Reviewed by Janelle Gordon
As we turn the pages of our history books, we can find countless examples of traditional leadership. There is Harriet Tubman’s selfless rescue of approximately 300 slaves; Marcus Garvey’s founding of the Universal Negro Improvement Associ-ation; and Madam C.J. Walker’s building of her hair-care empire. These are classic examples of leadership that readers will not find in John C. Maxwell’s The 360˚ Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. According to Maxwell, these examples are misleading when the reality is that “99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top, but from the middle of an organization.” He is the founder of the INJOY Group, an organization dedicated to helping people maximize their personal and leadership potential.
In The 360˚ Leader, he answers the question: How do I lead effectively if I’m not the boss? According to Maxwell, readers can learn to develop influence at any level in an organization by becoming a 360˚ leader. He contends that good leaders not only are capable of leading their direct reports, but they also excel at leading their superiors and their peers. In The 360˚ Leader, Maxwell addresses the plight of the middle manager, a life of conflicting priorities and a shortage of real power and authority.
Maxwell divides his teachings into six distinct sections. Section One focuses on dispelling the myths that often hold back managers. For example, the “Destination Myth” states: When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead. This is wrong. He insists that good leadership is learned in the trenches and that “becoming a leader is a lifelong learning process.”
In the second section, Maxwell sheds light on the many challenges that middle managers will encounter, including the “multi-hat challenge.” On a daily basis, middle managers perform tasks while dealing with demands from the top, customers, vendors, and their direct reports. To address these various demands, managers often assume different roles or hats. Maxwell offers suggestions for dealing with this and six other challenges. Overcoming the challenges in Section Two is essential as managers journey to becoming 360-degree leaders.
Maxwell devotes the majority of the book, Sections Three to Five, to 21 principles for leading up, leading across and leading down. These chapters are easy to digest, with descriptions of each principle, loads of stories and quotes that clearly illustrate his points and steps for incorporating each.
Leading Up. Maxwell writes that leading up is the biggest challenge for the 360-degree leader because most want to lead, but are not willing to be led. A willingness to be led is a necessity for the 360-degree leader. The leading up principles focus on middle managers supporting their leaders, adding value to the organization and distinguishing themselves from the pack with excellent work. In the time, the leaders will trust and look toward the middle managers for advice.
Leading Across. A true 360-degree leader is able to lead peers by gaining their respect and trust. Maxwell includes seven principles middle managers must master to lead across. These include avoiding politics, letting the best idea win, and expanding their circle of acquaintances.
Leading Down. To succeed as 360-degree leaders, middle managers must realize that leading down is much more than getting direct reports to follow orders. Rather, it involves taking the time to earn the influence of direct reports, just as they would with peers. The goal is find out who they are, help them reach their potential and serve as a role model. Maxwell encourages leaders to reward results, increase interaction with direct reports and place people in their strength zones.
Once leaders let go of the myths, cleverly tackle the challenges and incorporate the above principles into their own style of management, they will be able to influence others in every direction and become true 360-degree leaders.
Maxwell’s approach is both instructional and inspirational, providing advice and motivation to keep trying. A leadership assessment test is available online at www.360degreeleader.com  for those who purchase the book. The 360˚ Leader is an easy-to-read guide for middle managers wanting to be more effective. It also will be a good reference for anyone in a mentor role. Quick-paced and filled with practical ideas, Maxwell’s latest is sure to help any manager get results in today’s competitive corporate culture.