Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell has been revised and updated for its 10th anniversary release to include new examples of leadership. While this is probably a great book for leaders in today’s workforce, I read it with a different tact in mind. As the book describes the 21 traits that a great leader should have (whether they are traits that a single leader should exhibit, or spread across a leadership team), I kept reading the book to search for traits that I should add to some of my heroes in my novel. (I go more in depth about whether a hero should also be a leader here). But whatever your motivation is for reading this book, it does bring forth some traits that I was not conscious of before.

For example, The Law of the Lid describes the extent of someone’s effectiveness, and especially rings true for a leader’s vision. The grander the vision, the further that leader can lead. The more you raise your leadership ability, the more your effectiveness increases.

The book goes on to describe 20 other irrefutable laws of leadership, but I must say that many of them overlapped with each other. They were not mutually exclusive, but they were definitely intriguing. I’ve read many many business and investing books before, so I had a somewhat cynical attitude while reading this because I could see the author’s ego inserted throughout the book. Also, many business books don’t dive very deep to provide analytic value, so sometimes you have to think, “What is this author not telling me?” But, what this book lacked in deep thought, I made up for by reading it as part of a book study group at work. Lots of intellectually stimulating conversation was brought forth as we discussed each chapter in a group setting.

So in the true spirit of asking, “What is this author not telling me?”, I’ll add a 22nd irrefutable law of leadership: Being humble. This is something that I am working on as I believe I have some ego-related issues. I need to learn to set that aside, as any leader should do, and people will follow you.

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Creating a Believable Hero

Within the massive umbrella of the fiction genre, many authors choose to tell the tale of the adventures of some incredible hero. That hero could be incredible for many various reasons and is also the perfect person to overcome the conflict at hand, but they don’t always exhibit the fundamental qualities of a leader. Is every hero a leader? No. But does every hero lead?

The crux of that question is what I want to explore here. In a vast majority of fiction novels that involve the protagonist as a “hero”, the hero is always thrust into greatness – despite their initial hesitancy. They either already have the power or are given the power to be triumphant and save the day, but despite all that, they are not a leader by any stretch of the word. Sure, they may have followers throughout the novel, but it is not because of their innate leadership skill; it is because of the power they wield. It is the circumstance of great responsibility that they find themselves in which forces them to do what they think is right (usually after being coerced by peer pressure) despite wishing they weren’t involved at all.

Now, while it is an interesting dynamic to show how a hero has matured as a result of the quest/adventure (such as a coming of age story), the character still only holds Legitimate power, when they should have Referent and/or Expert power to be a successful leader. (More on the 5 different types of power Here). In my opinion, this “regular person as a hero” is a paradox that is found over and over again throughout stories that even date back to myth and legend (of which I wrote about here: The Hero with a 1,000 Faces).

What about the hero that forges his own destiny? That grabs life by the horns? That has worked all his/her life for this one moment? Sadly, we don’t see many stories of heroes like that. In fact, don’t those seem like traits usually found in the villains of our novels? Why does our culture craft stories that reward the unprepared and unmotivated hero, yet thwart the dedicated, scheming villain? I’m not saying the villain should win; I’m saying the roles should be reversed. A hero – that is also a leader – should have prepared his/her whole life for the quest that is laid before them. This hero would have a powerful influence over his/her followers and would likely change the entire dynamic of the story. Instead of a one-in-a-million success story, the reader will be on the edge of a potential tragedy, where the heroes’ entire purpose in life might all be for naught if he/she does not succeed.

Every author should, at the very least, do some minimal amount of research when engrossing themselves into the role of their hero/heroin. I am currently reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to understand the characteristics that a true leader should exhibit. To name just a few:

  • Unselfishness
  • Vision
  • Influential
  • Willing to Sacrifice
  • Self-Discipline
  • A Planner
  • Respect
  • Intuition

While my first novel depicts a classic coming-of-age story, my second book is going down this path of depicting a main character that is both a leader and a hero. Now, you might be asking, “Should every hero be a leader?” I think that is something that only you can decide.