21 Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:  Follow Them And People Will Follow You

by John C. Maxwell

 The subtitle of Maxwell’s book is “Follow Them, and People Will Follow You.”  Each time I read that line, 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 quite a bit 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 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 for every lawyer to lead him- or herself and to 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 way 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.

Burning the candle at both ends?

I burn my candle at both ends
It will not last the night.
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

What do you think when you read this?  If you’re like many lawyers, you felt a flutter of recognition — perhaps just before you recoiled at the idea that, perhaps your candle won’t “last the night.”  It’s just the weak who can’t burn and burn and burn, right?

Sustainability isn’t an exciting word, and most of us don’t see it as something to aim for.  After all, we tend to want bigger and better and more, not homeostasis.  What does it mean, though, to have a “sustainable practice?”

According to Merriam-Webster, “to sustain” means (among other things) “to supply with sustenance: nourish” and “to keep up, prolong.”  And sustainable means, of course, “capable of being sustained” or “of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.”

How do you nourish your practice?  How does your lifestyle support you in keeping up and prolonging your ability to work effectively?  My clients have experimented with many different approaches, and the list that follows recounts some of the most successful.

  1. Discover what’s meaningful to you and focus your attention and practice on that.  If it’s client service, you will draw a strength and energy from serving your clients that someone who’s in practice because of the intellectual stimulation won’t experience.  Connecting to what matters to you illuminates your purpose.  Having a purpose nourishes your practice.
  2. Delegate.  If you can identify aspects of practice that you personally don’t have to fulfill, you’ll increase your energy by passing it along to someone who can handle it.  If you find yourself thinking that you’ll spend less time doing it (whatever it is) than teaching someone else to do it, consider whether you’ll save time over the long run if you turn it over, even if it requires an investment of time now.
  3. Connect.  If you enjoy socializing, make sure you have a group of lawyers you join for lunch or drinks or a volleyball game on a regular basis.  You’ll increase social contact, have a group of colleagues to use as sounding boards, build a resource for giving and getting referrals, and more.  You can even do this online, but consider whether you’d get more out of interacting with flesh and blood colleagues.
  4. Notice how your body feels when you have adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.  Just notice.  If noticing convinces you that you feel better and have more energy, do something with that knowledge — noticing alone won’t change anything.
  5. Develop discipline.  You can put a schedule in place that will support you.  Plan time when you put your calls on hold and get concentrated work done.  Set time aside for meeting with your support staff, the lawyers you supervise, and those who supervise you.
  6. Take time for outside interests.  Hike, read, act, whatever…  But don’t allow yourself to be one-dimensional.
  7. Do you live on adrenaline and caffeine?  If so, chances are that you’re running from crisis to crisis.  Ask yourself whether there’s a way to limit the crunches to times when there’s really a crisis.  What feels good about putting out fires?  Spending some time resolving this will provide support for making changes that leave you working on a non-emergency basis, which facilitates having more energy.  Adrenaline and caffeine are great, but they’re hardly the key to a sustainable practice or life.

Set aside time to check your progress on these and other habits that support you and your practice.  Because it’s easy to get sucked into a hectic schedule (with your candle burning not only at both ends but in the middle, too), arrange a relationship that will hold you accountable to whatever adjustments you may decide to make.  Consider whether coaching might be the appropriate relationship.

Are you stuck in Groundhog Day?

Through years of school and various jobs and activities, we’ve learned how to persist even in the face of difficulties.  Persistence is an important trait, since (in the words of one of my current favorite songs) “what’s worth the prize is always worth the fight.”  No fight may mean no prize, and we’ve integrated that lesson in our professional lives.  (Think back to law school, and I virtually guarantee you’ll remember at least one class that would have stopped you cold had you not been committed to fighting your way through.)

An opposing principle is the concept of diminishing returns, in which additional effort doesn’t produce additional results proportional to that effort.  For example, when you draft a memorandum for a client, the first and second drafts are generally critical to the end result.  By the time you get to the fifth or fifteenth or fiftieth draft (depending on the complexity of the matter at hand), you’re making only small changes and word-smithing.  A single word can occasionally affect the impact of an entire document, so experience is often required to know when you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

When it comes to business development, diminishing or even nonexistent returns may be difficult to see without qualitative or quantitative feedback.  For example, publishing a substantive article almost always represents a significant advancement because it adds to your credibility in your practice area.  However, it’s unlikely that a single article will result in a flood of new business, and it is possible that even a string of articles may not produce new billable work if the articles aren’t well targeted or if there’s no reason for readers to reach out to you.  When should you keep publishing, and when should you move on to something else, at least for a time?

The Groundhog Day problem is this:  how do you distinguish between activities that aren’t producing results yet and activities that are unlikely ever to produce the results you seek?  We all know that time may be required to show results, so we don’t expect every activity to yield new results right away.  But you have to know when to keep going and when to shift activities, or you can keep on working harder and harder at something, only to discover that all your effort has produced nothing.

Keeping track of the rainmaking activities you’re doing and the results you’re attaining is the only way you’ll know when to keep going and when to shift courses.  Set clear and concrete goals for your rainmaking activity.  Specific and time-based goals are helpful for measuring progress and staying on track.  Examples include, “my goal is to bring in $35,000 of new collaborative divorce business within the next 12 months,” or “my goal is to develop a $75,000 book of business made up of personal injury cases each with a value of $15,000 to $20,000.”  These goals provide a measuring stick for your progress, but you shouldn’t measure your success exclusively by the amount of business you bring in.

Landing new business is your ultimate goal and the reason for undertaking rainmaking activity, but you must also track interim goals.  Imagine that you hadn’t run at all since high school and you decided to train to run a marathon.  You almost certainly wouldn’t make that decision and then lace up your running shoes to run 26 miles right off the bat!  Instead, you’d set smaller goals.  Maybe running two or three miles, or even running for 20 minutes.  As you achieve those goals, you’ll also notice additional accomplishments along the way, such as not being sore the day after a long run when in the beginning of your training you could hardly walk the next day.  Tracking those smaller goals helps you know that you’re making progress toward the ultimate goal of running a marathon even though you aren’t yet running the full 26 miles.  The same principles apply for tracking your business development efforts.

For example, let’s suppose you have a relationship with someone who was employed by a client company several years ago, that she has moved to a new company, and that she’s now in a position to recommend outside counsel but does not have authority to hire.  If you measure success with that contact based solely on getting business from her, you will likely find yourself discouraged.

But you could instead measure the interim steps that move you closer to getting business from her.  A few examples of those interim steps might be getting introduced to the person responsible for making decisions, getting your contact’s feedback on what she thinks it would take for you to be awarded business, being invited to make a presentation to the company or a department on a subject related to the legal matters you hope to handle, and so on.

None of these steps is the same as getting the billable work, of course, but they measure progress.  If you notice that you’re working to grow the relationship with your contact over a period of months and years and you aren’t getting any business from it, you need to look at these kinds of interim steps to see whether there’s any progress or whether you should perhaps conclude that this contact is not as hot a prospect for new business as you had believed.  Tracking the interim progress and measuring it against your ultimate goal is how to avoid the insanity of continuing to plug away at activity that won’t ever produce results.

In other words, watch the ultimate goals of getting new business, but keep your eyes on the interim steps as well to be sure that you’re progressing toward that ultimate goal.  If you don’t see progress that is actually moving you closer to bringing in new business, then it’s time to ask yourself:  Is it Groundhog Day again?