A curious middle-aged man reading a book in an office.

What’s a leadershift? What changes must you make if you want to keep growing as a leader?

In his book Leadershift, John Maxwell argues that today’s leaders must abandon traditional management practices and make “leadershifts.” This is the word he uses to describe changes in how people think, communicate, and act as leaders.

Continue reading for an overview of Leadershift.

Overview of Leadershift (John Maxwell)

In Leadershift, John Maxwell shares lessons from a lifetime of leading organizations and coaching developing leaders, sharing common leadership mistakes, and providing guidance for becoming a transformative leader who can inspire great things from others. By making Maxwell’s leadershifts, you can maximize your leadership abilities and amplify the success of your team or organization.

Maxwell is a popular speaker and leadership coach committed to raising new generations of leaders. He’s founded various organizations dedicated to this goal, including EQUIP Leadership and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation.

We’ve synthesized Maxwell’s 11 leadershifts into five leadership principles. We’ll explain the importance of each principle and how to make the leadership changes Maxwell suggests to run an effective organization. Along the way, we’ll provide insights from other experts on the theory and psychology of good leadership, and we’ll provide additional practical tips for making Maxwell’s leadershifts in your work.

Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World

Maxwell argues that today’s leaders must be dynamic, forward thinkers who understand the importance of change. In the business world of the 1970s, the management model of leadership thrived in stable, predictable work environments. However, in modern society, things change rapidly. To help your team and organization excel in a changing environment, you must stop thinking like a manager and become a leader who can encourage growth within your organization, connect with your team, and help people perform at their best.

We’ll explore the five fundamental principles we’ve distilled from Maxwell’s 11 leadershifts for becoming an adaptive and successful leader, and we’ll discuss the key changes leaders must make to thrive in business today.

Principle #1: Put Your Team First and Yourself Second

First, Maxwell writes that to be an effective leader, you must prioritize your team’s needs over your personal ambitions. Many leaders think in terms of what’s best for themselves and base their decisions on their personal goals and opinions. However, Maxwell suggests you consider how you can help your team perform and shine instead of how your team can help you achieve a certain objective. When you focus on supporting your team’s needs and leveraging each member’s strengths, you can harness the collective power of your team and achieve greater results.

To adopt a team-oriented focus, Maxwell suggests you:

1. Acknowledge the importance of others. Recognize that you need others, and help your team members recognize this, too. Promote collaboration in your team by inspiring each person to help others improve instead of trying to outdo them. This turns team members into collaborators instead of rivals. By doing this, you cultivate an environment where people uplift one another, which in turn boosts morale.

2. Pace yourself with the team. Maxwell writes that leaders tend to be people of action who like to hurry toward their goals. But he notes that when leading a team, it’s important that you don’t seek your own individual success if it leaves your team behind. Match the speed and efforts of your team to ensure everyone moves forward together. This means adapting to your team’s changing needs: At times, you’ll need to take the lead, but stay close enough for team members to see you and be inspired to follow you. Other times, walk alongside your team by discussing the journey with them. 

You may also need to support your team from behind with encouraging words. Even if the pace seems slower, progressing toward your objectives collectively as a team makes everyone feel energized and connected, and it allows you to make more significant strides toward your goals.

3. Look for opportunities to help others. Instead of focusing on what you can get from others, focus on how you can improve the lives of your employees. Look for ways to help others become better and to celebrate their successes. Maxwell argues that giving is more rewarding and, although you shouldn’t let this be your primary motivation for helping others, you’ll often receive more in return by naturally helping others than you could have asked for.

Principle #2: Be Committed to Growth and Improvement

Maxwell argues that leaders must make an active effort to grow and improve instead of just treating growth as a natural result of their experiences. You can do this by pursuing growth instead of achievement and by innovating instead of sticking to tradition.

Pursue Growth Instead of Achievement

Maxwell says leaders must stop focusing on achieving goals and instead prioritize continuous, long-term growth. He argues that when you pursue goals, you focus on external achievements and recognition. While goals may help you accomplish tasks, they don’t necessarily lead to significant personal development or lasting fulfillment. Conversely, when you focus on growth, you develop and challenge yourself, so you can become a more capable person and leader.

To prioritize growth over goals, Maxwell suggests you do two things:

1. Believe in your ability to grow. Your mindset affects the amount of commitment you put into bettering yourself. If you believe you can improve your skills and abilities, you’ll put more effort into doing so. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t pursue learning opportunities or try to improve yourself.

2. Live each day with the intention to learn. Be curious and intentional about growth: Look for opportunities to grow, take time to reflect on what you’ve learned, and share the lessons you’ve learned with others every day.

Be Open-Minded

Maxwell writes that to make growth a priority in your daily life, you must keep your mind open to new and inventive ways of doing things. This means nurturing your creativity and constantly looking for better, more efficient ways to do things instead of sticking to established practices. If you can be more open-minded, you can function at your highest potential, spot unseen possibilities, and more easily make changes to your life and organization.

Maxwell recommends several ways you can be more creative and open-minded:

1. Be curious. Instead of dismissing ideas that seem initially unfeasible, intentionally explore them a little deeper. Don’t let a fear of failure hold you back from considering new ideas—remind yourself that there is more than one solution to a problem. When you’re more open to ideas, you’ll be able to see more possibilities and help your organization achieve better results than other leaders who remain bound to tradition.

2. Elevate your results with the 10-80-10 strategy. When performing a new task, spend the first 10% of the time identifying your objective and then 80% of the time accomplishing your task. Then, once you’ve completed your task, spend the last 10% trying to improve your work. By devoting time to rethinking your work, you give your team the opportunity to think outside the box one last time and inject creativity and innovation into every project to achieve better results.

3. Add flexibility to your plans. Plans are necessary for getting tasks done, but if they’re too rigid, you’ll fail to adapt to inevitable curveballs along the way, and you’ll miss out on opportunities. Because of this, Maxwell recommends you leave room to change your plans. Once you’ve determined your overall goals and course of action, continue to look for options: Anticipate potential problems, adjust your plan, and review it daily.

Principle #3: Unlock Your Team’s Potential

The first two leadership principles cover mindset changes you should make to lead more effectively. Next, we’ll explore management changes you can make to help your team operate at its highest level. Maxwell writes that leaders must: 1) understand instead of command, and 2) encourage diversity instead of uniformity.

Understand People’s Needs and Desires

First, Maxwell recommends you try to understand team members’ needs and desires instead of simply imposing orders without considering their perspectives. Teams achieve better results when the leader and team members are on the same page about what needs to be achieved and why. However, many leaders mistakenly assume they understand their team’s thoughts without asking them. As a result, team members may feel out of sync with the company’s goals and the tasks they’re assigned. They may complete their work but without full commitment, affecting its quality.

To learn about another person’s needs and desires, encourage people to share their thoughts by asking questions and then thoughtfully listening to their answers. This approach isn’t easy, Maxwell writes, because we can get caught up in thinking about how to express ourselves and how to get the other person to see our point of view. To avoid falling into this trap, remind yourself daily to make listening a priority. Pay attention to when you interrupt people, and ask others to let you know if they feel you aren’t listening to them. When you learn about people’s thoughts and feelings, you help them feel valued, align your expectations with theirs, and uncover the best ways to motivate and lead them.

Build a Diverse Team

Besides asking questions and listening well, leaders can also empower their team by fostering a culture that celebrates diversity instead of homogeneity and conformity. Maxwell writes that a diverse team—one where team members have different backgrounds and perspectives—achieves greater results than teams where everyone thinks similarly. When teams are diverse, one team member can make up for what another lacks in knowledge, perspective, or experience.

Some leaders shy away from diversity because it can generate conflict if people disagree on plans and ideas. But Maxwell argues that conflict often allows teams to generate better ideas. Instead of settling on the first ideas pitched, diverse teams challenge one another’s assumptions and perspectives. In doing so, they generate more innovative ideas and excel at solving problems.

Maxwell suggests you ensure your team environment is a safe space for sharing ideas. To achieve this, encourage people to participate by putting less emphasis on job titles and roles, acknowledging people’s contributions, and sharing responsibilities, task ownership, and rewards.

Principle #4: Gain Respect With Moral Authority

We’ve explored how leaders should shift their mindset and team management approach to lead effectively. However, as a leader you must also develop your influence over others. To do so, you must gain moral authority—respect and recognition for exemplary personal qualities, values, and actions. Having a leadership position may force people to follow you, but earning moral authority makes people want to follow you.

To develop moral authority, Maxwell suggests you:

1. Demonstrate excellence. Prove to your team members that you’re committed to producing excellent work even with the smallest of tasks. By regularly producing quality work, you’ll establish a reputation for competence and earn others’ confidence and esteem.

2. Be consistent in your actions and values. Be steady and reliable by living according to good character traits like integrity, authenticity, humility, and love. This shows people that you mean what you say, which builds trust and security within your team.

3. Face challenges courageously. Maxwell writes that leaders should be prepared to face difficult realities and to be the first to take action. Recognize that success doesn’t come without sacrifice, and demonstrate bravery and resilience when confronting challenges. By demonstrating courage, you can inspire others during crises and energize them to perform at their best.

Principle #5: Equip Others for Success

Maxwell writes that the hallmark of effective leadership in the modern era is not a leader’s personal achievements, but rather their ability to inspire others to grow and become leaders in their own right. Maxwell suggests two ways to become a leader who inspires a new generation of leaders: 1) Focus on what makes people better, not what makes them happy, and 2) encourage others to make a positive difference.

Focus on What Makes People Better, Not What Makes Them Happy

A common misconception is that, to be a good leader, you must please everyone and get them on board with your plans and ideas. However, Maxwell argues that effective leadership is about pushing people to reach their potential, which occasionally means making difficult decisions that might not please everyone. This can be hard because we like hearing affirmation and knowing that everyone is happy with our decisions. 

To guide others to become their best, you must balance care with candor. Maxwell writes that leaders tend to either be too caring or too candid. If you’re too caring, you won’t initiate difficult conversations to help people grow. If you’re too candid, you’ll fail to connect with others because you’ll seem unsympathetic. To balance the two, have a genuine interest in what’s best for the other person. This way, you can be supportive but also willing to challenge people to improve.

Maxwell suggests several ways you can help others to be better through care and candor:

1. Overcome personal discomfort. Many leaders shy away from making challenging decisions because it makes them uncomfortable. To prevent this, ask yourself three questions in the following order to help you prioritize organizational and team well-being over personal ease:

  • What’s beneficial for the organization?
  • What’s beneficial for team members?
  • What’s best for me?

This way, you’ll make decisions based on what’s best for others instead of on what’s easiest or most comfortable for you.

2. Set clear expectations. Have a conversation with each team member to establish expectations from the outset. Start by asking the other person what they expect and then communicate your own expectations. This allows you to avoid assumptions, unmet expectations, and undesirable surprises.

3. Use the 25-50-25 principle to stop chasing consensus. Maxwell writes that when you make any decision, 25% of people will support it, 50% will be undecided, and 25% will resist it. Instead of worrying about how to get everyone in agreement, concentrate on turning the undecided section into supporters, and don’t waste time trying to win over the resisters.

Empower Others to Become Leaders

Maxwell argues that the most profound change you can make in your leadership approach is to become a transformational leader: a leader who inspires others to do better and to make positive differences. By nurturing others to become positive influences, you can amplify your influence and have a greater impact than you could have individually.

To become a transformational leader, graduate from what Maxwell refers to as “climbing ladders” to “building ladders.” He writes that all leaders must start out by climbing their own ladder—garnering personal achievements to gain credibility. However, eventually, instead of focusing on climbing higher in the leadership ranks, you should shift your focus to helping others become leaders.

To help others become leaders, mentor them to give them the tools to lead. Maxwell writes that a good mentor is a specialist in their field, has more knowledge and experience than the mentee, is good at asking questions, and is humble. Once you’ve equipped others with the tools to be better leaders, help them uncover and seize opportunities to lead.

Maxwell adds that you should not only train good leaders, but also encourage them to become transformational by teaching good values, nurturing small groups where people are committed to becoming leaders, and encouraging them to make a positive impact on the community.

Leadershift: John Maxwell on Changes You Must Embrace

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.