Book Review — Developing the Leaders Around You

For my class on Ministerial Leadership, the book I chose to review was Developing the Leaders Around You by John Maxwell. I’d appreciate any feedback.

Developing the Leaders Around You, by John Maxwell

review by Ben Wiles

Developing the Leaders Around You, by John Maxwell, was published in 1995 by InJoy, Maxwell’s leadership and motivation company. The book, including end notes, runs 215 pages, and is divided into ten chapters. John Maxwell is the author of 60 books on various topics related to leadership and ministry, and is the founder of EQUIP, a leadership development ministry. He was also served in leadership capacities in various churches during a thirty-year ministry career. Dr. Maxwell is a graduate of Ohio Christian University, Azusa Pacific University, and Fuller Theological Seminary, where he earned his Doctor of Ministry degree.

The strongest point of Maxwell’s book stems from its premise – that a leader must never undertake his task alone. Citing numerous examples form Scripture, the business world, and especially the world of sports, Maxwell demonstrates that individual leadership happens most effectively when that leader surrounds himself with other leaders he can trust. The book is also very interactive, making extensive use of a workbook format where the reader can assess his own situation based on the teachings of the chapter and be guided in decisions going forward based on the results of the tests and quizzes administered. Key points are given additional visual illustration with full-page diagrams, inset quotes, and even different font sizes.

That said, there are two significant weaknesses that stand in the way of a full-throated endorsement. The style of writing in the book makes it sound less like a piece of writing and more like the transcript of a seminar lecture, with text filled in around notes, handouts, and projection images. In a more recently-published book, Charlie Wetzel – the ghostwriter who collaborated with Maxwell over fifty times – calls him a “speaker who writes.” It makes sense, then, that Developing the Leaders Around You would make a great sermon series or corporate seminar, with the printed material supplementing the lecture on the stage.

But it isn’t a sermon series. It isn’t a lecture. There is no audio component whatsoever. There can’t be, since it’s a book. In trying to be something it should never have been designed to be, Developing the Leaders Around You disappoints. For someone who purports to know so much about communication to miss the fundamental differences between written and spoken media undermines much of what he tries to say about the importance of knowing your format and your audience. In fact, on second reading, a reader can glean the primary value of the book just from the highlighted and interactive portions while ignoring the “filler” text – the actual, written book – in between.

The other area of weakness in Developing the Leaders Around You lies in its tendency toward tautology. At one point, Maxwell says, “Momentum is the greatest of all change agents.” Well, yes. Given that momentum is defined as the susceptibility of an object or person to change, then yes, momentum would be a great change agent. Or, put another way, change changes things, and leads to more change, so to change things, start by changing things. Along the same lines, there is the tautological nature of leadership development itself. According to Maxwell, what makes a person a good candidate for leadership development is attributes like positiveness, growth-potential, loyalty, and integrity. In other words, to be a better leader, start by being a good leader. And the best candidates for leadership development are those who possess the traits that would cause them to grow as leaders whether or not anyone intervenes.

Developing the Leaders Around You is a useful book to certain readers in certain circumstances. For the solo-practitioner in ministry who might be tempted to carry the entire burden of leadership alone, this book is a reminder that there are other influential people within the congregation who can help him. For the inexperienced leader, Maxwell provides an accessible, workable format in which to analyze the strengths and weaknesses both in his own leadership and in other potential leaders within the organization.

But to the serious student of leadership theory, or the experienced leader looking for new ideas on how to accelerate the maturation process of his subordinates, Developing the Leaders Around You falls short. The skeleton of a good leadership book is there, but there is no meat on the bones. Maybe if Maxwell had put together a team to write and edit this book instead of trying to do it on his own, the finished product probably would have been better.

After all, the best leaders never undertake important tasks alone.

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3 Responses to Book Review — Developing the Leaders Around You

  1. My second attempt here …

    Good review. I like your insights into the two shortcomings of the book. Well done.

    One type I found – “Citing numerous examples form Scripture.” Should be “from.”

    If this one doesn’t post … oh well, sorry. wb

  2. Ah, in the first attempt I had “typo” instead of “type.”

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