What John C. Maxwell Really Thinks About the World’s Most Famous (and Infamous) Leaders

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 10, 2015

December SUCCESS cover figure John C. Maxwell is the world’s most renowned leadership expert. He’s sold more than 20 million books on the subject, including the smash-hit best-sellers The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader among more than 70 books he has authored.

It’s fair to say that no one is more qualified to dish on the world’s most famous (and infamous) modern day leaders. During a brief aside from our wider discussion with Maxwell, whose new book is Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, we asked what he really thought of the decision-makers and visionaries in the news, and another one closer to his heart.

Elon Musk, CEO and founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX

“Oh my gosh. Breakthrough. In fact, a Tesla may be my next car. It just amazes me what he’s been able to do.”

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize-winning activist for female education

“Courageous. Being a child, she probably didn’t realize how courageous she was being, what she meant. I think young people don’t understand courage like older people do. It’s why they go to war and older people don’t. But for me, so inspiring. What she’s done, look at all the kids that she’s become the standard bearer for.”

Roger Goodell, National Football League comissioner

“Positional. I think he has the position of czar in football, and he thinks, basically, that’s all he needs. And I think he relies too much on his position.”

Pope Francis

“Transformational. The guy—just think of the church, and how ruttish it’s been for centuries. This man, you talk about branding, well he’s rebranding the Catholic church, and he’s a great example for leaders to follow.”

Mark Cole, CEO of The John Maxwell Co.

“Servant leader. Consistent. Totally trustworthy. I trust him with anything. He has high energy—the guy only needs four hours of sleep a night. And he’s highly relational. And because I’m not with our people as much, it’s important that he be very relational with them, because I am myself. If I were with them, I would know all of their names and be able to care for them and transmit care. But because I can’t be there, I need a person with different gifts, but who is also highly relational.”

John C. Maxwell is featured in the December 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Read the cover story Q&A, where the world’s foremost leadership expert gets personal on his journey to significance and designing a life of purpose.

Josh Ellis is the former editor in chief for SUCCESS magazine. Before joining SUCCESS in 2012, he was an accomplished digital and print sportswriter, working for the Dallas Cowboys Star magazine, the team’s gameday program, and DallasCowboys.com. Originally from Longview, Texas, he began writing for his hometown newspaper at 16.