The Leadership Handbook

"Leadership is, above all, courageous."

- The Leadership Handbook, page xi

If you are reading this, you likely are a great leader. It is the great leaders who continually learn and grow to be even better leaders. They are never done. John C. Maxwell is a shining example. He wasn’t done after writing one book, he’s written over 30 books and sold more than 24 million copies. Inc magazine named him the most popular leadership expert in the world in 2014. In The Leadership Handbook he shares 26 critical lessons every leader needs.

Because he is focused on creating great leaders, not just sharing what he knows, he includes, at the end of each lesson, application exercises and tips to mentor others to apply the lesson. The book is best absorbed slowly, taking the time to think and act on each lesson.

I share just three of my favorite lessons below. Check out the remaining 23 valuable lessons for yourself in his book. I wonder what would be the most important lesson that could make the world of difference for you?

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Defining success and how it connects to your strength

"People’s purpose in life is always connected to their giftedness."
- The Leadership Handbook, page 59

What is your definition of success? I listen to a podcast called “The School of Greatness” and at the end of every interview (with incredibly accomplished people) Lewis Howes asks “What is your definition of greatness?” I am continually intrigued by the answers. No one answers it the same way. One might think there would be a common definition but there isn’t. Yet, there are interesting commonalities.

Maxwell summarizes them very well in his definition of success. He believes success is:

  • Knowing your purpose in life
  • Growing to your maximum potential
  • Sowing seeds that benefit others

He adds a qualifier. If you do all three you will be successful but none are possible unless you find and stay in your strength zone. Improvement, he says, is always related to your natural ability. So if you feel like you keep trying to put a square peg into a round hole, stop.

Your natural ability, or your strength, has the greatest opportunity for improvement. It will not come from shoring your weaknesses. Improving your weaknesses may allow you to claw your way to mediocrity. But improving your strengths will allow you to ascend to greatness!

What is your strength? If we were to sit down together, could you describe it to me? Think about what other people come to you for and what they say about you. Now, assess to what degree you are using that strength in your present career and how you can use it more. Do this same exercise with your people. How can you help them use their strengths more?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

What is the #1 thing a leader needs to succeed?

"Passion is a real difference-maker. It separates the extraordinary from the ordinary."
- The Leadership Handbook, page 45

Maxwell says that in all his years observing people, he has never met someone who reached his/her potential but didn’t have passion.

He quotes a study by Srully Blotnik from the book Making a Life, Making A Living in which 1,500 business school graduates were followed for twenty years from 1960 to 1980. They were placed into two categories:

A) 83% of people said they wanted to make money first so they could do what they really wanted to do later.
B) 17% pursued their true interests first, with the belief that money would eventually follow.

Fast-forward twenty years and there are 101 millionaires in the group. To which group did they belong? As I was reading, I assumed they would be disproportionately distributed but I didn’t guess it would be as drastic as it was. 100 came from group B with only 1 from group A!

Maxwell’s explanation is that when people pursue what they are truly passionate about, it fills them with energy and desire.

This study reinforces what I teach to leaders in the pharmaceutical industry about the importance of empowering their people with the desire to serve the patient. Only when people pursue their passion (in pharma it could be related to the difference they can make for the patient), will they achieve their full potential. When we take our eyes off the prescription, and onto the patient, we will actually achieve our best outcomes.

Which path did you take? Which path will you continue to follow now that you know the results of the study? For me, it reinforced my decision to pursue my passion. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. The energy I feel to make a difference in pharma drives my ability to serve. Sometimes I think “I can’t believe I got paid for today! I loved speaking to this audience and feel energized and exuberant!”

What makes you feel that way? What is your passion? If you aren’t sure, Maxwell suggests that you start by brainstorming a list of things you love doing so much that you would do them for free. What are you doing when time stands still? You look up and an hour has passed and you were fully absorbed?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The top 5 factors of excellence in an organization? People, people, people, people and people

"People will become their best only if they are changing. And they are unlikely to change unless an effective leader is present to help facilitate the process."
- The Leadership Handbook, page 79

Yes, it is incredibly important to hire only the best. But once you get them, if you don’t develop them, your competition, who is developing their people, will soon outshine you. No one can remain stagnant.

Much of your leadership is cultivating a willingness in people to follow you into the unknown based on the promise of something great. Your ability to inspire them to want to grow and learn and change is of paramount importance. You can think of leadership as lifting others.

So ask yourself, are you a model of growth and learning? Maxwell admits at the start of this book that this is not his final answer on the subject of leadership. He predicts that within weeks of the book’s publication, he will have thoughts he will wish he had included. Why? Because he continues to learn and grow and intends to do so until the day he dies. Successful people and teams are consummate learners. Are you creating a culture of learning?

If you have read this far, then I suspect you are not the majority. Maxwell quotes John Kotter who says “Most people don’t lead their lives; they just accept them.” You are clearly trying to lead your life by learning and growing. Congratulations for being part of the minority. You will add value and multiply that value through your leadership of others.

Maxwell encourages us, no matter where we are on our leadership journey to keep growing, keep leading and keep working to make a difference.

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Jill Donahue

ABOUT Jill Donahue

Everything I do is focused on improving patient outcomes. I do that by being a student and teacher of ethical, effective influence. I teach pharma people and health care professionals how to improve their ability to influence others...
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