Saturday, 14 November 2009

Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell (2007, tenth anniversary edition)

While John Maxwell is one the gurus on the topic of leadership, he approaches the topic purely descriptively. He is excellent at outlining what it takes to be a good leader: the actions, habits, and attitudes that separate leaders from others. He is good at painting broad-brush pictures of what success looks like, and equally brings to life examples of failure.

The laws come with entertaining titles like The Law of the Lid and The Law of the Big Mo, and are vividly brought to life in straightforward language and with plenty of examples. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is an enjoyable read, but it is filling in the same way that fast food is momentarily satisfying but not really nutritious. There is no arguing with the laws that Maxwell presents, but at the same time the 21 concepts along with the endless sub-lists of do's and dont's within each law add up to one very long shopping list with no real insight of how any of it can be achieved.

Each chapter does end with superficial questions prompting the reader to further examine the law, but these usually require the creation of more....lists.

Maxwell steers clear of delving with any depth into the core behaviours that need to be individually examined and fine-tuned in order for effective transformations to occur. Concepts related to empathy, self-awareness, and social and emotional intelligence are simply absent from the book.

Instead, we get endless examples from the often-trodden lives of the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Ghandi. Great leaders all, but with absolutely nothing in common with most readers of this book. In this 10th anniversary edition, there is an attempt to introduce more modern examples, and so we get to read a lot about...George W. Bush and Condi Rice. Not exactly inspirations to most of us. These examples betray the book as a newspaper-headline description of leadership rather than being based on any academic research or true understanding of human behaviour drivers.

The person we read the most about is Maxwell himself. He presents numerous episodes from his life as a church leader, and his mistakes and successes in delivering various projects for his congregations. It is clear that Maxwell had a natural talent for leadership from an early age, and therein lies the problem -- a lot of what it takes to be a leader comes naturally to Maxwell, and he is good at describing it. His strength is in attempting to inspire through stories, but certainly not in analyzing the specific self-improvement attitudes, actions, and emotional controls that are needed to achieve transformational change.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership contains a lot of good information, and a lot of it may be useful to absolute novices to the topic, but whether or not it is actually helpful as a guide to improving leadership skills is highly debatable.

269 pages plus Appendices.
Published in hardcover by Thomas Nelson.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership at the Ace Black Store.
Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 23.

All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

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