Podcast #18: An Interview with John Maxwell

John Maxwell is a writer of over seventy leadership books (several of which were New York Times best sellers), the founder of four different leadership companies, a friend of Growing Leaders, and a personal mentor to me.


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Why did you choose to focus on leader development?

I’ve often said that if you want to add, develop yourself; if you want to multiply, develop others. When you pour yourself into a leader, it continues; they pour themselves into others. I committed myself many years ago because I want to add value to leaders who multiply back to others.

Your recent Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn is all about the value of loss and failure. What drove you to write the book? 

It’s when we lose that causes us to stop and reflect on what we need to change in our lives. I’ve come to believe that failure is my best friend. Therefore, it’s my failures that allow me to learn. If we lose correctly, we will really succeed. The key is losing correctly. The question is not if we’ll lose. We all fail. When I lose, the question is not “What did I lose?” The question is “What did I learn from my losses?”

What are some of the significant messages in this book?

Teachability is so essential to your losses. Teachability is wanting to learn, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. I talk in the book about how experience isn’t the best teacher; evaluating experience is the best teacher.

I was talking to a soccer mom the other day who told me she always tells her son that games end in a tie because he gets so angry when he loses. What would you say to this parent?

We have some wins in life, and we have some losses. The losses help ground us into reality. I would tell that mother that the first responsibility of a mom is to define reality for your children. That little guy needs to know he’s not going to win all the time. Sheltering our children doesn’t prepare them. The point I want everyone to understand is that our children are going to lose. We have to teach them to win correctly at home.

Today’s students are loaded with potential, but they don’t bounce back. Failure is feared. Why is it important for us to turn this around?

I was at dinner recently, sitting with several highly, highly successful people, and I asked, “What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned?” Immediately, I started getting comments like “failure is the pathway to success,” “you’ve got to learn how to deal with failure,” and “you’ve got to understand that failure isn’t final.” These people were telling me you can’t have success without failure. There is no successful person who doesn’t face problems or difficulties. Not one.

Somehow we’ve got to find a way to enable our kids to go through struggles because they’re essential.

I’ve never met a person that has learned something from a loss regret that loss. Never. You know a coach once said to me, “Sometimes I walk off the court with a win, wishing we had lost. They didn’t deserve it, but they won.” He said, “John, you can’t go to the locker room and teach anything off a win. If they’d lost the game, I would have had their attention.”

The word that keeps coming back to me is resiliency and how you show so much of it in your life. Would you share a story of your resilience with us?

My brother and I always use to wrestle after supper. I was a scrawny kid. My brother was big. Much bigger than me. My brother always won. At the dinner table one night, my dad said to my brother “You’re not going to wrestle John this week. I am.” Much to my surprise, I pinned my father that night. I’ll never forget how I felt. The next week, I wrestled my brother. I didn’t pin my brother. What’s more significant was he didn’t pin me ever again. It was a phenomenal lesson my dad taught me. He didn’t take away my losses. He just recreated an environment where I could win.

How did you build resiliency?

Whatever bad has happened to you is not final. The moment that I have hope is the moment I have resiliency. The hope causes me to get back up and try again. Hope gets you back up, but it won’t keep you up. You’ve got to couple it with a strategy of what you’re going to learn. Winning is a process. It’s not “Have you won yet?” The question is “Are you on your way towards winning?”


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Podcast #18: An Interview with John Maxwell