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These are classic pictures of leadership: William Wallace leading the charge of his warriors against the army that would oppress his people and him. Winston Churchill defying the Nazi threat as much of Europe collapsed.

Mahatma Gandhi leading the two-hundred-mile march to the sea to protest the Salt Act. Mary Kay Ash going off on her own to create a world-class organization. Martin Luther King Jr. standing before the Lincoln Memorial challenging the nation with his dream of reconciliation. Each of these people was a great leader and impacted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Yet these pictures can also be misleading.

The reality is that 99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization. Usually, an organization has only one person who is the leader. So what do you do if you are not that one person? Ninety-nine percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization. I’ve taught leadership for nearly thirty years.

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And in just about every conference I’ve taught, someone has come up to me and said something such as, “I like what you teach about leadership, but I can’t apply it.
I’m not the main leader. And the person I work under is, at best, average.” Is that where you live ?

Are you working somewhere in the middle of your organization ? You may not be a follower at the lowest level of the organization, but you’re not the top dog either—yet you still want to lead, to make things happen, to make a contribution.

You do not have to be held hostage to your circumstances or position.
You do not have to be the CEO to lead effectively. And you can learn to make an impact through your leadership even if you report to someone who is not a good leader. What’s the secret ?

You learn to develop your influence from wherever you are in the organization by becoming a 360-Degree Leader. You learn to lead up, lead across, and lead down. Not everyone understands what it means to influence others in every direction—those you work for, the people who are on the same level with you, and those who work for you.

Some people are good at leading the members of their own team, but they seem to alienate the leaders in other departments of the organization. Other individuals excel at building a great relationship with their boss, but they have no influence with anyone below them in the organization. A few people can get along with just about anybody, but they never seem to get any work done.

On the other hand, some people are productive, but they can’t get along with anybody. But 360-Degree Leaders are different. Only 360-Degree Leaders influence people at every level of the organization. By helping others, they help themselves. At this point, you may be saying, “Leading in every direction—that’s easier said than done!” That’s true, but it’s not impossible.

In fact, becoming a 360-Degree Leader is within the reach of anyone who possesses average or better leadership skills and is willing to work at it. So even if you would rate yourself as only a five or six on a scale of one to ten, you can improve your leadership and develop influence with the people all around you in an organization—and you can do it from anywhere in the organization.

Leading in all directions will require you to learn three different sets of leadership skills. You may already possess an intuitive sense of how well you lead up, across, and down. I want to help you make a more accurate assessment of those skills because it will help you to know how to direct your personal leadership growth. For that reason, I have arranged for you to be able to go to www.360DegreeLeader.com

and take a free assessment of their 360-Degree Leadership skills. What’s offered is a simple, straightforward on-line questionnaire that will ask you to rate yourself on issues related to leadership in each of the three areas.

The assessment will take only about fifteen minutes, and when you’re done, you will be able to download a lengthy report with your results. When you go to http://www.360DegreeLeader.com, you’ll see a box asking for your passcode.

In previous editions of the book, this passcode was provided on the dust jacket or inside the back cover. Now, though, you can retrieve your passcode by clicking “Register Here” just below the box. You’ll fill out some basic information and receive an email with the passcode you need to take the assessment.

This simple, free questionnaire will help you know where you are in your 360 Degree Leadership journey. I recommend that you complete the assessment before reading the rest of the book. That way, you’ll know where your strengths and weaknesses are as you learn about each skill set.

However, before we get into those, we need to address other issues, starting with seven myths believed by many people who lead from the middle of organizations. That is the subject of this first section of the book.

Myth #1 THE POSITION MYTH: “I can’t lead if I am not at the top.” If I had to identify the number one misconception people have about leadership, it would be the belief that leadership comes simply from having a position or title. But nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t need to possess a position at the top of your group, department, division, or organization in order to lead.

If you think you do, then you have bought into the position myth. A place at the top will not automatically make anyone a leader. The Law of Influence in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership states it clearly: “The true measure of leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.”

Because I have led volunteer organizations most of my life, I have watched many people become tied up by the position myth. When people who buy into this myth are identified as potential leaders and put on a team, they are very uncomfortable if they have not been given some kind of title or position that labels them as leaders in the eyes of other team members.

Instead of working to build relationships with others on the team and to gain influence naturally, they wait for the positional leader to invest them with authority and give them a title.

After a while, they become more and more unhappy, until they finally decide to try another team, another leader, or another organization. People who follow this pattern don’t understand how effective leadership develops. If you’ve read some of my other leadership books, you might be aware of a leadership identification tool I call “The Five Levels of Leadership,” which I introduce in Developing the Leader Within You.

It captures the dynamics of leadership development as well as anything I know. Just in case you’re not familiar with it, I’ll explain it briefly here. Leadership is dynamic, and the right to lead must be earned individually with each person you meet. Where you are on the “staircase of leadership” depends on your history with that person.

And with everyone, we start at the bottom of the five steps or levels. That bottom (or first) level is position. You can only start from the position you have been given, whatever it is: production-line worker, administrative assistant, salesperson, foreman, pastor, assistant manager, and so forth. Your position is whatever it is.

From that place, you have certain rights that come with your title. But if you lead people using only your position, and you do nothing else to try to increase your influence, then people will follow you only because they have to.

They will follow only within the boundaries of your job description. The lower your stated position, the less positional authority you possess. The good news is that you can increase your influence beyond your title and position. You can “move up” the staircase of leadership to higher levels.

If you move to level two, you begin to lead beyond your position because you have built relationships with the people you desire to lead. You treat them with dignity and respect. You value them as human beings. You care about them, not just the job they can do for you or the organization.

Because you care about them, they begin to trust you more. As a result, they give you permission to lead them. In other words, they begin to follow you because they want to. The third level is the production level.

You move to this phase of leadership with others because of the results you achieve on the job. If the people you lead succeed in getting the job done because of your contribution to the team, then they will look to you more and more to lead the way.

They follow you because of what you’ve done for the organization. To reach the fourth level of leadership, you must focus on developing others. Accordingly, this is called the people-development level of leadership. Your agenda is to pour yourself into the individuals you lead—mentor them, help them develop their skills, and sharpen their leadership ability. What you are doing, in essence, is leadership reproduction.

You value them, add value to them, and make them more valuable. At this level, they follow you because of what you’ve done for them. The fifth and final level is the personhood level, but it is not a level one can strive to reach, because reaching it is outside of your control.

Only others can put you there, and they do so because you have excelled in leading them from the first four levels for a long period of time. You have earned the reputation of a level-five leader.

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When potential leaders understand the dynamics of gaining influence with people using the Five Levels of Leadership, they come to realize that position has little to do with genuine leadership. Do individuals have to be at the top of the organizational chart to develop relationships with others and get them to like working with them ?

Do they need to possess the top title to achieve results and help others become productive ? Do they have to be president or CEO to teach the people who report to them to see, think, and work like leaders ? Of course not. Influencing others is a matter of disposition, not position.

Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. You can lead others from anywhere in an organization. And when you do, you make the organization better. David Branker, a leader who has influenced others from the middle of organizations for years and who currently serves as an executive director in a large church, said, “To do nothing in the middle is to create more weight for the top leader to move.

For some leaders—it might even feel like dead weight. Leaders in the middle can have a profound effect on an organization.” Every level of an organization depends on leadership from someone. The bottom line is this: Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he is. You can make a difference no matter where you are.

“When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead.” In 2003, Charlie Wetzel, my writer, decided he wanted to tackle a goal he had held for more than a decade. He was determined to run a marathon. If you were to meet Charlie, you’d never guess that he is a runner. The articles in running magazines say that at five feet ten inches tall, a distance runner should weigh 165 pounds or less.

Charlie weighs more like 205. But he was a regular runner who averaged twelve to twenty miles a week and ran two or three 10K races every year, so he picked the Chicago marathon and decided to go for it. Do you think Charlie just showed up at the starting line in downtown Chicago on race day and said, “Okay, I guess it’s time to figure out how to run a marathon”? Of course not. He started doing his homework a year in advance.

He read reviews of marathons held around the United States and learned that the Chicago marathon—held in October—enjoys great weather most years. It utilizes a fast, flat race course. It has a reputation for having the best fan support of any marathon in the nation. It was the perfect place for a first-time marathoner.

He also started learning how to train for a marathon. He read articles. He searched Web sites. He talked to marathon runners. He even recruited a friend who had run two marathons to race with him in Chicago on October 12. And, of course, he trained.

He started the process in mid-April, increasing his mileage every week and eventually working his way up to two training runs of twenty miles each in addition to his other sessions. When race day came around, he was ready—and he completed the race. Leadership is very similar.

If you want to succeed, you need to learn as much as you can about leadership before you have a leadership position. When I meet people in social settings and they ask me what I do for a living, some of them are intrigued when I say I write books and speak. And they often ask what I write about.

When I say leadership, the response that makes me chuckle most goes something like this: “Oh. Well, when I become a leader, I’ll read some of your books!” What I don’t say (but want to) is: “If you’d read some of my books, maybe you’d become a leader.” Good leadership is learned in the trenches.

Leading as well as they can wherever they are is what prepares leaders for more and greater responsibility. Becoming a good leader is a lifelong learning process. If you don’t try out your leadership skills and decision-making process when the stakes are small and the risks are low, you’re likely to get into trouble at higher levels when the cost of mistakes is high, the impact is far reaching, and the exposure is greater.

Mistakes made on a small scale can be easily overcome. Mistakes made when you’re at the top cost the organization greatly, and they damage a leader’s credibility. How do you become the person you desire to be ?

You start now to adopt the thinking, learn the skills, and develop the habits of the person you wish to be. It’s a mistake to daydream about “one day when you’ll be on top” instead of handling today so that it prepares you for tomorrow.

As Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” If you want to be a successful leader, learn to lead before you have a leadership position.

“If I were on top, then people would follow me.” I once read that President Woodrow Wilson had a housekeeper who constantly lamented that she and her husband didn’t possess more prestigious positions in life.

One day the lady approached the president after she heard that the secretary of labor had resigned from the administration. “President Wilson,” she said, “my husband is perfect for his vacant position. He is a laboring man, knows what labor is, and understands laboring people. Please consider him when you appoint the new secretary of labor.”

“I appreciate your recommendation,” answered Wilson, “but you must remember, the secretary of labor is an important position. It requires an influential person.” “But,” the housekeeper said, “if you made my husband the secretary of labor, he would be an influential person!” People who have no leadership experience have a tendency to overestimate the importance of a leadership title.

That was the case for President Wilson’s housekeeper. She thought that leadership was a reward that someone of importance could grant. But influence doesn’t work that way. You may be able to grant someone a position, but you cannot grant him real leadership.

Influence must be earned. A position gives you a chance. It gives you the opportunity to try out your leadership. It asks people to give you the benefit of the doubt for a while. But given some time, you will earn your level of influence—for better or worse. Good leaders will gain in influence beyond their stated position.

Bad leaders will shrink their influence down so that it is actually less than what originally came with the position. Remember, a position doesn’t make a leader, but a leader can make the position. You may be able to grant someone a position, but you cannot grant him real leadership. Influence must be earned.

“When I get to the top, I’ll be in control.” Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “You know, if I were in charge, we wouldn’t have done this, and we wouldn’t have done that. Things sure would be different around here if I were the boss”? If so, let me tell you that there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that the desire to improve an organization and the belief that you’re capable of doing it are often the marks of a leader. Andy Stanley said, “If you’re a leader and leaders work for you, they think they can do a better job than you. They just do (just like you do). And that’s not wrong; that’s just leadership.

1. The desires to innovate, to improve, to create, and to find a better way are all leadership characteristics. Now here’s the bad news.

Without experience being the top person in an organization, you would likely overestimate the amount of control you have at the top. The higher you go—and the larger the organization—the more you realize that many factors control the organization. More than ever, when you are at the top, you need every bit of influence you can muster. Your position does not give you total control—or protect you.

As I write this, a story has broken in the business news that provides a good illustration of this fact. Perhaps you are familiar with the name Carly Fiorina. She is considered one of the top business executives in the nation, and in 1998, Fortune magazine named her the most powerful woman executive in the United States.

At that time she was the president of Lucent Technologies’ Global Service Provider Business, but soon afterward she became CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the eleventh largest company in the nation at the time.

2. In 2002, Fiorina made a bold move that she hoped would pay off big for her organization. She orchestrated a merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq in an effort to become more competitive with chief rival Dell. Unfortunately, revenues and earnings didn’t meet expectations during the two years after the merger, but even as late as December of 2004, Fiorina was upbeat about her future.

When asked about the rumor that she might transition her career into politics, she responded, “I am the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I love the company. I love the job—and I’m not finished.”

3. Two months later she was finished. Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors asked for her resignation. To think that life “at the top” is easier is to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Being at the top has its own set of problems and challenges. In leadership—no matter where you are in an organization—the bottom line is always influence.

“When I get to the top, I’ll no longer be limited.” Sometimes I think people get the wrong idea about leadership. Many people hope that it’s a ticket to freedom. It will provide a solution to their professional and career problems. But being at the top is not a cure-all.

Have you entertained the idea that being in charge will change your life ? Have thoughts such as these come to mind from time to time ? When I get to the top, I’ll have it made. When I finally finish climbing the corporate ladder, I’ll have time to rest. When I own the company, I’ll be able to do whatever I want. When I’m in charge, the sky will be the limit.

Anybody who has owned a company or been the top leader in an organization knows that those ideas are little more than fantasies. Being the top leader doesn’t mean you have no limits. It doesn’t remove the lid from your potential. It doesn’t matter what job you do or what position you obtain; you will have limits. That’s just the way life is.

When you move up in an organization, the weight of your responsibility increases. In many organizations, as you move up the ladder, you may even find that the amount of responsibility you take on increases faster than the amount of authority you receive.

When you go higher, more is expected of you, the pressure is greater, and the impact of your decisions weighs more heavily. You must take these things into account. To see how this can play out, let’s say, for example, that you have a position in sales, and you’re really good at it.

You make sales, work well with clients, and bring $5 million in revenue for your company every year. As a salesperson, you may have a lot of freedom. Maybe you can work your schedule however you want.

As many salespeople do, you may work from home. It doesn’t matter if you want to work at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., as long as you serve your clients and company well. You can do things in your own style, and if you drop a ball, you can probably recover pretty easily.

In many organizations, as you move up the ladder, you may even find that the amount of responsibility you take on increases faster than the amount of authority you receive. But let’s say you become a sales manager over half a dozen people who do what you used to do.

You are now more limited than you were before. You can’t arrange your schedule however you want anymore because you have to work around the schedules of your six employees, who have to work with their clients.

And if you’re a good leader, you will encourage the members of your team to work using their own style to maximize their potential, making it that much more difficult for you.

Add to that the increased financial pressures that the position brings since you would be responsible for maybe $25 million in revenue for your company. If you move up again, let’s say to the level of a division manager, then the demands on you increase yet again. And you may now have to work with a number of different departments, each with its own problems, skill sets, and cultures.

Good leaders go to their people, connect, find common ground, and empower them to succeed. So in some ways, leaders have less freedom as they move up, not more. When I teach leadership, I often use the following diagram to help potential leaders realize that as they rise up in the organization, their rights actually decrease instead of increase: Customers have great freedom and can do almost anything they want.

They have no real responsibility to the organization. Workers have more obligations. Leaders have even more, and because of that, they become more limited in terms of their freedom. It is a limitation they choose willingly, but they are limited just the same. If you want to push the limits of your effectiveness, there is a better solution. Learning to lead will blow the lid off of your potential.

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“I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader.” How many kids say, “Someday I want to grow up to be vice president of the United States”? Probably none. If a child has political aspirations, he wants to be president. If she has a bent toward business, she wants to be a company owner or CEO.

Few people aspire to reach the middle.
In fact, several years ago, Monster.com, an online job search service, poked fun at this idea by running a television ad showing children saying things such as, “When I grow up, I want to file all day long” and, “I want to claw my way up to middle management.”

I believe that people should strive for the top of their game, not the top of the organization. Yet the reality is that most people will never be the top leader in an organization. They will spend their careers somewhere in the middle. Is that okay ?

Or should everybody play career “king of the hill” and try to reach the top ? I believe that people should strive for the top of their game, not the top of the organization.

Each of us should work to reach our potential, not necessarily the corner office. Sometimes you can make the greatest impact from somewhere other than first place. An excellent example of that is Vice President Dick Cheney.

He has enjoyed a remarkable career in politics: White House chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, six-term congressman from Wyoming, secretary of defense to President George H. W. Bush, and vice president to the second President Bush. He possesses all the credentials one would need to run for president of the United States.

Yet he knows that the top position is not his best role. An article in Time magazine described Cheney this way:  When Richard Bruce Cheney was a student at Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyo., he was a solid football player, senior-class president and an above-average student.

But he wasn’t the star . . . Inconspicuous, off to the side, backing up a flashier partner, putting out fires when called upon—it’s a role Dick Cheney has played his entire life.

Throughout his remarkable career . . . Cheney’s success has derived from his unparalleled skill at serving as the discreet, effective, loyal adviser to higher-profile leaders. He did once flirt with the idea of twirling the flaming baton himself, considering a 1996 run for president.

But the idea of putting himself on that stage . . . would have required a rewiring of Cheney’s political DNA. Instead he took an offer in business, figuring he would retire in the job and then do a lot of hunting and fishing.

But George W. Bush had a different plan, one that returned Cheney to the role he plays best. As Lynne Cheney told Time, her husband “never thought that this would be his job. But if you look back over his whole career, it’s been preparation for this.”

1  Cheney has reached his potential in the position of vice president, a position few would set as a lifetime career goal. He is highly effective, and he seems to be content. Mary Kay Hill, a longtime aide to former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, who worked with Cheney on Capitol Hill, said, “You plug him in, and he works anywhere.

He just has a real good way of fitting in and working his environment.” Cheney appears to be an excellent example of a 360-Degree Leader, someone who knows how to influence others from whatever position he finds himself in.

“If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead.” What are the prospects for your getting to the top of your organization, of someday becoming the leader ? The reality for most people is that they will never be the CEO. Does that mean they should just give up leading altogether ? That’s what some people do.

They look at an organization, recognize they will not be able to make it to the top, and give up. Their attitude is, “If I can’t be the captain of the team, then I’ll take my ball and go home.” Others enter the process of leadership but then become frustrated by their position in an organization. Why?

Because they define success as being “on top.” As a result, they believe that if they are not on top, they are not successful. If that frustration lasts long enough, they can become disillusioned, bitter, and cynical.

If it gets to that point, instead of being a help to themselves and their organization, they become a hindrance. But what good can people do if they sit on the sidelines ?

Consider the case of six men who were featured in Fortune magazine in August of 2005. In the article, they are hailed as unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, yet there is no evidence that they ever marched or sat in at a lunch counter.

Their contributions—and their battles—occurred in corporate America. They led their way into the executive suite of companies such as Exxon, Phillip Morris, Marriott, and General Foods.

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Clifton Wharton, who became the first black CEO of a large company (TIAA-CREF) says, “Gordon Parks has this great expression, ‘choice of weapons.’ In terms of fighting, you always have a choice of weapons. Some of us chose to do our fighting on the inside.”

1 When Wharton and fellow pioneers Darwin Davis, James Avery, Lee Archer, James “Bud” Ward, and George Lewis entered corporate America in the 1950s and ’60s, what chance did they think they had to become CEO of their organizations:

Equitable, Exxon, General Foods, Marriott, and Phillip Morris? Not much! When Avery started with Esso (now Exxon), he couldn’t even use the same restroom or water fountain as other citizens.

Yet it was his goal to lead. That desire was part of his first career choice: teaching. And it prompted him to change careers in 1956 when an Esso executive approached him. “I loved being a teacher,” Avery says. “But if I could wear a shirt and tie and work for a major corporation? Doing that was much more important.”

2 Avery succeeded as a leader despite incredible obstacles and prejudice, and rose to the post of senior vice president. He retired in 1986. Bud Ward, who retired as senior vice president at Marriott, has a similar story.

When he was hired by Bill Marriott, Ward became the hotel industry’s first black vice president. During his twenty years of leadership at Marriott, he opened 350 hotels, helped to develop the Courtyard by Marriott chain, and oversaw the company’s infotech team. Ward is aware of the impact he made.

“It was a two-pronged thing,” he says. “You do the marching and the raising hell and whatnot, but you’ve got to have somebody on the inside to interpret that to the individuals that you’re trying to reach. I saw that as my role.”

3 What these men—and many others—did has made a lasting impact. In the same issue of Fortune was a special section called “The Diversity List.” It profiled the most influential African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans in the country.

Most people on the list are CEOs, presidents, chairmen, or founders of their organizations, positions that it would have been more difficult to attain had others not gone before them and led well. You do not need to be the top dog to make a difference. Leadership is not meant to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

If being someplace other than the top has caused you great frustration, please don’t throw in the towel. Why ? Because you can make an impact from wherever you are in an organization, even if you face additional obstacles, as these six men did. Being a leader stuck in the middle brings many challenges.

You can learn to navigate them. Becoming an effective 360-Degree Leader requires principles and skills to lead the people above, beside, and below you in the organization. You can learn them. I believe that individuals can become better leaders wherever they are. Improve your leadership, and you can impact your organization. You can change people’s lives.

You can be someone who adds value. You can learn to influence people at every level of the organization—even if you never get to the top. By helping others, you can help yourself. The first place to start is by learning to overcome the challenges that every 360-Degree Leader faces.

So turn the page and let’s get started.
Section I Review The Myths of Leading from the Middle of an Organization Here is a brief review of the 7 Myths every leader in the middle faces:

MYTH #1 The Position Myth: “I can't lead if I am not at the top.”
MYTH #2 The Destination Myth: “When I get to the top, then I'll learn to lead.”
MYTH #3 The Influence Myth: “If I were on top, then people would follow me.”
MYTH #4 The Inexperience Myth: “When I get to the top, I'll be in control.”
MYTH #5 The Freedom Myth: “When I get to the top, I'll no longer be limited.”
MYTH #6 The Potential Myth: “I can't reach my potential if I'm not the
top leader.”

MYTH #7 The All-or-Nothing Myth: “If I can't get to the top, then I won't try to lead.” How well are you doing overcoming these seven myths? If you’re not sure, take the 360-Degree Leadership assessment offered free of charge to people who have purchased this book. Visit 360DegreeLeader.com for more information.

If you are a leader in the middle of an organization, you don’t need me to tell you that you have a challenging job. Many of the middle leaders I meet are frustrated, tense, and sometimes tempted to quit.

I hear them say things such as, “It’s like banging my head against a brick wall.” “No matter how hard I try, I never seem to get anywhere.” “I really wonder if it’s all worth it.” If you and I were to sit down and talk for a few minutes, I bet you could list at least half a dozen problems you face because you are trying to lead from the middle.

Perhaps you even feel you have been struggling to succeed where you are. But did you know that the things that frustrate you also frustrate nearly every other middle leader ?

Everyone who attempts to lead from the middle of the organization faces common challenges. You are not alone. As I’ve mentioned, the best opportunity for helping yourself—and your organization—is to become a 360-Degree Leader.

However, before you dive into the principles that 360-Degree Leaders practice to lead up, across, and down, I think you ought to acquaint yourself with the seven most common challenges that leaders in the middle face.

Defining and recognizing them will help you to navigate the world of the middle, where you are trying to be a good leader even though you are not the leader. I believe the challenges will resonate with you, and you will find yourself saying, “Right on.”

And, of course, I’ve offered some suggestions to help you, since recognizing the challenges is of little value without solutions. Read on so that you can resolve some of these issues and get ready to lead 360 degrees.


Learn to lead despite the restrictions others have placed on you. One of the toughest things about being a leader in the middle of an organization is that you can’t be sure of where you stand. As a leader, you have some power and authority.

You can make some decisions. You have access to some resources. You can call the people in your area to action and direct them in their work. At the same time, you also lack power in other areas. And if you overstep your authority, you can get yourself into real trouble.

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Good leaders adapt. They shift. They don’t remain static because they know the world around them does not remain static. This has always been true, but it’s never been more obvious than today, nor has the ability to change quickly been more important. And when I say that good leaders adapt, I don’t mean that they conform.

As success coach Dave Martin pointed out: There is a profound difference between adaptability and conformity. The “greats” seem to instinctively understand this difference, and while they disdain conformity, they cherish the courageous ability to adjust to changing circumstances. Conformity is the negative quality of blending in, becoming average, refusing to stand out or capitalize on one’s uniqueness.

Adaptability is the positive quality of being able to sense the shift in wind direction and proactively adjust one’s course to take advantage of that wind shift. While conformity is a weakness based upon fear of rejection, adaptability is a strength based upon confidence in oneself and in one’s own judgment and abilities.

5 In the face of uncertainty, people who conform pull away to a safe place to protect themselves. Adaptable leaders who make leadershifts lean into uncertainty and deal with it head on.

I like what Paul Karofsky, executive director emeritus of Northeastern University’s Center for Family Business, said about this, though he used the word ambiguity instead of uncertainty: Ambiguity may keep people up nights, but anyone seeking exquisite simplicity in his or her career ought to look for a non-leadership position. Leaders, by definition, have followers. Followers need direction.

Direction requires decision-making. Decision-making requires consideration of options. And consideration of options involves dealing with uncertainty.6 If you want to be successful as a leader, you need to learn to become comfortable with uncertainty and make shifts continually. You need to be flexible and deal with uncertainty without losing focus. Leaders who leadershift must be like water. They have to be fluid. Water finds a way, then makes a way. First it changes with its circumstances.

The environment dictates the change. But moving water is also forceful. It first moves around an object, but at the same time it begins moving the object. It can wear down solid rock over time. A seemingly small shift can make a big difference. Simple and obvious it may be.

Trivial it is not. The truth is this: every advance you make as a leader will require a leadershift that changes the way you think, act, and lead. If you want to be an effective leader, you must leadershift. You cannot be the same, think the same, and act the same if you hope to be successful in a world that does not remain the same.


As Malcolm Gladwell said, “That’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being—to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”

7 Maybe as leaders we need to recognize the value of “mental floss.” Dentists encourage us to use dental floss daily to promote the health of our teeth; we need to use mental floss to get rid of old thinking and promote the health of our leadership.

In my twenties, I was inspired by the words of nineteenth-century preacher Phillips Brooks, the author of the famous hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He wrote: Sad will be the day for every man when he becomes absolutely contented with the life he is living,

with the thoughts that he is thinking, with the deeds that he is doing, when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger, which he knows that he was meant and made to do.8 I memorized those words and have often used them to move me toward greater growth and achievement.

Leadershifting moves us forward in the face of the natural temptation to be mentally rigid. It prompts us to become more innovative and get out of our comfort zones, question conventional wisdom, and welcome change. Every leadershift you make has the potential to make you a better leader.

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Before I talk about the practices involved in leadershifting,
I want to lay the groundwork by describing the mind-set needed to leadershift.
How open are you to change ?
Are you willing to start asking more questions instead of giving more answers ?
Are you willing to become a better listener, a better observer ?
Are you willing to rely more on your intuition and your creativity ?

Leadershifting will require you to rely on values, principles, and strategy, but it will also push you to rely on innovation, to seek out options, to harness creativity. You’ll also need to let go of some things and be dedicated to getting better. Leadershifting is not easy, especially when you first start doing it. Often you leave behind something that has worked to pursue something untested.

You’ll have to deal with the tension between the stability that gives security and the adaptability that opens up opportunity. That will empower you to get better, to become someone new before you can grow into something new. The desire to improve will drive you to keep learning. But here’s the good news: learning to leadershift will make you a better leader !


HOW TO LEADERSHIFT If you answered yes to the previoius questions—or you’re willing to move in the direction where you’ll be able to answer yes—then you’re ready to take steps forward and start leadershifting. As we move forward in this book, I’ll take you through eleven major leadershifts I’ve made in my leadership journey.

But before we do that, I want to teach you seven things you must do to leadershift successfully. Embrace these practices daily, and you will be ready to face every leadershift situation with flexibility and confidence.

I’ve already discussed the pace at which our world is changing. I recently read an article published by the World Economic Forum that brought light to this. To quote Harvard Business Review’s “Mind the (Skills) Gap”: “The lessons learned in school can become outdated before student loans are paid off.”

As it points out, the skills college graduates acquire during a bachelor’s degree that used to provide enough basic training to last a career, today have an expected shelf life of only five years. In turn, studying the impact of disruptive change on existing skill sets in its recent report “The Future of Jobs,” the World Economic Forum discovered that:

On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.” Or, as lynda.com author Mark Niemann-Ross states bluntly: “In four years, you’ll have to relearn 30% of your job.”9 How are leaders to thrive in this environment ?

We must learn, unlearn, and relearn. This process is essential for leadershifting.
We have to embrace change every day. We must be willing to let go of what worked yesterday and learn new ways of seeing, doing, and leading. We cannot afford to be in love with any one technology or methodology. We keep learning and changing, or our leadership dies.

Baseball great Babe Ruth is rumored to have said, “Yesterday’s homerun doesn’t win today’s game.” Isn’t that fantastic? It’s a good reminder to focus on today. What we did in the past may look good on a resume, but it won’t help us win today. For years I had a sign in my office that said, “Yesterday Ended Last Night.”

I put it there to remind me that all the good I did yesterday won’t guarantee a good day for me today, nor will all the bad that happened yesterday mean that today has to be bad. Today stands on its own. If I want a great today, I need to do what’s necessary now. I can and should be grateful for yesterday, but I have to focus on today.

When I was a young author, I was mentored by a very successful writer. I will always be indebted to him for the help he gave me. One evening we were having dinner, and I shared that I was writing another book. He inquired about the thesis and content and then asked me, “John, is this going to be your best book ?” “Yes, it is!” I replied.

“Good,” he said. “Because you are only as good as your last book. If you disappoint your readers, they’ll always wonder if they should buy your next one.” I’ve never forgotten that advice. I’ve written and sold a lot of books over the years, but I can’t rest on my past reputation. People may honor you for what you did yesterday, but they respect you for what you’re doing now. I value yesterday but I live in today.

Having to move quickly in today’s climate isn’t really a choice if you want to succeed. However, timing is. As a leader who leadershifts, you need to understand the context of your environment. What is happening around you determines whether you hold fast or move forward. Leading is like knowing when to eat a pear. It’s said that there is only one day in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. As a leader you must be able to recognize the right timing of leadershift moments.

When does a team member need an encouraging
pep talk and when do they need to be challenged to step up ?
When is the right time to add a new product or to retire
an existing one that has already seen its best days ?
When should your organization use some of its cash to seize an opportunity,
and when is that a bad idea ?
For leaders, timing is critical. Good timing enables leaders to seize the moment
and gain the victory for their team.
That sense of timing is especially important when leadershifting.
To paraphrase financier James Goldsmith, when the leader sees the bandwagon,
it’s too late to lead.


My journey leading people really began when I first understood that everything rises and falls on leadership. This truth became the foundation upon which I built my life. It continues to be the catalyst for my personal development and my training of others. When people started asking me to speak on leadership, I didn’t have much to teach. Later when I decided to write a book on the subject, I thought it would be my only one.

Now I’ve been leading people and training leaders for more than forty-five years, and my perspective has been enlarged tremendously. The more I learn about the subject, the more I recognize I don’t know enough about it. The more leadership experiences
I gain, the more I realize I would benefit from more experience.

There is no finish line when it comes to improving, and there is no complete picture of leadership that can be mastered. As long as I’m growing, my leadership picture will continue to enlarge. If you keep growing, yours will too.

I like to think of this process as layered learning.
Each time we learn a new lesson and connect it with the many things we’ve already learned on the same subject, we gain depth and we see more of the big picture. This process requires time; no one can learn all the lessons at once.

Putting together lessons requires intentionality, but when you do, you expand your knowledge. My first formal leadership role was in a church in southern Indiana, in a farming community. I developed a friendship with the community banker, who one day explained to me how he decided whether or not to loan farmers money.

He would ask them if they were fencing in or fencing out. If they were fencing in, they were done expanding their farm. They were intent on holding on to what they had and doing only minor improvements to their property.

However, if they were fencing out, it indicated they were expanding, wanting more land for crops or livestock. They were extending their reach and striving to do more. My banker friend said, “I loan money to those who are fencing out. They need help to get bigger and better.” Leadershifting is all about fencing out. It’s about seeing a bigger picture and getting better.

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Leaders have a natural bias toward action. They have to be proactive today for the sake of tomorrow. However, the longevity of their leadership is determined by how they think and see the future. Staying ahead of the team comes from thinking ahead of the team. If you think ahead, you can stay ahead.

As political columnist George Will said, “The future has a way of arriving unannounced.”
We cannot recover yesterday but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. How can we do that as leaders? What can we do today to ensure we have what we need to lead tomorrow ?

We have to practice what I call advance attraction, which I discovered in the 1980s.
I concluded that I could experience a positive future only if I had a good dream and a good team. At that time, my dream excited me, but my team did not. How was I going to attract the team I needed to fulfill my dream ?

When you become aware of what you need or want, you’re better able to see it—and attract it. If you think about blue, you will see blue everywhere you look. If you start noticing blue, you will see even more blue. What you focus on expands. Awareness allows you to bring into your future the people and resources you need.

It enables you to lead your life instead of merely accepting it. Being unaware has exactly the opposite effect. Unawareness lets you see nothing, attract nothing, and receive nothing that will enhance your future. Leaders who are unaware wonder why they don’t have access to the resources they need to ensure a better tomorrow. They cannot leadershift; their tomorrow will not be any better than their today.

Going back to what I did in the eighties, the first step toward getting a better team for the future was to know what I wanted and needed. I started by writing down the qualities of the team I wanted to have. This developed an increased awareness in me that promoted advance attraction.

Here’s how this works. When you know who you are and you know what you want, you then know the kind of people you will attract, and the things you will discover. Your mind will think things that will help you get what you want.

Your eyes will see things that will help you get what you want. Your heart will feel things that will help you get what you want. Your attitude will believe things that will help you get what you want.

Your mouth will say things that will help you get what you want. Your actions will attract things that will help you get what you want. As I attracted and discovered the kinds of team members I needed to realize my dream, I began to experience positive results. Today I’m abundantly reaping the benefits of this leadershift.

Life expands or shrinks in proportion to our courage. When leaders fail to make a necessary leadershift because of fear or uncertainty, it only increases their fear, which results in frustration.

The greater the inaction of the leaders, the more opportunities they lose because opportunities are always surrounded by uncertainty. All good things include uncertainty, and overcoming uncertainty requires courage. I like what Brad Lomenick said about courage in his book The Catalyst Leader.

He quoted my friend Andy Stanley, a wonderful leader who founded North Point Church.
Andy was speaking to Catalyst leaders, but his words also described leaders who leadershift: Many, many great things have begun with a single act of courage,
throughout history and today.

A person steps out and makes one courageous decision and that one domino starts many other dominoes falling. We have to step out and take that first step, and we may never know the ripple effect of that one courageous decision.

Catalyst leaders—your decision to do something courageous may result in something greater than you ever imagined.

Step out. . . .Fear in leadership usually is connected to the uncertainty about the future.
But uncertainty about the future is never going to go away.

I tell leaders all the time—uncertainty is why there are leaders. Uncertainty gives you job security. Wherever there is uncertainty, there will always be a need for leaders, which means always stepping out into the unknown, always requiring courage.

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When You’re Losing, Everything Hurts
My friend Robert Schuller once asked, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail ?” That’s a great question, an inspiring question. When most people hear it, they start dreaming again.

They are motivated to reach for their goals and to risk more. I have a question that
I think is just as important: what do you learn when you fail ? While people are usually ready to talk about their dreams, they are not well prepared to answer a question about their shortcomings.

Most people don’t like to talk about their mistakes and failures. They don’t want to confront their losses. They are embarrassed by them. And when they do find themselves falling short, they may find themselves saying something trite, such as “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

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The message is, “Hope to win, expect to lose, and live with the results either way.” What’s wrong with that ? It’s not how winners think! Successful people approach losing differently. They don’t try to brush failure under the rug. They don’t run away from their losses.

Their attitude is never Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Instead they think, Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. They understand that life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses—if we approach them the right way. This One Really Hurt I’ve experienced many wins in life, but I’ve also had more than my share of losses. Some losses came through no fault of my own.

However, many were of my own making, coming from bad choices and dumb mistakes. On March 12, 2009, I made the mother of all stupid mistakes. I tried to go through security at a major airport with a forgotten handgun in my briefcase. That is a federal offense! It was by far the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

Here’s how it came about. The previous Saturday, I was in Birmingham, Alabama, speaking at the Church of the Highlands. It’s a wonderful church with a marvelous leader named Chris Hodges.

He is a good friend who serves on the board of EQUIP, the not-for-profit organization I founded to teach leadership internationally. Chris’s people are fantastic, and I had a terrific time with them that weekend.

Many times when I have a speaking engagement, I fly commercially. But whenever the engagement isn’t far away from home and it means that I would be able to come home and sleep in my own bed, I try to fly on a private airplane. That was the case following my time with Chris in Birmingham.

As I was about to get on the plane at the general aviation airport to fly home, a friend of Chris’s who had ridden with us wanted to give me a gift: a Beretta pistol. “This is for Margaret,” he said, “so she can feel safe when you’re traveling.” I have friends who know a lot about guns. Some do a lot of hunting.

And I’ve gone hunting with friends several times. I’ve shot rifles and shotguns, but I don’t really know a lot about guns. And to be honest, they don’t have great interest to me. I’m not really pro-or antigun. I just don’t think a lot about them. And I’m not a technical person. But I knew this pistol had been given as a gift from the heart, so I accepted it and put it in my briefcase.

After we landed, the pilot remarked on what a nice gun it was.  And he asked me, “Do you know how to load it ?” “I have no idea,” I answered. “Let me do it for you,” he said. He loaded the gun, made sure it was secure, and gave it back to me. I put it back in my briefcase and went home.

And then I forgot all about it.
The next several days were very busy for me. I had a commitment to speak to a large group in Dallas, and I was entirely focused on getting ready for it. There was one brief moment while I was working on my lesson when I thought to myself, Oh, I need to remember to get that gun out of my bag.

But I was in the middle of writing, and I didn’t want to stop because I was on a roll. So I thought, I’ll do it later. Time passed. Life was busy. I kept working. And before I knew it, Thursday morning rolled around and off I went to the airport.

If you’re my age, you may remember a cartoon character named Mr. Magoo. He was a man who seemed to wander from danger to danger without ever getting hurt. Some of my friends used to call me Mr. Magoo. (If you’re not old enough to know Mr. Magoo, maybe you remember Forrest Gump.

Friends have called me that, too.) On that Thursday, in my worst Mr. Magoo moment, I strolled right up to security and dropped my briefcase on the conveyer belt. Just as I was about to walk through the metal detector, I remembered the gun. In a panic I blurted out, “There’s a gun in there! There’s a gun in there!” Truly, it is one of the stupidest things I have ever done.

I felt like an idiot. And to make matters worse, many of the people who were at the security checkpoint knew me, including the man who operated the screening device. He said, “Mr. Maxwell, I am sorry but I will have to report this.”

Trust me, that came as no surprise. They stopped everything, shut down the conveyor belt, handcuffed me, and took me away. It turned out that the head of the sheriff’s division who filled out the police report knew me too.

He was all business for about an hour. But then after we had completed the procedure, he turned to me, smiled, and said, “I love your books. If I had known we would meet up like this, I would have brought them here for you to sign.” “If you could get me out of this mess, I’d give you signed books for the rest of your life,” I replied. The man who took my mug shot knew me.

When they brought me into the room where he worked, he said, “Mr. Maxwell, what are you doing here?” He took the handcuffs off of me and told the officer that I didn’t need them. Needless to say, when he took my picture, I didn’t smile.

Assessing the Loss Immediately after being released on bail, I met my attorney, who said, “Our main goal is to keep this quiet.” “That’s impossible,” I responded, telling him of all the people I encountered who knew me during the entire ordeal. Sure enough, the news broke that evening.

In order to let people know what happened and to minimize publicity damage, before the news broke I tweeted the following message: Definition of Stupid: Receive a gun as a gift; Forget it’s in carry-on and go to the airport. Security not happy! Too often in my life I have not been careful enough. I knew better than to put a gun in my briefcase. Immediately after security found the gun, I began silently lecturing myself about my carelessness.

The words of Hugh Prather fit me perfectly:
“I sometimes react to making a mistake as if I have betrayed myself. My fear of making a mistake seems to be based on the hidden assumption that I am potentially perfect, and that if I can just be very careful I will not fall from heaven. But a mistake is a declaration of the way I am, a jolt to the way I intend, a reminder that I am not dealing with facts.

When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown.” “When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown.” —Hugh Prather The words be careful have been my takeaway from this experience.

Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. Or as they say in Texas, “It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!” I am convinced that we are all one step away from stupid.

I could have “lost my cow” because of this incident. None of us does life so well that we are far away from doing something dumb. And what it has taken a lifetime to build has the potential to be lost in a moment. My hope was that a lifetime of striving to live with integrity would outweigh an act of stupidity.

Fortunately, as soon as the story became public, my friends started to rally around me and support me. Because I knew that people would begin asking questions about it, I immediately wrote about it on my blog, JohnMaxwellonLeadership.com, in a post called “Stupid Is as Stupid Does.”

The supportive response from people was overwhelming. Their words of encouragement and prayers certainly lifted my spirit. Other friends took a more humorous approach to me.

When I went to speak at the Crystal Cathedral, Gretchen Schuller said, “John, security wants to pat you down before you speak.” Bill Hybels wrote me a note that said, “No sex ? No money scandal ?
Boring…” Angela Williams e-mailed my assistant, Linda Eggers, with these words: “Tell John he’s my hero. His estimation has risen in my eyes. I come from a long line of ‘Bubbas.’

Lots of pistol-packing men and women.
Art’s mom was arrested in the Atlanta airport in the ’80s for having a Clint Eastwood–type pistol in her large purse… she too forgot about it.” And Jessamyn West pointed out, “It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own.”

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Then I started to receive people’s suggestions
for the title of my next book, including:
• Developing the Gangsta within You
• 21 Irrefutable Laws of Airport Security
• The 21 Indisputable, Irrefutable Reasons

Why Not to Forget Your Gun in Your Briefcase
When Going to the Airport

• Leading from the Middle of the Gang
• Have Gun, Will Travel Today, I feel very fortunate because the incident was dismissed by the court and it has been expunged from my record. I can laugh about the whole thing. In fact, not long after the ordeal, I created a reminder for myself of the fact that in life sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

I often carry it in my briefcase (instead of a gun). It’s a laminated card. On one side is the April 2009 cover of Success Magazine. I was featured on that cover, and I look great! Million-dollar smile. Blue suit.

A posture of success and confidence. Half a million people bought that magazine, saw my picture, and read my words about success. On the other side is my mug shot. It was taken only two weeks after the magazine came out! No million-dollar smile. No blue suit, just sweats.

Poor posture and a look of complete discouragement. It just goes to show you that there’s not much distance between the penthouse and the outhouse. Why Losses Hurt So Much In life, sometimes you win. In my younger years I played basketball and was very competitive. I liked to win, and I hated losing.

When I was in my early twenties, I went to a class reunion, where I played in a game against other former players. We were all eager to prove we could still play at the same level, and it turned out to be a very physical game.

Of course, I wanted to win, so I was very aggressive. After I knocked one opponent to the floor, he shouted in frustration, “Back off, it’s only a game !” My reply: “Then let me win.” I’m not exactly proud of that, but I think it illustrates how much most of us like to win.

When we win, nothing hurts; when we lose, everything hurts. And the only time you hear someone use the phrase “It’s only a game” is when that person is losing. Think of some of the losses in your life and how they made you feel. Not good. And it’s not just the pain of the moment that affects us.

Our losses also cause us other difficulties. Here are a few:
1. Losses Cause Us to Be Emotionally Stuck Author and speaker Les Brown says, “The good times we put in our pocket. The bad times we put in our heart.”

I have found that to be true in my life. In my heart I still carry some of the bad times. I bet you do too. The negative experiences affect us more deeply than positive ones, and if you’re like me, you may get emotionally stuck. “The good times we put in our pocket.

The bad times we put in our heart.” —Les Brown Recently I experienced being emotionally stuck after I made a foolish mistake. Ron Puryear, a wonderful friend, invited me to stay a few days at his beautiful river house in Idaho so that I could get away and begin writing this book.

The setting is inspiring and perfect for thinking and writing. The view overlooks a beautiful body of water with tree-covered hills in the background.

It’s spectacular. Since I had speaking gigs in Spokane, Edmonton, and Los Angeles, all western cities, I decided to take him up on his offer. My son-in-law Steve and our friend Mark were with me because they would be going with me to Edmonton, Canada.

As we got into the car in Spokane, Washington, to head for the airport, Steve asked, “Do we all have our passports ?” My heart sank ! I had forgotten mine ! Now, this was no simple matter of turning around and going back to get it. I was out west and my passport was in Florida, more than two thousand miles away.

In six hours, I was supposed to be speaking in Edmonton. I started to feel sick. What was I going to do ? How could an experienced, international traveler like me make such a foolish error ? I felt like an idiot.

Text to Speech (T2S) App.

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