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Book Review: Developing the Leader Within You

John Maxwell’s Developing the Leader within You is a foundational resource for emerging leaders. As a new, young pastor, I found Maxwell’s leadership principles to be both intellectually stimulating and practically accessible, capable of serving as a framework for immediate application in my current, ecclesial context. Drawing from decades of leadership experience, coaching, and training, Maxwell distills 10 essential elements of a leader’s composition. First, Maxwell defines leadership as influence. Influence is not inherent in position, which is the first level of leadership. Rather, it is earned as one earns or wins influence with people.

At this point in my personal development, I am a level one leader. As such, I found Maxwell’s definition of leadership as well as his key of leadership to be timely. Maxwell highlights priorities as the key of leadership. Using the Pareto principle as a filtering prism, Maxwell encourages leaders to reflect on the 80/20 principle when qualifying important priorities because, contrary to what circumstances and people may suggest, everything is not a priority.

While clear priorities help leaders influence people and change, character is the foundation of leadership. Every leader must honestly assess his or her personal character quotient. Admonishing a resolve to make right choices, Maxwell challenges leaders to embrace good values, practice self-leadership, and value people. As character and integrity is honed by establishing boundaries, the leader is better equipped to create positive change, what Maxwell calls the test of leadership. In order to create positive change, Maxwell offers his PLAN AHEAD method as a guide to maintaining change momentum.

Creating positive change can be facilitated by solving problems. Effectively solving problems is the quickest way to gain leadership. How we handle problems, how others react to them, and our collective perspective concerning problems can turn problems into opportunities to lead people forward. An extra plus in the problem solving arena, as well as for leadership in general is attitude. Positive attitudes will positively influence people. The converse is true. Intentionally harnessing the compounding value of a right attitude will add value to the people we serve. For serving people, according to Maxwell, is the heart of leadership. It is an attitude of the heart expressed by the activity of the hands.

The leader’s attitude and heart posture are connected to his or her ability to effectively communicate vision. Essential to a maturing organization, team, or church, vision is an indispensable quality of leadership. In order for people to see what the leader sees, he or she must paint a picture that appeals to the whole person. To do this, leaders must invest time in asking vision questions and preparing to articulate this vision to people. This investment of time, energy, and influence necessitates self-discipline.

Self-discipline is the price tag of leadership. It enables the leader to climb the uphill journey of leadership with consistency. Developing self-discipline is a lifetime endeavor which, if cherished with the aforementioned leadership principles and the never-ending quest to grow personally, can strengthen the leader’s core, making him or her a significant change agent in their sphere of influence and in the world.

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