Skip to content

The Law of the Lid

By John C. Maxwell | July 19, 2013
The Law of the Lid

Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness

I often open my leadership conferences by explaining the Law of the Lid because it helps people understand the value of leadership. If you can get a handle on this law, you will see the incredible impact of leadership on every aspect of life. So here it is: 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.

Let me tell you a story that illustrates the Law of the Lid. In 1937, two young brothers named Dick and Maurice opened a small drive-in restaurant in Pasadena, California, located just east of Glendale. Their tiny drive-in restaurant was a great success, and in 1940, they decided to move the operation to San Bernardino, a working-class boomtown fifty miles east of Los Angeles. Their business exploded. Annual sales reached $200,000.

In 1948, their intuition told them that times were changing, and they made modifications to their restaurant business. They streamlined everything. They reduced their menu and focused on selling hamburgers. They created what they called the Speedy Service System, in which their kitchen became like an assembly line, where each employee focused on service with speed. The brothers’ goal was to fill each customer’s order in thirty seconds or less. And they succeeded. By the mid-1950s, annual revenue hit $350,000, and by then, Dick and Maurice split net profits of about $100,000 each year.

Who were these brothers? Back in those days, you could have found out by driving to their small restaurant on the corner of Fourteenth and E Streets in San Bernardino, to see a neon sign that said simply MCDONALD’S HAMBURGERS. Dick and Maurice McDonald had hit the great American jackpot, but they never went any farther because their weak leadership put a lid on their ability to succeed.

The McDonald brothers’ genius was in customer service and kitchen organization. That talent led to the creation of a new system of food and beverage service. But in 1952, when they tried marketing the McDonald’s concept, their effort was a dismal failure. The reason was simple. They lacked the leadership necessary to make a larger enterprise effective. Dick and Maurice were good single-restaurant owners. They understood how to run a business, make their systems efficient, cut costs, and increase profits. They were efficient managers. But they were not leaders. Their thinking patterns clamped a lid down on what they could do and become. At the height of their success, Dick and Maurice found themselves smack-dab against the Law of the Lid.

In 1954, the brothers hooked up with a man named Ray Kroc. As soon as he visited the store, he had a vision for its potential. In his mind he could see the restaurant going nationwide in hundreds of markets. He soon struck a deal with Dick and Maurice, and in 1955, he formed McDonald’s Systems, Inc. (later called the McDonald’s Corporation).

And the leadership lid in Ray Kroc’s life was sky high. Between 1955 and 1959, Kroc succeeded in opening 100 restaurants. Four years after that, there were 500 McDonald’s. In 1961 for the sum of $2.7 million, Kroc bought the exclusive rights to McDonald’s from the brothers, and he proceeded to turn it into an American institution and global entity.

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.

Let me give you a picture of what I mean. Let’s say that when it comes to success, you’re an 8 (on a scale from 1 to 10). That’s pretty good. I think it would be safe to say that the McDonald brothers were in that range. But let’s also say that in leadership you’re functioning as a 1. To increase your level of effectiveness, you have a couple of choices. You could work very hard to increase your dedication to success and excellence—to work toward becoming a 10 in that area. It’s possible that, with a lot of effort, you could make it to that level.

But you have another option. You can work hard to increase your level of leadership. By raising your leadership ability—without necessarily increasing your success dedication at all—you can increase your original effectiveness a tremendous amount. 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.

Adapted From The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

More Articles

Do I Believe The Best In Others?
By Mark Cole | March 1, 2022

Do I Believe The Best In Others?

By John C. Maxwell | October 6, 2021


The 5 Key Resilience Traits You Need Right Now
By Valorie Burton | September 21, 2021

The 5 Key Resilience Traits You Need Right Now

Be the first to comment on "The Law of the Lid"

  • Church Growth: A Wrongful Pursuit or a Righteous One? – Church Fuel says: December 19, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    […] Too many people think it’s worship style, outdated facilities or a lack of a particular staff member keeping their church from growing. In reality, you can grow without any of those things. Church growth is often the result of personal growth among the pastors and leaders. John Maxwell says this is the law of the lid. […]

  • How to Build Your Tribe | Momentum Monday | Steve Holbrook says: February 18, 2019 at 8:01 am

    […] Check out John Maxwell’s – The Law of the Lid. […]

  • 5 Things That You Need to Invest in When Starting Your Business says: March 23, 2019 at 10:20 am

    […] expert John Maxwell talks about the Law of the Lid. It’s a principle that essentially states that your organization’s effectiveness cannot […]

  • Jim Oremland says: April 12, 2019 at 9:34 am

    I find that it is is very easy to prove a point by hand selecting an example of success and applying it to a theory, after the fact. A book that detailed the rise of, at the time, the world’s most successful corporations was later republished and detailed the fall of almost half. The New Silk Road is integrating the effect of variables such as population, the willingness to be ruthless and more on the success of policy, programs and business. The world has become very small and instant communication and advanced technology such as AI and more has made it easier and easier to “fool all of the people all of the time.”

  • DLP #004: 5 Ways to Expand Your Leadership Capacity says: April 24, 2019 at 6:57 am

    […] Maxwell often talks about the Law of the Lid, which basically states that the level of an organization will never excel beyond the level of its […]

  • Two Things Every Leader Should Avoid Like the Plague – thesocietyofleadership says: July 16, 2019 at 11:50 am

    […] or in our teams will always be tied to the growth we experience personally as a leader. It’s The Law of Lid, and it has severe consequences for the leader who ignores it—when we plateau as leaders, we […]

  • Las dos cosas que deberías evitar para ser un MEJOR LÍDER says: July 22, 2019 at 9:26 am

    […] siempre estará ligado al desarrollo que experimentamos personalmente como líder. Es la Ley de la tapa, y tiene graves consecuencias para el director que la ignora: cuando nos posicionamos como […]

  • Three Reasons Why You Need To Build a Team - Zimpasha says: September 4, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    […] and perspectives. Teams provide opportunities to lead. As you lead the team, you will overcome the law of the lid. This rule states that the growth of your organization directly depends on how well you can lead. […]

  • Delegate Better by Avoiding Five Excuses | EM Advisor says: October 22, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    […] John Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid” captures why it’s critical to view delegation as a leadership skill: […]

  • Law of the Lid - Floris Wolswijk - Thinking, Sharing says: December 12, 2019 at 7:30 am

    […] – Blog by Maxwell on The Law of the Lid […]

  • PMI Global Conference – Day 1 Recap – Joanna Vahlsing, PMP says: April 21, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    […] He shared how, as humans, our amygdala is responsible for a number of loaded reactions vs. our frontal cortex that provides higher order thinking. He connected this to Maxwell’s the Law of the Lid. […]

  • Why Organizations Need Human-Centered Leaders, And Three Tips To Get Started - Travellers Wear says: May 9, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    […] Law of the Lid” by John C. Maxwell says, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. […]

  • Why Organizations Need Human-Centered Leaders, And Three Tips To Get Started - Mecca Motive says: May 9, 2020 at 11:45 pm

    […] Law of the Lid” by John C. Maxwell says, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. […]

  • Leadership Series 2 – Processes At Work says: June 6, 2020 at 5:48 am

    […] John Maxwell has illustrated this Law of the Lid well in these stories. […]

  • Quickbooks’ “Firm of the Future” Q&A with Jeremy | System Six Bookkeeping, Seattle WA says: June 17, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    […] why personal leadership development is so important in his leadership concept called the “Law of the Lid.” Simply put, the Law of the Lid is that our own leadership ability determines our personal […]

  • Whys and Hows of Mentor-leadership says: August 10, 2020 at 10:04 am

    […] it has. This is what best-selling author and leadership guru John Maxwell refer to as the Law of the Lid. He explains this by saying that the growth potential of an organization depends on the leader. If […]

  • Putting Knowledge To Use & Sharpening Your Focus with Dr. Justin Bhullar says: October 26, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    […] The Law of the Lid […]

  • Take Your Business to the Next Level | Capricorn Leadership says: November 18, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    […] John Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid” captures why it’s critical to view delegation as a leadership skill: […]

  • The Key to Growth: Multiplying Yourself - Allen White Consulting says: February 9, 2021 at 10:30 am

    […] For More about John Maxwell’s The Law of the Lid. […]

  • Autocratic Leadership - Who Me? - The Surrounded Leader says: May 23, 2021 at 2:51 am
  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *