Dr. John C. Maxwell shares his cross-over journey from pastor to international speaker and trainer, plus advice for parents and children.
By Theresa Tan
You’ve written some 70 books. Where do you get your inspiration for your next book, and the next?
My inspiration is the people I write my books for. When their lives are changed, that inspires me to write another book. My inspiration comes from results of the writing. They say “This book changed my life, it added value to me,” and I’ll say “Okay, I’ll write another book!”
You have identified so many laws—what’s one law no leader can do without?
Here’s the mistake, that question right there. They’re always asking me to pin down one thing. I had a guy say to me at a conference—I was teaching the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership—and he said, “What’s the one thing I need to know about leadership?” And I said, “The one thing you need to know about leadership is that there’s more than one thing you need to know about leadership.” People tell me, “I’m a leader, I can cast vision.” Well, I know a lot of people who can cast vision but they can’t lead well at all. The 21 laws show that there are a lot of things that a leader needs to do well to be successful.
How is a good leader different from a great leader?
A good leader has followers. A great leader trains leaders. If I’m a good leader and I have followers, that means I’ll add but I won’t multiply. If I’m a great leader, I’m training other leaders. If you develop and train leaders they go out and find other people. So when you’re a great leader, you multiply. You put your life into others and they turn around and develop others. Ninety-five percent of leaders are good, not great. Only five percent train other leaders.
Tell us about the Youthmax Conference that happened recently in the US.
We have 18,000 certified coaches in EQUIP (John Maxwell’s Christian leadership training organization). Youthmax Day was for them to train high school kids. We just trained half a million kids. We worked with them on self-image, on bullying, how to handle failure. We’re going to be doing that in Singapore soon, with Temasek Polytechnic.
What advice would you give parents?
I tell parents three things. One, you have to be a good example. People do what people see; children do what children see. If you’re not a good example, forget the rest of the teaching. Two, unconditionally love your children. Regardless of what they do, they are your children. The unconditional love allows them to stay close to you and be open even when they’re going through some difficult times. Three, be intentional in your training of your kids. For example my father paid us money to read good books. He picked the books out for us. He was very intentional what we read, what conferences we attended, who we met, who our friends were.
What encouragement do you have for children?
They have unlimited potential and they have unlimited opportunity, and what they need to do is they need to find their purpose: who uniquely they are and what they should do. If they can do those two things, and be true to the calling on their lives, they’re on their way.
You went from being a pastor to an internationally-renowned speaker and author. How did you make the transition?
The reason I made the transition was because my publisher said two-thirds of my books were being purchased by the secular community. I didn’t know that, I had no clue. I thought I was writing to Christians about success and leadership. When I realized that the secular community, I felt the calling to go through that door because there are very few Christians that can do that. Of course, here at City Harvest Church, you have a cultural mandate, to be salt and light, get out to the secular community—well, that’s what I do. Probably I, in the States, represent that more than any other person. I was probably the first one to cross that line and do it well. The word I used was “I’m going to cross over” and I did. So I kinda became a bridge between the church and the business community. Ninety percent of what I do is secular. I probably preach in maybe five churches in a year.
What struggles did you face, making that change?
The biggest personal struggle I had was, being a pastor for 25 years, everything I taught was Scripture. And all my illustrations were Christian or Biblical. All of a sudden, I’m crossing over and I can’t use Scripture and I can’t tell Biblical stories. It was a three-year learning curve that was very difficult for me. I had to change my vocabulary, I had to change my stories, I had to change everything! This was not my world, but I really worked hard at it and learned how to do it. It was very hard for me not to use Scripture when I talked. Finally I sensed that the spirit of God was saying to me, “John, I can take Scripture and apply it to people’s lives if you’ll just give Biblical principles.” So now I give Biblical principles but they don’t know it’s Scripture. I was just in Kuwait and speaking to the banking industry there. They were very pressing to me about having no religion, no Bible. I said, “No problem.” All day long I taught them all these incredible Biblical principles—they had no clue—and they loved it! They gave me the highest rating. The moment that I was convinced that God could take a Biblical principle without me quoting Scripture, and the Holy Spirit could really touch our heart with that, then I became very comfortable.
How can Christians make a difference in our world?
In the Christian community, the key word is “relationship”. We start connecting—you are a child of God, I am a child of God. In the business community, that’s not true. In the business community, the key word is “respect”. You have to have the respect of the business community in your ability to produce, deliver. If they don’t get a bottomline, they don’t care how nice you are. They are out of business if you can’t get that bottomline. When I started crossing over, the first thing I had to do was I had to gain their respect. I wanted to be able to help them—train, equip and teach them. Here’s how that works—once you get their respect, then they’ll give you a relationship. So, I work hard at writing good books and speaking to really help them. If I help them, that would give me an opportunity to relate and connect with them, which would then give me an opportunity to share Christ with them. But too many Christians, they try to share Christ without having the respect of the business community. Therefore they’re not successful and they wonder why. If I knew then what I know now, when I pastored, in evangelism, what I would tell Christians is, don’t start talking about Jesus. Just do a good job, gain the respect of your fellow workers. You get that respect, then talk about Jesus. Don’t try to shortcut that.
You have trained over a million leaders—what is the impact of that?
Our “Million Leaders Mandate” was to train a million leaders. We have trained five million leaders, and we are training a million a year in 175 countries. We are the largest leadership training organization in the world. When the news reporters asked me, “When you’ve trained a million leaders, what are you going to do?” And I said “Anything I want to do!” When you train a million leaders, you have the people that influence the culture. Our goal in training leaders was to prepare them to change and transform their culture, and now that’s where we are. We just had our international conference for EQUIP, and our goal in the next eight years—by 2020—is to go into every country and change it into a values-based culture. And we’re really committed to doing that. Now that we’ve trained these leaders, so what? What are they going to do about it? So I give them models for transformation. We are doing it through the seven streams of transformation. My coaching organization, John Maxwell Team—we believe we can do this in the secular community. My goal is to be the Dale Carnegie of leadership. I want to have leadership courses around the world. Anywhere I fly to around the world, I want to have, within 100 miles, people who are trained in John C Maxwell Leadership.
Our senior pastor Kong Hee has a favorite saying: “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” You wrote that. Tell us what inspired it.
In my beginning leadership days, I thought what I knew was important. So being a young leader, I tried to let people think I knew everything. I found out that leadership knowledge won’t take you very far, but the heart of the leader will—it’s where servanthood comes in, where adding value comes in. What I realized was that if I tried to get people to help me as a leader, if I just help them, then it would work. For the first five, six years, I tried to get everyone on my team, my vision, my journey. Then one day I thought, no, no, just go find out who they are. Then, when you connect with them, they know you care for them, then they trust you with their heart. People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. So it’s true that people don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.
John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author who has sold over 19 million books. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and The John Maxwell Company, organizations that have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and the United Nations. (Extracted from www.johnmaxwell.com)