Reviewed by Emily Shuffield
“What makes people follow a leader?” This simple, yet commonly explored question is what opens John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the person people will want to follow. People have spent years researching the answer to this question. Thousands of books have been written to coach people on the actions they must take. So many people seek one answer, but there really is not one straightforward answer. Everyone has his or her own opinion and solution on how to become a leader.
According to Maxwell, the answer lies in the character qualities of the individual person. The purpose of this book is to help one recognize, develop, and refine the personal characteristics needed to be a truly successful leader. In order to write this book, Maxwell spoke with some of the world’s top leaders and listened to their stories. In addition, he researched leaders of the past who have really made an impact in history. After a lot of time and reflection on the traits these individuals shared, he was able to establish the twenty-one qualities of this book. Each chapter presents a quality and begins with an inspirational story of a leader who has exemplified that quality. Then the chapters are broken up into three main sections: “Fleshing It Out,” a section that explains the quality and how to embody it; “Reflecting On It,” a section that encourages you to consider whether you possess the quality and how to develop it; and “Bringing It Home,” a section of tips on how to improve the quality. Each chapter ends with an uplifting quote or advice from a person who epitomized that quality. The twenty-one qualities that Maxwell believes each leader must have are: Character, Charisma, Commitment, Communication, Competence, Courage, Discernment, Focus, Generosity, Initiative, Listening, Passion, Positive Attitude, Problem Solving, Relationships, Responsibility, Security, Self-discipline, Sevanthood, Teachability, and Vision. Because many of these are self-explanatory, I am going to focus on three qualities that were less obvious. Maxwell defines the quality discernment as “the ability to find the root of the matter…it relies on intuition as well as rational thought.” Truly effective leaders must combine their intuition with their intellect in order to determine the cause of a problem or make important decisions. Maxwell believes that leaders are not necessarily lucky people; instead, it is their discernment that allows them to create their luck. Security is imperative in a leader because even if a leader is competent, they must have enough self-confidence to handle all the criticism and harsh words they may encounter. No one wants to follow a leader who is not confident in themselves and their beliefs. Another quality that Maxwell touched on was servanthood: “You’ve got to love your people more than your position.” Servanthood is about attitude. Followers can sense when a leader truly wants to help them or if he/she is apathetic to their problems. Security relates back to this quality because it takes a secure leader to have the confidence to serve others. The main point of the entire book is that leaders are effective because of the qualities they have on the inside. If you can fully embody all twenty-one of these qualities, then you can be a successful leader who people will want to follow.
John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold over thirteen million books. He is undeniably highly educated on leadership and the skills it takes to be a leader. He presents what individuals need to be an effective leader and demonstrates how those requirements can be met. I believe that it is a good approach because of how he breaks each chapter down into the sections I described earlier. The story at the beginning of each chapter grabs the attention of the reader and allows them to start developing an idea of what it takes to possess that quality. His writing is very simple and straightforward when he explains each quality and what it takes to possess that quality. He also uses bullet points for each step that you need to follow in order to improve that quality in yourself. The book as a whole is very well organized and well written for a wide variety of people who are seeking guidance on leadership.
I would recommend this book to other PR students because it is an easy and engaging read that I truly believe can aid in the development of becoming a leader. It is not life changing and it does not contain any new groundbreaking ideas, but it definitely can be helpful if used properly. In order to use it correctly, you need to have the time to follow Maxwell’s instructions. He believes that you should absorb the book “strategically and methodically.” If you read a chapter a day, each day you have to truly think about that quality and reflect on how you can develop that trait as a leader. Due to time constraints, I was not able to follow the instructions that Maxwell encourages the reader to follow. I read it all in one sitting- the one thing he tells you not to do. If you are to truly benefit from this book, you have to take it one day at a time and really evaluate yourself. I would encourage other PR students to take the “Bringing It Home” section seriously and really try to improve and implement these qualities into their everyday self. In addition, I would encourage PR students to read his first book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, before this book. He believes that it is necessary to read his first book to understand how leadership works. According to Maxwell, before you can actually start being a leader, you must understand how leadership works. (Or this could just be a ploy to get you to buy both books!)