John Maxwell: Winning the Big Challenge

UPDATED: February 8, 2011
PUBLISHED: February 8, 2011

We all face challenges in our lives. I believe there is no better feeling than the one you get when you know you have successfully conquered the doubt, intimidation, fear and uncertainty that challenges put us through. Our inner strength is renewed, and we gain a sense of purpose.

There are many big challenges in life that we cannot conquer by ourselves. Many times, people are unsuccessful because they have never understood the value of partnership and teamwork. The bigger the challenge, the more we need to develop an effective team around us.

In my book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, I talk about one law that fits well into what we are talking about today: The Law of Significance. It states, One is too small of a number to achieve greatness. In other words, no great endeavor has been accomplished by just one person. For example, when Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic for the first time, he wasn’t really flying solo. He had a tremendous team around him that made the transatlantic flight possible.

A good leader knows that he is only as effective as the team he surrounds himself with. Here are some good reasons why a good leader gathers teams.

1. To Help the Leader

Stephen Covey says, “People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation and completed staff work because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.” Another great quote I love comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, who said, “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” You can tell a lot about leaders by the people who surround them.

2. To Create a Sense of Community

Jean Vanier says, “A community is only a community when the majority of its members are making the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community.’ ” In other words, a community is not going to be built until you want to add value to the community, not just to yourself.

3. To Build an Organization One of my wonderful friends Jack Kinder says high-performing organizations have the following characteristics:

A selection process that attracts talent 

Rigid, demanding indoctrination

Stability amongst its employees

Simplified operational process

Organizational uniqueness

Passion for the vision

4. All of the Above

I’ve just given you three reasons why a leader would want to gather a team. The real reason for gathering a team isn’t one of the three or two of the three; it’s all of the above. The first three reasons are right, but only when all three are working together.

Now, before building your team, you need to ask yourself a very important question: What kind of team will I gather? Do you need a team for the moment or one that will create momentum for the future? If you gather a team for the moment, you will gather followers. If you want a team that will help you build a strong future, you want to gather leaders. Leaders are much better equipped to take you where you want to go long term; they are also harder to acquire.

Some of the reasons leaders gather followers include scarcity, independence and options. Leaders are hard to find; there is never an abundance of leaders. I’ve never had an organization, church or company ever say to me, Our problem is we have too many leaders. Leaders are also hard to gather. You will see seagulls flock together, but never eagles. You find eagles one at a time. Same goes with leaders. They’re independent; they just don’t follow. And, leaders are hard to hold. They have a list of options with places to go and things to do, and they rarely stay in one place very long.

Your only hope of keeping good leaders in your organization is to continue to grow as a leader yourself. The moment you stop growing as a leader, you won’t have the ability to keep the leaders on your team from going elsewhere. Why? Because leaders continue to develop and grow, and sooner or later they will pass you by or become bored unless you give them a leadership challenge to keep them stimulated and feeling they are adding value.

Gathering a team adds to the potential of the organization, but growing a team multiplies the potential of the organization. So, once you gather a team, the next step is to grow the team.

Every team is made up of many smaller teams. How those teams function depends on people’s talents, the challenges that lie ahead and who the best leader is for each challenge. Even if a team has only two people, the way in which the team works and who is in charge are dynamic, changing from challenge to challenge.

To grow your team, you must be willing to match the right leadership with each challenge. It’s like a quarterback. He is going to get the ball to the person who can get the team a first down or put the ball across the goal line.

You must also continually develop team members. Leaders see the potential that people don’t see in themselves, and they work to draw out that potential.

As your team’s leader, you must also be aware of its weaknesses. Sometimes the team is one key player away from making the difference. This person may not be on the team, and it’s up to the leader to recognize this and then go and find them. On the other hand, sometimes it’s necessary to subtract ineffective members. This is one responsibility that many leaders don’t like to talk about but is crucial to growing the team. You have to look around your organization and notice who is not pulling their weight. At that point, you have to make a change. It’s bad enough if a person isn’t carrying their own load; what makes it significantly worse is when someone else has to carry it as well as their own. Now the problem begins to compound and low morale begins to sink in.

So how do you win the big challenge? The answer is simple. Gather big people around you! As you put the challenge out in front of those you see as potential leaders, remember the winners will migrate to a challenge, the whiners will move away from it.

By building a strong team and leading them well, you will equip your organization to overcome even the biggest challenges.