The C.L.E.A.R. Path

blog Jan 26, 2023


By John C. Maxwell

There are two great days in your life: the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born. As I have watched successful people, I have noticed that they understand their purpose. They are functioning in what I call their strength zone—developing and growing in their talents and gifts, not focusing on their weaknesses.

In addition to understanding their purpose in life, successful people cultivate excellence in five key areas: communication, leadership, equipping, attitude and relationships. The articles that follow will explore elements of each of these areas, and they are each written by members of our C.L.E.A.R. coaching team—leaders I consider to be experts in their fields.

These areas of competence are not milestones to be reached and checked off a list. They are skills we must cultivate over a lifetime through intentional learning and practice. However, I believe that everyone, no matter their natural aptitude—or lack thereof—in any one these areas, can become more effective and grow to their maximum potential.


At a time when people are increasingly divided, perhaps a leader’s greatest tool is his or her ability to communicate—not merely to transfer information or ideas, but to connect on a deep level. Are you connected with your people? Do you know them? Do you spend time figuring out where they are? Great leaders are intentional about finding their people before they lead them. You must go after your people. You can’t expect them to come to you.

If you’re not naturally gifted at connecting with others, there are two simple practices you can start tomorrow that will do more to connect you with your team than anything else: Ask them questions, and then listen to their answers. Always remember—you can’t lead your people until you find them.

One of the greatest contributors to a divided society or team is the unwillingness to think about and learn from another person’s point of view—being willing to set aside one’s own desires and opinions to think through an issue from someone else’s perspective. We lead others well when we take time to consider life through their eyes.

Effective communication that connects in divided times—whether in the world or just within your organization—means pulling people together, even when the world would rather pull them apart. We can’t run from this calling because everyone deserves to be led well.


People that are successful have learned to successfully lead people, and the first and most difficult person you will need to lead is yourself—to commit to growing your leadership ability. I call this the Law of the Lid.


According to this law, leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential. To give you an example, if your leadership rates an 8, then your effectiveness can never be greater than a 7. If your leadership is only a 4, then your effectiveness will be no higher than a 3. Your leadership ability—for better or for worse—always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization.

I believe that success is within the reach of just about everyone. But I also believe that personal success without leadership ability brings only limited effectiveness. Without leadership ability, a person’s impact is only a fraction of what it could be with good leadership. Whatever you will accomplish is restricted by your ability to lead others.

By raising your leadership ability, you can tremendously increase your original effectiveness. That’s because leadership has a multiplying effect. I’ve seen its impact again and again in all kinds of businesses and nonprofit organizations. And that’s why I’ve taught leadership for more than thirty years.


Most leaders have followers, but they very seldom develop other leaders. There is a big difference between leaders who develop followers and leaders who develop leaders. If this is such a crucial aspect of leadership, why do people fail to equip others?

Well, it’s hard work, and we tend to underestimate people. It takes faith to see the leadership potential in an undeveloped person, and there’s a tendency for many of us to look at such a person and think they can’t be trained. (Of course, we tend to forget what we were like at the beginning of our journeys.)

Some of us simply enjoy doing the task ourselves—why would I want to give somebody else this job? We may even receive ego satisfaction from being needed. This develops into a habit of doing everything ourselves—a difficult habit to break. Not only do we receive satisfaction from being needed, but as long as we’re doing everything, we can maintain control.

Yes, these are all good reasons we may resist developing leaders. But what a tragedy it would be to reach the end of your leadership journey and discover that you all you left behind were your achievements, instead of people who had the potential of going even further than you dreamed. 


TV anchor Hugh Downs once said, “A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.”

Leadership has less to do with position than it does with disposition. The good news is that, while we may not always be able to change our position, our disposition is completely under our control. Our attitudes determine how we approach people, our business and our family.

Like me, you’ve probably noticed that mature people are people who take responsibility for their attitude. Attitude is a choice. We see things not as they are. We see things as we are. So, if you aren’t happy where you are, you’re not going to be happy where you’re going.

Our attitude can turn our problems into blessings. Successful people have an uncommon attitude about adversity. Successful people have the same challenges, questions and issues that unsuccessful people have. The difference between the two is their internal approach to those things. It isn’t failure that has the potential of ultimately defeating me. It’s my response to failure.


In the early years of my career, I did not have a correct view of life. I approached life as if it were a slot machine. I wanted to put as little as possible into it, and I always hoped to hit the jackpot. I’m embarrassed to say that I often had a similar approach in my interaction with people. I was more focused on what people could do for me than what I could do for them. As a result, I would try to make relational “withdrawals” without ever having made any deposits.

Instead of viewing relationships as a slot machine, picture them like the stock market. To get rich, make regular deposits in people over an extended period of time. At first, you may feel like the value of what you’re putting in isn’t worth the investment. However, like the stock market, in the long run, you’ll reap dividends and earn rewards.

Human nature tends to focus us on personal needs, but investing in relationships requires us to prioritize others. Instead of self-advancement, think others-enhancement. Make a habit of adding value in relationships, and trust that the long-term results will be in your favor. Don’t expect specific and immediate benefit from your relational inputs. Through time, you’ll be taken care of as long as you’re willing to invest.

Not all investments yield the same interest, and not all relationships produce the same reward. As a leader, make investing in others a general principle, but be deliberate about putting energy into low-risk, high-reward relationships. Seek out talented people with teachable dispositions, and offer your relational capital to those who will make the most of it. Don’t be stingy with your relational investments, giving only to those who’ve first given to you. Rather, take responsibility for setting the tone of adding value in your relationships.

If you will intentionally commit to develop yourself in each of these spheres—communication, leadership, equipping, attitude and relationships, you—and the organizations you lead—will reap the benefits, and you will find yourself growing in your effectiveness and influence.

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