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John C. Maxwell on Requisite Leadership (Requisite Organization)

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I’m always on the lookout for new things to read. A friend recommended some of the popular-press management/leadership books by John C. Maxwell, a consultant who used to run a very large Christian church. I picked up his The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition) because it looked like a quick read. Maxwell tends to use examples from either basketball or American Protestantism, and this surely isn’t anything very deep, but I was amazed to see some basic pieces of Requisite Organization / The Theory of Real Boss right from the start.

Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness. To give you an example, if your leadership rates an 8, then your effectiveness can never be greater than a 7. If your leadership is only a 4, then your effectiveness will be no higher than a 3. Your leadership ability — for better or for worse — always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization. [pp. 1]

That’s right: page one, under the First Irrefutable Law of Leadership: “The Law of the Lid”.

This is a great explanation of the Real Boss Theory strata, the idea that Jaques discovered that people come in different sizes, can do different sized work.

Maxwell has a great graphic to illustrate the problems of having lots of hardwork and dedication (and I will add knowledge and skills) and not Leadership. He shows “Success Dedication” along the bottom on the X-axis, and “Leadership Ability” along the Y-axis. Your “Effectiveness” at work is the area: L.A. × S.D. = Efyou.

Let’s say that when it comes to success, you’re an 8 (on a scale from 1 to 10). That’s pretty good…. But let’s also say that your leadership ability is only a 1….

In this case, you would have a long horizontal bar on his graph. You work hard, know your field, but your Effectiveness is low because you have no Leadership Ability. If you try to increase your effectiveness by only increasing your Success Dedication (hard work, knowledge, skills), you still only get an effectiveness of 10.

LA=1, SD=10: 1 × 10 = 10

But you have another option. Let’s say that instead you work hard to increase your level of leadership. Over the course of time, you could develop yourself as a leader, and eventually, your leadership ability becomes, say, a 6. [pp 7; his emphasis]

LA=6, SD=8: 6 × 8 = 48

You get more effectiveness by combining your Success Dedication with Leadership Ability.

From a Requisite Organization perspective, we can say that you’re not going to get more out of company until you get bigger leaders. Yes, they need to also be people with the Success Dedication: willing to work hard, having already put in the 10 years of so to have the business “in their fingers”, getting the requisite knowledge and skills to run a company in your industry. But you can get more with what you have by having a leader who is bigger or has more Leadership Ability than your company is now, who has the size to grow it to something bigger.

Maxwell recognizes this, too. He tells the story of talking to Don Stephenson, chairman of Global Hospitality Resources. They take over underperforming hotels and make them ino stars.

Don said that whenever they came into an organization to take it over, they always started by doing two things: First they trained all the staff to improve their level of service to the customers; and second, they fired the leader….

“You always fire him?” I asked. “Every time?”


“If he had been a good leader, the organization wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in.” [pp. 10; his emphasis]

Maxwell even talks about how persons with higher Leadership Ability (which I’m saying is based on CIP stratum) attract followers:

People don’t follow others by accident. They follow individuals whose leadership they respect. Someone who is an 8 in leadership (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being strongest) doesn’t go out and look for a 6 to follow — he naturally follows a 9 or 10. The less skilled follow the more highly skilled and gifted….

When people get together for the first time as a group, take a look at what happens. As they start interacting, the leaders in the group immediately take charge…. [pp. 70-72]

He includes graphics showing how people align with the person with highest leadership ability.

Of course, it’s not always the person with the highest CIP who runs meetings. Stan Smith (creator of the actually useful psychometric, Human Patterns) would probably argue that one’s Domination, a personality trait about having to run the show, determines it, too. But Maxwell deals with this issue, although not explicitly. Earlier, he discusses the difference between “positional leaders”, those with the title, and “real leaders”, those with the higher Leadership Ability.

If you see a disparity between who’s leading the meeting and who’s leading the people, then the person running the meeting is not the real leader. [pp. 48; his emphasis]

Maxwell also says that you cannot lead someone who has a higher Leadership Ability than you do. You also want people one size smaller than you beneath you. (Chapters 11 and 12.) Requisite Organization, anyone?

Image Credit: Final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis launches. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls.

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