Part of the series “Today’s True Leadership”
Last year, I had the great pleasure of interviewing John Maxwell for my Finding Brave podcast on 11 Essential Shifts Every Leader Must Embrace, and I was not only very inspired by his leadership advice, but also by his authenticity, candor, generosity, and true interest in helping others rise. After our interview was done, he surprised me with this question, “So Kathy, what can I do to help you?” In interviewing hundreds of top-level leaders and influencers on my podcast and this blog, I can share that it’s a very rare thing for folks at the highest level to ask this question of those who are interviewing them.
This month, I was thrilled to catch up with John again to explore the core messages from latest book, The Leader’s Greatest Return, which offers both seasoned and emerging leaders effective guidance for attracting, developing, and multiplying leaders within any organization.
John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker, and his books have sold 30 million copies. He has been called the #1 leader in business by the AMA and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc.
Here’s what John shares:
Kathy Caprino: John, you talk about the vital importance of focusing on one thing to build great leaders and it’s not what we’ve been told all these years. Tell us what is the most important thing leaders need to do, in your view.
John Maxwell: Well, Kathy, the most important thing any leader can do is develop more leaders. It sounds simple, but if that were the case, we wouldn’t find ourselves constantly looking for more and better leaders.
I am convinced we have a leadership deficit in our world in every stream of influence—art, sports, media, government, business, education, healthcare, religion—and the only way we can overcome that deficit is by good leaders intentionally identifying, attracting, and investing in other leaders, and then teaching them to do the same. It’s a challenging and continual process, but it is the one investment every leader can make that will produce a return that outpaces the investment forever. That’s why I wrote The Leader’s Greatest Return.
Caprino: So, how exactly can we attract better leaders in our organizations?
Maxwell: The first thing we must do is know what we’re looking for. I think too many leaders put themselves at a disadvantage because they go looking for leadership stereotypes instead of looking for genuine leaders. Genuine leaders are willing to lead, have the ability to lead, and have a track record of producing results wherever they are. Once you know what you’re looking for, then you can spot leaders within your organization and begin investing in them—or look outside your organization—and begin the work of attracting them.
I’ve found that the best way to attract leaders is to give them an opportunity to sit at my leadership table. Leaders are learners, so they’re always hungry to stretch themselves, always hungry to learn from people who are faster, sharper, stronger, and more experienced. All those leaders need is an invitation to join you—to be welcomed to your table and given the opportunity to try on leadership at a different level.
To get the best results, be open with your invitation—let anyone with leadership potential have the chance to sit down. It is always surprising who is able to rise up and lead effectively when given the opportunity.
Caprino: You say in your new book that managers shouldn’t “motivate.” What should they do instead?
Maxwell: One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, “How do I motivate my people?” Can I tell you something? If your people need motivating, then you have the wrong people. Motivation is an inside job—it starts within each person and comes in an infinite variety. If you as leader have to work through the combinations to find the exact right motivation for each person on your team, you’ll never get anything done. Instead, it’s better for your people to motivate themselves and for you as their leader to inspire them.
Inspiration comes from an external source and it taps into a person’s own unique motivation in a way that not only fans it but strengthens and lengthens it. You can inspire your people with a compelling vision, or by giving them freedom to experiment, or by stoking their curiosity, or even just giving them a better focus on why their work matters. But the first thing you must do as their leader is be inspired yourself, which means understanding your own motivations and living up to them. You can’t add fuel to someone else’s flame if you’re a wet blanket.
Caprino: You also say that many of us are not listening correctly. How so?
Maxwell: Oh, that’s a good question. Candidly, what many of us are doing wrong is we’re just listening for the other person to pause. That’s all. We’re not listening to understand. We’re not trying to hear the other person’s perspective or ideas or valid concerns. We’re just listening for a break where we can toss out our reply and share our brilliance. And while I’m sure our ideas all have some value, there’s not a single one that couldn’t be improved with the contributions and ideas of others.
So, when you listen, pay attention to what the other person is saying. Make a commitment to keep your thoughts to yourself until you’re certain you’ve understood what others are trying to say. Then, look for ways to bring things together in a way that will make everything—and everyone—better.
Caprino: How are the strategies that grow your employees similar to strategies that grow your business?
Maxwell: That’s simple—your business is your people. Grow your people, and you grow your business. I know that sounds too easy, but it’s the truth; when your people are challenged and stretched, and they respond positively to those challenges and those stretching moments, they grow themselves and bring your business with them.
I think we try too hard to separate our business from our people. When we will invest in our people by giving them an environment where growth is expected and rewarded, provide them tools that spur and multiply their growth, and model growth ourselves, we will see that investment reflected in our business. It’s not a short-term strategy— it’s what Simon Sinek calls the Infinite Mindset—but it will pay dividends that compound over time.
Caprino: For people who are longing to discover their “purpose,” what are the best questions to ask themselves?
Maxwell: I believe everyone has a purpose for their life. Everyone. It’s not just for the talented or exceptional—each person on this planet has a purpose for being here. Because of that belief, in years past, I’ve taught a simple formula for finding your purpose: cry, sing, dream.
They’re better represented as three questions:
· What do you cry about?
· What do you sing about?
· What do you dream about?
Those three questions cut to the heart of any person, and they form a great foundation for learning your purpose because what you’re meant to do is deeply connected to who you are as a person. But people have always asked me to be more specific, so I have five new questions that can help:
- What do you do well?
- What do you want to do?
- What do others say you do well?
- What do you do that has a productive return?
- What do you do that you can keep getting better at doing?
Everyone’s purpose lies somewhere near the intersection of their skills, their passion, and their compassion. These questions will get you to that intersection, but you’ll need to dig deeper to find the exact purpose for which you were born.
Caprino: Finally, why is working yourself out of a job the ultimate leadership win you and your organization?
Maxwell: The very first law in my book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, is the “Law of the Lid,” which says that an organization cannot grow beyond its leader. If we as leaders aren’t working ourselves out of a job, we’re effectively slamming the lid shut on everyone we lead. We’re saying, “This is as far as any of us can go.” No organization can withstand a stagnant leader, which means we must seek out people who can not only grow into our role, but people we can actively develop to take that role from us.
Here’s a leadership truth: if you work yourself out of a job, you’ll always have another job. No one has ever improved their skills, developed and nurtured a growing team, and identified and trained a worthwhile replacement only to have people go, “That’s not good.” Growing yourself out of a job means increasing your personal value by adding value to other leaders, who in turn increase the value they add to the organization.
Success never comes from protecting what you have. It comes from equipping others to replace you so you can move on to bigger and better things—and they can too.