360 Degree Lеаdеr: What We Learned From Maxwell’s Book

Many people feel that they’re stuck in a middle management position, but with Maxwell’s The 360 degree leader, you’re in a great position to be a leader of influence. This guide will show you the main topics from his book.

John C. Maxwell, in his book 360 Degree Leadership, defined three key principles for middle managers to lead and influence all areas of the organisation. The 360 degree leader is not trapped in middle management, but is actually in the best position to influence and become a high impact leader.

This is done by implementing the 3 key principles: to lead up to their leader, lead across with colleagues and lead down with followers:

Lead-up: Involves influencing your leader, by lightening their load. Taking empowerment for your own roles and filling in for them when they need it;
Lead-across: This involves leading colleagues and other leaders. Leading across means that we help our peers at our level succeed;
Lead-down: You also need to help your team grow and be successful. This is done through developing and empowering them to success.

Let’s explore this concept in a little more detail.

The Myth of Leading From The Middle

Maxwell argues that 90% of all leadership comes from not the top of the organisation, but from the middle management level. This means that actually, the best place to perfect leadership is at this very level.

Middle managers are the conduit between upper management and the strategic element of the business, and the lower level employees, at the operational level. Being an effective middle manager is huge to organisational success.

The Principles to Lead-Up

The first of the 360 degree leadership principles; leading up is simply the process of influencing your leader. By doing this, you strengthen your leader’s position and work with them to cover any weaknesses. This role actively ensures that they rely on you, seek your advice and build deep trust.

Leading Up Principle 1: Lead Yourself, First

Maxwell identifies that you you must lead yourself, first. “That’s where it all starts. Besides, if you wouldn’t follow yourself, why should anyone else?”

Leading yourself consists of the following key areas:

  • Manage your time and productivity effectively – get things done and be productivity in how you do it;
  • Manage your emotions, so you don’t irrationally react to situations. This element is deeply rooted in developing emotional intelligence;
  • Maintain your energy levels by focusing on the right things, rather than getting embroiled into unneeded noise and irrelevant distraction.

The key thing is to lead by example. In other words, act and perform how you expect your leader to do. This will inevitably ensure that you’re starting on the right foot to lead up.

Leading Up Principle 2 – If you Help Lift the Load, Then You Help Your Leader Succeed

If your boss succeeds, so does the organisation. And so do you. The point here is that if you can help lift the load from your leader, you’ll stand a greater chance of success.

Equally, those leaders who lift others up are noticed by others. People will want to help in return, which creates a reciprocity loop of people helping each other to lift the load. This in turn helps create a great productive working environment for everyone.

Here are some ideas to help lift the load for your leaders:

  • Ensure that you do your own job well, first;
  • Overcome problems or challenges by implementing solutions and fixes. There’s a good saying that goes, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” In other words, take the lead – fix problems. If you make a mistake, that’s fine. Learn from it, but don’t wait for your leader to fix it, if you can do it yourself;
  • Provide factual and truthful information. Don’t cover up issues. Be honest with your leader;
  • Stand up for your leader and stand in for them when they need your support;
  • Ask your leader where you can take some of the load from them.

These steps will provide an open, honest and genuine relationship and dialogue.

Leading Up Principle 3 – Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

You can achieve a lot when you dare to step out of your comfort zone – going where most people wouldn’t. Successful 360 degree leaders have this knack of continuing to challenge themselves despite any fear they may have.

  • Be brave and put yourself on the line, despite the fear of getting things wrong – After all, fear is just an irrational thought that hasn’t happened;
  • Find ways to succeed with difficult people;
  • Admit faults and don’t hide from mistakes with your leader;
  • Perform tasks that may not be part of your job description, but which allows you to grow and develop value.

Leading Up Principle 4: Be a Manager and Leader

The fact is, in order to be a successful 360 degree leader, you must be both. Don’t let anyone say that your leadership style is just the way you were born. It’s not. You can learn it like any other skill.

Leaders challenge the norm and look into the future, thinking in the long term. “What could we achieved? What would it look like…?”

Managers look at the now and think in the moment. “How are we performing now, what’s currently happening right now?”

  • Face change head on – challenge the status quo and find better ways of doing things;
  • Encourage progress and innovation with those around you – take the lead and allow them to follow your example;
  • Work more with intangible factors like helping improve people’s morale, their motivation, energy levels and attitudes.

Leading Up Principle 5: Develop Good Relationships Across the Business

A good 360 degree leader will develop relationships across, up and down the business. You need to connect with anyone around you.

  • Listen to these leaders – truly listen and not play at it;
  • Connect with them through trust and rapport;
  • Be genuine and transparent.

Your leaders (And those around you) will open up more to you, sharing their vision, interests, goals and personal views as relationships start to blossom.

Leading Up Principle 6: Respect Your Leader’s Time

We’re busy people. That goes for your leader, too. Maxwell argues that you must be able to appreciate your leader’s limited and valued time. If you want their attention, then you need to be highly efficient with it.

Respecting their time will encourage a relational connection that can open doors to new opportunities and relationships.

  • Be very prepared when discussing topics- Maxwell stresses, for every one minute of a meeting, take 10 minutes to prepare;
  • Learn to speak the boss’s language;
  • Get to the point, quickly;
  • Always look for solutions to problems.

Leading Up Principle 7: It’s All About Timing

Timing is essential – a good idea presented to your leader at the wrong time, can be seen as a bad idea. The act of presenting ideas and solutions is not a given.

  • Know when to back off whilst not continuing to push your idea – there’s always another day and a better moment;
  • Be aware of when time is running out and when you need to press your views;
  • Know when to hold off and discuss at a better time.

Understanding the best time to help your leader win is the art.

Leading Up Principle 8: Get Things Done

Being able to get things done, whilst showing competence, responsibility and reliability, will result in you being the one the leaders in the business rely on. Leader’s constantly look for these kind of characters, and practising these principle strengthens your position.

  • Practice working to strict deadlines;
  • Practice being organised and prioritising the right tasks;
  • Expose yourself to working within tight deadlines;
  • Don’t shy from taking on work that is critical.

The above, when perfected, will ensure you’re the go to leader.

Leading Up Principle 9: Keep Developing

Nobody is the finished article. Leadership is a lifelong skill. It’s developed over your career. 360 degree leadership requires you to learn every day. To become a continuously improving leader.

  • Learn from your daily experiences, and more importantly, what you could do better next time in the same situation;
  • Read books;
  • Read articles and blogs;
  • Learn the many soft skills of leading, like, facilitation, emotional intelligence, communication, problem solving, time management, technical skills, and so on.

The Principles to Lead Across

Maxwell argues that “leaders must be able to lead others – not just those below them, but those above and alongside.” This means if you’re in the middle level of the organisation, then you should aim to be a leader of leaders… This is referred to as leading across.

Leading Across Principle 1: Invest Your Time and Energy Into Leading Across

It does take time and energy to lead across the business. Maxwell defines the leadership loop to help implement the right foundation to make this a success.

  • Care about other leaders;
  • Learn from them and help others learn;
  • Appreciate what other people do;
  • Contribute to their success – help them get ahead;
  • Communicate effectively;
  • Succeed – If others around you are winning, then you will too.. and so too the organisation.

Leading Across Principle 2: Work With, Do Not Compete

Treating people as part of a wider team, helps encourage commitment and teamwork. On an individual level, don’t compete with other leaders.

Work with them. Help them develop and succeed.

By channelling competition, leaders and their teams can win as a whole. This helps garner respect, trust, rapport and success. It’s also a sure-fire way to establish natural influence.

Leading Across Principle 3: Develop Friendships

Everyone needs a deep relationship, which naturally flows into friendship. Being a friend helps us develop our innate need to establish deeper meaning and successful relationships. Having a friend, not only helps establish our influence, but provides a framework for success and happiness.

The goal here is not to find a friend, but to be a friend. If you can develop these traits, then your chances of leading across the business are very high.

  • Listen to your peers;
  • Be available and approachable;
  • Find common ground through more open communication;
  • Don’t be too serious. Keep your sense of humour;
  • Be truthful and transparent in your words and actions.

Leading Across Principle 4: Avoid Office Politics

When you play the politics game, you can alienate some of your peers. The secret is to keep an open mind and avoid office politics.

Office politics will only result in tit-for-tat discussions about other people, and playing the game to get on people’s side. Good leadership is about the following:

  • Honesty;
  • Integrity;
  • consistency;
  • Productivity.

Stay away from idle gossip and petty arguments.

Stand up for what’s right and lead with integrity. Diplomacy with peers encourages effectiveness and influence.

Leading Across Principle 5: Expand Your Relationships

Constantly seeking new relationships, expands your influence. It may be much easier to stay in your own environment. This will more than likely make you feel secure.

But in order to develop as a 360 degree leader, you need to get out of that comfort zone, and seek opportunities to build relationships outside of your circle.

Leading Across Principle 6: Let The Best Ideas Win

As we’ve highlighted in a previous principle – it’s best to let go of competition. Maxwell says that instead of fighting other leaders for your ideas to win, step back and let the best ideas win.

This requires mindfulness and objectivity.

  • Be open minded;
  • Don’t take rejection personally;
  • Encourage ideas from others;
  • Don’t compete for ideas – simply allow them to flow, choosing the best one.

Leading Across Principle 7: Admit Faults

The effective 360 degree leader admits when you get things wrong. Don’t hide from errors. Don’t cover them up.

Accept that mistakes happen and you are who you are.

Worry less about what people think. Dismiss your pride and be open to learn from other leaders at your level.

Maxwell argues that instead of trying to impress your peers, let them impress you. This means letting go of your pride and just being more grounded and open.

The Principles to Lead Down

Leaders that can lead down, help shape the right standards that others follow. They help their follows to realise their potential and encourage others to be a part of the big organisational goals.

Leading Down Principle 1: Be Approachable

You must be approachable for your followers. Never make them feel that people can’t approach you, and that they can’t tell you something.

  • Make it a habit of walking your workplace and discussing tasks and work with your teams;
  • Encourage creative thinking and improvement ideas – empower them to identify and implement improvements;
  • Create a healthy balance between personal and professional interest;
  • Actually care – don’t pretend, but care about what they say and how they feel.

Leading Down Principle 2: See Potential in Others

One of the secrets to being a 360 degree leader is the ability to see potential in your team. The best leaders can see what team members can develop into. They believe in their people, even if others can’t see it.

By encouraging and having faith in them, they’ll start to believe in themselves and develop in their roles.

Don’t think you should reward poor performance. This has to be managed, but people must always be treated with respect and integrity. They should be coached and developed, too.

Allow each individual to learn new skills. Get them to follow your lead of continuous improvement. This could be:

  • Improving time management skills;
  • Improving discipline;
  • Technical skills development;
  • Personal skills development, etc;
  • Find out each person’s dreams and aspirations and help them achieve them through learning and development.

Inspiring each team member and working with them to develop their own capabilities, will result in an improved workplace for productivity, happiness and morale, too.

Leading Down Principle 3: Find Strength Zones

If employees are continuously asked to work in areas of weakness, they’ll soon get fed up and demotivated.

As a leader, you need to implement the following 3 steps to success:

  1. Determine each employee’s strengths;
  2. Give them the right job in accordance to these strengths;
  3. Identify the skills people must have, to be a success in the workplace;
  4. Provide world-class training to ensure that people are equipped to win.

Leading Down Principle 4: Be a Constant Role Model

The hard fact is this. Leader behaviour and attitude determines the culture and atmosphere of the organisation.

Your decisions as a leader must be consistent with your values, work ethic and integrity.

Going back to the first principle of leading up, we need to lead by example and lead in the way we want to be influenced.

  • Do what is right;
  • Never cut corners because its ok for you to do so;
  • Demonstrate the right values and complete tasks in a productive way;
  • Encourage commitment.

Through leading by example, you’ll bring people with you in following the right ways of working.

Leading Down Principle 5: Connect the Vision

Being a middle manager means that you need to communicate the vision and goals for the business… and in a way that will inspire action and focus.

  • Ensure team members understand the purpose;
  • Keep their responsibilities challenging but not unattainable;
  • Motivate and energise them through passion;
  • Focus on the past, present and the future when encouraging team members;
  • Allow them to take control of creating ideas and actions to achieve these goals.

Leading Down Principle 6: Give Praise

Maxwell said that, “Whatever actions leaders reward, will be repeated.”

360 degree leadership requires you to give praise to your team members, both internally and externally.

  • Encourage the right behaviour that you set;
  • Praise on an individual level;
  • Publicly praise individuals, too;
  • Create innovative ways to reward and feedback (it’s not just about money);
  • Always look for opportunities to provide positive feedback as the norm.

The Value of a 360 Degree Leader

360 degree leaders are in short supply. Your business can never have too many of them.

By developing your skills to become a 360 degree leader, you’ll open opportunities for growth and development. You’ll also be able to provide much more value to the organisation: through your influence above, across and below you.

You’ll be the leader that everyone loves and respects.

For the full read, you can get this book on Amazon.