There Things John Maxwell Looks for in Leaders by Tim Elmore
Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with my friend and mentor, Dr. John C. Maxwell. John Maxwell is a world-renowned leadership expert, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.
Tim Elmore: Some people may not know that you and I shared a couple of decades together. I started as an employee in 1983 just out of college in San Diego and then later at Equip when you moved the company across the country to Atlanta, Georgia. You hired me right out of college and you took a chance on me. I believe that I owe so much of my development and productivity to your mentoring over the years. When you think about that experience and many others you had with young leaders on staff, what do you look for as you invest in young leaders? What flaws are you willing to overlook?
John Maxwell: I look specifically for three things in young leaders. I look for them to have a desire to make a difference. If you can find some kid who’s got a great passion, they’ll really make a difference in the world. I look for that and then I look for “teachability.” If they are going to come along and want to be on the team, they have to have a real heart to learn and a desire to grow. And thirdly, I look for giftedness because leadership is influence—but leadership is influence in the area of your giftedness. You don’t influence people in areas that you are not gifted in.
We are all flawed, but there are three specific flaws of young leaders that I overlook. One is their idealism. They’re just idealistic. They just think it is going to be bigger and better than it really is. But I overlook that because I would rather have somebody that wants to win their world, than somebody that doesn’t even think they can win themselves. I overlook mistakes. We all make them. In fact, I’ve always said when you’re young you should start somewhere that’s small, so the mistakes will never be told on you. I also overlook the fact that young leaders don’t see the big picture. I believe they can’t see the big picture. It’s impossible because they lack the experience and the exposure to be able to see the big picture. So, those are the three flaws I overlook.
There are three flaws that I don’t overlook in youth, though. The first is an entitlement mindset. When I meet a young person who feels entitled, I want to tell them that there is nothing given to you in life. You have to make your own way and prove yourself. The second flaw I don’t overlook relates to breaking trust. The young person must demonstrate a sense of integrity, having the ethics or the level of trust to where you could depend on that person. The third area is if I feel they don’t value people. This is a true statement: leadership gets old real quick if you don’t value people. It is too hard unless you love people.
Tim: I think I may have had all three of these things. I was idealistic, I was not big picture minded, but you did know I loved people. You showed me what a leader looks like, and the impact it has on culture to an organization when the leader loves his or her people. That was just gigantic.
John: Absolutely. You also have to love the people that you are mentoring. You don’t mentor them for what they are going to bring to you. You mentor them for what they are going to bring to the world.
Tim: John, I have frequently used the terms, timely and timeless. Timely means I am very current; I know what is going on around me in our culture today. Timeless includes principles that are going to work whenever or wherever you live. I want you to talk about how you balance the two, because we need to keep up with the times but also have some principles to live by. Would you talk about that?
John: When I think of timeless, I think of graciously accepting all genders, all generations, at any time, regardless of culture. In talking about timeless and timely, in 1975 I came to the conclusion that everything rises and falls on leadership. It is a fact proven by history. When you get to the timely subject, I am married to principles, but I am not married to methods. What am I going to do to be timely? Well, I can be teachable. I have got to constantly ask questions to younger generations because they are the ones who are going to lead me to the water. I also think to be timely, you have to believe in the younger generation. If I believe in the younger generation, I am going to invest in the younger generation. So how do I balance the two? I think it is simple—people change, principles don’t. Trendy is for today and timeless is for every day.