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Lifting Your Leadership Lid

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

By Lenny Konschewitz

In 1998, leadership expert, author and former pastor John C. Maxwell published his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” which has since become one of the most selling books on leadership ever written. The first ‘law’ Maxwell outlines there lays the foundation for the entire book – the ‘Law of the Lid’. According to the ‘Law of the Lid,’ leadership ability increases our effectiveness much more significantly than simply ‘working harder’. Have a look at the following illustration:

According to the diagram, if you want to increase your success/effectiveness you basically have two options:

  1. Increase your success dedication (x-axis) from 8 to 9 or possibly even 10. By default, many people think if they work harder and show more dedication they will be more successful, and that is not necessarily wrong. The problem is that, according to the law of diminishing return, it will be much harder to grow from 8 to 10 than it was to get from 0 to 8 in the first place! Unfortunately, as a result, many end up stressed out with broken relationships and nervous breakdowns.

  2. Alternatively, we can “lift our leadership lid” by investing in our leadership ability. This will move us up on the y-axis and, given the same level of success dedication as before, will exponentially increase our effectiveness. This looks like a much more efficient and healthier way to become more successful, doesn’t it?

Your personal and organizational effectiveness will only grow as high as your personal leadership ability. You can observe this law at work everywhere. Understanding this irrefutable law of leadership is the first step to becoming more efficient leaders.

How can we lift our lids?

  1. Learn from others with a higher lid. In 1993, when I was 9 years old, my family almost drowned in a severe storm in Mediterranean Sea. We were on our yacht on our way back from Croatia to our home port in Italy and, although we knew a storm was coming, my dad decided that we would try to make it anyway. He had only had a few years of experience as a captain and, thank God, he knew that his own leadership lid wasn’t very high when it came to intense maritime situations. For this reason, he always hired an old, experienced sailor and captain, Flavio, to be with us. During the storm, my dad was humble and wise enough to hand over control of the yacht to Flavio and I believe that this is one of the main reasons why I and my family are still alive today! Thus, if you want to grow your lid, surround yourself with the right people.

Who are some people with a higher lid who you are currently learning from, and in which areas?

  1. Be intentional about lifting your lid. What is your personal plan for investing in your leadership ability? Articulate specific steps you are taking regularly that are intended to help you develop in different aspects of leadership. People often assume that growth happens automatically, however, growing our leadership ability requires intentionality.

The third step is connected to this.

  1. Be aware of the “Law of process”. Leaders develop daily, not in a day. Lifting our lid does not happen overnight but instead requires time. The microwave won’t do the job. What we need is a slow cooker with the right ingredients and time. Our society has the tendency to create shooting stars who reach the top quickly but have no ability to sustain success. Companies and individuals invest millions in expensive conferences, cutting-edge training events and gifted speakers to motivate their staff, but motivation is only ‘ankle deep’. It is the follow-up process that sustainably lifts our leadership lid.

Let’s finish with another exercise designed to help us grow our lid (see Maxwell’s book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, page 10):

Talk to your boss, your spouse, two colleagues (at your level), and three people you lead about your leadership ability. Ask each of them to rate you on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) in each of the following areas: People skills, Planning and strategic thinking, Vision, Results. Average the scores and compare them to how you would rate yourself.

Based on these assessments;

  1. Is your leadership skill better or worse than you expected?

  2. If there is a gap, what do you think is the cause?

  3. How willing are you to grow in the area of leadership?

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