and emotions aren’t stable. Happiness simply cannot be relied upon as a measure of success.”

21. Achievement over affirmation.

Focus on achievement rather than worry about fitting in. Maxwell says, “Affirmation from others is fickle and fleeting. If you want to make an impact during your lifetime, you have to trade the praise you could receive from others for the things of value that you can accomplish. You can’t be ‘one of the boys’ and follow your destiny at the same time.”

22. Four kinds of people when it comes to relationships.

In Success 101, Maxwell says there are 4 kinds of people when it comes to relationships: 1) some people add something to life (we enjoy them), 2) some people subtract something from life (we tolerate them), 3) some people multiply something in life (we value them), 4) some people divide something in life (we avoid them.)

23. Lead yourself exceptionally well.

Leadership starts from the inside out. Lead yourself first. In Success 101, Maxwell identifies 7 areas that successful people must self-manage: 1) you emotions, 2) your time, 3) your priorities, 4) your energy, 5) your thinking, 6) your words, and 7) your personal life.

24. Treat people like a “10.”

Who gets your better effort? … a leader who treats you as a “2” or a leader who treats you as a “10”? Maxwell says that in his experience, people usually rise to the leader’s expectations — if they like the leader.

Treat people like a 10 if you want their best.

Maxwell says one way to do this is to focus on a skill or strength that somebody has that is a “10.” If you can’t find a “10” in terms of skill, then rather than write somebody off, look to a non-skill area where the person can grow into a “10”, independent of skill, such as attitude, desire, discipline, and perseverance.

25. Focus on production over politics.

In the 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell says there are two ways to get ahead: production and politics. Maxwell says avoid office politics and instead focus on production. Maxwell says that people who rely on production: depend on how they grow, focus on what they do, become better than they appear, provide substance, do what’s necessary, work to control their own destiny, grow into the next level, base decisions on principles.

On the other hand, people who rely on politics: depend on who they know, focus on what they say, appear better than they are, take shortcuts, do what’s popular, let others control their destiny, hope to be given the next level, base decisions on opinions.

Maxwell shares 6 ways to avoid politics: 1) avoid gossip, 2) stay away from petty arguments, 3) stand up for what’s right, not just for what’s popular, 4) look at all sides of the issue, 5) don’t protect your turf, and 6) say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Success Defined

Maxwell defines success in a very simple, but elegant way that’s empowering:

“Success is … knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.”

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

One of Maxwell’s greatest contributions to the leadership body of knowledge is the identification of 21 laws of leadership:

  1. THE LAW OF THE LID — Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness.
  2. THE LAW OF INFLUENCE — The True Measure of Leadership is Influence — Nothing More, Nothing Less.
  3. THE LAW OF PROCESS — Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day.
  4. THE LAW OF NAVIGATION — Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course..
  5. THE LAW OF ADDITION — Leaders Add Value by Serving Others.
  6. THE LAW OF SOLID GROUND — Truth is the Foundation of Leadership.
  7. THE LAW OF RESPECT — People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves.
  8. THE LAW OF INTUITION — Leaders Evaluate Everything with a Leadership Bias.
  9. THE LAW OF MAGNETISM — Who You Are is Who You Attract.
  10. THE LAW OF CONNECTION. — Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand.
  11. THE LAW OF THE INNER CIRCLE — A Leader’s Potential is Determined by Those Closest to Him.
  12. THE LAW OF EMPOWERMENT — Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others.
  13. THE LAW OF THE PICTURE — People Do What People See.
  14. THE LAW OF BUY-IN — People Buy into the Leader, Then the Vision.
  15. THE LAW OF VICTORY — Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win.
  16. THE LAW OF THE BIG MO — Momentum is a Leader’s Best Friend.
  17. THE LAW OF PRIORITIES — Leaders Understand that Activity is Not Necessarily Accomplishment.
  18. THE LAW OF SACRIFICE — A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up.
  19. THE LAW OF TIMING — When to Lead is As Important as What to Do and Where to Go.
  20. THE LAW OF EXPLOSIVE GROWTH — To Add Growth, Lead Followers — To Multiply, Lead Leaders.
  21. THE LAW OF LEGACY — A Leader’s Lasting Value is Measured by Succession.

If you’re familiar with the original 21 laws, you’ll note the following changes:


You can explore the 21 laws in depth in Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You .

The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader

Maxwell identified 21 qualities of a leader:

  1. CHARACTER: Be a Piece of the Rock
  2. CHARISMA: The First Impression Can Seal the Deal.
  3. COMMITMENT: It Separates Doers from Dreamers.
  4. COMMUNICATION: Without It You Travel Alone.
  5. COMPETENCE: If You Build It, They Will Come.
  6. COURAGE: One Person with Courage Is a Majority.
  7. DISCERNMENT: Put an End to Unsolved Mysteries.
  8. FOCUS: The Sharper It Is, the Sharper You Are.
  9. GENEROSITY: Your Candle Loses Nothing When It Lights Another.
  10. INITIATIVE: You Won’t Leave Home Without It.
  11. LISTENING: To Connect with Their Hearts, Use Your Ears.
  12. PASSION: Take This Life and Love It.
  13. POSITIVE ATTITUDE: If You Believe You Can, You Can.
  14. PROBLEM SOLVING: You Can’t Let Your Problems Be a Problem.
  15. RELATIONSHIPS: If You Get Along, They’ll Go Along.
  16. RESPONSIBILITY: If You Won’t Carry the Ball, You Can’t Lead the Team.
  17. SECURITY: Competence Never Compensates for Insecurity.
  18. SELF-DISCIPLINE: The First Person You Lead Is You.
  19. SERVANTHOOD: To Get Ahead, Put Others First.
  20. TEACHABILITY: To Keep Leading, Keep Learning.
  21. VISION: You Can Seize Only What You Can.

You can explore the 21 qualities in depth in Maxwell’s book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader : Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow.

Top 10 John Maxwell Quotes

Here are my top 10 favorite quotes by John Maxwell:

  1. “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
  2. “Do not take the agenda that someone else has mapped out for your life.”
  3. “Growth inside fuels growth outside. “
  4. “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”
  5. “Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”
  6. “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  7. “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
  8. “We all stand on the shoulders of the past generation.”
  9. “We cannot lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.”
  10. “You must manage your thought life daily and then you can manage your life.”

Quotes by John Maxwell

I’ve included some of my favorite John Maxwell quotes below. For simple scanning, I’ve organized them using the following categories: Choice and decisions, Communication, Daily Impact, Growth, Leaders and Leadership.

Category Quotes Choice and Decisions

  • “Everything begins with a decision. Then, we have to manage that decision for the rest of your life.”
  • “If you don’t change the direction you are going, then you’re likely to end up where you’re heading…”
  • “The law of the [Cub Scout] pack guides the boys to move in the direction of being helpful, friendly, courteous, trustworthy and promote qualities which parents and the community are looking for. The whole purpose of scouting is to help the children grow up making good decisions in life.”
  • “There are two paths people can take. They can either play now and pay later, or pay now and play later. Regardless of the choice, one thing is certain. Life will demand a payment.”
  • “We choose what attitudes we have right now. And it’s a continuing choice.”
  • “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”


  • “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
  • Educators take something simple and make it complicated. Communicators take something complicated and make it simple.
  • “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
  • “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
  • “Relational skills are the most important abilities in leadership.”
  • “Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up.”
  • “Talk to People, Not Above Them.”

Daily Impact

  • “As you begin changing your thinking, start immediately to change your behavior. Begin to act the part of the person you would like to become. Take action on your behavior. Too many people want to feel, then take action. This never works.”
  • “Doing the right thing daily, compounds over time.”
  • “Doing the wrong thing daily, compounds over time.”
  • “It is truly one day at a time.”
  • “Stay focused instead of getting offended or off track by others.”
  • “The law of process says — leaders develop daily, not in a day.”
  • “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. — John C. Maxwell
  • “Today matters.”
  • “What is the main event today? What do you want me to focus on today?”
  • “What you are going to be tomorrow, you are becoming today.”
  • “Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.”


  • “A difficult time can be more readily endured if we retain the conviction that our existence holds a purpose, a cause to pursue, a person to love, a goal to achieve.
  • “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”
  • “Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent.”
  • “If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.”
  • “Image is what people think we are; integrity is what we really are.”
  • “The depth of your mythology is the extent of your effectiveness.”
  • “Life doesn’t do anything to you. It only reveals your spirit.”
  • “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”
  • “The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”
  • “You must do right before you feel good.”

Leaders and Leadership

  • “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”
  • “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.”
  • “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
  • “A leader who produces other leaders multiples their influences.”
  • “Believing in people before they have proved themselves is the key to motivating people to reach their potential.”
  • “Encourage the many; mentor the few.”
  • “Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone.”
  • “Leadership is developed daily, not in a day.”
  • “Leadership is influence.”
  • “Leaders must live by higher standards than their followers.”
  • “Most People have a desire to look for the exception instead of the desire to become exceptional. “
  • “Not everyone will become a great leader, but everyone can become a better leader.”
  • “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”
  • “The first step to leadership is servant hood.”
  • “The law of process says leaders develop daily, not in a day.”
  • “The more credible you are, the more confidence people place in you, thereby allowing you the privilege of influencing their lives.”
  • “There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection, and character.”
  • “What is the main event today? What do you want me to focus on today?”
  • “You can’t become a leader in one conference.”


  • “Happiness simply cannot be relied upon as a measure of success.”
  • “If you start today to do the right thing, you are already a success even if it doesn’t show yet.”
  • “Once our minds are ‘tattooed’ with negative thinking, our chances for long-term success diminish.”
  • “Successful leaders have the courage to take action while others hesitate.”
  • “Successful people are willing to do things unsuccessful people will not do.”
  • “To collaborative team members, completing one another is more important than competing with one another.”
  • “True success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next generation.”
  • “We all stand on the shoulders of the past generation”
  • “You don’t become a success when you get your diploma, you became a success when you decided to go to college when you get your diploma you get the rewards of success.”
  • “You have to sow excellent seeds to have an excellent life. You must start with sowing excellent thoughts.”

Books by John Maxwell

John Maxwell has so many books that I organized them into categories. I organized them by the following categories: 101 Series, Power Series, Workbooks, Attitude, Leadership, Relationships, and Success.

Category Books 101 Series

  • Attitude 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know (101 Series)
  • Equipping 101 (Maxwell, John C.)
  • Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know (101 Series)
  • Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know
  • Mentoring 101
  • Relationships 101 (Maxwell, John C.)
  • Self-Improvement 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know (101 (Thomas Nelson))
  • Success 101
  • Teamwork 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know (101 (Thomas Nelson))

Power Series

  • The Power of Attitude
  • The Power Of Influence (Power Series)
  • The Power of Leadership
  • The Power of Thinking Big


  • Developing the Leader Within You Workbook
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Workbook: Revised & Updated
  • The 360 Degree Leader Workbook: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization


  • Be All You Can Be: A Challenge to Stretch Your God-Given Potential
  • Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success
  • How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
  • Living At The Next Level Insight For Reaching Your Dreams
  • The Difference Maker: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset
  • The Winning Attitude Your Key To Personal Success
  • Think on These Things: Meditations for Leaders: 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life andWork
  • Your Bridge to a Better Future


  • Developing the Leader Within You
  • Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential
  • Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading
  • Leadership Promises for Every Day
  • Leading From The Lockers — Guided Journal
  • Maxwell Leadership Bible, Revised and Updated
  • Running with the Giants: What the Old Testament Heroes Want You to Know About Life and Leadership
  • The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player: Becoming the Kind of Person Every Team Wants
  • The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team
  • The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader : Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You
  • The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day: Revitalize Your Spirit and Empower Your Leadership
  • The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization
  • The Right to Lead: Learning Leadership Through Character and Courage


  • 25 Ways to Win with People: How to Make Others Feel Like a Million Bucks
  • Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships
  • Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others
  • Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently
  • Partners In Prayer
  • Teamwork Makes The Dreamwork
  • Treasure of a Friend Journal
  • Winning with People: Discover the People Principles that Work for You Every Time


  • Dare to Dream . . . Then Do It: What Successful People Know and Do
  • My Dream Map
  • Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions that Will Help You See It and Seize It
  • Success: One Day At A Time
  • Talent Is Never Enough: Discover the Choices That Will Take You Beyond Your Talent
  • The Choice is Yours
  • The Journey from Success to Significance (Maxwell, John C.)
  • The Maxwell Daily Reader: 365 Days of Insight to Develop the Leader Within You and Influence Those Around You
  • There’s No Such Thing as “Business” Ethics: There’s Only One Rule for Making Decisions
  • Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrows Success (Maxwell, John C.)
  • Your Road Map for Success: You Can Get There from Here

Catalog of John Maxwell’s Resources

Maxwell has a wide range of resources, from blog posts to videos. For simple scanning, I organized Maxwell’s collection of resources into the following buckets: Key Links, Videos, and Popular Posts.

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Originally published at sourcesofinsight.com.

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