Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk?


You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top” associated with leadership. But is isolated leadership really effective? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is only taking a walk.” If you’re all alone as a leader, are you really leading?

Losing touch with your people is a huge leadership landmine. It will damage your credibility and destroy your influence. How do you avoid losing touch?

  1. Recognize the landmine. Unfortunately, losing touch is an easy thing to do. A leader can be tempted to withdraw by both success (“I don’t need to see my people”) and failure (“I don’t want to see my people”). Understanding that it can happen is the first step to avoiding it.
  2. Value people. All leadership is influence. And what is influence if it doesn’t involve other people? No matter what your organization produces or does, it needs people to function. YOU need people to lead. Leadership becomes effective when you acknowledge that people are your most appreciable asset, and treat them accordingly.
  3. Avoid positional thinking. Your position or title shouldn’t define your leadership. That’s positional thinking, and it will cause you to disconnect as a leader. Again, leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. I make it my goal to see the people I lead as teammates, not employees. We work together toward a common goal.
  4. Love the people you lead. Do you see your people as cogs in the machinery of your organization, and yourself as the operator? They can tell if you don’t care about them. And I’ve said for a long time that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Loving your people makes the difference in their willingness to follow you into anything, no matter how hard the battle.
  5. Understand the Law of Significance. This is from my book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In it, I explain that one is too small a number to achieve greatness. Many years ago, I realized that I needed the help of other people to achieve what I felt called to do. I now believe that any dream worth dreaming will be bigger than the dreamer. If you can achieve your dream by yourself, your dream is too small!

The most effective leaders stay connected to their people. This gives them the greatest amount of influence, and allows the leader and the team to achieve their big-picture goals together.

What about you? If you’re in a position of leadership, are your followers close at hand? Or have you allowed yourself to lose touch?

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  1. 1
    Marcos says:

    I would like have the book: 5 levels of leadership in Brazil. Thank you.

  2. 2

    I have noticed another thing John, in the landmines you list above, you’ve included withdrawal because of success (not needing to see people) and failure (not wanting to see people). I think an additional landmine exists where fear of looking bad in front of your team causes a different kind of withdrawal in plain site. I have noticed a variety corporate leaders making choices not to seemingly look bad or not knowledgeable in short term circumstances at the cost of the long term trust and credibility with their team.

    Not so much failure but the fear of failure. It takes huge emotional maturity and strength to stand tall in the face of failure whether before or after. Imagine the role model leaders could be if they clearly understood that anyone trying something new is bound to make mistakes and without giving oneself permission to fail one cannot succeed exceedingly.

    Anyway, thanks for putting so much thought into bringing value John.
    My best to you as always.

    • 2.1
      Jason Pulley says:

      Great thoughts Michael! It can be easy to get lost in the moment which is why I find it important for myself to keep reading and learning from others. Posts such as these keep us reminded to stay on the right path.

      • 2.1.1

        Thank you Jason! I have to share with you that I joined the John Maxwell Team last February by attending the certification program. For me it has been a pretty transformational experience.

        In addition to reading posts like this, I have been immersed in the books and the culture of well over a thousand people who have a heart to change the world for the better. The fellowship and the study have gone deep into my soul and have been helping me change into the man I would like my family to see me as.

        While the life of a professional leadership trainer isn’t necessarily for everyone, the life of leadership, I believe is. All the best to you Jason, if I can point you in the direction of good material I have found I am happy to do so.

        • Jacob says:

          how do you become a member of John’s team? Do you guys have any events in Dallas, TX?

          • Hi Jason,

            I have just completed the certification program to become a John Maxwell Team coach for the second time and it was even better than the first. I invite you to look at the video on this website to learn more.
            Also you asked about events in Dallas and I am certain there are. There are team members holding events all over the country. If you like I can find you a coach in Dallas or I can invite you to online events when I hold them. Please let me know here and I will help you find what you are looking for. As well, there is a contact us page on the website I shared with you. Regards, Michael

  3. 3
    Liane says:

    I have to agree with what Michael is saying: fear of looking bad; short term messes ruining long term credibility/trust. Fear of people (in any form) is a weapon that can destroy a leader.

    Then, John, I hear what you say about “It’s lonely at the top”, but I think it might be meant in the context of a leader not always being in a position to reveal all the intimate details of his experience of leadership with his followers. Some things about leadership are things that happen “behind the stage” of the performance of life.

    For example, the CEO of the business is the one who should ultimately be most concerned if the business is not performing well enough. He must make the hardest decisions, and get the team together to strategise, facilitate, hold accountable, etc. If the company goes bankrupt, the accountants, cleaners, managers all find other work, but only the leader bears the full brunt of the failure/collapse. He certainly does not pour his heart out the tea girl or the secretary. And in that way it can indeed be lonely at the top.

    Am I explaining it in a way that makes sense? I hope so.

  4. 4
    Kumar Gauraw says:

    There is so much truth to the statement, “Losing touch with your people is a huge leadership landmine. It will damage your credibility and destroy your influence.”

    I got introduced to this concept in John’s book, “Leadership Gold” and since then I have always made an effort to stay close to the people who follow me, stay connected, stay engaged and empower my team.

    This is an awesome post that reminds of that goal one more time. Thank you!

  5. 5
    D. Lundy says:

    I am a missionary int he D.R. Congo. I am looking for French translations of your books for the Congolese Pastors. Could you advise me, please?

  6. 6
    Jason Pulley says:

    These are great tips that I first learned from your books on leadership. It opened up my eyes to many great possibilities and I find it isn’t always easy, but it makes a huge difference in how others view and respect their leaders. I have found that for myself to show I care I must first be a good listener!

  7. 7

    […] Follow JohnCMaxwell on Twitter. Or visit John’s Facebook page. Introducing a new daily video program, A Minute with Maxwell. Sign up here. It’s free! Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk? […]

  8. 8
    Ejiofor Modestus says:

    “Any dream worth dreaming will be bigger than the dreamer and so he/she need others to achieve it,”

    “If u can achieve Your dream by yourself, your dream is too small!”

    All I have to say Is: thank God I discovered this Wonderful-Site!
    Thanks John.

  9. 9
    Joe Wickman says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the most essential truth of leadership being all about people. At times it’s easy to forget that, and instead allow the goals and obstacles to occupy more attention than they’re due. With the team God is developing through me, those goals will be accomplished and the obstacles will be overcome.

  10. 10

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  11. 11
    Jerry Hingle says:

    Wonderful points made here. I like that they can be applied to both small business leaders and fortune 500 CEOs.

  12. 12

    […] Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk? (あなたはリードしていますか?それとも、ただのお散歩?) […]

  13. 13
    Jeremy Walt says:

    It has awoken what was always there , the ability which is becoming a reality, swiftly.I apply all to myself as to what I learn and retain to the best of my ability by going that extra yard to make it happen. It has brought about alarming results which has humbled me and also given me that boost needed at precisely the right time in my life.I feel energized.

  14. 14

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  15. 15
    Joan Litwitz says:

    Great blog topic – it hit home in many ways. I “love the people I lead’ and I “value them” but my landmine is distance. I have been struggling with this for a long time, being a leader from a distance. I am a program director who leads staff across the state in various regional offices. Next from the message was the points on ‘positional thinking’ and ‘Law of Signifcance’ – I don’t feel like a leader anymore. I am a director who supplies my staff with information/tools to do their job and I direct them – not lead them. Suggestions and comments would be appreciated.

  16. 16
    Jeremy Walt says:

    Its a fact that leadership is a far deeper level of bonding and knowing the needs of all concerned , whom are contributors to the ecosystem pivotal to the undertaking and administration for the business’s functionality. Leadership traits performed with excellence are attributed to those who have the human touch and communication skills to establish a standard all relate to out of respect. I have just received in the post , The Maxwell Leadership Bible , The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership , Everyone communicates ,Few Connect and a book about Attitude. I look forward to the reads and the knowledge I shall gain.