The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership


The subtitle of Maxwell’s book is “Follow Them, and People Will Follow You.” Each time I read that, I hear a rejoinder in my head: “Don’t follow them, and people won’t follow you.” Revised and updated in 2007 for the 10th anniversary of The 21 Irrefutable Laws, this book is rightly regarded as a foundational piece of the leadership literature.

As the title indicates, Maxwell presents 21 laws of leadership, all of which are free-standing and yet buttressed by one another. You can learn a lot simply by reviewing the 21 laws with Maxwell’s brief explanation of each:

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 Change the Course

5. The Law of Addition: Leaders Add Value by Serving Others

6. The Law of Solid Ground: Trust 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

My favorite law, the umbrella under which all of the other laws fall, is the Law of Process. Leadership can’t be developed in a day or a week. Instead, it grows and becomes refined through a lifetime of self-management, skills acquisition, and relationships:

If you continually invest in your leadership development, letting your ‘assets’ compound, the inevitable result is growth over time. What can you see when you look at a person’s daily agenda? Priorities, passion, abilities, relationships, attitude, personal disciplines, vision, and influence. See what a person is doing every day, day after day, and you’ll know who that person is and what he or she is becoming.

Often, when I speak to newer lawyers about leadership development, someone in the group will ask why a new graduate or a lawyer in the first few years of practice should be concerned with leadership development, since they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. My answer is three-fold.

First, it’s critical to lead oneself and develop a strong foundation in self-management. Second, usually even “bottom of the totem pole” lawyers soon have an opportunity to lead something, whether it’s a document review team or a subcommittee. And third, as Maxwell writes, “champions don’t become champions in the ring – they are merely recognized there.” If a lawyer waits until a leadership position is on the horizon to begin developing good leadership skills, the position may never present itself, or if it does, the lawyer will lack the necessary skills to thrive in that position. (Incidentally, point 3 is well illustrated in Maxwell’s first law, the Law of the Lid.)

What’s in it for lawyers? Although each of The 21 Irrefutable Laws is important for leadership development, perhaps none speaks to the profession in quite the same was as the Law of Explosive Growth. That law holds that leaders who develop leaders create an organization that can achieve explosive growth, since “for every leader they develop, they also receive the value of all of that leader’s followers.” Imagine the potential for enormous and sustainable growth in a law firm in which leaders are developed.

Read one chapter a week and apply what you learn. Without question, you will grow as a leader, and you’ll see the difference in your day-to-day life and practice, with clients, and in whatever leadership roles you may hold.

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