Words To Learn By
by John C. Maxwell
In my years studying leadership and evaluating leaders, I have
stumbled across a leadership shortcoming that continually amazes
me. Leaders will manage a team, work with the same individuals
every day, yet hardly know anything about their people! These
leaders have never prioritized acquainting themselves with the
dreams, thoughts, hopes, opinions, and values of those they lead.
The best leaders are readers of people. They have the intuitive
ability to understand others by discerning how they feel and
recognizing what they sense.
I have found that leaders overestimate the amount of time and
effort needed to get to know someone. In fact, in only one hour
with you in private conversation, I could, probably by asking
three questions, find the passion of your life:
What do you dream about?
A person’s dreams are powerful revealers of passion. When a
person starts to talk about their dreams it’s as if something
bubbles up from within. Their eyes brighten, their face glows,
and you can feel the excitement in their words.
What do you cry about?
Passion can be uncovered by peering into the hurts deep inside a
human soul. The experience of pain or loss can be a formidably
motivating force. When listening to a story of grief, you hear a
voice thick with emotion, you see watery eyes flooded with
feeling, and in that moment you glimpse the intense connections
between a person’s deepest pain and their greatest passion.
What makes you happy?
I have fun hearing what makes people tick and seeing the smile
that comes when they talk about where they find joy. Enjoyment
is an incredible energizer to the human spirit. When a person
operates in an area of pleasure, they are apt to be brimming
with life and exuding passion.
If you can uncover a person’s dreams, hurts, and joys, you’ve
discovered the central dimensions of their life. This lesson is
designed to show you the types of questions that can draw out
the passion inside of a person. I’ve included my own answers to
give you an understanding of how the process works. Try to limit
your answers to one or two words. Also, notice how each question
is asked both positively (what makes you happy) and negatively
(what makes you cry). I have found that by expressing opposite
feelings and emotions, you reveal your true inner self.
To maximize this lesson, I’ll give you four easy assignments.
1. Ask yourself and answer the questions posed in the lesson. In
doing so, you’ll enhance your self-awareness.
2. Share your answers with your team to allow them to learn about
3. Ask your team to answer the questions to encourage their self-
4. Ask your team to share their answers with one another. This
practice will bring team members closer together.
What is your biggest asset?
My greatest asset is my attitude. I discovered this when I was
in high school, and the coach of my basketball team appointed me
as team captain at the beginning of the year.
I was surprised, because I wasn’t the best player on the team.
John Thomas was the best player. I was the second or third best
player, but I wasn’t the best. I was sitting on the floor of
the gymnasium with my teammates, and I think the same question
was in all of our minds—why is John Maxwell going to be the
captain of the team? Anticipating our questions, our coach gave
an explanation, “Of all the players on this team, the kid with
the best attitude is John Maxwell. He doesn’t get discouraged,
he believes that we’ll win the game, and he’s going to be the
captain of the team.”
What is your biggest liability?
My biggest liability is unrealistic expectations. As with many
weaknesses, my unrealistic expectations are the Achilles Heel of
Many years ago I quit hiring, and I have stayed away from it ever
since because I’m a terrible hirer. Why? Because I naturally
look for the best in people. When I see a potential employee, I
see the raw talent, and I begin thinking how I can help shape
the person into a star. I’ve had numerous failures hiring lousy
leaders because I convinced myself I could mold a flawed leader
into a top performer.
What do you like most from others?
For me, it’s encouragement. Encouragement is the oxygen of the
soul, in that it allows you to breathe. Encouragement supports
and sustains leadership, especially during the hard times.
What do I like least from others?
I cannot stand people who make excuses—blamers, complainers, and
explainers who refuse to accept responsibility for their
I admire a person who will admit their faults since it shows me
the inner character of that individual. I can accept another’s
imperfection if they take ownership of their errors because
we’re all human, and we all fail from time to time.
What is the best thing to have?
I think the best thing to have is friends. For me nothing
compares to the joy and fulfillment of going through life with
friends you can laugh with, cry with, and celebrate alongside.
What is the worst thing not to have?
I can’t imagine a life without hope. Even if my health is failing
or my financial situation is grim, if I have hope, I can see a
way out of my difficulties.
Hope is the foundation of all change. When people come to me as
leaders and they say, “I want to create change within my
organization. What should I do?” My response is the obvious
answer, “You have to create hope.” Nobody changes unless they
think life is going to improve. Hope is the motivation that
allows people to change.
“This article is used by
permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell’s free monthly e-newsletter
‘Leadership Wired’ available at www.INJOY.com.”