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“How would I feed my daughter?” “I won’t be able to afford diapers!” All these thoughts started the suicide.

I thought “I have to kill myself.” I had life insurance. She could live off that.

I didn’t see any other alternative reality. I didn’t know I’d become a comedian, podcaster, author, blogger, public speaker. I didn’t know I’d meet my heros. Or that I could have fun again, fall in love again.

I had one idea: “My life is over.”

I found a book.

“Failing Forward” by John Maxwell.

He came on my podcast. And I told him, “I first heard of you 18 years ago. And I’ve been grateful ever since.”

He’s sold over 30 million copies of his books worldwide. He’s written 71 books. If you ever see my on a plane, there’s a 50% chance I’m reading a John Maxwell book. Or re-reading one. “How Successful People Think” is another great one.

His newest one is “Leader Shift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace.”

“What made you write Failing Forward?” I asked.

“I was tired of success,” he said. He was speaking a conference. There were three other speakers. And they all talked about success.

“It was almost like these guys never missed,” he said.

This was 20 years ago. Before failure porn. Before catchy slogans like “fail fast.”

John broke new ground.

He said, “I never want to separate myself from the people I’m talking to. I don’t want fans. I want friends. I want to be where they are. A leader needs to find people before they can lead them.”

“What do you mean by ‘find’ them?

He gave me an example.

“If you’re going to be on my team, the first thing I want to do is find out what your vision is.”

He says, “What’s your dream? What would you like to accomplish in your life? What are your values? Because when I really have a sense of who you truly are, then I’ve got to ask myself, ‘Can I add value to you?’”

It’s counter-intuitive. He doesn’t think about his own success. He thinks about yours first.

“If I can’t add value to you, then you need to go join someone else’s team. Or maybe start your own team,” he said. “We don’t really start the journey until I’m quite sure that not only do I know you, but I know that I can help you.”

It sounds obvious. But hard to do. Because it’s human nature to put ourselves first.

So how do we make the shift? That’s what I wanted to find out.

Here are the 5 Steps I Learned to Lead like John Maxwell:

I once had a boss who confused humiliation for motivation.

He’d come to my cubicle whenever I made a mistake. And he didn’t come alone. He’d bring an audience. And ask questions. “Why’d you mess up?” “Why didn’t you triple check?”

I tried to explain. He didn’t care. He was getting high off the fumes of my fear. So when he was done, I said, “I quit.”

The power shifted.

He looked at me confused. “Uh, well, you don’t have to quit. It was just a mistake.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t like being yelled at. It’s abuse of power. It’s wrong.”

And I left.

He couldn’t see the difference between leading and bullying. So I had to make it for him.

“A whole bunch of leaders don’t do well because they assume they know where the people are,” John said. “I don’t want to assume anything in a relationship.”

The key is to get to know the people you’re working with.

When I met Steve Cohen, I didn’t just say “Hey I want to grow my podcast to x million downloads!” I asked him, “What do you like doing?” “What are your goals?” etc.

It was less of an interview and more of a conversation. I didn’t need the upper hand. I just needed to know if we were going in the same direction.

That’s the basis of a team. Not hierarchy. Not humiliation.

Just humanity.

This quote can stand alone.

“Managers lead everyone the same… Leaders lead everyone differently.” – John Maxwell

Major organizations hire John to give talks: the United Nations, Delta Airlines, Microsoft. And they all leave him these great reviews.

But I still had to ask.

“Do you think they actually change? I mean, look at the UN for example. They all have an agenda. So it seems hard to believe that they’ll take what you say to heart.”

“The answer is yes,” he said. “But not everyone is going to change.”

And he’s ok with that.

John is 72. He first got started 40 years ago. And he was naive about his ambitions.

He thought, “I’ll teach these principles and everybody will want to get better. They’ll grab the principles, go out, apply them, and everybody will be changed.”

That vision got him started. “Then I quickly learned that isn’t true at all,” he said.

A lot of people would quit right there. The vision is broken. Or half empty. But John didn’t need to help everybody. He just needed to help enough.

“I don’t expect everyone to change,” he said. “But here’s what’s beautiful, everyone can change.”

John had so many great quotes on this. Here are my 5 favorites:

  • “Reflection turns experience into insight.”
  • “Preparation gets you in the game, reflection makes you better.”
  • “You hear people say, ‘Experience is the best teacher.’ And they’re good people, but it’s not true. If experience was the best teacher, everybody would get better. Because everybody has experiences… Evaluated experience is the best teacher.”
  • “Don’t tell me about your losses, tell me about your lessons.”
  • “If out of every loss, you can pull out a lesson that helps you to get better then it was a good loss. ”

John kept telling me “give value.” Over and over again. “Give value.”

That’s his theme. He said, “I live and die by this.”

And I guess I do, too.

I lived to see the day John Maxwell became a guest on my podcast. And when it was done, I said “Thanks.” And he thanked me back.

Because I guess my podcast somehow gave value back to him. And that felt really good. It felt full circle.


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