The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

“You must read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell."  This has consistently been my answer when people ask me about my favorite leadership book. 

21 irrefutable laws of leadership
At the time of writing this review, Amazon offers 189,211 books with the word “leadership” in the title. So why invest your time reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You21 irrefutable laws of leadership

For starters, Maxwell has earned high praise and respect across a diverse global audience. He attracts requests for speaking engagements and leadership consulting across a wide range of organizations from Fortune 500 companies, international governments, the United States Military, to the National Football League.  

A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, he was one of 25 authors named to's 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. Three of his books, including The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, have sold over a million copies each.

The way that Maxwell brings the essential laws of leadership together in one book is invaluable.  While many leadership books explore facets of leadership, Maxwell offers a holistic view through the combination of his 21 irrefutable laws. 

"It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers."  - Bennis and Nanus

Maxwell individually defines The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and supports each law with powerful stories that illustrate the practical application of the specific law.  

As we have emphasized in prior book reviews, including Made To Stick and Sell With A Story, Maxwell’s masterful use of story-telling proves once again - stories stick.  

The variety of stories that Maxwell shares, brings The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to life and underscores the importance of each fundamental skill.

Maxwell consistently draws the reader in with historical stories, for example about Abraham Lincoln, to Ed Catmull’s and John Lasseter’s modern day Pixar, in addition to stories about his personal experiences (hits and misses) as a leader.

To the author’s credit, throughout the book Maxwell demonstrates a healthy dose of self-effacing humor.  He does not shy away from sharing mistakes he made early on as a newly appointed leader. 

Time Tested Laws of Leadership 

Initially published in 1998, Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership has withstood the test of time.  His selection of stories spanning from over century ago to more modern times, provides ample proof of the timeless wisdom that is shared.  

One notable story that is more recent is found in The Law of the Inner Circle, which highlights Lance Armstrong.  At the time this book was published, neither the author or the world had any idea about the doping scandal that would precede Armstrong’s fall from greatness.

However, even Maxwell’s story about Lance Armstrong will stand the test of time. In this story, you’ll learn the importance of developing a strong team around you. 

Maxwell shares how Armstrong’s sponsors and equipment suppliers – Trek, Nike, AMD, Bontrager, Shimano and Oakley – successfully collaborated as a team, which was revolutionary at the time but is now standard practice.  So, despite Armstrong’s fall from grace, the story remains relevant, speaking to the power of a strong and committed inner circle.

"You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things."  - Mother Teresa

Individual readers will connect differently with each of the 21 laws. My personal favorite is The Law of the Lid, which simply states that your level of success will be in direct proportion to your level of continuous leadership development.

Maxwell’s story to support The Law of the Lid, highlights the McDonald brothers, who were the original owners of the McDonald’s restaurants.  However, because their leadership level did not continue to expand, it took the leadership prowess of Ray Kroc to turn McDonalds into the world-renowned brand we all know. 

The McDonald brother's did not work to expand their leadership effectiveness, therefore they unwittingly placed a lid on their level of success. Kroc, on the other hand, did the hard work, made the hard choices, remained resolute in his efforts - and made the McDonald's franchise into a wildly successful company. 

The Law of the Lid continually reminds me of both my opportunity and duty to continue in my leadership journey. 

The opportunity is for my personal and professional benefit, whereas it is my duty as a leader to constantly improve to ensure that I never place a limit (or lid) on my ability to help others to learn and grow. 

"A leader's credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping others achieve personal success."

- John Maxwell's, Leadership Gold

How To Teach Leadership Using The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership 

laws of leadership

Just as certain laws will speak to you, so too will they speak to your team members.

You are encouraged to think about how you might share these laws for the benefit of those you lead. 

Unlike a lot of leadership books, Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You21 irrefutable laws of leadership can easily be leveraged by leaders to teach and coach their team. Each law provides a universal truth to leadership. Each law is a leadership lesson.

When you are a great leader, you understand that it is up to you to identify, train and prepare your successor. As detailed in the final chapter of this book, great leaders understand, The Law of Legacy.

A leader’s legacy is determined based on how effective they’ve been in contributing to the development of their team members.  The 21 laws provide leaders with a tool to help team members raise their level of personal and professional effectiveness.

Consider using The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to develop your team:

  1. Invest in your people. Provide each team member with a copy of the book. (Optional: Consider also providing a copy of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Workbook: Revised and Updatedthe 21 irrefutable laws of leadership workbook)
  2. Introduce the book to your team, explaining that over the next several months you’ll be reviewing each chapter/law as a group.
  3. Assign chapters to each of your team members. Explain that it is their responsibility to do the following:
    • Come prepared to lead a discussion on their assigned chapter(s)
    • Briefing review the chapter; gaining insights/feedback from team members
    • Require all team members to complete the section in the back of each chapter that details how you will apply the law to your work or to your life.
  4. Encourage presenters to be creative and use elements outside of the book if it’s appropriate and adds value.
  5. Provide feedback in private to each presenter on what went well and where they have opportunity to improve.

Using the 21 laws, assuming you assign one chapter every other week, you have enough leadership development exercises for the next full year. 

While team members may initially grumble, as they learn these lessons and benefit from the discussions, they’ll soon come to appreciate your investment in their leadership development.  

It’s truly a win-win - the better leaders they become, the greater legacy you will leave behind. 

Author Bio

john maxwell

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author. He is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company,  John Maxwell Team, organizations that have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide. 

Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and the United Nations. 

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