Golden Nuggets of Leadership

Sep 24, 2012 1 Min Read
Leadership Gold
Source:Photo by Lucas Benjamin on Unsplash
Leadership Gold By John Maxwell: A Book Summary and Key Insights from the Book

John C. Maxwell promised himself that he would write this book when he turned 60. In February 2007, he reached that milestone and began writing. Having had a remarkable and rewarding journey as a leader from the young age of 22, he is convinced that everything hinges on leadership. Good leadership always makes a difference. It can turn organisations around and positively impact the lives of thousands of individuals. With much experience in training and developing potential leaders since the late 70s, Maxwell discovered to his delight that leaders can be developed. Leaders are not necessarily only born, they can be developed through learning.

Maxwell believes in the quote by poet Archibald MacLeish,

“There’s only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.”

In his book, Maxwell shares 26 gold nuggets that he learned during the 40 years of living in a leadership environment. This was where he learned what it meant to be a leader through trial and error. He established that he is still discovering leadership nuggets each day, and much of the leadership gold he is sharing is a result of leadership mistakes he has made. Maxwell believes that one’s ability to become a better leader depends on one’s responses.

Leadership Gold is relevant to us whether we are in the business world, part of any kind of organisation social circle or even family. It begins with a powerful and meaningful introductory chapter titled, “If it’s lonely at the top, you’re not doing something right”. It concludes with the challenge of thinking of the legacy that we would like to leave behind. In the closing chapter is a poignant phrase: “People will summarise your life in one sentence – pick it now”. Throughout the book, Maxwell emphasises the relational role of a leader, the importance of working with your followers and that the ultimate desire of a leader should be to develop others beyond oneself.

If it’s lonely at the top, you’re not doing something right

Maxwell began his leadership journey with the phrase “Keep a distance”. It was a phrase he had often heard. Good leaders are supposed to be a little set apart from those they are leading. However, Maxwell discovered that although it meant that people could not hurt him, it also meant that people could not help him. So, at the age of 25, Maxwell made a decision that as a leader, he would “walk slowly through the crowd.” He would allow himself to be vulnerable and be willing to take the risk of getting close to the people he led. He also allowed people to get close to him. Maxwell realised that he needed to love people before he could even begin trying to lead them.

Leaders never get to the top alone. They always need the support of people. To reach those goals, it is necessary to take others with you. A leader’s personal success must always end with helping others achieve their aspirations. Leaders need to relate to their people in order to reach out to them.

Loneliness does not have to be a positional consequence related to a leadership role. Rather, it is a personality issue. Leadership is relational as much as positional. If you are a leader and you are currently feeling lonely, then you need to check yourself. There is probably something you are not doing correctly. Maxwell puts it in a very interesting way when he says, “Think about it. If you are all alone, that means nobody is following you. And if nobody is following you, you are not really leading!”

The toughest person to lead is often oneself

The toughest person to lead is often oneself. We are often our own worst enemies. Why is this? The answer lies in two primary reasons. Firstly we usually do not see ourselves as we see others. Secondly we tend to be harder on others than ourselves. In order to be successful, we often need to face the brutal truth that we may need to get out of our own way.

Maxwell shares four prerequisites to leading others:

  1. A leader needs to learn followership. Unless you learn to follow well, you will not know how to lead.
  2. Develop self-discipline.
  3. Practise patience. Do not be impatient about focusing on the future and wanting to move ahead all the time. The point of leadership is not to cross the finish line first. The essence of being a good leader is to ensure that you take people with you.
  4. Seek accountability. Power can be seductive. Be careful not to trust and believe only in yourself. Be willing to make yourself accountable to another.

Defining moments define your leadership

Maxwell believes that how a leader handles certain critical moments in life determines his ability to successfully meet other life challenges that he will face. Decisions made during crucial moments shape us and tell others who we really are. A defining moment is not the time to mould your character. This is the time that your character is actually on display for all to see!

What are defining moments? Maxwell defines them as “intersections in our lives that give us an opportunity to turn, change direction, and seek a new destination.” When a leader experiences a defining moment and is able to respond appropriately, he becomes a better leader. However, the challenge is that you do not get to plan your defining moment. It is not something you can plan and block off in your calendar. One thing you can choose is how you will handle these moments when you encounter them.

Maxwell shares the following steps that you can take to prepare for defining moments:
  1. Reflect on defining moments from the past.
  2. Prepare for defining moments in the future. Make major choices before times of crisis. This will enable you to simply manage those decisions in critical moments.
  3. Make the most of defining moments in the present.

This book summary is courtesy of Koh Earn Soo and his team who take the best books and summarise them into shorter, readable content in the hope of inspiring people to read more and learn more. To read the rest of this summary and summaries of other bestsellers, subscribe to

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Koh Earn Soo is the Executive Director at SU. He has significant experience in the oil and gas industry and has been the editor of a key business magazine for many years. Koh Earn Soo and his team take the best books and summarise them into shorter, readable content in the hope of inspiring people to read more and learn more. To read the rest of this summary and summaries of other bestsellers, subscribe to

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