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Book Summary: Leadership 101 – What Every Leader Needs to Know

Leadership 101 (2002) concentrates the wisdom and practical advice from decades of publishing and research on leadership. Written as an introductory short course, it’s packed with inspirational examples and concrete steps to grow the skills, character, and influence necessary to successfully lead in any area.

Introduction: Cut through the hype and jump straight to the practice of leadership.

Few buzzwords inspire more misunderstanding or confusion than leadership. After all, leadership is for business bros, Fortune 500 types, and entrepreneurs, right? And leaders are born – they’re not made.

If these myths about leadership ring hollow, it’s because they’re not true. Anyone can be a leader; anyone can inspire others into action or growth. Leadership can be learned, nurtured, and mastered.

Come on board for a quick tour of the big lessons, daily habits, thoughtful reflections, and self-discovery that will take your leadership to the next level. We’ll skip right to the good stuff to begin growing your leadership, and multiplying your impact, today.

Book Summary: Leadership 101 - What Every Leader Needs to Know

In this summary, you’ll learn

  • why working harder isn’t always smarter;
  • how the 20-80 rule can thin out your to-do list; and
  • why trust is the most valuable asset of all.

Chapter 1: Success without leadership is possible, but it’s limited.

These days, it seems like everyone is extolling the virtues of leadership – but why?

Well, it all comes down to what it takes to be successful in life. Real success comes from mastering skills in four basic areas: relationships, self-directed learning, attitude, and leadership. And it’s that last one – leadership – that helps multiply the impact of the other three.

Why is leadership so important? Because the traits of leadership actually relate to all the other areas of success. Leaders know how to prioritize, and they show discipline in getting the job done. Leaders cultivate trust in others, and they do it by reflecting deeply on what’s most important. Leaders align their vision and character with their values, and they communicate those values clearly.

In short, getting leadership right can make or break success in other aspects of life.

Take two brothers, Dick and Maurice. These brothers opened a drive-in restaurant in Pasadena in 1937. They saw the potential in California’s booming car culture and created a restaurant where patrons were served food in their cars – complete with china and silverware! Their car-hop venture was a huge hit, and by 1940 they were enjoying enormous profits. But by 1948 they could see that drive-in culture was on the wane. So they made the smart decision to switch from a car-hop to a walk-up restaurant. They streamlined the menu to focus on hamburgers, and switched from china and silverware to paper and plastic. Their profits doubled with the changes, and they opened a second location.

And that’s exactly where the story of Dick and Maurice McDonald would have ended if it weren’t for the entrance of a visionary leader, Ray Kroc. The McDonald brothers wanted to grow, but they didn’t want to shoulder the extra work of opening more restaurants themselves. Kroc was familiar with the concept of franchising, and he saw the potential in McDonald’s opening up in many cities. In 1955, he partnered with the brothers to form the McDonald’s Corporation. In the next four years they opened 100 additional restaurants. Four years later, there were 500.

In 1961, for just over 2.7 million dollars, Ray Kroc bought the rights to McDonald’s. Today, McDonald’s has restaurants in most corners of the world. It’s true that Dick and Maurice McDonald worked hard and were very successful, but it took a leader to see the company’s true potential, develop a vision, and get the right team onboard to make it grow into a worldwide phenomenon.

So, how can you do the same? That’s what we’ll tackle in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: Leadership is a journey that never ends.

If the story of a legendary leader like Ray Kroc is inspiring, that’s great! But leadership isn’t just for leaders. And – spoiler alert – those folks at the top of the corporate ladder might not be leaders, either. They may not even see what opportunities they’re missing, or what potential influence they aren’t having.

No matter where you are on your leadership journey, a good place to start is understanding the four phases of leadership. That’s right: leadership is a process, and it has four distinct stages.

The first phase is acknowledging that, like everyone else, you don’t know what you don’t know. Whether you want to grow in a new role or deepen an important relationship, you can’t know everything from the start. Uncovering your blind spots takes curiosity, soul searching, and research – but in the process, you’re already starting on the next phase.

Phase two is getting to the point where you know what you don’t know. This may be a phase you reach many times along your journey, and that’s a good thing. Successful leaders are lifelong learners, they learn today to lead tomorrow. They make reading, audio books, or study a daily habit, and education is an ongoing part of their lives. Do this, and phase three will take care of itself.

Phase three is trusting that as you grow, the effects will show. Patience with yourself is key to this phase. It might help to know that no one becomes a great leader overnight. Even those born with natural gifts have to work at it. And though it might feel strange at first, cultivating the self-discipline and perseverance to keep at it every day pays off, as do all the little, daily habits you adopt. Not only do the benefits compound over time, but you’ll also develop trust in yourself and your abilities, which brings you to phase four.

This final phase is when everything coalesces and leadership starts to come naturally. Again, don’t expect this to happen overnight; it takes daily practice. The good news here is that no matter where you’re at now, your leadership development is an ongoing process. Ask any effective leader in your life, and you’ll more than likely find out they rely on a self-development plan to maintain and grow their skills.

But what other traits do effective leaders develop along the way? That’s what we’ll dive into next.

Chapter 3: The first person you lead is you.

Since discipline and perseverance are key to the four phases of leadership, how can you grow these in yourself? Well, this too comes down to a few simple steps.

First, to develop discipline, begin by challenging your excuses. The reason most of us fail to achieve our goals is that we’re really, really good at making excuses. Take Jerry, the promising young high school football player. One sweltering Mississippi day, Jerry caught himself sneaking back to the locker room to avoid doing uphill sprints with the rest of the team. Angry at himself for slacking, he told himself, “Don’t quit!” He knew that if he got used to quitting, it would become the norm.

Today, Jerry Rice is known not only for his outstanding sports leadership, but for his unrelenting approach to daily training and self-discipline. Quitting never became OK, and this impacted every aspect of his extraordinary professional life.

Once you’ve challenged your excuses, up the ante by removing positive rewards until you’ve accomplished your goals. This has a couple of benefits. First, if you lack self-discipline, you might be rewarding yourself before the job is done. Like eating dessert before your vegetables, this has additional, negative effects. If you have lots of great ideas but aren’t seeing much progress in your life, it could be that you lack self-discipline.

After challenging your excuses and saving rewards for a job well done, it’s important to stay focused on results. By concentrating on results rather than the temporary discomfort of your new routine, you’ll keep yourself from drifting into self-pity – the natural enemy of self-discipline.

Finally, understand that how you prioritize your time and effort is key. A common principle in business is the 20-80 rule. On average, just 20 percent of the people on any team provide about 80 percent of its success. And the top 20 percent of projects bring in 80 percent of revenue. So, it’s common for successful leaders to spend 80 percent of their time on the top 20 percent of their priorities. This works for everyday life too. Spend 80 percent of your time or resources on the top 20 percent of your people or priorities.

While your priorities will naturally shift over time, being aware of your choices can help you adapt quickly too. We often don’t realize what’s truly important until it’s too late. Remember that too many priorities can paralyze you, so just focus on those that are most important. Finally, it’s OK to prioritize the things that bring you the most reward. Nothing keeps your motivation higher than focusing on what brings the most joy.

Chapter 4: Trust is the foundation of leadership – and its most precious asset.

As you grow in your leadership process, one of the most important lessons you can learn is how trust works. Imagine that you begin your first day in a new job with a pocket full of petty cash. Each good decision you make adds to the stash in your pocket, and each poor decision costs you. No matter how good your intentions might be, too many poor decisions will ultimately leave your pocket empty.

Similarly, every leader starts with a certain amount of goodwill when they begin in a new role. Over time, this trust either builds or fails based on a leader’s actions.

There are three basic traits you’ll need to demonstrate to inspire trust in others – competence, connection, and character – and they’re not all alike. For instance, many can forgive a leader for an honest mistake or a lapse in competence, especially when they’re new or always trying to learn. But lapses in character or violations of trust can have a lasting effect.

Like self-discipline, character is the secret to successful, enduring leadership. Not only does it communicate consistency and strength to those around you; it also demonstrates a real connection with others. Character communicates respect to those around you. When a leader makes sound decisions, readily admits to their mistakes, and puts their followers’ agendas ahead of their own, they foster mutual respect and trust that elevates any team.

And when all this trust and mutual respect is established, what’s next? That’s when the real power of leadership becomes clear, as we’ll see next.

Chapter 5: Successful leadership is measured in influence.

At the start of this quick tour through the basics of leadership, we made a bold claim – that leadership is the “secret sauce” that multiplies and amplifies your success. Let’s dig a bit deeper into this. We’ll start by looking at why bad leadership sometimes prevails.

In business, even poor leaders have a lot of leverage, which they can use to their advantage. They control the working conditions and salaries of their employees, after all. The same is true for military leadership, where rank can be pulled to order compliance or punish insubordination. Parents, too, can be ineffective family leaders, but young children are dependent and have little choice but to follow.

But none of this applies to volunteer organizations, charities, or religious institutions. In fact, any group that relies on people choosing to follow a leader relies on the real power of leadership: influence.

Why influence? It boils down to two major factors.

First, if you can’t force people to follow, then you’ll have to influence them. This is where all the personal and character development of leadership comes into play. For pastors, community leaders, educators, and the like, demonstrating the competence, connection, and character of a leader is essential to get anyone to follow.

Influence also requires vision. A vision is the shared future of any project or endeavor. If you can’t align that vision with everyone’s values, or communicate that vision clearly and passionately, no one will see it clearly or rally to bring it about.

The second factor comes with time. The most vital benefit of successful leadership is how it influences others to take up their own leadership journey. As your consistent and compassionate leadership develops, you’ll influence others to develop as leaders themselves.

In this way, the impact of your personal or professional growth can ripple outward through your network, family, or community. This multiplies your impact and influence many times over – without any extra time, energy, or expense on your part.

Influencing others to lead also leaves a legacy. Mature leaders understand that they don’t lead alone and that they’ll move on at some point. Preparing the organization for this transition is a part of their work right now.

Mentoring and growing tomorrow’s leaders helps ensure success long past the time your own life’s work is done. When nurturing future leaders, people follow your example because of what you have come to represent. This final stage of leadership is one very few achieve, but their legacy endures.

What does it take to achieve this kind of legacy? The same commitment to competence, connection, and character development of any leadership journey. The higher you go, the more commitment it will require – but the higher the rewards will be too.


You’ve just finish the summary to Leadership 101, by John C. Maxwell.

The most important thing to remember is that leadership is a process, and over time it can transform every aspect of your life. Unfolding in four phases, leadership demands consistent discipline, personal reflection and prioritization, character development, and a lifelong commitment to learning. But the benefits multiply with time; with enough perseverance, you can even change the world. Ultimately the measure of leadership is in influence – persuading others to follow and to take up their own leadership journey.

And here’s some more actionable advice for you:

Find your “top 20.”

You know that effective leaders spend 80 percent of their time on the top 20 percent of their people. But do you know who your 20 percent are?

To find out, make a list of all your current team members. Then ask yourself, “If this person withdrew their support, would I still be able to function?” If the answer is no, put a check mark next to their name. If it would hurt but not make or break you, then don’t add a check mark.

By the end, you should have marked between 15 and 20 percent of your team. Those are the people that should receive about 80 percent of your time, your resources, or your focus.

About the author

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author who has sold over 19 million books. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company, organizations that have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and the United Nations. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books which have each sold more than one million copies: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. You can find him at and follow him at


Management, Leadership, Christian Living, Business, Self Help, Personal Development, Christian,, Psychology


Drawing from John Maxwell’s bestsellers Developing the Leader Within You, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, and Becoming a Person of Influence, Leadership 101 explores the timeless principles that have become Dr. Maxwell’s trademark style. In a concise, straightforward style, Maxwell focuses on essential and time-tested qualities necessary for true leadership — influence, integrity, attitude, vision, problem-solving, and self-discipline — and guides readers through practical steps to develop true leadership in their lives and the lives of others.

Unleash your leadership potential with this need-to-know guide, direct from the playbooks of America’s most trusted leadership expert, John C. Maxwell.

No matter who you are, you can lead—and lead well. That is the message New York Times bestselling author John C. Maxwell gives in this power-packed guidebook.

The consummate leader offers a succinct and inspiring framework for enhancing the leadership abilities you already possess.

In Leadership 101, Maxwell will teach you how to:

  • Follow your vision and bring others with you
  • Produce a lasting legacy
  • Grow the loyalty of your followers
  • Make continual investments in the quality of your leadership
  • Increase your ability to influence others
  • Determine your leadership “lid”
  • Empower others through mentoring
  • Create a foundation of trust
  • Use self-discipline to improve your character—and your results

One of the keys to successful leadership is applying the concepts that have made other leaders strong. Here’s your opportunity to do just that.

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