Developing The Leader Within You Review & Summary | John C. Maxwell

Welcome to my Developing The Leader Within You Review and Summary by John C. Maxwell. With over 1,000,000 copies sold and featured as a New York Best Selling Author, Dr. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert and speaker. This book shares timeless principles on leadership that will have a positive change in your life and your career as a leader.

John C. Maxwell starts off the book by giving us the true definition of leadership. Leadership is not management. Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. Because it doesn’t matter how well you manage people if you can’t get people to listen and follow you in the first place. Leadership is also not something we’re born with. It’s a skill that we can all learn. The only problem is that most schools and colleges don’t teach us how to become a leader that others want to follow. Even at work, you might learn how to manage people or learn bits and pieces. But leadership is not specifically taught as a whole. This book is the answer. It will teach you everything about leadership from the true definition to the many must-have traits so that you can rise above being just a manager, to becoming a true leader.

My Opinion Of ‘Developing The Leader Within You’

It took me a day and a half to read the whole book as it was quite short and simple to read. While people might have thought to be a good leader meant being a good people manager, I actually thought being a good leader was about treating everyone as an equal. But after reading this book, I found that it was only half true. Treating people equally is one another thing. But that’s not what defines a great leader. As a leader, you make the decisions and others will follow. You paint the vision and they will back you up. Bottom line is, leaders have to take charge because people depend on you to.

And of course, on your journey to becoming a leader, Maxwell teaches us to become a better person in general. One big take away for me was the principle of how we must assume that people are naturally motivated. It follows then, that the secret to helping people stay motivated is to get rid of things in the work environment that causes them to become unmotivated. That was a huge shift in perspective for me. There are so many other profound concepts in the book if taken seriously, would make such a huge difference. As always, I always say, even though concepts may appear common sense, don’t let this fool you. Make sure it’s common practice for you. I’m definitely going to re-read this book every few months to ensure I’m doing everything I can to become a better leader.

Who I Recommend The Book To

If you’re working at a job or in a career that requires strong people skills, this book is definitely for you. To be honest, you don’t even need to be a leader or a manager to read this book. Developing The Leader Within You reviews simple but powerful strategies that you can apply to achieve your goals in getting there a lot quicker. I would also recommend this to entrepreneurs who have employees or hire outsources. A lot of entrepreneurs have used this exact book to create a following and learned how to treat and lead them.

Now, if you would like to read and enjoy the book with no spoilers, feel free to stop reading this post and grab ‘Developing The Leader Within You’ by John C. Maxwell here. On the other hand, if you would like to study the book, continue reading below. I will share my in-depth summary and study notes of the book. It’s designed to help you feel like you’ve read the entire book and understand the top key concepts without even actually reading the book. Below I will break down my top 8 Big Ideas from the book.

Developing The Leader Within You Summary & Study Notes

Big Idea #1: Influence

When I used to think of the word ‘leader’ I thought of someone who can manage the people below them and lead them to victory. But Maxwell tells us that’s only half true. His favorite leadership proverb goes:

“He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk” – John C. Maxwell

Hence even if you have the ability to manage people and lead them to victory, but if no one wants to follow you in the first place, you’d be on your own and cannot be called a leader. Simply put, Maxwell defines leadership as influence. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now to become the ultimate leader, we have to first understand that there are 5 levels. We also need to understand where we stand at the moment and what it takes to get to the next level. Refer below for Maxwell’s 5 levels of leadership, where at each level people follow you for different reasons:

Five Levels Of Developing The Leader Within You

Of course, we should keep in mind that there are trade-offs the higher we go. The higher the level, the more commitment, the easier we are to read but also the greater our growth. Maxwell does recommend us to stay at Level 4 and says that he himself is a Level 4 Leader. Level 4 Leaders develop other leaders which will ensure the long-term growth of your organization and its people. Whereas Level 5 is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organizations. Only a few make it. Those that do are bigger than life. While he doesn’t give us examples of Level 5 Leaders, I think Level 5 Leaders would include people in history like Martin Luther King and more recent leaders such as Steve Jobs.

Big Idea #2: Priorities

A leader needs to prioritize. This sounds like common sense but stay with me. A lot of people have thrown around the words ‘efficiency’ and effectiveness’ and most people think that you need both. However the higher you go as a leader, the more you have to prioritize effectiveness, not efficiency. Whether we like it or not, there’s always a trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness. Chances are if there’s an option that is both effective and efficient, the option will be 50% effective and 50% efficient. Choosing both is still ineffective. For example, if an effective leader knew that coaching this one manager would be a huge investment to the company, she would take her time to coach. Even if there was a faster way (e.g. ask someone who’s already done it before to do it), she’d still prioritize coaching because it’s an effective investment for the future.

This is basically what the Pareto Principle is all about. It’s also called the 80/20 Rule which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. For example, I’m thinking about all my achievements in my entire life so far. 80% of what I’ve achieved so far came from only 20% of what I did in the past. For me, that 20% was getting and quitting my corporate career (which I shared in my Start Here post) and also building a great relationship with my brother in law, who would later introduce me to online marketing. I apply this principle on a project basis as well as a daily basis. What is the 20% that I should focus on to give me 80% of the results? This ensures I don’t worry about little things like cleaning my desk or worrying about how I look while filming.

Maxwell also introduces us to the Eisenhower Matrix. This is similar to Stephen R. Covey’s Priority Table in his book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.  However, while Covey’s table represents our priorities in terms of our life goal, Maxwell uses the Eisenhower Matrix just in terms of our job/ career goals as a leader. Hence the priorities are a little different. We are to prioritize Quadrant 1 – 4 activities in order. Refer to an example of Maxwell’s Eisenhower table below:

High UrgencyLow Urgency
High ImportanceQuadrant 1
Tackle these projects first
Quadrant 2
Set deadlines for completion, and get these projects worked into your daily routine.
Low ImportanceQuadrant 3
Find quick, efficient ways to get this work done without much personal involvement. If possible, delegate.
Quadrant 4
Busy repetitious work, such as filing. Stack it up and do it in half-hour segments every week or get someone else to do it.

And most of the times, the only reason we prioritize is due to emergencies and time deadlines. This is where Maxwell suggests using Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. Parkinson’s law is the idea that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Which basically means if you have a project to do and you give yourself one day, you’ll complete it in one day. But if you give yourself one week, it’s not that there’s more work to do but the overwhelm, the stress and the second guessing will make it so that you need the entire week to complete it. Hence to make sure we don’t fall into this trap, we should set ourselves deadlines. In fact, this is also what the late Steve Jobs did with his team. He took deadlines slashed it in half and slashed it in half again to produce Apple’s world-class products.

Big Idea #3: Integrity

The most important ingredient of leadership is integrity. Without it, even if people follow you, you will not keep them for very long. And simplest form of integrity is the idea that you have to do what you say. However, Socrates takes integrity to another level by saying

“The first key to greatness is to be in reality what we appear to be.” – Socrates

That is, Too often we try to be “human doing” before we have become a “human being”. Integrity is not what we do so much as who we are. It’s just that who we are, in turn, determines what we do. But if we concentrate on who we are, the doing part will follow. Maxwell says that when we don’t have integrity as a leader, we run the risk of having people second guessing our judgments.

For example, if you told your employer to put customers first, but you put yourself first, not all people will follow you. If you tell them to be at work on time and you’re late, some will come on time, others won’t. Or if I told you guys books are the best things ever, everyone should read them, but I don’t read them myself, some readers would take my advice, others won’t. In fact, when I first started coaching, I advised my clients to be positive but yet I’d be frustrated at myself when I wasn’t able to explain something to them. I didn’t have full integrity.

It’s actually quite difficult to have 100% integrity all the time if it means that we first have to do what we preach. That’s why Maxwell says that integrity is a hard-won achievement. But when we do master it, integrity builds credibility and the more credible you are, the more confidence people place in you. And the easier it is for you to get people to follow you.

Big Idea #4: Creating Positive Change

This is all about the fact that change means growth and without change, an organization can’t grow. Yet apart from waiting for a crisis for the organization to change, a simpler thing to do is to change the leader. Change the leader, change the organization. Everything rises and falls on leadership.

Yet even though change is very powerful, not everyone embraces it. Change means to travel in uncharted waters, and this causes our insecurities to rise. That is why many people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions. In fact, this doesn’t just go for people. It goes for good leaders too. They’re happy where they are and rather not put in the extra commitment which will definitely disrupt their routines and increase their fear of failure. It gets harder to embrace change, the longer you’ve been in the game.

For example, my parents had been owning a small type of family-run restaurant for the past 20 years and never wanted to embrace the online world or expand for that matter. They’re happy with where they are. Yet others might not be so lucky to have that choice. Companies like Blockbusters went completely bankrupt because they didn’t embrace the idea of watching movies and TV shows online. Blockbusters actually passed up the deal to buy Netflix for $US50 million back in 2000. Then in 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy due to challenging losses $900 million in debt, and strong competition from Netflix, Redbox, and video on-demand services. Or Kodak who had been failing to adapt for half a century until Polaroid took over by starting the trend for instant photography. Not all change is an improvement, but without change, there can be no improvement.

Big Idea #5: Problem Solving

Maxwell observes that most people don’t like problems. Yet people need to first change their perspectives on problems. That is, understand that problems are actually essential for us. For example,  an eagle’s only obstacle to fly with greater speed and ease is the air. But if we were to take the air away, the eagle wouldn’t be able to fly in vacuum at all. The thing that makes it hard to fly is also what allows it to fly. Similarly, our problems allow us to grow. Without it, we’d still be very ignorant and our society wouldn’t evolve at all.

Hence Leaders need to know how to solve problems and prioritize them. But most importantly, delegate them. Maxwell goes on to say that the size of the person is more important than the size of the problem. This is also one of T. Harv Eker’s principles #9 in his book ‘Secrets Of The Millionaire’s Mind’, which you can check out here. So the task of a leader is to build big people who will handle big issues for them. This is why we need to make time to develop our people. Because if we don’t, develop our people’s problem-solving skills, we’ll be faced with solving them all ourselves. In fact, problems should be solved at the lowest level possible. President Eisenhower once gave advice to President John F. Kennedy and said:

“You’ll find no easy problems ever come to the president of the Unitest States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them” – President Eisenhower

The right way to go about problems is to tackle the source, not the symptom. Lack of team morale could be the symptom of the problem which is overworked staff because of projects that are understaffed. So a lack of team morale is just the symptom of the problem of not having enough people. Likewise, incompetent staff members could be the symptom of not spending enough time coaching your team, which is a problem by you, not the staff. In fact, the president of Hyatt Hotels said:

“99 percent of all employees want to do a good job. How they perform is simply a reflection of the one for whom they work” – President of Hyatt Hotels

Big Idea #6: Attitude

Maxwell starts off this chapter with a quick exercise which he does with his audience in his leadership conferences. Let’s do it right now!

  1. Write down the name of a friend you admire
  2. Write down the one thing that you admire about them.

(Do this exercise quickly in your head before you continue reading)

Maxwell found that every time he did this exercise, 95% of people admired a trait representing the other person’s attitude (as opposed to traits to do with skill level or looks). To be honest, I myself had a friend in mind that was always so happy – nothing seems to phase her. That’s definitely an attitude trait. Maxwell states that our attitude, although it’s not the defining asset that makes us a great leader, without it, we will never reach our full potential. Because life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. The ability to take responsibility to how we respond or react to situations is also Habit #1 in Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People which you can check out here.

It’s also impossible that a person with a bad attitude can continuously be a success. The leaders’ attitude helps determine the attitudes of their followers. Great leaders understand that the right attitude will set the right atmosphere which enables the right responses from others. Two of the techniques talked about in the book to change your attitude is Reframe and Re-enter. Reframing is all about thinking differently about the problem. Because a problem only becomes a problem if you make it so.

In fact, Cancer researchers at King’s College studied breast cancer victims and found 7 out of 10 women who had a ‘fighting spirit’ were alive ten years later, while four out of five women ‘who felt hopeless’ at the diagnosis had died. Those who had a ‘fighting spirit’ reframed the problem to thinking that this is just another challenge that will make them stronger. The second method is to re-enter. Here you re-enter your problem thinking and being like the person you admire. That is you ask yourself, “What would [insert name of person you admire] do in this situation?”. The more you can ask yourself this and act in accordance with the person you admire, the more you will actually obtain that trait.

Big Idea #7: People

You always hear companies say that people are their most important assets. Yet not many leaders know how to treat their people. One of the most common mistakes made by leaders is that while leaders develop those under them, some are not comfortbale with the fact that those they coach can someday become better than them. This fact scares them so they hold back on coaching them fully. However, this problem is solved if we continue to develop ourselves. If we stun their growth, we also stun ours.

One key thing to note is that our assumptions about people largely determine how we treat them. Hence, successful people, developers make the right assumptions about people. Assumptions could include you think that your staff can’t figure things out by themselves, they don’t want to work, they don’t like you, they’re trying to impress you etc. What you assume about people is what you look for. And what you look for is what you find. What you find, influences your response. Therefore, negative assumptions about others will stimulate negative leadership of them. While positive assumptions stimulate positive leadership of them. Below are three of Maxwell’s assumptions. That is, you must assume the following:

  1. Everyone needs and responds to encouragement: If you believe in them, they will live up to it, rather than see you disillusioned. (Similar to Dale Carnegie’s principle ‘give the other person a fine reputation to live up to’). In fact, people tend to become what the most important people in their lives think they will become
  2. People ‘buy into’ the leader before they ‘buy into’ his or her leadership: people do not care how much you know until they know how much you are
  3. Most people are naturally motivated: the true secret of motivation is creating an environment in which people are free from the influences that demotivate them.

Techniques to deal with people include letting them contribute, recognizing their achievements and setting clear expectations. Always remember that people come first. Listen to them, assist them. Do not place a cap on how much you can do for them.

Big Idea #8: Vision

Maxwell teaches us all effective leaders have a vision of what they have to accomplish. That vision becomes the energy behind every effort and the force that pushes through all the problems. The leader with a vision becomes a mission which is contagious and felt among other people until they all begin to rise alongside the leader. Combine a leader with a vision he’s willing to implement and a movement begins. People don’t follow a dream in itself. They follow the leader who has that dream and the ability to communicate it effectively. In fact, Simon Sinek (author of ‘Start With Why’) argues that a vision is so important, people don’t even buy into a leader until they buy into his vision, his ‘why’. Because they need to know that the leader’s reason for doing things is not for themselves but for something greater than themselves.

This was one of the most powerful concepts I learned about leadership. Because while I was still in corporate, my company’s ‘vision’ didn’t really mean much to me. But when I started my own business, this was the number one concept I had to nail from the get-go. While I didn’t have employees to follow me yet, I needed to paint a vision for myself. I needed to inspire myself. Whenever problems arose, I just reminded myself of my vision and I’d almost always make the right decision. While a vision is for yourself and people in your own business, a ‘why‘ is for the public. To create a following I needed to transform my vision into a ‘why’ that I could share with the world. I needed to paint a picture for people, inspire and influence people to my ‘why’. That’s how I eventually came up with the 30 Day Challenge. That’s what I believe and stand for.


Developing The Leader With You by John C. Maxwell is a great book. There are lots of great and simple concepts that can be applied almost instantly to becoming a better leader. Again, because we’re dealing with people, some of the concepts may seem like common sense but they’re nowhere near common practice. I’m definitely going to use these concepts learned in this book in my own life and I highly recommend you do the same.

Your Developing The Leader Action Plan

  • Get your priorities straight. Use Parkinsons Law to kick yourself into applying the 80-20 rule. Make sure you’re not taking more time than you need. This could be applied to your business in general as well as on a daily basis.
  • Make time to develop your people. Prioritise developing people so that they can solve problems for you. Otherwise, you’ll be left with solving all problems yourself.
  • Commit to becoming a better leader. All these big ideas and principles are useless if we are not 100% committed. Just know that great leaders are rare and you now have everything you need to become one so commit to being one today. Choose one other principle to commit to. My one was working on my attitude.

So if you enjoyed this review and summary and would like to grab a copy of Developing The Leader Within You, please support me by grabbing the book by clicking here. (This is an affiliate link in which I’ll get paid a few bucks)

Your support means a lot and it will help me continue writing more reviews and summaries. Also, please leave an honest feedback below in the comment section sharing what you thought about the book and how you’re going to or have been applying Maxwell’s principles of becoming a great leader. It would be interesting to see which principles are actually common practice.

That’s it from me and I’ll talk to you soon,


P.S. If you haven’t had the chance to check out my 30 Days Success Challenge where you’ll learn how to be more, act more and have more,

You can check it out by clicking here.


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