The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary
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The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Summary and Analysis | John C. Maxwell

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary

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We’re scratching the surface in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free on Amazon to learn the juicy details.

About the Book

If you want to make a positive impact in this world, one thing will definitely help, and that is your leadership ability. In this book, John C. Maxwell shares his top 21 time-tested leadership principles.

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold over 16 million books. His organizations have trained more than 2 million leaders worldwide.

Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and INJOY Stewardship Services. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and audiences as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and ambassadors at the United Nations. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week bestselling author, Maxwell was named the World’s Top Leadership Guru by He was also one of only 25 authors and artists named to’s 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. Three of his books, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader have each sold over a million copies.


Many people view leadership the same way they view success, hoping to go as far as they can, to climb the ladder, to achieve the highest position possible for their talent. But contrary to conventional thinking, I believe the bottom line in leadership isn’t how far we advance ourselves but how far we advance others. That is achieved by serving others and adding value to their lives.”

John C. Maxwell

The quote above sums up the foundation of the 21 laws and the philosophy behind them. Based on 40 years of leadership and the observations of successful leaders in business, politics, sports, and other industries, these principles are the core elements of being a leader. The laws are based on the premise that leadership is not just about a business or organization, but also about self-development and the development of others. 

Law #1: The Law of The Lid

This law states that your leadership ability is the lid to your effectiveness as a leader. The main point of this law is to realize the importance of leadership ability and to identify where you’re at in that. One practical exercise is to rate your abilities from 1 to 10 in these areas.

  1. People skills
  2. Planning and strategic thinking
  3. Vision
  4. Results

After you’ve done this exercise, have others close to you rate you on the same and compare the two. That should give a pretty good starting point.

Law #2: The Law of Influence

Maxwell says that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less, and so the more influence one has, the more potential for leadership. And everyone has a different amount of influence, but to grow yours in a positive way, try focusing on these seven areas.

  1. Character
  2. Relationships
  3. Knowledge
  4. Intuition
  5. Experience
  6. Past success
  7. Ability

Law #3: The Law of The Process

While motivation can come in a moment, growth takes time. The good news, though, is that commitment to the process will bring results. Here are five phases of leadership growth.

  1. Not knowing what you don’t know
  2. Knowing that you need to know
  3. Knowing what you don’t know
  4. Knowing and growing, and it starts showing
  5. Simply going because of what you know. And this last stage is nice, because it’s when leadership can become instinctual and even automatic, and it does happen, especially for those who follow the law of process.

Law #4: The Law of Navigation

There’s a quote that states, “Anyone can steer a ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.” And this law reveals that a leader will often need to navigate a team through challenging circumstances. Think planning a camping trip or a road trip, or starting a new business, or even going to the moon. This is all an example of the law of navigation.

Law #5: The Law of Addition

This law basically states that leaders add value to others through service. And Maxwell shares four helpful tips on how to serve better.

  1. To truly value others
  2. To make ourselves more valuable
  3. To get to know and relate to what others value
  4. To do things that God values, for example, treating others like you would like to be treated.

Maxwell also states that 90% of people who add value to others do so intentionally, and so to be a better leader, seek to intentionally add value and serve others and those you lead.

Law #6: The Law of Solid Ground

Maxwell states that truly effective leaders over the long term are trustworthy and honest, and that’s the foundation or solid ground that their leadership is built on. So to strengthen your solid ground, try focusing on these three areas.

  1. Integrity: Make a commitment to yourself to be scrupulously honest. Don’t shave the truth, tell white lies, or fudge numbers. Be truthful even when it hurts.
  2. Authenticity: Be yourself with everyone. No politics, role-playing, or pretending to be someone you’re not.
  3. Discipline: Do what you know you should do when it should be done, whether you feel like it or not. Commit to these things and your foundation or solid ground will be rock solid.

Law #7: The Law of Respect

This one builds on the last one, and the point is that people tend to follow and respect leaders stronger than themselves, and that doesn’t necessarily mean physically, financially, or whatnot. Some of the most respected people of all time came from humble circumstances and were followed by very high-level people. Think of Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and so on. Here are some of the characteristics that respected people tend to have.

  1. They have respect for others
  2. They have courage
  3. They have usually some sort of a success record
  4. Loyalty
  5. They add value to others

Law #8: The Law of Intuition

Another aspect of effective leadership is good intuition. It’s basically positive social instincts and is especially helpful in leadership. In order to strengthen yours, try these three tips.

  1. Read books on relationships
  2. Engage in more conversations
  3. Become a people watcher

Or basically continue learning, communicating, and observing, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a more intuitive leader.

Law #9: The Law of Magnetism

There’s a quote in this section that states, “Who you attract is not determined by what you want. It is determined by who you are.” And two things that demonstrate this are energy and giftedness. Generally, people will want to follow those with similar or greater levels of energy, and the same goes for giftedness or talent. So for example, who would the math student want to go to for a tutor, or the aspiring chef or musician or business person, or what have you? They would want to go to someone who knows more, that they can learn from. Right? The bottom line is that the better leader you become, the more magnetic your leadership will be.

Law #10: The Law of Connection

Connection is the key to influence, and for a leader to connect well, he must have two things.

  1. Confidence in his or her vision and
  2. The ability to communicate it well

In this section, two helpful tips for achieving this are

  1. Identifying who you are and what you stand for. This will help you to determine which area you want to lead in and why.
  2. To develop your public speaking skills. Warren Buffet once said that one of the most valuable things he ever did was to attend a public speaking course and to practice what he learned. And so, work on these two traits and watch your connections and leadership improve.

Law #11: The Law of The Inner Circle

This law shows that leadership potential is often determined by those closest to you, those who you go to for counsel or advice, or even your closest employees. So to have a great inner circle, try finding the best mentorship you can, hire the best staff that you can, develop them as much as you can, and then hand off everything you can to that inner circle.

And this leads us to our next one, law #12, the law of empowerment.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is the one who has enough sense to pick good men to do what he wants done and enough self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” And that basically sums up this law. Successful and secure leaders will empower others for good, because they realize that’s what true leadership is about.

Law #13: The Law of the Picture

As a leader, you are the picture that people will often reflect, and because of this we should strive to be the best examples we can be for them. There was a survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation for Ajilon Finance, and they asked American workers what they thought was the one trait that was most important for someone leading them to have. And here were the top three

  1. Knowledge of the business
  2. Strong ethics and morals
  3. Leading by example

And so the bottom line is, the most effective leaders will give their followers exactly what they want, and that is a good example.

Law #14: The Law of Buy-in

In order for a message to be truly influential, people need to also be bought into the messenger. If they aren’t, the vision will have little effect. A phenomenon that shows this is that leaders tend to develop the vision first and then find the people, while the people tend to find a leader they believe in first and then they find the vision. But whatever the case is, and whether it be because of likability or charisma or trust or competence or respect, the more buy-in someone has, the greater will be their influence.

Law #15: The Law of Victory

In his book, First: What it Takes to Win, Rich Froning, who for several years was named as the fittest man on earth said this, “In training, you listen to your body. In competition, you tell your body to shut up.” And a common trait of exceptional leaders is that they push through challenging circumstances to gain victories. And in this section, the four aspects of team victory are unity of vision, diversity of skills, dedication to victory, and raising others to their potential.

As you focus on these, you should see more wins and start to gain momentum, which leads us to law #16, the law of Big Mo.

Law #16: The Law of Big Mo

Momentum is a leader’s best friend, and you see, the thing about momentum is that it always starts at zero, but as leadership is developed, victories will increase and so will Big Mo, more momentum. It’s inevitable, and it becomes like a downhill snowball. Growth becomes faster and leadership becomes easier and more enjoyable.

And at this point it becomes important to know how to keep things going in that right direction, which leads us to law #17.

Law #17: The Law of Priorities

In order to maintain growth, a leader will need to differentiate between activity and accomplishment. For example, a farmer may need to cut off a certain nice part of a plant that isn’t producing fruit in order for the rest of the plant to continue growing to its full potential, and it’s similar in leadership. It will often require deciding between what to keep and what to sacrifice for the good of the whole, which also leads us to our next one, and that is the law of sacrifice.

Law #18: The Law of Sacrifice

It will be helpful to realize that the higher one goes in leadership, the more must be sacrificed. Jesus once said that, “If anyone desires to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all,” and Maxwell states that, “A growing leader’s sense of personal rights decreases, while his sense of personal responsibility to others increases.” And becoming a parent can be a good example of this, also. The bottom line, if you want to be a leader, ask yourself, are you willing to sacrifice for others?

Law #19: The Law of Timing

An effective leader not only focuses on doing the right things, but also on doing them at the right time. Think of a marriage proposal, for example. Timing can make or break everything. In agriculture, again, knowing when to plant, water, or harvest is crucial for having the best and most produce. This law is helpful all throughout life, and those who master it will always have a strong and timely influence.

Law #20: The Law of Explosive Growth

This law is the result of effective leadership or of following the other ones well. To get here, the first step is focusing on personal development, where personal success is experienced. Then, number two would be team development, where growth to the organization is experienced, and then finally, leadership development, where leaders are being developed that can then take the reins and continue the process, opening the way for explosive growth.

And this ties into our last one, and that is law #21, the law of legacy.

Law #21: The Law of Legacy

In the end, what you and I will be remembered by is the legacy we left behind. It’s basically the influence or leadership beyond our years, and so while we still can, if that’s true, why not decide what our legacy will be? Well, to do this requires a few things.

  1. Knowing our purpose in life. And this can be done by identifying our values and talents, which can help us decide which contribution we’d like to make.
  2. Deciding who to invest in to carry that legacy forward. Ideally, it would be those with similar values, but greater talents, so they can stand on our shoulders in a sense.

And so as we end this law and this book, my challenge for myself and anyone else reading this is to decide which kind of legacy we’d like to leave behind and to pick a positive one. Well, that’s it, the end of our summary of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And if you’d like a copy for yourself, there’s a link in the description below.


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