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Book Summary – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People will Follow You

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership - Book summary

Everything rises and falls on leadership. In this book, John Maxwell provides insights that are based on more than 40 years of leadership experience and observations of leaders in various fields such as business, politics, sports and the military. This free version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary gives you a synopsis of these 21 principles to help you become a more powerful and effective leader.

21 Laws of Leadership over the Ages

These 21 principles of leadership do not change over time, though their application may vary.  There are several important points to note:

  • To lead well, you must do all 21 things well.  Yet, no single person can apply all 21 laws perfectly. Besides constantly improving yourself, the other way is to develop a strong leadership team, so that all 21 laws can be satisfied.
  • All 21 laws can be learned and mastered.
  • Each law stands alone (hence you need not learn them in sequence) but they complement/ reinforce one another.
  • The laws bring consequences. People will follow or not follow you, depending on whether you apply or violate the laws.
  • The laws need to be applied in real life to form the foundation of leadership.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: An Overview

Here’s an overview of the 21 Laws. For details and application tips for each of the 21 principles, check out our 18-page version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary.


Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. Your level of effectiveness and accomplishments is determined by your level of leadership. In fact, leadership has a multiplier effect on success – by raising your leadership ability, you can increase your overall effectiveness many times without increasing your success dedication.The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#1 Law of the Lid_application


The true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less. Contrary to myths, leadership is not the same as management, entrepreneurship, knowledge, pioneer-ship, or position. The proof of leadership is in the followers.The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#2 Law of Influence_application


Leadership develops daily, not in a day. Leadership is like investing – it compounds over time, and you won’t make a fortune overnight. Leaders’ abilities to learn, develop and improve their skills set them apart from their followers. In the book, Maxwell explains the 5 phases to leadership growth:

  • Phase 1: I don’t know what I don’t know – which is a barrier to growth
  • Phase 2: I know that I need to know – becoming conscious of your ignorance is a first step to knowledge.
  • Phase 3: I know what I don’t know – and have a plan for personal growth
  • Phase 4: I know and grow, and it starts to show – but leadership is still a conscious effort
  • Phase 5: I simply go because of what I know – the ability to lead has become almost automatic.

For more actionable tips, check out our full 18-page summary.


Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Good leaders are navigators and set the direction for their team. They have a clear vision for their destination, see the entire trip in their minds, understand who and what they need to be successful, and recognize the obstacles in advance. The larger the organization, the harder it is to make a mid-course correction, and the more clearly the leader must see ahead.


Leaders add value by serving others. Effective leaders understand that to increase profits, they should add value. They also recognize that it takes many people to build a successful organization; they share and give credit rather than claim credit for themselves.  To know if you are adding value to others, ask this question: are you making things better for your followers?

Remaining Laws of Leadership

You can learn more about the remainder of Maxwell’s 21 Laws of Leadership from the 18-page version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary but here’s a quick overview:

6. The Law of Solid Ground: Trust is the Foundation of Leadership. Without trust, there can be no influence. Trust is built when a leader consistently demonstrates competence, connection and character. A sound character is key to building long-term trust, because it conveys consistency, potential, and builds respect.

7. The Law of Respect: People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. When people first come together in a group, they all go about their own ways, in different directions. As they interact more, the strongest leaders tend to stand out and people will follow them.

8.The Law of Magnetism: Who you are is who you attract. People are drawn to others with similar characteristics: generation, attitude, background, values, energy levels, giftedness, and leadership ability. If you are dissatisfied with the people around you, look inward first.

9. The Law of Intuition: Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. Maxwell shares the various ways in which leaders apply their leadership bias, and how to improve your leadership intuition.

10. The Law of Empowerment: Only secure leaders give power to others. To lead well means to help people reach their potential – build them up, give them resources, authority, responsibility, and autonomy to achieve.

11. The Law of Connection: Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. We need to connect with people emotionally before we can move them to action. It’s the leader’s job to initiate connection with the people, not vice versa.

12. The Law of The Inner Circle: A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Your inner circle members are those you turn to for advice, support and assistance. You need to be intentional about who you draw into your inner circle, and to constantly improve yourself and your circle.

13. The Law of the Picture: People do what people see. Great leaders show the way with the right actions, which are copied by their followers to success.

14. The Law of the Buy-In: People buy into the leader, then the vision. They listen to people whom they believe in, feel are credible, and want to go along with.

15. The Law of The Big Mo: Momentum is a leader’s best friend. Often, momentum is the determining factor between losing and winning. An organization or team with momentum is like a train moving at high speed that can plough through obstacles.

16. The Law of Victory: Leaders find a way for the team to win. Victorious leaders do not accept defeat. To them, there is no alternative to winning, and they keep fighting till they succeed.

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. True leadership is not all about freedom, power and wealth. It requires sacrifice, to trade something of value that you possess, for something even more valuable that you don’t yet possess.

19. The Law of Timing: When to lead is as important as What to do and Where to go. Timing is everything. It can make the deciding difference between success and failure. Only the right action at the right time will deliver results in success.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth: To add growth, lead followers. To multiply, lead leaders. To lead leaders, you need a different focus and attitude. You can find out more in our full version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary.

21. The Law of Legacy: A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. A leader’s lasting value is measured by what he leaves behind. This in turn requires a leader to be highly intentional about his legacy, including knowing the legacy he wants to leave, living the legacy, choosing who will carry on the legacy, and deliberately passing the baton.

Getting the Most from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Ready to hone your leadership skills? You can get more detailed insights, examples and actionable tips from our full book summary bundle, which includes an infographic, a 18-page text summary, and a 31-minute audio summary.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary - book summary bundle

The book was first published in 1998. In this 10th Anniversary Edition, Maxwell updated the 21 Laws based on what he learned from leaders applying the principles in real-life. The book includes many leadership examples including Maxwell’s personal experiences, sportsmen, corporate leaders, US presidents, and leaders of social causes.  Some of the real stories and case studies include those of Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, George W Bush, Herb Lance Armstrong, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Jim Sinegal, and Ray Kroc.

After each chapter, Maxwell provides several tips on how to apply the leadership law in your life, as well as a leadership evaluation/ assessment in Appendix A. You can get the book here for more detailed tips and recommended actions.

About the Author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People will Follow You is written by John C. Maxwell–an American author, speaker, and pastor. Maxwell was born in Garden City, Michigan, and currently resides in South Florida. He is an evangelical Christian, and completed a bachelor’s degree at Ohio Christian University in 1969, a Master of Divinity degree at Azusa Pacific University, and a Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Maxwell has led several churches and is currently a teaching pastor at Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has Maxwell has written over 70 books and was one of 25 authors named to Amazon. com’s 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. In May 2014, Maxwell was named the #1 leadership and management expert in the world by Inc. Magazine.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Quotes

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

“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.”

“Who you are dictates what you see.”

“To keep others down, you have to go down with them. And when you do that, you lose any power to lift others up.”

“People’s opinion of us has less to do with what they see in us than it does with what we can help them see in themselves.”

“The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream.”

“Momentum is like a magnifying glass; it makes things look bigger than they really are.”

“Leaders should get out of their comfort zone but stay in their strength zone.”

“Passion provides the fuel in a person’s life to keep him going.”

Click here to download the full summary and infographic

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