Thoughts on John Maxwell and Leadership

Anytime I hear the word leadership, I just cringe. I wouldn’t have paid to go and listen to John Maxwell last night (to be as honest as I can be), but I got a free ticket from the radio station – so I brought my good friend Kary along and kept my expectations in check.

My intent is not prideful, thinking that I can’t learn a thing or two from Mr. Maxwell. He did guarantee that I (and the rest of the crowd) would learn “something” from the 90 minutes we got to spend with him. My intent in writing this, as I always pray is my goal, is to not just listen to people because the world thinks something of them. It’s to listen to them and channel EVERY thing they have to say through the truth of God’s Word, regardless of their accolades or the amount of followers / readers they have.

So here’s the truth (if the blog goes long, it goes long). I wasn’t expecting this when coming to the event, but while on the way out Kary asked me what I thought. My first response was (knowing that John’s a devout follower of Christ) “He didn’t share anything at all from the Word of God”. That might seem harsh. You might suggest that I give him a break, or that I shouldn’t expect him to preach to us since his area of expertise seems to relate to business.

I can tell you that I did learn at least 1-2 things when listening to him. But hearing him being neighbors with Joe Namath, having a meal with Gail Devers, consulting the United Nations, blah blah blah blah blah……..shouldn’t and doesn’t impress me. And honestly, knowing he’s considered the leadership expert, I was thinking an evening listening to him would have left me wanting an encore. If you read through my notes from yesterday, I’m sure you’d agree that most, if not all, of the 10 tips he shared with us could be found somewhere else. It’s not hard understanding that all of this “worldly wisdom” has been around for a long time.

In my eyes, no matter if you’re wealthy and famous or 8 years old and selling lemonade along the street for a quarter, if Jesus Christ has changed your life – your life should be about Jesus. To hear that he’s now creating a coaching network for thousands of individuals, charging them each $4,800 in an effort to leave “his legacy” with others, actually now scares me a bit. There’s a chance they’ll get hundreds of one-liners that they can share with people who might need it, but maybe never be challenged to share who the real life-changer actually is.

What if I were to tell you that I think we need more followers in this world than leaders? People who have the leader in Christ that they need, and if they’re doing any counseling they’re sharing advice from the source that has led many men and women to greatness through the centuries? What are we to think of leaders when we attend sessions like these and then return home and open up Jeremiah 9:23, 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 or 2 Corinthians 11:15?

I guess you probably get my point by now. Leadership to me is a megaphone. When you speak through your megaphone, do people hear the Word of God or your own words? Don’t be afraid to lead, just make sure you’re not standing in everyone’s way as they’re trying to follow the footsteps of Christ.

  1. I like your thought about needing more followers in this world than leaders. I also appreciate your stance on the popularity of these characters feeding us relatively common sense one-liners.

    I read a few of Maxwell’s books a while back and, while they’re chock full of great advice, all of the points he made would play out naturally if we were following the right leader.

    We in this life are worshipping human leaders. And it’s not cool.

    • I could write for days on how much I appreciate people who are proud of being a follower. It doesn’t require too much out of us to give advice to people.

      I sometimes wonder if people would do what they do if their name didn’t get any recognition. What if books didn’t have the authors name on the cover? Would people still write them?

      Thanks for your thoughts Graham – appreciate you stopping by AND entering the discussion with me.

  2. Gabe, I too am concerned about the high cost and the abundance of coaching networks that we see in the church today. It seems like leadership and training have been turned into a lucrative business. You definitely make some good points here, but as a pastor I have seen the other extreme as well. I have encountered many people who are anti-leadership and who believe that systems and structures and processes are not important.

    Many of the principles that Maxwell has written about have really helped me in how I pastor and lead others. So I see both sides here. A good leader must be a good follower, but it still takes skill in leadership to handle conflict and shepherd people within the church. Even if you have natural leadership ability, you will quickly be lost in administrative and relational details if you don’t study leadership. That’s where people like John Maxwell have helped me the most.

    • I’d agree that the business practices John teaches are solid, and would definitely help people that are managing teams (including myself). But that’s all that it seemed like to me, stuff that I’d expect to get from leader experts that don’t have a relationship with Christ.

      I guess sometimes leaders just make it seem like they have an awakening / a light turns on for them, when any success at all in life is a tribute to the God who loves us and His Son who modeled living life in community (service) for us.

      Good points Mike! Thanks for taking the time to share!

  3. Great post! About 6 years ago I had breakfast with about 100 other pastors to hear John Maxwell promote his latest book. I enjoyed the morning, took down a few “one liners” and left grateful to have heard him.

    I think John’s stuff fits well in a corporate environment. And it is useful in the church, but not as useful as other stuff that is often neglected.

    About 7 years ago I sat in another breakfast meeting were Terry Wardle (someone most people don’t know) said, “Congregations are quickly realizing their leaders are suffering from ontological lightness. That is, their pastors are spiritual lightweights. And because of that, the church is losing her influence.”

    Now more than ever the temptation is for leaders to draw people to their competencies instead of the cross.

    Thanks for the food for thought. It led me to post a follow-up on my own site (

    • Thanks for sharing your link here Milo! It’s interesting thinking how our competencies can replace the cross…..I hadn’t thought of it like that before.

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing, looking forward to following more of your posts!

  4. I only heard of John Maxwell for the first time about 5 years ago.

    In 30 years in Britain, I had never heard of the guy. Now, I don’t think a week goes by here in the US without me reading his name at least once.

    The people who told me about him had jokingly made up a character called Maxwell Johnson who wrote one leadership book and then kept re-publishing it with a different title on the front cover (e.g. Leadership for Pastors, Leadership for small businesses, leadership for multinationals etc etc).

    I don’t get what all the fuss is about, personally.

    If you want to know about leadership, there’s this guy who a lot of people wrote about who demonstrated perfect leadership.

    His name was Jesus.

    Oh, but as part of his leadership, he was poor and got crucified.

    I guess that’s why people prefer to learn from the multi-millionaire who is but a shadow of the leader that Jesus was.

    • Interesting stuff, Peter. I’m not sure what I would do if I found a leader (outside of pastors) who point people to Jesus more than they point them to themselves. Such an easy pit to fall into, and well deserving of our prayer (for ourselves and leaders) as we take steps through the challenges of life.

      Thanks for sharing about your past in Britain! Since you’ve designed your new site, that flag is one way that I easily remember you.

      • Maybe I should make the flag a background to my avatar….

        I only put it on my site because my dad wrote to me when I did the redesign and told me the only thing missing from the site was the British flag.

        So I decided to honor my Father, for a change. 🙂

  5. I was just thinking about it and there’s an interesting contrast between how you describe what you heard at John Maxwell’s seminar and what I read on Michael Hyatt’s blog.

    Michael, I believe, is being much more intentional about including biblical truths in his posts – and he’s showing just how easy it is to do that!

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