The 360º Leader | John Maxwell

Author: John Maxwell
Author: John Maxwell

Main Theme: Leadership
For People Who: Are leading from the middle of an organization

John Maxwell is considered by some to be the godfather of leadership. Certainly his books have inspired millions to become the leader they need to be with impact statements such as: “Everything rises and falls on leadership” and “Leadership is influence.” I have heard of The 360 Degree Leader for years, but until a friend recommended it to me, I hadn’t given it much thought. Boy am I glad I did! The 360 Degree Leader is for the vast majority of leaders who do not sit at the top of their organization. This book is all about how to lead up by working with your top leader, learning to lead across by working with your peers, and learning to lead down with the people on your team. If you are a leader in the middle of your organization, make this your next read. It will scare you how well Maxwell can read your mail as a middle of the organization leader – your frustrations, concerns, criticisms, etc. If you’re a leader at the top of the organization, read this book! It will show you exactly how the people in your organization feel and it will help you see their challenges.

Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he is. You can make a difference no matter where you are. –The 360º Leader, pg. 7


  • It’s not your responsibility to change your leader. It’s your responsibility to add value.
  • You can care about people, show competence, and accomplish results. But if you are inconsistent, people will never trust you as fully as you would like.
  • If you want to be a great leader, you have to first learn to lead yourself. You must learn to be the kind of leader you would follow.
  • If you say something that is not crystal clear truth, you will lose credibility with people that know you better.
  • Continually seek to be better tomorrow than you are today.
  • Be faithful at the level of leadership you’re at today, because it’s preparing you for the level of leadership you want to be in in the future. You don’t wait till there is a fire before coming up with an exit plan. Plan now. Prepare now. Be faithful now. Be ready for tomorrow.

Brief Summary

There are so many incredible chapters in this book that are practical and, as I said, somewhat scary how spot-on they are to your feelings, frustrations, and challenges as a leader in the middle. Each chapter has several points in them which I will not attempt to list here. Hopefully I can provide a brief summary of each section in the book, which is divided up into multiple chapters.


In the first section Maxwell immediately begins to tear down leadership myths that many people cling to. Even if you wouldn’t word them in these ways, many leaders cling to these myths without even knowing it. “I can’t lead if I’m not at the top” or “I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader” – these myths sit in the back of our minds and must be intentionally dealt with. These are natural ideas that, if not dismissed, will hinder us from being the leaders we need to be.

  • Myth #1: The Position Myth: “I can’t lead if I am not at the top
  • Myth #2: The Destination Myth: “When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead
  • Myth #3: The Influence Myth“If I were on top, then people would follow me
  • Myth #4: The Inexperience Myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control”
  • Myth #5: The Freedom Myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll no longer be limited
  • Myth #6: The Potential Myth: “I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader”
  • Myth #7: The All-or-Nothing Myth: “If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead

I believe that people should strive for the top of their game, not the top of the organization. Each of us should work to reach our potential, not necessarily the corner office. –The 360º Degree Leader, pg. 17


You just can’t allow yourself to give in to the short-term frustration you feel. If you do find that the frustration is getting the better of you, it might be time to change jobs. –The 360º Leader, pg. 42

When you are a leader in the middle of the organization, you’re going to face a number of challenges. As you grow and gain influence it will become more and more important you learn how to lead up. When you find yourself facing these challenges, you must realign yourself anew with the purpose of the organization and why you are serving in it. If you find you can’t do so, it may be time for you to change work addresses. For many, this section of chapters will resonate the most. If you find yourself facing these challenges, you’ll want to pick up this book and read it before making any decisions about your future.

  • Challenge #1: The Tension Challenge: The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle
  • Challenge #2: The Frustration Challenge: Following an Ineffective Leader
  • Challenge #3: The Multi-Hat Challenge: One Head…Many Hats
  • Challenge #4: The Ego Challenge: You’re Often Hidden in the Middle
  • Challenge #5: The Fulfillment Challenge: Leaders Like the Front More Than the Middle
  • Challenge #6: The Vision Challenge: Championing the Vision Is More Difficult When You Didn’t Create It
  • Challenge #7: The Influence Challenge: Leading Others Beyond Your Position Is Not Easy

You need to realize that the stronger your natural desire to initiate the greater the potential for tension. If you continually push the limits, it’s likely you will rub others the wrong way. –The 360º Leader, pg. 27


Your underlying strategy should be to support your leader, add value to the organization, and distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack by doing your work with excellence. –The 360º Leader, pg. 83

Being loyal to your leader means sharing your open and honest opinion about a decision when you’re in the meeting and being committed to the decision made when you’re outside the meeting. As you grow and lead yourself, you will be tempted to ‘fix’ your leader. Be careful not to allow your ego to grow along with your knowledge and influence. Learning when to push for better ideas and when to back off is vital to leading up. An important question to ask is: How well do I connect with my leader? How well do I know them? What do we have in common? Remember that your leader is a person and not a title, so treat them with dignity and respect.

  • Lead-Up Principle #1: Lead Yourself Exceptionally Well
  • Lead-Up Principle #2: Lighten Your Leader’s Load
  • Lead-Up Principle #3: Be Willing to Do What Others Won’t
  • Lead-Up Principle #4: Do More Than Manage – Lead!
  • Lead-Up Principle #5: Invest in Relational Chemistry
  • Lead-Up Principle #6: Be Prepared Every Time You Take Your Leader’s Time
  • Lead-Up Principle #7: Know When to Push and When to Back Off
  • Lead-Up Principle #8: Become a Go-To Player
  • Lead-Up Principle #9: Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today


Develop into your DNA the desire to see other people achieve their vision and find any way to help them do so. Learning to listen and being available to those you lead across from builds trust and friendship. You may have disagreements at times, but learning to set aside petty office politics to achieve an agreed upon goal and vision of the future will realign you with your peers.

  • Lead-Across Principle #1: Understand, Practice, and Complete the Leadership Loop
  • Lead-Across Principle #2: Put Completing Fellow Leaders Ahead of Competing with Them
  • Lead-Across Principle #3: Be a Friend
  • Lead-Across Principle #4: Avoid Office Politics
  • Lead-Across Principle #5: Expand Your Circle of Acquaintances
  • Lead-Across Principle #6: Let the Best Idea Win
  • Lead-Across Principle #7: Don’t Pretend You’re Perfect

Perfectionism is a dangerous state of mind in an imperfect world…If you are doing your best, you will not have time to worry about failure. -Robert Hillyer | -The 360º Leader, pg. 209


360-Degree Leaders take the time and effort to earn influence with their followers just as they do with those over whom they have no authority.” (pg. 211) When you’re leading your team, you’re helping them to discover who they really are so that you add value to their lives. By adding value to their lives, rather than selfishly getting them to do what you want, you are helping them achieve their dreams and aspirations. You’re helping them contribute to something bigger than themselves. Help them become a better version of themselves. Get to know them. Develop them. Train them. “When you equip people, you teach them how to do a job…When you develop people, you are helping them to improve as individuals.” (pg. 229)

  • Lead-Down Principle #1: Walk Slowly Through the Halls
  • Lead-Down Principle #2: See Everyone As a “10”
  • Lead-Down Principle #3: Develop Each Team Member as a Person
  • Lead-Down Principle #4: Place People in Their Strength Zones
  • Lead-Down Principle #5: Model the Behavior You Desire
  • Lead-Down Principle #6: Transfer the Vision
  • Lead-Down Principle #7: Reward for Results


If you set out on the journey to be a 360-Degree Leader you’re going to have a tough road ahead of you. No one says it will be easy, but it certainly will be worth it. This section of the book is Maxwell’s encouragement to 360-Degree Leaders. When you feel like quitting, when you feel like walking away, these are the chapters to read. Keep growing, learning and reading! Don’t give up leading in the middle!

  • Value #1: A leadership Team is More Effective Than Just One Leader
  • Value #2: Leaders Are Needed at Every Level of the Organization
  • Value #3: Leading Successfully at One Level Is a Qualifier for Leading at the Next Level
  • Value #4: Good Leaders in the Middle Make Better Leaders at the Top
  • Value #5: 360-Degree Leaders Possess Qualities Every Organization Needs


I found this book to be incredibly helpful. I’ve read some of John Maxwell’s work in the past and certainly am familiar with his teaching from lectures, videos, podcasts, and conferences I’ve watched or participated in. Of everything I’ve read and heard of Maxwell’s work, this one seems the most helpful. Why? Because the vast majority of people aren’t at the top of their organizations. They’re in the middle. They have people they report to, peers they lead with, and teams of followers to influence. Learning how to “lead up” is not a topic dealt with in most leadership books. As an associate pastor, I found this book to be immensely helpful. Books I read always talk about leadership in general, but they seem to assume you are the top leader in your organization. I’ve yet to read much for a leader who is in the middle – this book fits that need! Pick it up, I know you’ll enjoy it.

Information and Personal Rating

General Information:

Personal Ratings (1-10)

  • Applicability: 9
  • Readability: 8
  • Originality: 7 (If you’re familiar with Maxwell’s work, you’ll hear it mixed in)
  • Recommendation: Yes – Absolutely! Put it on your reading list.

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