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The Results of John Maxwell’s Generosity

When I think about generosity—my mind tends to go backward in time to my season working under Dr. John C. Maxwell. He is the most generous person I have ever met. I joined John’s staff shortly after graduating college in 1983. He’d only met me twice but took a chance on me, still wet behind the ears, by adding me to his team. I was his youngest team member by far.

As you can imagine, I “cut my teeth” in leadership serving under him from age 23 to age 43. One of the most significant leadership principles he taught me was the value of generosity to a leader’s life. John always added value to me before asking me to add value to him or the team.

Early on, my wife and I were on a trip with a small group, including John and his wife Margaret. During some downtime, we visited a shopping mall and my need for a new suit became the topic of discussion. I got chided (all in fun) for needing some new clothes and for being too frugal to buy a nice suit. (I am a child of parents who grew up during the Great Depression.) Everyone in the group joined in to help me pick out a new suit and I finally agreed to purchase it, even though it was more money than I’d ever spent on a dress suit. Afterward, the group began to pressure me to get a matching tie. That’s where I drew the line. I was not going to spend one more dollar that day. After all, I had some ties at home. As we walked out of the men’s store, our group of friends laughed at how difficult it was for me to make that purchase. Suddenly, we all recognized that John wasn’t with us anymore. Where could he be? After a moment, John came walking out of the men’s store, handed me a bag and continued walking. When I looked inside, I saw two expensive ties that perfectly matched my new suit.

This is normal behavior for him.

I will never forget joining Dr. Maxwell in India, almost 20 years ago. Our team hosted leadership conferences in several cities, and as you can imagine, John was a “rock star.” I just made sure he had what he needed before he stepped onto the platform. Prior to our departure, my wife wrote John a note, reminding him of my needs as a type one diabetic. While she knew he’d be busy, she was concerned for my blood sugar levels in a foreign land halfway around the world. One particularly busy day, John finished speaking and had done an incredible job, encouraging and equipping business leaders in this large audience. So good was he, that the crowd thronged him wanting autographs and photographs. John smiled and shook a few hands but was clearly preoccupied. I watched in amazement, as he pushed his way past this crowd of fans toward me—to ask me how I was and if my blood sugars were level. He wanted to take care of me.

This is normal behavior for him.

Every year, our EQUIP team hosted a golf tournament at Pebble Beach. We invited donors to join us at that gorgeous California golf course. One year, I hung out near the green on one of the holes, just to greet people as they played through. On a particularly windy day, the temperature dropped measurably by the afternoon. Unfortunately, I’d assumed California would be warm and I failed to bring a jacket with me. So, there I stood, trying to hide my shivering and to keep smiling as I spoke to our guests. When John’s foursome arrived at the green, John approached me with a question. I thought he needed something—but in fact, he saw that I needed something. He asked, “Do you not have a coat?” Embarrassed, I smiled and said I didn’t realize I’d need one. He quickly grabbed his credit card and pushed it into my hand, saying, “I want you to head up to the pro shop right now and get something to put over you.”

This is normal behavior for him.

In 2002, I began feeling frustrated, but wasn’t sure why. I remained loyal and executed my job to the best of my ability but sat down with John and talked about what was stirring inside me. I told him I loved our big vision—but wanted to do more with young influencers (emerging leaders) than we were currently doing with our organization. John replied, “I’ve always tried to offer a big ocean for our team to swim in, but it sounds like you need a new ocean.”

I  told him I didn’t want to appear disloyal or ungrateful. I was afraid I’d appear selfish if I did anything other than stay and serve my generous leader and his organization. John stopped me and graciously responded, “I think you should start something and do what’s in your heart.”

The next year, I launched Growing Leaders, a non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Our primary resource is Habitudes® which teaches timeless leadership principles through the power of images, conversations and experiences. Each time I am with John Maxwell these days, I remind him that he has “stock” in every young leader we help to develop. Why? Because he’s generously invested in me for decades. While I continue to partner with him, I am swimming in a “new ocean” he generously encouraged me to enter. It may not surprise you that John was our very first donor.

Once again, this is normal behavior for him.

Now, my job is clear. I am to model generosity in my leadership by offering ties, coats, compassion and new oceans to my team.

Over the next month, the Growing Leaders team and I are going to be collecting stories from leaders like you that have done something generous for a young adult. Generosity can look several different ways including sacrificing your time, energy, resources or money. Please take a minute to click here and share your story with us.


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The Results of John Maxwell’s Generosity