Developing a Leader Within You - Book Review

Posted By: Brian Taylor AASPA Blog ,

Developing the Leader within You by John Maxwell

Book Review

Brian Taylor, Executive Director of Human Resources, West Islip Union Free School District, West Islip, NY


The past two years have been difficult to say the least.  It doesn’t matter what your position is in your school district, your leadership has been challenged.  You have probably not only questioned your own abilities.  You have questioned your future in education.  I know both of those doubts have crept into my own thinking.  In times like these you need a reminder of why you do what you do and how best to accomplish your mission as a leader

Developing the Leader within You was that reminder for me.  Whether you are an aspiring leader, a leader with a few years under your belt, or have held leadership positions for decades, this book can provide you with a renewed perspective on why you do what you do and how to do it better.  John Maxwell takes the perspectives of leaders from all walks of life and provides his own fresh insights to inspire you to not just manage your organization but lead your people.

The underlying premise of the book is that influence is the cornerstone of leadership.  You cannot be a leader without followers.  You cannot have followers if you don’t have influence.  To gain influence you must “communicate effectively.  This leads to recognition and recognition in turn leads to influence” (p. 5).  The chapters in the book provide you with the awareness into the ideas that help you grow your influence with your followers.

These ideas resonated with me the most:

  • Priorities – During the pandemic our priorities have been skewed to fighting fires rather than furthering our mission. This chapter was a great reminder that we have to set our own priorities and not let them be influenced by outside forces.  “All good leaders have learned to say no to the good in order to say yes to the best” (p. 32).
  • Integrity – We have all had to make difficult, often unpopular decisions, during the pandemic. Integrity is what leads us all to make those difficult decision for the greater good, even in the face of severe criticism.  “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he would never be found out. – Thomas Macauley” (p. 43).
  • Creating Positive Change – Things have changed over the last two years. We were forced into making changes that we may not have made without the situation at hand.  One of the biggest issues in education is the snail’s pace at which positive change occurs.  We have to learn from the recent past to continue moving education forward without being forced to by our circumstances.  “Elbert Hubbard said that the greatest mistake a person can make is to be afraid of making one” (p. 58).
  • Problem Solving – There has never been a more important skill right now. Problems are thrust upon us on a daily basis.  Problems that demand solutions.  As leaders it is our responsibility to empower others to solve problems for themselves.  “Problems should be solved at the lowest level possible, because that is where they appear” (p. 91).
  • Attitude – There is an old saying that attitude will determine your altitude. Moping, whining, crying out about the unfairness of things will not solve the problem at hand.  It will only make you feel worse, and you still have to deal with whatever you are going through.  “God chooses what we go through.  We choose how we go through it” (p. 105).

This book gave me a renewed understanding of why I do what I do and how I can do it better.  I got into education to make a difference in the lives of young people.  They, more than any of us, have struggled to find their footing through these challenging times.  We must always remember that every decision that we make has a direct impact on the students.  Therefore it is imperative that we recapture our why and push forward with helping our children become good citizens of this challenging world.