My Notes on John C. Maxwell’s The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization

Since I was a child, I have always believed that leadership is done at the top. This understanding applies to families, organizations, initiatives and movements. However, reading John C. Maxwell’s ‘The 360-degree leader: developing your influence from anywhere in the organisation, introduced me to a new leadership world. 360-degree leaders lead up, across and down. Essentially you are at the centre when you are a 360-degree leader. In this blog, I will attempt to compress the issues that John C. Maxwell covers in this book.

The myths of leading from the middle of an organization

John C. Maxwell in his book ‘The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization’ argues that ‘…99 per cent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization (Maxwell, 2005, p. 1).’ However, people fail to exercise leadership in the middle of an organisation because of the common seven myths about leadership. The myths are position myth, destination myth, influence myth, inexperience myth, freedom myth, potential myth and the all or nothing myth.

The position myth is where people believe that leadership comes because of having a position or title. The destination myth is where people believe that I start learning about leadership when I get to the top. The Influence myth is where people believe that they will suddenly start having an influence because they are on top. The myth of inexperience myth is where you believe that you will have control once you get on top. The freedom myth is where we believe that being on top removes your limitations. The potential myth is where people believe that they will reach their full potential if they are on top of an organisation. The all or nothing myth. This is where people believe that I can’t get on top of an organisation then I will not try to lead. The truth of the matter is that it is not everyone who will become the top dog.

The Challenges 360-degree leaders face

Leading from the middle of an organisation, movement or initiative is not easy. Maxwell (2005) describes the tension, frustration, multi-hat, ego, fulfilment, vision and influence challenges as the seven common challenges that 360-degree(middle) leaders face.

The tension challenge looks at the challenges middle leaders face when they have some power and authority in one area, but they lack authority and power in other areas. The frustration challenge situation is where you are following an ineffective leader. This happens when you follow leaders who are insecure, visionless, incompetent, selfish, a chameleon, political and controlling. 360 leadership comes with leading in multiple activities. A 360 leader deals with demands from leaders at the top, demands from customers, expectations from followers and expectations from vendors/suppliers. This is where the multi-hat challenge comes in. You mostly wear these hats when you are very good at what you do. When you are in middle leadership, there are high chances that you will be the one to deliver but you will hardly get the public credit. This the ego and fulfilment challenge that most middle leaders have to deal with. E. M. Cioran said “if each of us were to confess her/his most secret desire, the one that inspires all the plans. s/he would say ‘I want to be praised.’” Then we have a situation where you are being asked to make a vision a reality which you were not part of the creation process. The final challenge is leading people beyond your position when you are in middle leadership.

The Principles 360 Degree Leaders Practice to lead up

Principle 1: Lead yourself exceptionally well. People hardly follow leaders who cannot manage their own life. It is therefore important that you manage each and every aspect of your life well if you want to be a 360-degree leader.

Principle 2: Lighten your leader’s load. You don’t have to be a burden to your leader but rather lighten the burden of your leader by doing your work first and then ask if there is any other work you can do to make the work of your leader easier.

Principle 3: Be willing to do what others won’t do. If you are doing what everybody else can do, then you will not stand out. People who standout do what everybody else will not do.

Principle 4: Do more than manage, lead. Management focuses on processes but leadership focuses on people. Middle leadership requires that you balance between processes and people. Make sure that you also start developing people skills and exercise them to ensure that you influence people above, below and those you are at the same level as. The influence also needs to focus on customers and partners too.

Principle 5: Invest in relational chemistry. You will need to develop positive relationships with the people that you work with. Respect is key. This does not only cover your colleagues, customers and partners, but it also covers their family too. Experience shows that you have challenges relating with your colleagues or bosses at work if their close family members don’t like you for some reason.

Principle 6: Be prepared every time you take your leaders time. Your leaders don’t have all day. If you want to get an audience with them, you better be prepared. This will require that you do your homework before booking for that meeting. There is nothing that is more annoying than meeting someone who has not done their homework but yet had the audacity to book for a meeting.

Principle 7: Know when to push and when to back off. Leadership requires wisdom. You need to be able to know when you have to push a matter or when to back off. This will require that you have to be someone who is discerning.

Principle 8: Become a Go-To- Player. You have to become a person who saves the day. Be someone that the team can rely on to always deliver regardless of the circumstances. Be a plug and play/delivery person. A person who delivers everywhere that you get plugged.

Principle 9: Be better tomorrow than you are today. You have to be someone who is growth oriented. You have to find ways to better yourself. This means that your game is always excellent and relevant every day. This is where Eric Thomas says, you stop leading in your field, but you dominate.

The Principles 360 Degree Leaders Need to Lead Across

Understand, practice, and complete the leadership loop. The leadership loop comprises caring, learning, appreciating, contributing, verbalizing, leading, and succeeding. You begin with taking an interest in people. Then you get to know people. Thereafter, you learn to respect people. Then you add value to people. You affirm people. Influence people. Win with people. When a new person comes along, the cycle starts again.

Put completing fellow leaders ahead of competing with them. Competition is always good. Unhealthy competition is what becomes the problem. Unhealthy competition is where you want to win no matter what in the process hurting everyone. To be a 360 leader you need to find a way to strike a balance between competition and collaboration. This will demand that you: acknowledge your natural desire to compete, embrace healthy competition, put competition in its proper place, and most importantly, know where to draw the line.

Be a friend. ‘No matter how driven or competitive your coworkers appear to be, they will enjoy having a friend on the job (Maxwell, 2005, p. 175).’ To become a friend, you have to listen, find common ground not related to work, and tell the truth when others don’t. It will also include being a cheerleader.

Avoid office politics. This is where you suck up to the boss to gain favours. It might also involve using people at whatever cost to get to where you are going. My personal experience has always been that when this person is promoted, they have a hard time leading people because nobody trusts them or recognizes them as an authority. Here is how you avoid office politics: avoid gossip; stay away from petty arguments; stand up for what’s right, not just for what’s popular; and say what you mean and mean what you say.

Expand your circle of acquaintances. You have to be willing to go beyond people that you have known for a long time; people with whom you have common experiences; and people that you know like you. This will require that you expand beyond personal prejudices, your expertise and strengths.

Let the best idea win. You have to accept that your idea will not always carry the day. You have to accept that you will not always pitch the best ideas. Where a better idea has been brought to the table, you have to be willing to support that idea regardless of how you feel about the people who brought in the idea. This will require that you listen to all ideas, never settle for just one idea, and don’t take rejection personally.

Don’t pretend you are perfect. You are a human being with your strengths and weaknesses. You are not superman or superwoman. Maxwell (2005) suggests the following: admit your faults; ask for advice; worry less about what others think; be open to learning from others and put away pride and pretence.

The Principles 360 Degree Leaders Need to Lead Down

Walk slowly through the halls. Don’t rush to your office. Have an honest conversation with people before going to your office. This has to be a normal human conversation. You will have to understand that people are not as fast as you are to catch up. You will have to slow down for a minute because people that are below you are usually but not always slow. This is because they lack the information, knowledge and experience that you have as a leader. Therefore, slow down. Express that you care. Contrary to popular belief but showing that you care is a sign of strength and not weakness. Tend to your people and they will tend to your business.

See everyone as a ’10.’ This is where you see everyone through the lens of who they could be and not necessarily who they are today. Where people lose faith in themselves, be sure to borrow them your faith. In short, recharge people when they are down and are about to give up pursuing those goals. Catch them doing something right and not something wrong. Most importantly, give them the benefit of the doubt. ‘the reality is that trustful people are not weaker than distrustful ones; they are actually stronger (Maxwell, 2005, p. 225).’

Develop each team member as a person. I don’t have to mention that this will require that you know every person. It is not easy for a 360-degree leader, but it is possible. For you to develop your team, you have to: a) see development as a long-term process; b) discover each person ‘s dreams and desires. c) lead everyone differently; d) use organizational goals for individual development. e) help them know themselves.; f) be ready to have a hard conversation; g) celebrate the right wins; h) prepare them for leadership.

Place people in their strength zones. All factors being equal, when you place people in their areas of strength they will deliver. To place people in their places of strength, you have to discover their true strengths. This step is followed by giving them the right job and identifying skills they will need and providing them with world-class training. Although this is a job of a leader, this is also the job of the people being led. Because much of it is a personal process that cannot be done without your participation.

Model the behaviour you desire. This is straightforward, you have to lead by example. Because your behaviour as a leader determines a lot of thing in an organisation. You cannot expect people to come on time for anything if you as a leader lack time management skill. You cannot expect an organized team from a disorganized leader. Most importantly you can’t expect a team of high integrity from a leader whose morality and ethics are very questionable.
Transfer the vision. As a leader, you need to transfer the purpose, goals, and passion that you have for the team. This goes back to leading by example. Passion is contagious.

The reward for results. Give praise publicly and privately. Don’t reward everyone the same. Give perks beyond pay. Promote people where possible. Most importantly, remember that you get what you pay for. In short, find ways to reward people who deliver.

The Values of 360 Degree Leaders

A leadership team is more effective than just one leader. Every leader has areas of strength and weaknesses. If you bank on one person to lead, chances are very high that you will fail. Where you succeed, your success will not be sustainable. This is why you need to develop a leadership team. As you are developing leaders in your team, you need to keep the following things in mind: a) Visionary leaders are willing to hire people better than themselves; 2) Wise leaders shape their people into a team; c) secure leaders empower their teams; d) experienced leaders listen their teams; e) productive leaders understand that one is too small a number to achieve greatness.

Leaders are needed at every level of the organisation. Why? Because, without leaders at every level, vision is lost, decisions are delayed, agendas are multiplied, conflicts are extended, morale is low, production is low, and success is difficult. It is therefore important to have leaders at all levels of an organisation.

Leading successfully at one level is a qualifier for leading at the next level. This I believe is very obvious especially in the age of competency-based interviews. Basically, your past performance is a better predictor of your ability to handle similar work in the future. It is therefore important to understand that leadership is a journey that starts where you are, not where you want to be. Leadership skills are the same but the ‘league of play’ changes. Great responsibilities come only after handling small ones well. Leading at your current level creates your resume/cv for going to the next level. When you can lead volunteers well, you can lead almost anyone.

360 Degree leaders possess qualities every organisation needs.360 leaders quickly adjust to change. 360 leaders understand real issues. They see beyond their own vantage point. They develop links to all levels of the organisation. 360 leaders find identity in self, do whatever it takes, find creative ways to make things happen, remain consistent in character and competence over the long haul. 360 leaders can be counted on when it counts.

John C. Maxwell concludes the book by throwing the following questions to leaders (top dogs).
• Do I place a high value on people?
• Am I committed to providing resources for leadership development?
• Do I place a high value on leadership in my organisation?
• Am I continually looking for potential leaders?
• Do I know and respect my people?
• Am I providing my people with leadership experiences?
• Do I reward leadership initiative?
• Am I providing an environment where people can ask questions, share, ideas, and take risks?
• Am I growing with my people?
• Am I drawing people with potential into my inner circle?
• Am I committed to developing a leadership team?
• Am I unleashing my leaders to lead?


Maxwell, J. C. (2005). The 360 Degrees Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organisation. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.