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Success 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

Success 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

by John C. Maxwell

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The Bottom Line on Success

Most of us are eager to achieve success in life. But are we really sure what actions yield true, lasting success? Do you KNOW that you're taking steps in the right direction?

Success is different for every person. But the principles for the journey don't change. In Success 101, John Maxwell distills success down to


The Bottom Line on Success

Most of us are eager to achieve success in life. But are we really sure what actions yield true, lasting success? Do you KNOW that you're taking steps in the right direction?

Success is different for every person. But the principles for the journey don't change. In Success 101, John Maxwell distills success down to its essential components. In this short and easy-to-read volume, he shows you exactly what success looks like. He also offers specific steps you can take and ways you can overcome obstacles that might otherwise keep you from achieving success.

Success breeds success—in you, in those closest to you, and in everyone you lead.

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By John C. Maxwell

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2008 John C. Maxwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4185-6815-3

Chapter One

What Is Success?

You cannot achieve what you have not defined.

The problem for most people who want to be successful is not that they can't achieve success. The main obstacle for them is that they misunderstand success. Maltbie D. Babcock said, "One of the most common mistakes and one of the costliest is thinking that success is due to some genius, some magic, something or other which we do not possess."

The Traditional Picture of Success

What is success? What does it look like? Most people have a vague picture of what it means to be a successful person that looks something like this:

The wealth of Bill Gates, the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Marilyn Monroe), the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the athletic ability of Michael Jordan, the business prowess of Donald Trump, the social grace and poise of Jackie Kennedy, the imagination of Walt Disney, and the heart of Mother Teresa.

That sounds absurd, but it's closer to the truth than we would like to admit. Many of us picture success as looking like one other than who we are-and we especially can't be eight other people! And more important than that, you shouldn't want to be. If you tried to become just like even one of these other people, you wouldn't be successful. You would be a bad imitation of them, and you would eliminate the possibility of becoming the person you were meant to be.

The Right Picture of Success

So how do you get started on the journey toward success? What does it take to be a success? Two things are required: the right picture of success and the right principles for getting there.

The picture of success isn't the same for any two people because we're all created differently as unique individuals. But the process is the same for everyone. It's based on principles that do not change. After more than thirty-five years of knowing successful people and studying the subject, I have developed the following definition of success:

Success is ... Knowing your purpose in life, Growing to reach your maximum potential, and Sowing seeds that benefit others.

You can see by this definition that success is a journey rather than a destination. No matter how long you live or what you decide to do in life, you will never exhaust your capacity to grow toward your potential or run out of opportunities to help others. When you see success as a journey, you'll never have the problem of trying to "arrive" at an elusive final destination. And you'll never find yourself in a position where you have accomplished some final goal, only to discover that you're still unfulfilled and searching for something else to do.

Another benefit of focusing on the journey of success instead of on arriving at a destination or achieving a goal is that you have the potential to become a success today. The very moment that you make the shift to finding your purpose, growing to your potential, and helping others, successful is something you are right now, not something you vaguely hope one day to be.

To get a better handle on these aspects of success, let's take a look at each one of them:

Knowing Your Purpose

Nothing can take the place of knowing your purpose. Millionaire industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of Kaiser Aluminum as well as the Kaiser-Permanente health care system, said, "The evidence is overwhelming that you cannot begin to achieve your best unless you set some aim in life." Or put another way, if you don't try actively to discover your purpose, you're likely to spend your life doing the wrong things.

I believe that God created every person for a purpose. According to psychologist Viktor Frankl, "Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life. Everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone's task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it." Each of us has a purpose for which we were created. Our responsibility-and our greatest joy-is to identify it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you identify your purpose:

For what am I searching? All of us have a strong desire buried in our hearts, something that speaks to our deepest thoughts and feelings, something that sets our souls on fire. Some people have a strong sense of what that is when they're just children. Others take half a lifetime to discover it. But no matter what, it's there. You only need to find it.

Why was I created? Each of us is different. No one else in the world has exactly the same gifts, talents, background, or future. That's one of the reasons it would be a serious mistake for you to try to be someone other than yourself.

Think about your unique mix of abilities, the resources available to you, your personal history, and the opportunities around you. If you objectively identify these factors and discover the desire of your heart, you will have done a lot toward discovering your purpose in life.

Do I believe in my potential? You cannot consistently act in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself. If you don't believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it. And if you aren't willing to work toward reaching your potential, you will never be successful.

You should take the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." If you do that with your eyes fixed on your life purpose, what else can be expected of you?

When do I start? Some people live their lives from day to day, allowing others to dictate what they do and how they do it. They never try to discover their true purpose for living. Others know their purpose, yet never act on it. They are waiting for inspiration or permission or an invitation to get started. But if they wait much longer, they'll never get going. So the answer to the question "When do I start?" is NOW.

Growing to Your Potential

Novelist H. G. Wells held that wealth, notoriety, place, and power are no measures of success whatsoever. The only true measure of success is the ratio between what we might have been and what we have become. In other words, success comes as the result of growing to our potential.

It's been said that our potential is God's gift to us, and what we do with it is our gift to him. But at the same time, our potential is probably our greatest untapped resource. Henry Ford observed, "There is no man living who isn't capable of doing more than he thinks he can do."

We have nearly limitless potential, yet too few ever try to reach it. Why? The answer lies in this: We can do anything, but we can't do everything. Many people let everyone around them decide their agenda in life. As a result, they never really dedicate themselves to their purpose in life. They become a jack-of-all-trades, master of none-rather than a jack-of-few-trades, focused on one.

If that describes you more than you'd like, you're probably ready to take steps to make a change. Here are four principles to put you on the road to growing toward your potential:

1. Concentrate on One Main Goal. Nobody ever reached her potential by scattering herself in twenty directions. Reaching your potential requires focus. That's why it's so important for you to discover your purpose. Once you've decided where to focus your attention, you must decide what you are willing to give up to do it. And that's crucial. There can be no success without sacrifice. The two go hand in hand. If you desire to accomplish little, sacrifice little. But if you want to accomplish great things, be willing to sacrifice much.

2. Concentrate on Continual Improvement. David D. Glass, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart stores, was once asked whom he admired most. His answer was Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. He remarked, "There's never been a day in his life, since I've known him, that he didn't improve in some way." Commitment to continual improvement is the key to reaching your potential and to being successful. Each day you can become a little bit better than you were yesterday. It puts you one step closer to your potential. And you'll also find that what you get as the result of your growth is not nearly as important as what you become along the way.

3. Forget the Past. My friend Jack Hayford, founding pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, commented, "The past is a dead issue, and we can't gain any momentum moving toward tomorrow if we are dragging the past behind us." Unfortunately, that's what too many people do; they drag the past with them wherever they go. And as a result, they never make any progress.

I like the attitude of Cyrus Curtis, who once owned the Saturday Evening Post. He had a sign hanging in his office that announced, "Yesterday ended last night." It was his way of reminding himself and his employees that the past is done, and we should be looking forward, not back.

Maybe you've made a lot of mistakes in your life, or you've had an especially difficult past with many obstacles. Work your way through it and move on. Don't let it prevent you from reaching your potential.

If you need inspiration, think of other people who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, such as Booker T. Washington. He was born into slavery and was denied access to the resources available to white society, but he never let that prevent him from pursuing his potential. He founded the Tuskegee Institute and the National Black Business League. He said, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed."

Think of Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing at nineteen months old. Helen overcame her severe disabilities, went on to graduate from Radcliffe College, and became an author, noted lecturer, and champion for people who are blind.

Think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1921, at the age of thirty-nine, he had a severe case of polio, which left him disabled and in terrible pain. He never walked again without assistance. But he didn't let that stop him from pursuing his potential. Eight years later, he became the governor of New York, and in 1932, he was elected president of the United States.

No doubt, you can think of others who have overcome tragedies or past mistakes to pursue their potential. You may even know personally some people who fought back from adversity to become successful. Let them inspire you. No matter what you've faced in the past, you have the potential to overcome it.

4. Focus on the Future. Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra declared, "The future isn't what it used to be." Although that may be true, it's still the only place we have to go. Your potential lies ahead of you-whether you're eight, eighteen, forty-eight, or eighty. You still have room to improve yourself. You can become better tomorrow than you are today. As the Spanish proverb says, "He who does not look ahead remains behind."

Sowing Seeds That Benefit Others

When you know your purpose in life and are growing to reach your maximum potential, you're well on your way to being a success. But there is one more essential part of the journey: helping others. Without that aspect, the journey can be a lonely and shallow experience.

It's been said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Physician, theologian, and philosopher Albert Schweitzer stated it even more strongly: "The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others." For him, the journey of fulfilling his purpose led to Africa, where he served people for many years.

For you, sowing seeds that benefit others probably won't mean traveling to another country to serve the poor-unless that is the purpose you were born to fulfill. (And if it is, you won't be satisfied until that's what you're doing.) However, if you're like most people, helping others is something you can do right here at home, whether it's spending more time with your family, developing an employee who shows potential, helping people in the community, or putting your desires on hold for the sake of your team at work. The key is to find your purpose and help others while you're pursuing it. Entertainer Danny Thomas insisted that "all of us are born for a reason, but all of us don't discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others."

The journey toward success and fulfillment will not look the same for everyone because the picture of success is different for every person. But the principles used to take the journey don't change. They can be applied at home, in school, at the office, on the ball field, and in church. That's what the remainder of this book is about-the principles that can help you work toward knowing your purpose, growing to your potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others. It doesn't matter where you are now. You can learn and apply these ideas. You can be successful today.

Chapter Two

What Direction Should I Go?

You will never go farther than your dreams take you.

If you live in a town near the ocean, you may have seen advertisements for "cruises to nowhere." Maybe you've even been on one. People get on board a cruise ship, and when they leave the pier, instead of setting out for a lush island or other exotic location, they go out to sea and travel in circles for a couple of days. Meanwhile they dine on sumptuous meals, lounge around the pool, enjoy the shows, and participate in onboard activities. It's similar to checking into a fine hotel or resort.

The problem for a lot of people is that their lives are too much like those cruises. They're on a trip with no set destination, no charted course. They're in a holding pattern, and they occupy their time pursuing pleasures or engaging in activities that don't have any lasting benefit. Meanwhile, they travel in circles. In the end, they finish no better than they started. A cruise to nowhere may be a fun way to occupy a few days of vacation time, but it's no way to spend your life.

As I mentioned before, success is a journey. You don't suddenly become successful when you arrive at a particular place or achieve a certain goal. But that doesn't mean you should travel without identifying a destination. You can't fulfill your purpose and grow toward your potential if you don't know what direction you should be going. You need to identify and sail toward your destination. In other words, you need to discover your dream.

The Power of a Dream

I believe that each of us has a dream placed in the heart. I'm not talking about wanting to win the lottery. That kind of idea comes from a desire to escape our present circumstances, not to pursue a heartfelt dream. I'm talking about a vision deep inside that speaks to the very soul. It's the thing we were born to do. It draws on our talents and gifts. It appeals to our highest ideals. It sparks our feelings of destiny. It is inseparably linked to our purpose in life. The dream starts us on the success journey.

When I look for the name of a person who identified and lived out his dream, I think of auto industry pioneer and visionary Henry Ford. He asserted, "The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what it is one's destiny to do, and then do it."

Ford's dream grew out of his interest in anything mechanical. From boyhood, he had a passion for studying and tinkering with machinery. He taught himself about steam engines, clocks, and combustion engines. He traveled around the countryside doing repair work for free, just so he could get his hands on machines. He became a mechanic and watchmaker. He even worked as a night engineer for the Detroit Edison Company.

Ford became increasingly intrigued by the idea of the automobile, and he devoted more and more of his attention to it. In 1896, he built his first car in a shed behind his house. After that, he continued to think about how to improve his early efforts, and he studied the work of other car builders, including that of Ransom E. Olds, who manufactured the first Oldsmobile in 1900.


Excerpted from SUCCESS 101 by John C. Maxwell Copyright © 2008 by John C. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

 John C. Maxwell, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker was identified as the #1 leader in business by the AMA and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Business Insider and Inc. magazines in 2014. His organizations--The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation--have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide. Visit JohnMaxwell.com for more information.






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