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The Law of the Lid

From John C Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
I first heard John Maxwell at a conference a number of years ago and he opened the conference by explaining the Law of the Lid. It was simple yet so profound that it established a burning desire in me to find out more about leadership. The more I found out about leadership, that more I understood that I had much to learn.
So what is this Lid? John explains that “leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential.”
I did not realise that I had a leadership lid that was capping my potential. In fact, I didn’t even know that leadership was something could be developed. From a very young age, I was of the opinion that there were only a certain select group of people that were born leaders and they were the ones that ended up leading companies and leading nations.
Having dedicated myself to being a student of leadership, I now realise that most people fall into one of 3 categories:
  • Those who are Natural Born Leaders
  • Those who can be Nurtured into Leaders
  • Those who will never become Leaders

The Law of the Lid speaks to not just those who are natural born leaders, who by the way, comprises of only a minute percentage of the world’s population, it really speaks to those who can be nurtured and taught to become better leaders. That’s not to say that all three types can’t be successful. On the contrary, success is within the reach of just about everyone. However, John Maxwell goes on to say that “personal success without leadership ability brings only limited effectiveness.” In other words, you could have made a much bigger impact if only you knew how to lift your leadership lid.
Most of us know that hard work and dedication usually leads to success and excellence. However, the law of diminishing returns dictates that there will be a point where working harder ourselves doesn’t necessarily improve our results. In fact, our level of effectiveness decreases! The only way to increase our effectiveness without working harder is through leading a team to help you accomplish your goals and objectives.
Understanding the Law of the Lid is the beginning of the realising the value of leadership. Not only does your lid place a cap on your personal level of effectiveness, once you start leading a team, you will soon realise that your lid places a cap on your team’s effectiveness. People don’t leave their jobs. They leave their leaders!
When was the last time you calculated the cost of losing a key staff member? Not just the money you pay a recruiter. Have you taken into account the real cost of lost productivity and retraining? Generally, organisational turnover costs per team member ranges between 90% and 2000% of a person’s salary (Reported in Diversity No 6, 2002, “The Diversity Dividend”). If that is not an incentive for business owners to work on lifting their leadership lid, I don’t know what would be.
By Ivan Ang
Founding Partner of the John Maxwell Team
Posted on October 29, 2012

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