Skip to main content

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 free version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary, we’ll be giving a synopsis of the 21 principles by John Maxwell to help you become a more powerful and effective leader. These insights 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. For more details, do get our full book summary bundle, in text, graphic and audio formats.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary - book summary bundle

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

Here’s an overview of the 21 Laws. For details and application tips for each of the 21 principles, please get our full version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary (get 18-page summary here).


Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#1 Law of the LidYour 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.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#2 Law of InfluenceContrary 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.

[Pls get the full 18-page summary for more application tips]


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. [See more details in our full summary.]


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? [See more details in our full summary.]


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.

When you make a mistake as a leader, others can see it. But, if you have been consistent as a leader, your followers are usually prepared to forgive lapses in ability, especially if you are ready to confess and apologize to regain the trust. Do get more details from our complete version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary .


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. In the book, Maxwell shares 6 key ways that leaders gain respect, as well as suggestions on how to assess and improve your level of leadership.


Who you are is who you attract

As leaders, we usually have a mental list of the qualities we want in our people. However, we attract not what we want, but who we are. 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.


Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias.

We are naturally intuitive in our area of strength, be it communication, arts, etc. How we see people and events is determined by who we are – hence, leaders see things with a leadership bias. Maxwell shares the various ways in which leaders apply their leadership bias, and how to improve your leadership intuition.  [Get more application tips in our full summary.]


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. The main ingredient of empowerment is belief in people.

Leaders usually fail to empower others due to 3 key barriers:
• Desire for job security, i.e. fear of becoming dispensable.
• Resistance to change, which is inevitable for progress
• Lack of self-worth, and they can’t give power to others because they feel they have no power themselves

To learn how to improve your self-worth and empower others, do get our full version of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary (click here for complete book summary).


Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand

We need to connect with people emotionally before we can move them to action. The bigger the challenge, the stronger the connection needed. The stronger the connection, the easier it is to enlist support. It’s the leader’s job to initiate connection with the people, not vice versa. The key to connecting with people is to relate to them as individuals, even if they are in a group. When speaking to a large group of people, focus on talking to one person. Maxwell shares several tips on how you can connect better with yourself and others. Do get more details from our full summary.


A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to himThe 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#12 Law of the Inner CircleYour 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.

To filter good candidates for your inner circle, ask these questions:

• Do they have high influence with others?
• Do they bring a complementary gift to the table?
• Do they hold a strategic position in the organization?
• Do they add value to me and to the organization?
• Do they have a good fit with and positively impact other inner circle members?

You should identify and cultivate before you recruit your inner circle members, so you can assess if they display excellence, maturity, and good character in everything they do.The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary_#12 Law of the Inner Circle_application


People do what people see
Great leaders show the way with the right actions, which are copied by their followers to success. Leaders understand the role of the vision:
• A mission provides the purpose or the “why”
• A vision provides a picture of the “what”
• A strategy provides a plan or the “how”

Besides having a clear vision of the future and what must be done, leaders bridge the vision gap between them and their followers. To bring the picture alive, they don’t just communicate the vision; they effectively model the vision, setting the right example and showing the way. Such clarity and credibility produces belief, energy, passion, and motivation for people to keep going.


People buy into the leader, then the vision

The message being received is always filtered through the messenger. People follow worthy causes because they first buy into worthy leaders who promote those causes. They listen to people whom they believe in, feel are credible, and want to go along with.

Leader   +   Vision   =   Results

When followers buy-in to both the leader and the vision, they will follow the leader through any challenge, i.e. both components are eventually needed for breakthrough results. However, people need to first buy into the leader.


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. In the book, Maxwell shares several characteristics of the “The Big Mo” and how to assess where we are at.  If you are faced with a huge inertia and massive negativity, the only way to create positive momentum is to start small and gradually build up momentum over time, until it reaches a tipping point.  [Get more tips & details in our full summary.]


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. In fact, great leaders are at their best when faced with a great challenge that pushes them to do whatever it takes to bring their people to victory.

Maxwell elaborates on the 3 components of victory in any field or domain, namely: unified vision, diverse skills, and the right leadership.


Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment

Not every leader practices prioritization because:
• They confuse activity with accomplishments.
• It’s hard work, as prioritization means constantly thinking ahead, and working to align the moving pieces with the vision.
• It involves doing what’s uncomfortable or painful

Learn more about the 3Rs approach from our complete The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary (full book summary here).


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. Leaders may not even see the success from their sacrifices, but someone in the future will benefit from it.


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.  In the book, Maxwell discusses the factors behind good leadership timing, and how to apply the Law of Timing for greater effectiveness.


To add growth, lead followers. To multiply, lead leaders.

Why develop leaders?  Maxwell summarizes it as such:
“If you develop yourself, you can experience personal success.
If you develop a team, your organization can experience growth.
If you develop leaders, your organization can achieve explosive growth”

To lead leaders, you need a different focus and attitude. Find out more in our full The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary (get full 18-page summary).



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.

Other Details in
“The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”

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. Do get a copy of book or our full summary bundle, for more detailed tips and recommended actions.

Banner_Free readingraphics

Click here to download The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership book summary and infographic

Leave a Reply