Strong Leaders Share

A look at how leadership master John Maxwell collaborates without dominating

Every school kid knows Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but few know J.P Morgan and the Vanderbilt family provided the capital that made the idea a reality.

Collaborating – or co-creating as it is often known – is a powerful force. What would air travel be if the brothers Wright went their own ways instead of working together in Kitty Hawk? Would Google exist without both Page and Brin? How about Apple without Wozniak and Jobs? And who wants to contemplate the void we’d all suffer if Ben never worked alongside Jerry.

Great as it is, co-creating is rooted in human relationships and, as a result, is a complex dynamic. Recently, I asked my friend and mentor John Maxwell of the world renowned John Maxwell Company how he co-creates. Given his status as a globally recognized expert on leadership, one would be excused for assuming John co-creates by simply taking over any given projects. Fortunately for those who know him and work with him, that is not the case.

To help in this exploration of John’s style, we used the Language and Behavior Profile (or LAB Profile) worksheet developed by Success Strategies. The LAB is an excellent tool, which analyzes a person’s language and behavioral profile to determine how he or she gets motivated, how that person processes information and how he or she ultimately makes decisions. Here’s what I found


Good Leaders are self assured

John operates in what’s known as a “My My orientation” … meaning “I impose my rules on myself for a given task, but I impose my rules on you as well to judge success.” While this may sound dictatorial, John actually uses this frame of reference – this power of the self-assured – to help others. For John, the “My My” orientation is a more caring alternative to “My rules for me, I don’t care what you do” or “My rules for me, you can follow your rules, despite the fact they will fail you.”

Also, because John is self-assured in co-creative situations, he is more of a risk taker. He is willing to try new things to meet the partners’ goals and, if the risk doesn’t pay off, he’s secure enough to brush himself off and try something else. Ultimately, his willingness to stretch out and try new things is rooted in his desire to help others.

Leaders lead people

At several times during the LAB assessment, John was found to have an external focus; that is to say, a focus on other people. John is not a loner. He puts his considerable thoughts out into the world and he wants to know how others react and what they think in response.

His external orientation extends into how John organizes projects. He will consistently talk about how a project, event or process affects others rather than focus his attention solely on the project itself. If you partner with John, he will value you more than the outcome of your efforts.

Which is not to say he is open to manipulation by others.

While John checks his ego at the door – as he expects all professionals to do – and prioritizes helping other, he also insists on co-creating with true peers. He only works with those at his level or those who know more than he does in a given area. John simply does not partner with those who can’t play at his level.

Leaders aren’t rigid

My LAB assessment of John revealed he is goal oriented. He is proactive about getting the task done and, as mentioned before, he has an external orientation – which means he needs and wants feedback from others while co-creating. When you drill down on John’s goal-oriented nature, you find that it is not a fixed obsession. Yes he works toward goals, but he is fluid in doing so. He likes to keep his options open at all times and, if circumstances change, he’s perfectly willing to change along with them. This flexibility makes John highly effective as a co-creator.

There is only one John Maxwell

John has an appreciation for the unique individual and you should, too. What works for him in a co-creative exercise may not work for you. Borrow the lessons that make sense to you as you work with others. Perhaps the best advice we can all take from John is an openness to partnering and co-creating in the first place. To John, thoughts are pencil marks on a canvas. They are the initial sketches, driven by his inner muse. He engages others before he actually decides to paint … and it is in the co-creation process where the painting takes form and we can all gain valuable perspective.