Laws of Leadership – Part 3

In this third and final part of our look at John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, we will explore the final 7 laws that all leaders need to understand in order to take their leadership to the next level. If you missed them before, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well.


The Law of Victory states that leaders find a way for the team to win. Maxwell writes, “Every leadership station is different. Every crisis has its own challenges. But I think that victorious leaders have one thing in common: they share an unwillingness to accept defeat. The alternative to winning is totally unacceptable to them. As a result, they figure out what must be done to achieve victory.

This is the way a leader thinks who embraces the law of victory. They take responsibility, get creative, and throw all of their experience and passion into reaching success. There is a no-quit attitude, and failure is not an option. These leaders are always inspiring to those behind them, even when the challenge gets difficult.

Maxwell quotes Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame head football coach, as saying, “You’ve got to have great athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is. You can’t win without good athletes, but you can lose with them. This is where coaching makes the difference.” Good leaders take responsibility for the success of the team and do what it takes to lead the way to victory.


The Law of the Big Mo states that “momentum is a leader’s best friend.” Maxwell says this is “because many times (momentum) is the only thing that makes the difference between losing and winning. When you have no momentum, even the simplest tasks seem impossible… On the other hand, when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and troubles seem inconsequential.”

This law comes into place when an organization is starting out. Everything is a challenge, and it seems to take forever to get anything done. However, just like a train slowly gaining speed, once that same organization gets moving, there is no stopping it. In physics this phenomenon is referred to as the law of inertia, which states in part that “an object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

This truth is the same when it comes to leadership. An organization with forward momentum is hard to slow down. The challenge is in getting that momentum built up in the first place (and making sure the momentum is in the direction you want the organization to go). Maxwell says, “creating momentum requires someone who has vision, can assemble a good team, and motivates others. If the leader is looking for someone to motivate him, then the organization is in trouble.


For almost two years now, the background image on my computer desktop has challenged me with the question, “Are you being productive, or just being busy?” This is at the heart of the Law of Priorities, which says, “leaders understand that activity is not necessarily about accomplishment.

Maxwell says, “when we are busy, we naturally believe that we are achieving. But business does not equal productivity. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment.” This means prioritizing, which “requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what’s important, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.” Sometimes what is highest on that priority list is not comfortable or easy.

Key to leveraging the law of priorities is called “the Pareto Principle” or more commonly “the 80/20 principle.” Maxwell says that if we will spend most of our time working on the things in the top 20% of importance, it will give us 80% of the return we are looking for. This means things like giving 80% of your time to your top 20% of employees.

The other factors Maxwell discusses in setting your priority list are his three R’s: Requirement, Return, and Reward. These three things make us ask: “what must I do that nobody can or should do for me?” Is there anyone I can delegate this task to capable of getting the same return as I can? And what tasks will lead to the most satisfaction? “Life is too short to not do some things you love.” When we properly prioritize how we spend our time, it will always set us on course for success. When we don’t prioritize our time, we will often look back wondering where it all went.


The Law of Sacrifice gives us a glimpse into the heart of a leader: “a leader must give up to go up.” Maxwell says, “there is a common misperception among people who aren’t leaders that leadership is all about the position, perks, and power that come from rising in an organization… The life of a leader can look glamorous to people on the outside. But the reality is that leadership requires sacrifice.

I have a friend who has invested thousands of hours of his time and thousands of dollars to receive leadership training from the best teachers our generation has to offer. He owns and runs a successful branch of the company for which he works, he has a healthy bank account, and is capable of enjoying many comforts that life has to offer. What impresses me the most about this friend, though, is not his success in the business world, but his willingness to put all of his success on the line to take his leadership to the next level and share with others. He has recently taken on a regional leadership position with his company that gives him the ability to take personal time to travel around the region without pay to meet with others in the company and help them develop their own branch of the business. He has also launched a community leadership networking group which is costing him personal time and money to develop leaders in our city for which he will receive little to no return. While many people see a white-collar business man and think, “that must be nice to not have to work so hard,” what I see in my friend is someone who works twice as hard as most to give other people a leg up in life and business.

Maxwell says, “There is no success without sacrifice. Every person who has achieved any success in life has made sacrifices to do so.” He adds, “the heart of leadership is putting others ahead of yourself. It’s doing what is best for the team.” If you are pursuing leadership for personal gain or recognition, then you are not, in reality, a quality leader.


For natural leaders, many of the principles discussed up to this point can be fairly easy to live by. Even those who may not be born-leaders, but who have invested time and effort to grow in this area, may have a lot of success with them. Yet, when we come to the Law of Timing, I believe this is where many leaders can begin to struggle. This law teaches us that “when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go.”

Maxwell gives a few summary statements. He says, “the wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.” “The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.” “The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.” However, “the right action at the right time results in success.”

As we develop our leadership abilities, we have to go beyond simply knowing how to lead. We must also learn to discern when it is the right time to do so.


At this stage in the book, Maxwell takes a turn from simply sharing laws vital to good leadership, and begins to teach how to take our leadership higher. The Law of Explosive Growth says, “to add growth, lead followers,” but, “to multiply, lead leaders.” Maxwell further explains this distinction by saying, “if you develop yourself, you can experience personal success. If you develop a team, your organization can experience growth. (But) if you develop leaders, your organization can achieve explosive growth.” He adds, “You can grow by leading followers. But if you want to maximize your leadership and help your organization reach its potential, you need to develop leaders.

Some of the practical advice for leading leaders includes development of the top 20% of people around you, rather than spending your time playing catch up with the bottom 20%; focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, and treating everyone differently, rather than acting like everyone must be treated the same. Determine what it takes to actually invest quality time into others rather than just spending time together.

To live by the law of explosive growth is definitely harder and takes more time and energy to do, yet when we do so the trickle down affect of those leaders investing in those under them, and so forth, will lead to exponential multiplication. Maxwell summarizes this law by saying, “leaders who develop leaders experience an incredible multiplication effect in their organizations that can be achieved in no other way — not by increasing resources, reducing costs, increasing profit margins, improving systems, implementing quality procedures, or doing anything else.


The final law in the book is the Law of Legacy which states, “a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.” The chapter starts by asking, “What do you want people to say at your funeral? That may seem like an odd question, but it may be the most important thing you can ask yourself as a leader.

A couple of years ago, I went through a practice in setting what Andy Stanley calls “Be-goals,” which are character qualities a person wants to be known for in life. My be goals are things like, God-seeking, holy (set apart for God/fighting sin and temptation), and humble. In walking through this practice, determining these be-goals, which are the things I want said of me at my funeral, is in effect determining what success in life looks like for myself. However, this is an activity most people will never engage in. Maxwell says, “most people simply accept their lives — they don’t lead them.” To be sure, my favorite statement made in this chapter, if not the entire book is, “someday people will summarize your life in a single sentence. My advice: pick it now!

One day we will all be gone, and what remains of us will be the examples we set with our lives and the people we leave behind empowered to continue on. Maxwell summarizes the life of a leader by saying that “achievement comes when they do big things by themselves. Success comes when they empower followers to do big things for them. Significance comes when they develop leaders to do great things with them. Legacy comes when they put leaders in position to do great things without them.” He ends the chapter with the thought, “our abilities as leaders will not be measured by the buildings we built, the institutions we established, or what our team accomplished during our tenure. You and I will be judged by how well the people we invested in carried on after we are gone.” This is the greatest challenge a lifelong pursuit of leadership will face, but it is also the only thing that will matter in the end.


As I wrap up the three-part summary of this book, as you can tell, there is a great deal of helpful information that it is rightly described by many as one of the most helpful books available on the topic of leadership. I hope this summary can prove useful to you. But more than that, I hope this brief exploration will lead you, if possible, to grab the book and read it for yourself. Use your highlighter and mark it up. Make notes in the margins. Ask yourself which of these 21 laws are your strengths and which ones you are lacking in. Use it to grow.

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