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Book Recap Series: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

John C. Maxwell has been developing leaders for over 40 years. While he may be most famous for the millions of books he has sold worldwide, he has also successfully developed a leadership curriculum that is on pace to train 7 million leaders over the next four years. Maxwell has devoted his life to assist individuals to reach their full potential. In this addition to the AFCA’s Book Recap Series, we dive into one of Maxwell’s most famous books, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. These simple rules will help you develop habits to take your leadership ability to the next level.

Each of his 21 Laws provide impactful truth that, if put into practice, will positively affect your organization. I have chosen seven of these laws to hone in on for this recap, three of which were recently highlighted in Indiana University Head Football Coach, Tom Allen’s presentation during the 2021 AFCA February Virtual Clinic. My hope is that this recap encourages you to read the rest of the 21 Laws for yourself.

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I. The Law of Influence

How would you describe leadership in one word? Maxwell would argue that leadership is nothing more and nothing less than influence. There are many myths about leadership. Common misconceptions, such as people in authority are automatically leaders, or that being a trendsetter is the same as being a leader. True leaders influence others to intentionally come behind them to join in their vision.

The power that influence plays in leadership is one of many reasons why the AFCA’s Power of Influence award is given every year to a deserving high school coach who has left a lasting impact on their program and community. These coaches place a high premium on their character, their relationships, and their knowledge. What are you doing today to increase your influence through those avenues?

II. The Law of Process

Do you have a plan in place for personal growth? Can you name three practices that you do on a routine basis that develop your leadership ability? If you answered no to either of those questions, then it is time for you to put into practice the law of process. Leadership doesn’t just come in one event or one promotion. Effective leadership is developed over time through deliberate processes.

“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his time when it comes.” – Benjamin Disraeli

I encourage each of you to write out a specific outline for how you will begin or continue to develop your leadership as a coach. A written-out plan encourages development, matures you (and others around you), creates a culture of improvement, and will change your life.

III. The Law of Addition

Adding value to others changes lives. Anyone who has ever taken part in a service project knows that it usually changes the lives of those who are providing the service more than those on the receiving end. Maxwell gives three examples of when we add value to others:

  1. Truly value others (intentionally help them!)
  2. Make ourselves more valuable to others.
  3. Know and relate to what others value.

“The bottom line in leadership isn’t how far we advance ourselves but how far we advance others.” – John C. Maxwell 

IV. The Law of Magnetism

If you have ever heard anyone say, “you attract who you are”, or “who you are is who you attract”, then you have heard the fundamental truth in the Law of Magnetism. Followers personify and duplicate the actions they see in their leaders. Ask yourself, would you follow a leader who held your current workability and giftedness? Too many leaders expect highly talented people to follow them, but yet refuse to work towards equal levels of talent themselves, or neglect to value the assets that individual brings to the table.

The quality of your organization relies on one factor, you. Good leaders understand this truth, while great leaders recognize this truth, but also hire and value individuals who excel in their areas of weakness.

V. The Law of Connection

The Law of Connection is undoubtedly my favorite law in this book. I am reminded of recent Inside The Headset guest, Marvin Nash’s coaching philosophy; “to know every child by name and need.” When I look back at my athletic career, the coaches who showed they cared for me as an individual first were the ones who not only brought the best out of me as a player but also had the largest lasting impact on my life. I would argue that most of you would agree with me in that sentiment.

While this law warrants a book of its own, I would never be able to sum up the teaching as well as these quotes do:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell

“Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise, and nothing is more lame than a cookie-cutter compliment.” – Bill Walsh

“To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.” – Unknown

VI. The Law of Priorities

Tony Dungy exemplifies the Law of Priorities as good, or better than any coach that I know. He understood the crucial truth that activity does not always mean accomplishment. It used to be that coaches would be in competition with one another to see who could be in the office the longest. No one seemed to mention how much work was actually getting done. I am not saying that they were not working hard, but Coach Dungy and the Law of Priorities teach that you can be successful at a very high level, and hold a semblance of balance in the other areas of your life.

Maxwell offers three questions coaches can use to reorganize their priorities; what is required, what gives the greatest return, and what brings the greatest reward? He also claims that the activities in the top 20 percent of importance will bring an 80% return on investment. Reorganizing your priorities and making room for other areas of your life will make you a more effective planner, teacher, and leader.

VII. The Law of Sacrifice

Servant leadership is a hot topic in player development these days and for good reason. Servant-minded individuals understand the best way to make a positive impact on their organization is by putting others’ needs above their own. Leaders understand that as their leadership ability increases, their rights will give way to their responsibilities. Great leaders embrace these responsibilities, taking them head-on with gratitude and grit.

“Leaders understand that as their leadership ability increases, their rights will give way to their responsibilities. Great leaders embrace these responsibilities, taking them head-on with gratitude and grit.” – Kyle Kempton

Tom Brady has seen more success in the NFL than arguably any other player in the league’s history. While his physical talent is top tier, his mental talent is what has propelled him to a historic career. Brady understands the simple truth that while he may have sacrificed much to earn his first Super Bowl, he was going to have to give up even more to stay at the top of the pack. Sacrifice demands consistent, ongoing payments over the course of one’s entire career.


As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read this recap, and I highly suggest you read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership in its entirety. Maxwell’s teaching will transform the way you look at leadership and success in our rapidly changing day and age.

If you have questions, comments, or would like to see a specific book recapped, please email me at

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