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The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You PDF

Author: John C. Maxwell

Publisher: HarperCollins Leadership


Publish Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN-10: 1400236169

Pages: 336

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

Every book is a conversation between the author and the individual reading it. Some people pick up a book hoping for a bit of encouragement. Some devour a book’s information as if they were attending an intensive seminar. Others find in its pages a mentor they can meet with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

The thing I love about writing books is that it allows me to “talk” to many people I will never personally meet. That’s why I made the decision in 1977 to become an author. I had a passion to add value to people that energized me to write. That passion still burns within me today. Few things are more rewarding to me than being on the road and having someone I’ve never met approach me to say, “Thank you. Your books have really helped me.” It’s why I write—and intend to continue writing!

Despite the deep satisfaction of knowing that my books help people, there is also a great frustration that comes with being an author. Once a book is published, it freezes in time. If you and I knew each other person-ally and we met weekly or monthly to talk about leadership, every time we got together I’d share with you something new I’d learned. As a person, I continue to grow. I’m constantly reading. I’m analyzing my mistakes. I’m talking to excellent leaders to learn from them. Each time you and I were to sit down, I’d say, “You won’t believe what I just learned.”

As a conference and event speaker, I often teach the principles I write about in my books, and I’m constantly updating my material. I use new stories. I refine ideas. And I often gain new insights as I stand in front of an audience. However, when I go back to books that I’ve previously writ-ten, first, I become aware of how I’ve changed since I’ve written them. But second, I become frustrated because the books can’t grow and change along with me.

That’s why I got excited when my publisher, Thomas Nelson, asked if I would like to revise The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership for a special tenth anniversary edition. When I originally wrote the book, it was my answer to the question, “If you were to take everything you’ve learned about leadership over the years and boil it down into a short list, what would it be?” I put on paper the essentials of leadership, communicated as simply and clearly as possible. And soon after the book was published and it appeared on four different bestseller lists, I realized it had the potential to help a lot of people become better leaders.


But now, years later, there are things I am no longer satisfied with in the original edition, and I knew I could improve upon some of the ideas. Some stories had become dated, and I wanted to replace them with new ones. I had also developed new material to better explain and illustrate some of the principles. While teaching the laws for nearly a decade in dozens of countries around the world, I fielded thousands of questions about them. That process advanced my thinking beyond what it was when I first wrote the book. Working on this tenth anniversary edition has allowed me to make those improvements.

By far the biggest change I wanted to make to the original book centered on two of the laws. What? you may ask. How can you change one of your irrefutable laws?

First of all, while teaching them I soon discovered that two of the laws were really just subsets of other laws. The Law of E. F. Hutton (When the Real Leader Speaks, People Listen) was really just an aspect of the Law of Influence (The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence—Nothing More, Nothing Less). When people around a table stop and listen to a leader speak, they are revealing that the speaker has influence. Because the ideas in the Law of E. F. Hutton were part of the Law of Influence, I merged those two chapters. Similarly, I recognized that the Law of Reproduction (It Takes a Leader to Raise Up a Leader) was assumed in the Law of Explosive Growth (To Add Growth, Lead Followers—To Multiply, Lead Leaders). For that reason, I combined them as well.

The other thing that happened was that I began to realize that I had missed some things when writing about the laws of leadership originally. I discovered the first omission as soon as I had taught the laws a few times in developing countries. I found that in many of those places, leadership was focused on position, privilege, and power. In my paradigm of leadership, I took some things for granted. I see leadership primarily as a form of service and had never identified a law to teach that principle. The second oversight had to do with modeling leadership and impacting the culture of an organization. The result is the inclusion of two new laws in this tenth anniversary edition of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

The Law of Addition: Leaders Add Value by Serving Others
The Law of the Picture: People Do What People See

From today’s perspective I ask myself, How could I have missed them? But I did. The good news is that you won’t! I feel certain that these two laws will add immeasurably to the book and to your ability to lead. Serving others and showing others the way are two critical components of successful leadership. I wish I could revise each of my books every ten years to include things I missed!


There are two other things I’ve been reminded of as I’ve taught the 21 Laws these last ten years:


Instinctively, successful people understand that focus is important to achievement. But leadership is very complex. During a break at a conference where I was teaching the 21 Laws, a young college student came up to me and said, “I know you are teaching 21 Laws of Leadership, but I want to get to the bottom line.” With intensity, he raised his index finger and asked, “What is the one thing I need to know about leadership?”

Trying to match his intensity, I raised my index finger and answered, “The one thing you need to know about leadership is that there is more than one thing you need to know about leadership!” To lead well, we must do 21 things well.


Despite the fact that we must do 21 things well to be excellent leaders, it is reality that none of us does all of them well. For example, I am average or below average in five of the laws—and I wrote the book! So what is a leader to do? Ignore those laws? No, develop a leadership team.

At the end of this book there is a leadership evaluation. I encourage you to take it to evaluate your aptitude for each law. Once you’ve discovered in which laws you are average or below, begin looking for team members whose skills are strong where yours are weak. They will complement you and vice versa, and the whole team will benefit. That will make it possible for you to develop an all-star leadership team. Remember, none of us is as smart as all of us.


Though I have made adjustments to the laws and updated the ways I teach them, some things have not changed in the last ten years. It’s still true that leadership is leadership, no matter where you go or what you do. Times change. Technology marches forward. Cultures differ from place to place. But the principles of leadership are constant—whether you’re looking at the citizens of ancient Greece, the Hebrews in the Old Testament, the armies of the modern world, the leaders in the international community, the pastors in local churches, or the businesspeople of today’s global economy. Leadership principles are unchanging and stand the test of time.

As you read the following chapters, I’d like you to keep in mind four ideas:

1. The laws can be learned. Some are easier to understand and apply than others, but every one of them can be acquired.

2. The laws can stand alone. Each law complements all the others, but you don’t need one in order to learn another.

3. The laws carry consequences with them. Apply the laws, and people will follow you. Violate or ignore them, and you will not be able to lead others.

4. These laws are the foundation of leadership. Once you learn the principles, you have to practice them and apply them to your life.

Whether you are a follower who is just beginning to discover the impact of leadership or a natural leader who already has followers, you can become a better leader. As you read about the laws, you may recognize that you already practice some of them very effectively. Other laws may expose weaknesses you didn’t know you had. Use your review as a learning experience. In this edition, I’ve included exercises at the end of each chapter to help you apply each law to your life.

No matter where you are in the leadership process, know this: the greater the number of laws you learn, the better leader you will become. Each law is like a tool, ready to be picked up and used to help you achieve your dreams and add value to other people. Pick up even one, and you will become a better leader. Learn them all, and people will gladly follow you.

Now, let’s open the toolbox together.

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