4 Assumptions That Limit Your Leadership Potential

Published May 7, 2018

Our friend John C. Maxwell (GLS 2016, 2005, 1999, 1996) recently released a revised and updated 25th anniversary edition of his classic book, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. In the excerpt below, he explains how faulty assumptions lead to imperfect outcomes.

More and more people recognize the value of good leadership, yet not many work to become better leaders. Why is that?

Despite the widespread prevalence of leadership books and classes, many people think leadership isn’t for them. Maybe it’s because they make one of these assumptions:

1)   “I’m Not A Born Leader, So I Can’t Lead.”

Leaders are not born. Well, okay, they’re born. I’ve never met an unborn leader. (And I wouldn’t want to.) What I really mean is that your ability to lead is not set at birth. While it’s true that some people are born with more natural gifts that help them lead at a higher level, everyone has the potential to become a leader. And leadership can be developed and improved by anyone willing to put in the effort.

2)  “A Title And Seniority Will Automatically Make Me A Leader.”

I believe this kind of thinking was more common in my generation and that of my parents, but it can still be seen today. People think they need to be appointed to a position of leadership, when the reality is that it requires desire and some basic tools to become a good leader.

3)  “Work Experience Will Automatically Make Me A Leader.”

Leadership is like maturity. It doesn’t automatically come with age. Sometimes age comes alone. Tenure does not create leadership ability. In fact, it’s more likely to engender entitlement than leadership ability.

4)  “I’m Waiting Until I Get A Position To Start Developing As A Leader.”

The last assumption has been the most frustrating to me as a teacher of leadership. When I first started hosting leadership conferences, people would say, “If I ever become a leader”—meaning if they were appointed to a leadership position—“then maybe I’ll come to one of your seminars.” What’s the problem? As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “When the opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” If you start learning about leadership now, not only will you increase your opportunities, but you’ll also make the most of them when they arrive.

How will you develop the leader within you? The bottom line is that if you’ve never done anything to develop yourself as a leader, you can start today. And if you have already begun your leadership journey, you can become a better leader than you already are by intentionally developing the leader within you.

Let’s start with the most important concept of the 10: influence. After more than five decades of observing leaders around the world and many years of developing my own leadership potential, I have come to this conclusion: Leadership is influence. That’s it—nothing more, nothing less. That’s why my favorite leadership proverb is, “He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk.”

For you to be a leader, someone has to be following you. I love what James C. Georges, founder and chairman of the PAR Group, said in an interview I read years ago: “What is leadership? Remove for a moment the moral issues behind it, and there is only one definition: Leadership is the ability to obtain followers.”

Anyone—for good or ill—who gets others to follow is a leader. That means Hitler was a leader. (Did you know that TIME named Hitler their Man of the Year in 1938 because he had greater influence on the world than anyone else?) Osama Bin Laden was a leader. Jesus of Nazareth was a leader. So was Joan of Arc. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy were leaders. The value systems, abilities and goals of all of them attracted followers. They all had influence.

Influence is the beginning of true leadership. If you mistakenly define leadership as the ability to achieve a position instead of attracting followers, then you will go after position, rank or title to try to become a leader. But this type of thinking results in two common problems. First, what do you do if you attain the status of a leadership position but experience the frustration of having no one follow you? Second, what if you never achieve the “proper” title? Will you keep waiting to try to make a positive impact on the world?

(Taken From Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell © January 16, 2018. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership. www.harpercollinsleadership.com)

About the Author
John Maxwell

John C. Maxwell

Leadership Expert, Best-Selling Author, Coach

John Maxwell Company

John C. Maxwell, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker, was identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc. in 2014. His organizations—The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team and EQUIP—have trained over 6 million leaders in every nation. His latest book is Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters.

Years at GLS 1996, 1999, 2005, 2016, 2018

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