John C. Maxwell wrote, “The more people you develop, the greater the extent of your dreams.” In other words, leaders must develop people in order to realize their vision; likewise, “True leadership always involves other people. (As the leadership proverb says, if you think you’re leading and no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk).” In his book, Developing the Leader Within You, Maxwell presented his recommendations for developing his appreciable asset: people.
According to Maxwell, “success in developing others will depend on how well” a leader will accomplish each of the following five principles of people development: value of people―this is an issue of attitude, commitment to people―this is an issue of time, integrity with people―this is an issue of character, standard for people―this is an issue of vision, and influence over people―this is an issue of leadership.
Each of the five points is directly related to a critical area in the development of people. For example, how leaders value their people is reflected in their attitudes; likewise, their attitudes directly influence their assumptions. Thus, Maxwell wrote at length of the necessity for leaders to be certain their assumptions about people are accurate. In other words, it merely boils down to what one thinks is what one gets. In explanation, Maxwell wrote that if leaders view their subordinates in a positive light, then positive assumptions will be the result; conversely, if leaders have a negative viewpoint regarding their people, then negative assumptions will typically follow. Maxwell wrote, “Negative assumptions about others will stimulate negative leadership of them. Positive assumptions about others will stimulate positive leadership of them.” In other words, when leaders are picking people for their teams, correct assumptions must be made in order to objectively arrive at accurate opinions of the candidates. Consequently, leaders must have the correct attitude and place positive value in their people. In the same way, the previously listed four other principles work in like fashion as this first principle. Thus, all five of Maxwell’s above principles are essential to become successful at people development.
Furthermore, Maxwell wrote that a leader must consistently make the correct assumptions about people. He made several significant statements regarding this subject; not least of all, he wrote about the critical need for everyone in an organization to feel worthwhile. He added, “One thing I always find on a list of people’s needs is the desire to feel worthwhile. People want to feel important!” Moreover, this view seemed applicable to all areas of a leader’s life, including work, home, and church; arguably, within every human there exists a desire to feel worthwhile. Similarly, if people feel their job is meaningless, this plainly can have a direct influence upon their job performance. In a similar fashion, Maxwell presented additional assumptions which leaders must get right to be successful at people development. He wrote that “making the right assumptions about people must be our first principle to follow as a successful people developer.”
In addition, Maxwell wrote that “successful people developers give the right assistance to people.” What does this statement suggest and how does it relate to leadership? According to Maxwell, it is more important to help employees develop their strengths than to continuously work on minimizing their weaknesses. To illustrate his point, he presented the example of employees who are stuck in positions which underutilize their greatest strengths. Furthermore, it is imperative that a leader spend time with the people being developed. At this point, Maxwell provided a disclaimer for a leader to spend the majority of time with “the top 20 percent in your organization. Encourage the many; mentor the few.” In addition to this, people must be given ownership, along with every opportunity to succeed. According to Maxwell, “Great leaders always give their people a head start over those who work under an average leader. Excellent leaders add value to their people and help them become better than they would be if they worked alone.”
Next of all, “we need to become familiar with the right questions to ask people.” Maxwell listed six critical questions to ask; of the six, the first question directly related to putting people first. Second, he wrote that conscientious confrontation is critical in the development of people. Then, Maxwell’s next point can be summed up by simply asking, “Am I good listener?” Fourth, it is significant for a leader to consider the major strengths in an individual as opposed to highlighting weaknesses. Fifth, leaders need to make sure people understand that their job is important. Sixth and last, a leader must help people to understand the value of what they are being asked to do.
Maxwell put forward a number of noteworthy recommendations for developing a leader’s most appreciable asset: people. His advice could be encapsulated in the concept that “leaders must care for people before they can develop them.” This principle should remind a Christian leader of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39 NASB). In the same way, Christian leaders should treat their people the same way they would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Thus, Maxwell’s suggestions for creating a winning team have direct biblical application in ministry. His ideas correlate with biblical teaching; as a result, each could prove constructive to a Christian leader. This is imperative considering that Christian leadership must always parallel biblical teachings.
Maxwell, John C. Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993.
________. The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999.