If you pay a visit to your local book store, John Maxwell has nearly an entire shelf of books devoted to various aspects of leadership. The foundation of these many volumes is the subject of today’s book review: The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow.
This book is intended as a companion volume to Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It is easily consumed in one sitting, but Maxwell recommends against reading it that way. Drawing from his spiritual background, Maxwell wrote 21 Indispensable Qualities as something to be taken in slowly and digested over time. Each chapter begins with quotes, then stories, then explanation, then application of the principles discussed.
To quote from the introduction: “I want to encourage you to live with this book for a while. Read a chapter, then give it some time. Use it to reflect, review, and renew.” the 21 Qualities of a Leader is at its best as an aid to a leader’s process of reflection and renewal.
Maxwell’s 21 Qualities are oriented toward personal growth on the inside which eventually results in leadership quality on the outside. The principles are things you would expect and include qualities such as character, accepting responsibility, self-discipline, problem-solving, and so on.
If 21 Qualities has any shortcoming, it is found in the trade-offs Maxwell makes for readability. Each chapter is concise and features short, usually practical advice. The advice is hard to argue with in a general sense, but due to its brevity and the need to fit with each of the qualities discussed, the suggestions do not always rise to the level of universal leadership practices.
For example: in the chapter on focus, Maxwell suggests improving your focus by shifting your time to have personal strengths occupy 70% of your time and, if you can’t, to reassess your job or career. Then he recommends staffing your weaknesses. In other words, identify 3 or 4 things you don’t do well and either delegate those things, hire staff to do them, or partner with a coworker to share responsibilities.
Generally, the advice to focus on strengths is sound, but for an emerging leader with no one to delegate to and no ability to hire, this can be frustrating advice. If you are able to get the basic idea and not take the action suggestions too literally, the 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader is a good primer.
I recommend it especially for those without much exposure to leadership literature as well as for those in positions of power, but who are experiencing a frustrating lack of influence. This may be a good place to begin reflecting and growing.
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David M. Dye
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David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.