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I used to think that leaders distinguished themselves by rising above their people. It's the "cream of the crop" theory. That was a mistake. I've learned that leaders distinguish themselves by rising with their people, and there's a world of difference between those two.

Leaders take people with them on the journey. You don't go by yourself. If you're going by yourself, you are not a leader. You might be a very self-made, successful person, but you're not a leader. You've got to decide whether you're going to be a tour guide or a travel agent.

Travel agents give you brochures and tell you all about the trip, but they've never even been there. They get the tickets for you, give you a planner and send you off somewhere.

You don't want to be a travel agent; you don't want to be sending people where you've never been - you want to be a tour guide. You want to bring your people along with you and say, "Let me show you something. I'm going to take you places where I've been and lived, and tell you all about them as we go. I'm going to let you in on the journey."

Because I felt that leaders should be separated from others in my younger days, because I mistakenly felt that leaders should rise above their people the following things happened:

  1. I was lonely
    We've all heard the expression "It's lonely at the top," haven't we? Well, I was at the top, lonely. By the way, a leader never said that - you know that, don't you? Because if you're at the top all alone, nobody's following you! I'd get off the mountain if I were you. I'd go find the people.
  2. I seldom asked for help
    The reason I seldom asked for help is because I thought it was a sign of weakness. I thought that leaders had to be Mr. Answer Man or Ms. Answer Woman. Why would you ask somebody for help? After all, that would make you kind of like them, and after a while, you could be a commoner if you weren't careful. Sooner or later, everyone needs help, and admitting it does not make you less of a leader.
  3. I was very position-conscious
    I was very position-conscious. I was making sure that I had my title and my position and "my rights." Let me tell you something: leaders come from all walks of life, and they often lead people without the benefit of a position or a title. They do it by building influence with others. People who are focused on their position are too wrapped up rights and responsibilities to influence anyone.
  4. I was very competitive
    I became very competitive during that whole process, and the reason for that's very simple: I was always trying to beat someone else. People are not apt to follow you if your goal is to defeat them and make a loser out of them. Leaders encourage people and make them feel like winners.
This was one of many mistakes I made in my early years, and I will discuss others I made during those times in upcoming issues of Leadership Wired.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's
free monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired
available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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