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360DegreeFor the assignment to select a leadership book for a book report I sought out reviews of the top books of all time on the topic of leadership. John Maxwell was a name that appeared consistently on the lists compiled by the likes of the Washington Post, Amazon, Business Insider, just to name a few. So I knew I wanted to read one of his books. In the “About the Writer” section of its summary, Amazon[1] describes Maxwell as an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author who has also trained more than 2 million leaders worldwide. I was drawn to him on several planes. The first being the fact that he was described as a leadership expert and “one of the globe’s most trusted leadership mentors.” Secondly, his leadership experience straddled the private sector as well as the non-profit and volunteer sectors and so offered a diverse perspective. But most intriguing of all was his Christian faith. I wanted to learn from a Christian leader. Strangely though, I didn’t choose Developing The Leader Within You which made the “top 5” on almost every list I reviewed. Instead, I decided on the 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in the Organization, authored in 2005 and reprinted in 2011. Why this choice? I was swayed (or maybe “influenced” is a better word) by Amazon’s description of the book, where it proposed to answer a question that I have oftentimes asked myself. That is: Is it possible to lead and influence others when you’re not the top leader? The call was directed at me –“If you have found yourself trying to lead from the middle of the organization… then you need Maxwell’s insights. You have a unique opportunity to exercise influence in all directions – up (to the boss), across (among your peers), and down (to those you lead).” I had to answer the call and read this book. A secondary reason for my choice was that my home institution recently introduced the 360 Degree Leadership tool for evaluation of its senior and mid-level leaders, and I was curious to learn more about the 360 Degree leader philosophy.


Essentially Maxwell distinguishes three major principles to help leaders at every level of the organization to bring value and influence. These are summarized as:

  1. Leading up: the process of influencing a leader above you.
  2. Leading across: the process of helping peers.
  3. Leading down: the process of helping your direct reports.

The book is divided into six main sections, with a bonus “special section” and 360 Degree Leader workbook at the back. Maxwell also provides each reader with an assessment of their leadership skills on his website

In section 1, Maxwell debunks seven myths about leadership:

  1. The position myth: “I can’t lead if I am not at the top”.
  2. The destination myth: “When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead”.
  3. The influence myth: “If I were on top, then people would follow me”.
  4. The inexperience myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control”.
  5. The freedom myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll no longer be limited”.
  6. The potential myth: “I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader”.
  7. The All-or-Nothing myth: “If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead”.

He also introduces a leadership development identification tool, which I found to be particularly useful. Called “The Five Levels of Leadership,” it captures what Maxwell refers to as “the dynamics of leadership.” Maxwell uses the analogy of a staircase to explain the levels of leadership:

  1. Level 1: the Position level: it is hinged on rights, i.e. people will follow only because they have to.
  2. Level 2:  the Permission level: it is hinged on relationships, i.e. people will follow because they want to.
  3. Level 3: the Production level: it is hinged on results, i.e. people will follow because of what the leader has done for the organization.
  4. Level 4: the People development level: it is hinged on reproduction, i.e. people will follow because of what the leader has done for them.
  5. Level 5: the Personhood level: it is hinged on respect, i.e. people follow because of who the leader is and what he/she represents. It is important to note that reaching to this level is usually outside of the leader’s control. It is position endowed upon the leader by others and based on the leader’s excellence in leading people from the first four levels for a long period of time.

Section 2 confronts some of the challenges that leaders in the middle face and provides keys to overcome them:

  1. The tension challenge: The pressure of being caught in the middle. The key to this challenge is learning to lead, despite the restrictions others have placed on you.
  2. The frustration challenge: Following an ineffective leader.  The key is to remind yourself that your job isn’t to fix the leader; it is to add value. If the leader won’t change, then the alternatives are to change your attitude or your work address.
  3. The multi-hat challenge: One head…many hats. The key is knowing what hat to put on and then enjoying the challenge ahead of you.
  4. The ego challenge: You’re often hidden in the middle. The key is to remember that consistently good leadership eventually does get noticed.
  5. The fulfillment challenge: Leaders like the front more than the middle. The key is to keep in mind that leadership is more disposition than position, and so you can influence others from where you are.
  6. The vision challenge: Championing the vision is more difficult when you didn’t create it. The key is investing. The more you invest in the vision, the more it becomes your own.
  7. The influence challenge: Leading others beyond your position is not easy. The key is to think influence, not position.

The heart of the book, sections 3, 4 and 5 discuss in depth each of the 360 Degree leader principles – leading up, leading across and leading down.

Leading up, Maxwell suggests, might be the 360 Degree leader’s greatest challenge. He offers nine tips on how to become a “Leader of leaders”:

  1. Lead yourself exceptionally well.
  2. Lighten your leader’s load.
  3. Be willing to do what others won’t.
  4. Do more than manage – lead.
  5. Invest in relational chemistry with your leader.
  6. Be prepared every time you take your leader’s time.
  7. Know when to push and when to back off.
  8. Become a go-to player.
  9. Be better tomorrow than you are today.

Competent leaders are usually assessed by their effectiveness in leading their followers. But in section 4, Maxwell makes an interesting point, that in order to rise to a higher level of leadership; a leader must in fact be able to lead across. For success at peer-to-peer leadership, the 360 Degree leader has to give colleagues reason to respect and follow them:

  1. Understand, practice and complete the leadership loop: caring(taking an interest in people)->learning(getting to know people)->appreciating (respecting people)->contributing(adding value to people)->verbalizing(affirming people)->leading (influencing people)->succeeding(winning with people).
  2. Put completing fellow leaders ahead of competing with them.
  3. Be a friend.
  4. Avoid office politics.
  5. Expand your circle of acquaintances.
  6. Let the best idea win.
  7. Don’t pretend you’re perfect.

Traditionally, leadership is thought of as a “top-down activity.” In section 5 which focuses on leading down, Maxwell underscores how 360 Degree leaders are non-positional, i.e. leading through influence vs. position, power or leverage. Here is how:

  1. Walk slowly through the halls: show you care.
  2. See everyone as a “10”: see people as who they can become.
  3. Develop each team member as a person: lead everyone differently.
  4. Place people in their strength zones: by discovering their true strengths, giving them the right job, identifying the skills they need and providing the training.
  5. Model the behavior you desire.
  6. Transfer the vision.
  7. Reward for results: Recognize that whatever actions leaders reward will be repeated.

In section 6, Maxwell reiterates the value of 360 degree leaders. The most influential element of this section for me however, was Maxwell’s characterization of the qualities of the 360 Degree leader:

  1. Adaptability: quickly adjusts to change.
  2. Discernment: understands the real issues.
  3. Perspective: sees beyond their own vantage point.
  4. Communication: links to all levels in the organization.
  5. Security: finds identity in self not position.
  6. Servanthood: does whatever it takes.
  7. Resourcefulness: finds creative ways to make things happen.
  8. Maturity: puts team before self.
  9. Endurance: remains consistent in character and competence over the long haul.
  10. Countability: can be counted on when it counts.

In the final section, called the special section, Maxwell speaks about how to create an environment that unleashes 360 Degree leaders. He advocates adopting “the leader’s daily dozen” every morning:

  1. Place a high value on people
  2. Commit resources to develop people
  3. Place a high value on leadership
  4. Look for potential leaders
  5. Know and respect your people
  6. Provide people with leadership experiences
  7. Reward leadership initiative
  8. Provide safe environment where people ask questions, share ideas and take risks
  9. Grow with your people
  10. Draw people with high potential into your inner circle
  11. Commit yourself to developing a leadership team
  12. Unleash your leaders to lead


Maxwell certainly did not disappoint. I came away from this 320-page book with a clear understanding and appreciation of how a 360 Degree leader influences others regardless of where they are situated in the organization, regardless of title or position, regardless of the type of people they work with. It helped me to embrace and respect my role as a leader in the middle. I think the 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in the Organization is a must read for every leader and aspiring leader at every level of the institution.



Maxwell, J.C. (2005). The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in the Organization. Thomas Nelson, Inc. ISBN: 0-7852-6092-7.


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