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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #128: The Reproduction Shift: From Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building

March 18, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #128: The Reproduction Shift: From Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building

Great leaders don’t just focus on climbing their own ladder for advancement, they also focus on ladder holding, ladder extending, and ladder building for the next generation of leaders in their organization. Today, Perry and Chris reveal ways you can become a ladder builder for someone on your team.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I am Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Well in today’s world of virtual delivery, if you’re interested in learning more about some of our leadership training, coaching that we’re doing virtually, whether it’s The 5 Levels of Leadership, the 360-degree Leader, or even some different competencies that you or your team may be struggling with, we would love for you to visit Give us your information there. We’ll follow back up with you. Or if you want learner’s guide to download for today’s episode, Perry created that for you, and you can find that there as well.

As you know, we’re in a series right now of covering different shifts that a leader needs to make as they go through their career. And John wrote a book called “Leadershift” and Perry dove into a couple of these that really meant a lot to him and aligned with what he’s hearing right from the field. His coaching calls, he was in some businesses just last week and having conversations. And so this is real time stuff, what people are dealing with, and so I love the fact that we’re just applying these to some principles and hopefully giving you some tips and tools to help you through that. Today’s topic is The Reproduction Shift: from Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building, take it away Perry.

Perry Holley:    Right, yes, so this comes up on a coaching call. They don’t know to say this, they’re describing a situation they’re having with influencing their team or engaging their team. And what I figure out through some questioning is something I learned myself that, as a … I know I worked hard as a salesperson, I got promoted to be a sales manager, and as I think back, one of the first goals I had after becoming a sales manager was looking at my next promotion. Where am I going next? Where would that be? What would I need to do to get there? This is known as ladder climbing, and we’re all probably familiar with that.

I’m going to climb the ladder of leadership. It’s a natural thing to think, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that, but I love where John’s thinking was here. It really helped me apply to some of the coaching calls we have that, if you’re thinking about that, if that’s your only focus, you’re making the leadership really about you and not about taking others to a higher level. I think it’s where we want to go with the, not just ladder climbing, but how do we build ladders for others.

Chris Goede:     And it’s easy for us to get caught up in our own ladder, right? In the flesh behind every leader. It’s like to your point, you get a promotion, you’re excited, you’re like, “Okay, where am I going next? What’s the next promotion?” And so we tend to think about our own ladders versus helping others build their ladders and increase our influence and increase their influence. And so the shift that we’re really making here, and John’s talking about in “Leadershift”, is going from being personally successful to really helping others succeed. And to building that culture.

Again, I’m telling you, everything that we talk about, Perry, and I want to make sure … these are things and tips and tools that’ll help you with your leadership culture. And if you get this shift and this change and this mindset, from being personally successful to helping others be successful, you’d be amazed at what happens in the culture of the team that you have. And it makes me think about, we mentioned this previously too, it’s just all over a lot of these shifts is John’s book, The Leader’s Greatest Return.

He’s not talking about a financial return on investment, he’s talking about the fact that, “Hey, man, when we help other people become successful, then there’s no doubt about it that that’s a great return for us as a leader.” And then also my last comment there is that I think as we help others become successful, it becomes easier for us, as leaders, to find that next rung on the ladder for us to step up as well. And so I’m not saying put away your career desires and dreams, and you’re not going to be climbing a ladder, but I just want you to change your focus. And I think that’s what John is saying here with this shift.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, the logic that we think, we’re raised to go for the next level personally. But if I turn my attention away from me, as you’re saying, to invest in the lives of others and make them successful, it raises their level of engagement, their level of buy-in, with me and what we’re trying to do. Which then makes me look better and actually makes, as you’re saying, that next level for me even easier. Without me actually focusing on the next level, I’m focused on the team. John, in typical form, makes this this, not this big leap from climbing your ladder to building another ladder, he lays out a four step process for this. And I like us probably talk about each of them just briefly, but we’re really so consumed with level one, which is the ladder climbing, that we fail to see the other three. Which will be, you go from ladder climbing to ladder holding to ladder extending to ladder building. Give me some comments on that.

Chris Goede:     Leave it up to John to make this simple for you and I to be able to talk about. Again, simple to talk about not simple to execute and to live out. But I think these give you great visuals. And ladder climbing is good, but when you say ladder climbing, I automatically think about motion. But that’s not what all of what he’s talking about in regards to, you just continuing to climb your ladder. It’s really a season of where you’re at in a particular situation, particular influence or leadership. And I want you to, when you’re in ladder climbing, this is where you work on your strengths, you understand your weaknesses, you make sure that they’re not fatal flaws to the organization.

This is where you develop your credibility as a leader. You’re continuing to work hard, set the example, leadership is a visual sport. Helps you get to the next level. And then you want to make sure, and I think this is so key, that you value those who are holding your ladder. Now we’re going to explain as we go through this, the next one, the ladder holding. But man, it’s so important to understand that your ladder just didn’t show up one day and you started climbing up the ladder. And I want you to value those that are holding your ladder.

Perry Holley:    It does often get missed, when you think about how you got to where you are, that who was holding the ladder for me? And if I don’t recognize that, it’s going to make it a little difficult for me to see how I become a ladder holder for someone else. A ladder holder, they really are the type of leader that wonder how high someone else could go with a little help from me. And that these are leaders that want more for their people than they want from their people. When I thought about that, what is it I want from my people? No, I want for my people, to do that. That’s really a mindset shift there.

If you’re a ladder holder, you really have a servant leader mindset. I’m viewing others as really more important than me. I look for the potential in others, so now when I’m leading, I’m not just trying to get something from you, I want something for you. And I’m looking to see what are your strengths and what is your potential? And they know, in the back of their mind, I think you know that helping others does, in fact, help you. Especially if you’re the leader on that. Have you had a ladder holder in your past?

Chris Goede:     Absolutely. And I want to just build off that last comment, is making sure that you do that with the right motive.

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Perry Holley:    Yeah, yeah.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. You’re not necessarily just doing it because you know that it’ll benefit you, it’s a by-product of it, and as long as you have the right motive of that. I want to stop, and this just came to mind, when you were talking about for, that you’re for them. A little teaser here, exciting news coming down the road here for the content of organizations and leaders around the world, Perry and I, and the content team, we’re working with one of our executives, that’s joined the team, Jeff Henderson. And has an incredible model about, as a leader, what do you stand for? As an organization, what are you for? Are you for your people? Are you for your community? Are you for your team? And so exciting things to come about that that’s going to definitely help your culture, but the way you said that …

Perry Holley:    I wrote it in all caps, so yeah.

Chris Goede:     And the way you gazed across the room at me, I was like, “I got to say something about this.” But so, absolutely. I think that this quote comes to mind and I have seen it before and I repeated it, but Isaac Newton has a quote. Now this is related to science, okay, so I know where he was going around science. But it’s so appropriate for us as leaders and it says, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of others.” And that’s what we’re talking about right here. We’re using the word ladders as a word picture, I just replaced the ladder with an individual, but that’s what’s happening. We’re standing on the shoulders of other people that have gone before us in order to be able to do what we’re doing.

I think about a lot of leaders that I’ve worked for that I give examples of, obviously you and I both are standing on the shoulders of John Maxwell with this platform, and being able to just share what we’re learning and what are we hearing about leadership. And when I think about this, I think about the things that people that have done this for me and held that ladder, allowed me to stand on their shoulders, and they believed in me, they challenged me with prompting questions, then they equipped me. But I think the biggest thing at this level of what we’re talking about was, they allowed me to see further, give me an example … I think about going up the ladder, I’m afraid of heights by the way, and I look out and I go, “Oh, that’s where we’re going. I get it now.”

And then I come back down my ladder and I’m able to lead a little bit differently, a little more effectively, because that individual held that ladder for me and I was able to see a little bit further, and certain situations inside the organization, or situations or with people, that maybe I hadn’t before. And when I think about that, I’m challenging myself saying, “Okay, am I doing that to people on my team? Am I holding that ladder to where I’m letting them see what I see, that they can’t see right now, but I need to be doing that because that’s part of the process.” And so it’s challenging. I just asked you that question, that you’re listening to this, are you doing that with people on your team? Allowing them to see what you see as a leader, even though they can’t see it right now? And that’s part of that process of holding the ladder for them.

Perry Holley:    I’m thinking about a leader that I had, a very senior guy that I worked for, that saw something in me. The potential, I guess. And then started, didn’t have this word picture then, but he was really holding a ladder for me to see more, to see potential, to see the future that he saw for me. And navigate me through the senior leadership ranks as I progressed. And that leads to, ladder holding is, where can someone go with a little help from you? Then ladder extending would be number three, and it says, “How far could people go with a lot of help from me?” And this is the type of leader that within, I’m going to use the word empowered, they empower people to go to the next level. They become a mentor or a guide in a specific area that they could help them in. This leader is obviously very humble and very approachable because they’re giving you their influence and extending you out to a higher position.

I’ve noticed they ask great questions. They’re trying to pull from me to make that. I actually have a guy that we’re coaching right now that is a very high level leader, but he is always searching with his executive team, he has six or seven executives that report to him, that he’s looking for ways to provide help to them, to extend their ladder. He’s definitely holding the ladder for each of them, but he’s also looking for specific ways, individually, to help those individuals climb to the next level. I always found that very admirable that he’s already the top guy, it’s his company, he can do what he wants, but he thinks so much of the senior team, he’ll extend that ladder for them. And it’s really a great gift that he’s giving them.

Chris Goede:     Helping them extend their influence. Absolutely love that. And I think about, I don’t know if Andy Stanley’s the original person that said this quote, but I’ve heard this before and I heard Andy saying it where it’s saying, “Hey, do for one what you wish you could do for many.” So on your team, who are those individuals, men or women, who are those individuals that you need to be extending that ladder? To be able to extend their influence? You see potential in them and you become very intentional about mentoring, teaching and extending their ladder. Well, that leads us to the fourth part of this process that we’re taking you through, that John’s taken us through in this shift, and that is what John calls ladder building. Now can I help someone build their own ladder? And what I love about this is, when we talk about people development and what we do with organizations around the world, this is what we talk about.

This is the piece that’s missing, to where people climb ladders, people hold ladders, people extended it. But then it’s like, are we really helping them build ladders that might replace our ladder? And so that’s why I love this because we’re challenging you as leader saying, can you help somebody in your circle of influence right now build their own ladder? This is where you give another individual with influence, and another leader, permission, encouragement and empowerment to create their own ladder. It’s going to look different than your ladder, it’s going to be a different color, it’s going to be a different shape, different steps, but you release them to do that. And I love the thought of that, when it comes to reproducing leaders.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, I had that happened to me. I worked for a guy, he was a high flyer, he was going places, doing things. But he took the time, again I didn’t have this wording to not only hold the ladder for me, extend the ladder, but he helped me to build the ladder. He gave me a promotion, after working for him for some time, he promoted me to a level that made me a peer with him. I had never seen this before, most of the times my leader would leave, and then I might assume their position, but they weren’t there. This guy was there, promoted me … And I’ll never forget, there was executive office area, and I went from having an office along the wall to over in the executive area across from him.

How weird is this? That he would see potential in me, hold that ladder, offer me his influence. Do the mentoring, coaching, bringing me along, investing in me, challenged me, inviting me to the table, and then promote me to be a peer with him. And then later he left, I actually went up again, took his role when he did leave. I thought, “Oh my stars,” we combined roles, I got the two combined roles. It’s just unheard of, especially in that company, there was a certain way you did … This guy just saw something different and made it memorable and meaningful for me, that he was going to use his influence to put me up.Chris Goede:     That story, right there, is that leader’s greatest return of his time and investment in you as a leader. And that’s what I want everybody that’s listening to think about. We need to be doing that for those that are currently under our influence. So if you’re investing in developing other leaders, they in turn are going to invest in developing other leaders. Now that may sound like it was a little bit of a run-on sentence, it might’ve been, and that’s okay. But what we’re trying to get you to understand is you’ve got to model the behavior of what you expect from them after they’ve received that gift, after they’ve received the opportunity to step up that ladder. So you hold the ladder, you extend the ladder and you help build a ladder so that others can then start the journey themselves. It’s much more than you having that personal, inward focus of just climbing your own ladder.

Perry Holley:    And I’ll let you wrap it up, but I like what you said about intentional effort. This is not something that happens by accident, you actually have to do that. And I don’t know if you have a thought as you go to close about who do you build a ladder for? And not everybody, obviously, but how do you identify that person?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Everybody on your team needs to have a growth plan, you need to add value to them, you need to value them personally. But not everybody on your team can or wants to be developed. We tend to lean towards the Pareto principle, where it’s 20% of your team that you can look at and identify, and begin to ask yourself questions. Are they they hungry to learn and grow? Do they have capacity for where you think they can go? And do they have the right values alignment inside your organization? By the way, we’re talking about leadership culture and if you want to make sure you keep a sustainable leadership culture, you better make sure that they have the right values. And then, do they exhibit influence already in where they’re at? And so those are some of the things that just come to my mind in regards to those that we’re looking for, to begin to develop, and to begin to hold and to extend, and then let them build their own ladder.

I think one of the things that you and I see, and our incredible facilitator and coach team sees, is that there is a lid in organizational culture and leadership around the world. And that is, they get the fact that, “Yeah, I got a title. Yes, I got to connect with my people. Yes, I got to produce,” and then there’s just a lid right there above level three. And I think what’s happening is that organizations, cultures, are changing and they don’t have to, because there’s a lid at level three. And what I mean by that is that leaders aren’t being intentional about understanding this ladder principle that John’s talking about. And they’re not going to that next step of reproducing themselves as leaders, reproducing leaders inside their organization. And I think the quickest way for you to maintain a leadership culture, and the culture of what you want as an organization, is to do it internally and do it the right way versus hiring from outside.

And so I just want to encourage you, as you think about this, there are people on your team … First of all, I want to remember, someone held your ladder and someone is still holding your ladder. Value them, appreciate them, let them know that. But then, there are people on your team, and it’s going to be different. We talk about the fact that you got to lead people how they need to be led and you need to lead them differently. They’re going to be some on your team that you are letting them climb their ladder. There are going to be some that you are holding their ladder. Some that you are extending. And then you’ve got to get to the point where you’ve got to feel comfortable and secure enough as a leader to let them start building their own ladder inside your organization. When you can get to that mindset, you will have level four influence with those that you have the ability to lead.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. And just a reminder, if you want to know more about these 5 Levels of Leadership or the 360-degree Leader, the virtual workshops that we’re offering, you can find information at You can leave a comment or a question for us there. As always, we’re grateful that you’d spend this time with us. And that’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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