Leadership Gold

Dr. John Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert. He is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company. John has also written several outstanding books on leadership that are well worth reading. Three of his books have sold over 1 million copies.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Developing the Leader Within You

The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader

John’s insight comes from having worked with and speaking to leaders from around the world. Recently, I read his book entitled Leadership Gold.  While he authored it from a personal leadership perspective, I read it for lessons on how economic development professionals and organizations could provide even better leadership for their communities.

4 Take-Away Lessons

The book has a number of great thoughts that are very relevant for individual leaders and organizations seeking to provide leadership. Here are four that I thought were particularly relevant and helpful. Hopefully you will think so as well.

We are in the people business. One of the things John says is “If it is lonely at the top, you are not doing something right”. What a great reminder that in economic development, the challenge is to collaborate across a diverse range of constituencies. Success isn’t defined by how well your economic development organization is funded, or even by how many jobs it is involved in helping attract or retain. Ultimately, it is measured by the impact made in the sustainable economic prosperity of your community.  That means the quality of growth matters. A great resource that takes this concept further is the Ford Wealth Creation Project. This Project argues that prosperity should be more broadly defined than simply job growth.

We are often our own worst enemies. Followership, self-discipline and patience are behaviors we need to master. Leading across a community is exceptionally challenging. It is so easy to alienate groups along the way. And many times it is hard to consistently make good decisions because of the role politics plays in the process. But, if we do not refrain from making the easy but wrong decisions and stay principled in our approach to community development then we lead our communities into chaos. Key to avoiding missteps is the willingness to seek and accept advice and hold ourselves accountable. Accountability builds trust.

We need to focus energy on the defining moments. It has been my experience that 80% of the real impact will come from 20% of the activities you engage in. The same is true in strengthening local economies.  Unfortunately, we often get too caught up in managing the zillion tasks of keeping programs running and solving problems that pop up every day disguised as crises. It is important to proactively identify the defining moments for our communities and ensure adequate leadership and resources are brought to bear on handling them. Defining moments are those that present options and opportunities. They can meaningfully change the course of a community’s future. An example playing out today in many Appalachian communities is the impact of the emerging shale gas/oil industry. Leaders in these communities need to create strategic development plans that will minimize the risk of their community experiencing a boom-to-bust cycle.

We need to have the courage to define reality. It is important to be visionary and realistic.  Without realism you lose credibility. Situations are often worse than you think, the process for dealing with opportunities often takes longer than you think, and the cost is often higher than you think. Realism is not the same as pessimism. It is okay to be optimistic as long as you can admit your weaknesses so they can be addressed successfully, seek and embrace honesty so you can course correct and avoid costly mistakes, and subject your planning to outside review so you can get “fresh eyes” evaluating your strategies and tactics.


There is a lot more wisdom in the book that is worth reading. One of the topics that resonated strongly with me and underpins my work on the Strengthening Brand America Project is John’s discussion on leaving a legacy. He defines legacy as “something we leave for the next generation”.

To leave a legacy you need to do three things – 1) proactively choose the legacy you want to leave, 2) align your actions and passion with achieving the legacy, and 3) appreciate the value your legacy will have on the lives of others.

The Strengthening Brand America Project is about helping improve the understanding and application of branding within the economic development profession so our communities (and in aggregate our nation) are more globally competitive for capital investment. I am hoping that is legacy worthy.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do any of the four take-away lessons resonate with you? What legacy are you seeking to leave on your community? What are some of the obstacles you’ve experienced in leading and do you have any tips for overcoming them?

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