Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The subtitle of Maxwell’s book is “Follow Them, and People Will Follow You.”   Each time I read that, I hear a rejoinder in my head: “Don’t follow them, and people won’t follow you.” Revised and updated in 2007 for the 10th anniversary of The 21 Irrefutable Laws, this book is rightly regarded as a foundational piece of the leadership literature.

As the title indicates, Maxwell presents 21 laws of leadership, all of which are free-standing and yet buttressed by one another. You can learn a lot simply by reviewing the 21 laws with Maxwell’s brief explanation of each:

1.  The Law of the Lid: Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness
2.  The Law of Influence: The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence — Nothing More, Nothing Less
3.  The Law of Process: Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day
4.  The Law of Navigation: Anyone Can Steer the Ship, but It Takes a Leader to Change the Course
5.  The Law of Addition: Leaders Add Value by Serving Others
6.  The Law of Solid Ground: Trust Is the Foundation of Leadership
7.  The Law of Respect: People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves
8.  The Law of Intuition: Leaders Evaluate Everything with a Leadership Bias
9.  The Law of Magnetism: Who You Are Is Who You Attract
10. The Law of Connection: Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand
11. The Law of the Inner Circle: A Leader’s Potential Is Determined by Those Closest to Him
12. The Law of Empowerment: Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others
13. The Law of the Picture: People Do What People See
14. The Law of Buy-In: People Buy into the Leader, Then the Vision
15. The Law of Victory: Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win
16. The Law of the Big Mo: Momentum is a Leader’s Best Friend
17. The Law of Priorities: Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment
18. The Law of Sacrifice: A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up
19. The Law of Timing: When to Lead Is as Important as What to Do and Where to Go
20. The Law of Explosive Growth: To Add Growth, Lead Followers — To Multiply, Lead Leaders
21. The Law of Legacy: A Leader’s Lasting Value is Measured by Succession

My favorite law, the umbrella under which all of the other laws fall, is the Law of Process. Leadership can’t be developed in a day or a week. Instead, it grows and becomes refined through a lifetime of self-management, skills acquisition, and relationships:

If you continually invest in your leadership development, letting your ‘assets’ compound, the inevitable result is growth over time. What can you see when you look at a person’s daily agenda? Priorities, passion, abilities, relationships, attitude, personal disciplines, vision, and influence. See what a person is doing every day, day after day, and you’ll know who that person is and what he or she is becoming.

Often, when I speak to newer lawyers about leadership development, someone in the group will ask why a new graduate or a lawyer in the first few years of practice should be concerned with leadership development, since they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. My answer is three-fold.

First, it’s critical to lead oneself and develop a strong foundation in self-management. Second, usually even “bottom of the totem pole” lawyers soon have an opportunity to lead something, whether it’s a document review team or a subcommittee. And third, as Maxwell writes, “champions don’t become champions in the ring — they are merely recognized there.” If a lawyer waits until a leadership position is on the horizon to begin developing good leadership skills, the position may never present itself, or if it does, the lawyer will lack the necessary skills to thrive in that position. (Incidentally, point 3 is well illustrated in Maxwell’s first law, the Law of the Lid.)

What’s in it for lawyers? Although each of The 21 Irrefutable Laws is important for leadership development, perhaps none speaks to the profession in quite the same was as the Law of Explosive Growth. That law holds that leaders who develop leaders create an organization that can achieve explosive growth, since “for every leader they develop, they also receive the value of all of that leader’s followers.” Imagine the potential for enormous and sustainable growth in a law firm in which leaders are developed.

Read one chapter a week and apply what you learn. Without question, you will grow as a leader, and you’ll see the difference in your day-to-day life and practice, with clients, and in whatever leadership roles you may hold.

The root of the rainmaking struggle?

How often have you heard (or perhaps even said) that only a select few lawyers are good rainmakers?  I hear it all the time, and though I agree that not everyone can be a world-class rainmaker, just about every lawyer willing to put in the effort can learn to bring in business.  A variety of pressures make business development challenging and at least one personality tendency: introversion.

I’ve worked with many clients who consider themselves to be introverts and who, therefore, hate doing the relationship-building that is the foundation of business development.  I love working with those clients, because I’m an introvert too, and I’ve learned plenty of strategies to make networking painless.

A new book, 200 Best Jobs for Introverts, places law as the sixth best job for introverts — right after computer software engineering, computer systems analyzing, network systems and data communications analyzing, and accounting/auditing.  Law also garners the spot as the second-highest paying job for an introvert, right behind astronomy, with a reported average annual earning of about $98,000.

Think business development doesn’t matter? Think again.

I occasionally talk with associates, in the first few years of practice ranging through senior associate levels, who tell me that they don’t need to pay attention to business development.  The reasons vary.  Some lawyers feel they’re “too new,” some don’t plan to make partner and think business development is therefore irrelevant for them, and some say they’re just not good at business development — so why bother?

My answer is the same in every case.  You should only be concerned with business development and networking (which is the foundation of business development) if you want to have a career.  Any career.

Harsh?  Maybe.  True?  Absolutely.  Let’s take a quick look at each objection.

I’m too new!  The best time to begin thinking about business development is a few years ago, and the second best time is now.  That’s true even if you graduated from law school this week.

College and law school classmates may not be in a position to deliver high-dollar legal work now, but some (perhaps many) of them will at some point.  They’ll want to send their work to someone they know, like, and trust.  Who better than a long-time friend who’s established a strong professional reputation?  If you aren’t that person, one of the (other) classmates with whom you’ve lost touch very well may be.  Likewise, the low-level employee with whom you discuss interrogatory responses will go up the chain of command as you do.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a strong relationship with her as she moves into positions of power?

Bottom line?  You’re never too new to begin networking and establishing good connections with those who will be future decisionmakers.

I don’t want to be a partner, so business development doesn’t matter for me.  Partnership certainly isn’t for everyone.  But unless you plan not to work (in or out of law) after leaving your firm, you should be networking anyway.  If you want to move in-house, connections with clients and with other lawyers may pave the way.  The same holds true if you choose not to practice law: only a small fraction of positions are filled solely through advertisements.  The rest are filled through, or with the help of, contacts.  And other activities generally undertaken for business development purposes (such as writing articles and speaking) help to establish a reputation and a reach that will be useful when searching for a new job or career.

If you plan to continue practicing law in a firm, portable business is your key.  Lawyers up to their 3rd or 4th year of practice may make a lateral move without portables.  Past that level, however, such a move is difficult (always, and even more so in today’s economic environment) if not impossible.

And, by the way, if you change your mind and do decide to shoot for partnership, you must be able to show you have at least the strong likelihood of generating business, and many firms will require (explicitly or not) that you have brought in work already.

Bottom line: almost regardless of what kind of work you do, business development will play a role.  Get started now.  Delay won’t make it easier.

I’m not good at business development!  Perhaps not.  Perhaps you’ll never be a rainmaker extraordinaire.  But you can learn some skills and you can polish your approach.  You can implement plans to make sure you’re regularly performing the activities likely to lead to new business.  Observation convinces me that, especially with some guidance and assistance from a mentor or coach, someone who is dedicated to business development will succeed.

Again, the level of success may vary (and the ease of realizing success), but one thing is certain: if you don’t try, you will not succeed.  Don’t fall prey to the lazy thought that your inexperience or discomfort with client development (or inadequate skill in it the steps that generate business) means that you can never be a sufficient rainmaker.

Is it what you thought it would be?

My home office in Atlanta is on a two-lane primary road just a few blocks from Emory University’s law school.  Today is graduation, and since about 6:30 AM, I’ve been watching cars full of well-dressed people, taxis, chartered buses, and even limos drive by.  It’s quite the parade!  And in fact, today marks the 15th anniversary of my own law school graduation at Emory.  And so, I’m wondering.

Is your life as a lawyer what you expected? Perhaps not in the details of where you’re working or even what kind of law you’re practicing, but in the larger picture of how you spend your days, whether you enjoy what you’re doing (at least, most of most days), whether you can see yourself continuing on this path for the foreseeable future.  Is your career successful (as you define successful), satisfying, and sustainable?

If not, what’s falling short?  If your practice isn’t sufficiently successful, do you need to work on business development or leadership skills?  What would it take for you to feel satisfied?

I work with lawyers who want to find more success and satisfaction in a sustainable practice.  Perhaps we should get acquainted?

PDA Peace

Pavlov’s dog had nothing on most BlackBerry/iPhone/BlackJack/other PDA users.

All too often, we (and I include myself) hear the “beep” or feel the vibration and pounce immediately, even in the middle of a sentence — our own or someone else’s.  And I’ve seen (and though I’d prefer not to admit it, experienced) the discomfort that can occur when someone knows there’s an email waiting but doesn’t pounce.  The ticks, the nervousness.  It’s almost pathological sometimes.

Recently, I decided to drive for a business trip rather than fly, and for safety’s sake, I didn’t want to be tempted to look at my BlackBerry everytime an email came in.  So I set the profile to ring for phone calls only, and to be silent otherwise.  I drove almost 150 miles before I had to stop for gas, and I checked the BlackBerry then.  I had about 40 messages, none of them urgent.  And I had a strange feeling that I subsequently identified as peace.  Peace!  No irritating noises, no demands, no irrelevant press releases.  It was a good change.

That was a month ago, and I’ve continued to keep my BlackBerry on “phone only.”  If I’m expecting something urgent, I ask for a phone call rather than an email, and it’s been truly instructive to discover how much better conversations are when I’m not wondering about the email I just heard arriving.  And the truth is, I have yet to miss anything important as a result of this practice.

Try it.  Just for today.  You can change back tomorrow if you like.  I predict you won’t want to, and I predict you’ll be more present to your work, the people you’re with, even your own relaxation.  And in turn, you’ll be more productive and more creative.

Not a bad return on eliminating an irritant, is it?

Work = Death?

Imagine, for a moment, a world in which a lawyer’s work and life are completely separate.

No, I’m serious.  Pause and imagine it.

When I try to envision that world, I get deeply distressed.  If work and life are separate, and if life has no part in work, what does that imply?  Work = no life, and the absence of life = death.  So, work = death.


Perhaps I’m a life coach for lawyers?  There’s nothing wrong with that; life coaching can be a valuable service.  But that isn’t what I’m about.  I work with clients on business development, career strategy, leadership development, among other issues, and we typically address life coaching issues only to the extent that it affects my client’s professional life.  In other words, if a client is going through a divorce, we may touch on how to stay focused on work when in the office, even when grief or anger threatens to overwhelm, but I’m not the coach to help with sorting through how to approach friends who stop calling because of their divided loyalty resulting from being friends with the divorcing spouses.

Instead, “Life at the Bar” derives from the concept that, to be effective advocates and counselors, we must be alive — fully present, focused, and all systems go — in practice.  While there’s certainly a separation between professional and personal life, it strikes me as sad that work and life are viewed as being divisible, separate domains that must be balanced.  And I begin to imagine conference rooms and courtrooms full of zombies citing legal maxims, just waiting to leave the office and return to life.  Thank goodness that isn’t true for most lawyers!

I’m moving more and more toward the concept of WorkLife Integration.  Integration means that, while professional life and personal life remain separate (as I would suggest they should), there’s life in work, and work and life go hand-in-hand.  Work is endowed with passion and purpose and emotion and logic and humor and relationships and all the other things that make life lively.

Most importantly, no one has to spend hours at the office, slugging through the slew, waiting for 5 PM or 7 PM (or later) to begin living again during precious non-work hours, and no one has to attach an ill-fitting mask to survive.  When work and life are integrated, we’re reasonably authentically who we are, whether at home or at work, and rewards flow in both places.  Of course, there will be times when we’re eager to leave the professional focus at work and to turn to the personal focus at home, or vice versa, but there’s life in both places.

So.  How integrated is your WorkLife?