Ed: Why have you dedicated your life to teaching leadership, and why do you believe leadership skills are so important?
John: Since July 4, 1976, I’ve known that leadership was the area I was called to speak into, and the past 40 years have just confirmed that calling in me. As a leader myself, I know firsthand how good leadership lifts everything around it, while bad leadership can sink an organization, team, or individual in a heartbeat.
Simply put, everything rises and falls on leadership.
Ed: I am always cautious to remind peopel that the Bible is not your leadership guide— it’s the story of God’s redemptive plan. Yet, there is much about leadership in the Bible. What are some of the most important things about leadership you’ve learned from the Bible?
John: First and foremost is that God calls all of us to be leaders. We read stories of great biblical leaders, and often what we lose sight of is that most great leaders in Scripture were called to leadership from obscurity.
Noah was just a faithful man. Abraham was a nobody. Joseph was a sheltered kid. David was a little shepherd. Even Jesus, the greatest example of a leader in all of history, began his life in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a straw-filled feeding trough.
Yet despite those humble beginnings—or perhaps because of them—biblical leaders were able to do great things through their obedience to God and his call (or purpose) for their life.
Second, I’ve learned that leadership isn’t a one and done deal. It’s a journey. Again, if you go back to the lives of Abraham, Joseph, David or Jesus, you become keenly aware that none of them rose to prominence overnight.
There were years of consistent obedience before big things happened, and that’s a trait we’ve lost sight of in this day and age. A lot of leaders feel like they should be overnight success stories, but leadership isn’t a flash-in-the-pan endeavor. It is built intentionally over time, and the Bible helps us remember that.
Ed: What is one of your favorite Bible passages about leadership?
John: Matthew 5:13-16. We are not called by God to blend into the background—we’re called by God to add flavor and bring light to our world. I love that these verses are so packed with wisdom for anyone who will stop and think about them.
For example, salt heightens flavor, but too much salt and you can ruin the meal. What a great lesson for leaders—our presence adds to what’s being done, but if we assert or insert ourselves too much, we can overpower and ruin something good. There’s so much to think about.
Ed: Can you tell us a bit about your “Law of Legacy”?
John: In my book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the final law is the Law of Legacy, which states, “A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.” In other words, a leader is measured by the people he/she leaves behind.
As human beings, we have a tendency to value moments over processes. We love the big splash, the immediate impact, but the moment isn’t where the magic happens; the most valuable and lasting things we do in life are those things that we build on intentionally every day.
Jesus knew this, of course, and the fact that the Church still exists two millennia after his death is a testimony to not only Christ’s divinity, but his influence as a leader. The Church exploding after he returned to heaven was due in part to how he strategically poured into the disciples.
That’s the Law of Legacy lived out to its greatest effect.
Ed: I’ve followed you work for a long time, back to when I was getting Injoy cassettes, back in the day! But, we are both a bit older now. What kind of legacy do you yourself hope to leave?
John: My legacy will be whatever I do with today, so right now, my legacy will be transformation. That’s where my heart and passion are at today. I spent many, many years training leaders how to be better leaders, but training people isn’t enough.
Transformation is what truly creates change, so I’m working every day to add value to leaders who will multiply that value to others. I’m giving the best of myself to people who will take that investment and re-invest it in a way that will keep producing more and better leaders.
Ed: What are some strategies people can implement to be better leaders?
John: Developing a personal Rule of 5 for leadership would be a great place to start. What are the five essential things you must do daily in order to become a better leader? The list will look different for you than it does for me, but each of us can find those critical actions we can take to increase our leadership.
I also recommend finding someone to mentor you as a leader. I’ve been mentored by several people, most often through books, but there are certainly key people I sought out and spent time with just so they could pour wisdom into my life.
Whatever method you choose, be intentional about allowing good people to pour into you and your development.
And here’s the greatest leadership advice of all: go lead. Use your influence daily to make a difference in someone else’s life, or to do what you know is right. Students of leadership will never become leaders unless they get out and lead. Call it the Nike Principle—just do it.
Ed: You just published the third edition of The Maxwell Leadership Bible. What kind of effect do you hope it will have in readers’ lives? What kind of legacy do you hope it will have?
John: I hope it will inspire people to dig into the Bible even more, as well as spend some time thinking deeply on the nature and purpose of leadership. If the Maxwell Leadership Bible can inspire new and more thoughtful leadership within this generation or generations to come, then I think that would be a good legacy.