21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Ed Burghard

21 Tips To Become A Better Leader

Leading in the economic development industry is exceptionally challenging. Rarely do you have positional authority (ability to provide a negative review or terminate for poor performance) to compel people you work with to do what you want. Learning the principles of influence leadership will help you be even more successful in leading across the diverse groups in your community.

Here are 21 irrefutable laws of leadership adapted from John C. Maxwell’s book of the same title.

Laws of Leadership


  1. The Law of the Lid. Your personal leadership mastery establishes the ceiling on your community’s ability to achieve economic prosperity. If you have poor leadership skills, then your community will not be able to successfully collaborate to address difficult challenges. That is why a change in team leadership often brings breakthrough results.
  2. The Law of Influence. Leadership is about influencing people’s behavior to accomplish an objective. Being a leader is not about having the title Executive Director, President or CEO. It is about facilitating the process of change, helping people deal with the challenges of letting go and embracing a new reality.
  3. The Law of Process. Leadership is a set of learned skills. Any economic development professional can become a leader if they invest the time and energy to study and practice the process.
  4. The Law of Navigation. Steering a ship is easy. Setting the course is the role of the leader. Being able to establish a vision for your community and enrolling others is a critical skill to effectively lead in economic development. This requires listening skills and the ability to balance optimism and objectivity.
  5. The Law of E.F. Hutton. When E.F. Hutton spoke, everybody listened. When a real economic development leader speaks, people in your community will listen. Build collaborative relationships with existing private and public leaders in the community. It is important to demonstrate your character and ability. You earn the right to lead.
  6. The Law of Solid Ground. As an economic development professional, you need to be worth following in order to lead. What you do and say in both your professional and personal life has a bearing on your credibility. In a world of social media, it is important to remember that your character has no on/off switch. How you behave in every circumstance and what you say in social media and other communication channels speaks volume about your credibility. Be worth following.
  7. The Law of Respect. When you lose somebody’s respect, you give up the right to lead that individual. Beware of the politics inherent in the world of economic development. Keeping your work, making principle based and not political based decisions contribute to building respect. If you want to be an effective leader in economic development, leave your political opinion at the door.
  8. The Law of Intuition. Leaders are able to connect the dots and see emerging trends before others. Importantly, they are also able to assess the impact of those trends on their community’s potential for economic success.
  9. The Law of Magnetism. Great leaders surround themselves with other leaders. In economic development, don’t simply direct your EDO staff. Reach out to other leaders in your community and invite their participation. Learning to lead leaders will help you guide your community to even stronger economic results.
  10. The Law of Connection. You don’t lead with logic, you lead by making an emotional connection with people. If you have the option to inform or inspire, always inspire.
  11. The Law of the Inner Circle. Your long term potential as a leader in economic development depends on your inner circle. You need to be purposeful in selecting your confidants and mentors. Don’t leave this exercise to chance. Select people you respect and can learn from. Once selected, invest in building productive relationships.
  12. The Law of Empowerment. Delegate effectively. As a leader in economic development, it is impossible to do everything yourself. You need the help of other leaders and people in your community. If you do not delegate authority along with the tasks, you will not be able to make a meaningful difference on the truly challenging problems facing your community. Micro managing will limit your ultimate level of success.
  13. The Law of Reproduction. As a leader, your job is to nurture the next generation of leaders in your community. This must be a real priority for you. You will sharpen your own leadership mastery through teaching leadership skills to others.
  14. The Law of Buy-In. People need to buy into you before they buy into your vision of change. It is impossible to lead strangers. Take the time to get to know people and leverage the relationship you establish to lead effectively.
  15. The Law of Victory. Leaders consistently find a way to achieve goals. Often it requires working on the system and not being constrained by simply working within the system. Going over, under or around barriers in legal and ethical ways is how leaders deliver success.
  16. The Law of Momentum. You can’t steer a ship easily without forward motion. If you want to move people through change, you need to build positive momentum. Small victories can build confidence and teamwork that leads to higher and higher levels of performance. Great leaders do not leave this process to chance.
  17. The Law of Priorities. Economic development leaders recognize the difference between activity and accomplishment. It is important to ensure the reward system in your community is structured to track and reward results.
  18. The law of Sacrifice. Leaders have to give up more than followers. In economic development, they give up more time and give up job security. They give up the luxury of armchair quarterbacking and give up their political biases. Their focus is on leaving a personal legacy by making a meaningful difference in their community.
  19. The Law of Timing. When you lead matters. People need time to digest information and get comfortable with the direction of change. If you try and lead people before they are ready, your efforts may fail. As a leader, part of your role is to help get people ready.
  20. The Law of Explosive Growth. Incremental growth comes from leading followers. Explosive growth comes from leading leaders. The choice is yours.
  21. The Law of Legacy. Leadership is never delegated, it is either exercised or abdicated. Your lasting value in economic development is how well your community does after you leave your role. If your impact is sustained or further strengthened, then you did a great job as a leader.


Leadership is hard work. Few people are good leaders without having made mistakes along the way. What separates great leaders from good leaders is the investment in proactive study of leadership. It is important to know what great leadership looks like and to find a personal path that allows you to master the skill set in an authentic way. Great leaders are forever students of leadership. They realize there is always something new to learn and apply. Great leaders teach others how to find their own effective leadership style and encourage leadership behavior from their followers.

Effective leadership in economic development is exceptionally hard. You need to deal with politics, conflicting and hidden agendas, and extremely difficult problems without obvious solutions. Leaders in economic development must learn to own the end result and not the process, recognizing there are typically many ways to achieve any given objective.

I encourage you to make leadership a life-long study and mastery a personal journey. The impact you can make on the lives of people in your community by being a great leader can be personally and professionally rewarding. The economic development profession can always use more great leaders, make the choice to be one.


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