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​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: The Formula for Healthy, Effective Leadership

November 3, 2021
​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: The Formula for Healthy, Effective Leadership

This week on The John Maxwell Leadership Podcast, John Maxwell teaches the Formula for Healthy, Effective Leadership. It seems like whenever someone says they have a simple formula to solve a very complex problem, it must be too good to be true. Well, in many cases it probably is. But, you will find in John’s lesson how these four components of healthy, effective leadership paint a complete picture of how you can become the leader you want to be.

For the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole and Jason Brooks discuss the important role having good values plays in leadership, why providing hope is both necessary and difficult in leadership, and how they find the courage to lead through difficult circumstances.

Our BONUS resource for this episode is the Formula for Healthy, Effective Leadership Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Hey leaders. Welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. My name is Mark Cole, and today we have an exciting episode for you. This week, John Maxwell is going to teach us on the formula for healthy, effective leadership. Now, I know that sounds too good to be true, especially in a world where everyone thinks they have the cure-all formula, well, really for about everything. But as John explains in this lesson, it's helpful to compare these components of healthy leadership to the primary colors on a painting, red, yellow, blue. Even the greatest masterpieces are in their simplest form combinations of three primary colors brushed and articulated, created in just the right places by a skilled artist's hand.

So today John is going to teach us on those four applications, four components that will help you have a healthy, effective leadership. Now, John's going to be brief today. Jason and I will come in behind that, and Jason Brooks and I are going to talk about how this applies to us and to you and your leadership.

Now, let me say this. A few weeks ago, we did a episode called How to Have Tough Conversations. And our podcast listener, Tom, sent in a comment and said, "I just wanted to say, thank you for this session. I used the concepts today with one of my people and it turned out fantastic." I love that word, Tom. He said, "My approach was completely different from what I've done in the past. Very encouraging. And I can't thank you guys enough. I am a huge fan of this podcast."

What Tom realized is the same thing I want you to realize. That is this podcast is designed not only to help you, but to help you and your leadership in your team and make your team work more effectively. So today, as you listen, if you would like to download the Bonus Resource for this episode, it's a fill in the blank notes from John's lesson, head over to Every week I think you should download that Bonus Resource, but specifically for today's lesson, because how it is laid out will help you as you follow along, and then as you apply the lesson. So now that you've downloaded the Bonus Resource, let's listen in to John Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  Anyone that is an artist understands that there are primary colors that are used in a painting, basically red, yellow, blue. And just as there are primary colors in a portrait there are primary colors in a healthy, effective leader. So I've been challenged to ask myself, "What is it in the portrait of a leader that are the primary colors or qualities that make a healthy, effective leader?" And I'm going to give those to you now.

So the four, what I call colors, primary colors, of a portrait of a leader are as follows: character, plus perspective, plus courage, plus favor, equal healthy, effective leadership. Character, plus perspective, plus courage, plus favor, equal healthy, effective leadership. Now to show you how these balance and how these are important, let's look at each one of them for a moment.

Character is the infrastructure. Perspective gives you the insight. Courage gives you the initiative. And favor gives you the influence. Now I'm going to break this down for you. This is going to be fun. Character talks about the leaders' backbone. Perspective talks about the leader's mind. Courage talks about the leader's will. And favor talks about the leader's heart.

So when we deal with character, we're dealing with discipline and responsibility. When we deal with perspective, we're talking about vision and faith. When we deal with courage, we're talking about commitment and risk. When we're dealing with favor, we're talking about people's skills and charisma.

Character is inward strength. Perspective is inward sight. Courage is inward spirit. Favor is inward skill. Character enables us to stand up. Perspective enables us to see ahead. Courage enables us to step out. And favor enables us to soar above.

Now, if I put these things together as a portrait or picture, I ask myself, "What happens if I'm missing a quality?" Okay? I'm saying just as their primary colors in a portrait, these are primary colors of leader of which you cannot afford to do without any of the four. For example, are you ready? Character, plus perspective, plus courage, minus favor equals no leadership. In other words, you could be a person of character. You could be a person that has a good perspective. You could be a person that has courage, but if you don't have favor with people, you don't lead them because they're not going to let you. You don't have any influence in their life. So when you take the favor out of the equation, you don't have the ability to influence. Favor with people, favor with situations. When you take favor out, you lose influence. And when you lose influence, you lose leadership.

Now what happens if you have perspective, plus courage, plus favor, but you are minus character. Then you have at best unstable leadership, isn't that true? Man, are they on today, or are they off today? Are they going to do right? Are they going to do wrong? So there's an unstableness in leadership when you lose character.

Now let's go on, because all of these ingredients have to be in the portrait of leader. You take one out and you miss it, I guarantee you. Courage, plus favor, plus character, minus perspective equals limited leadership. Limited in the sense that you cannot see very far so therefore you can't lead very far. You lack vision. Favor, plus character, plus perspective, minus courage equals short-term leadership. You know how long you'll lead if you lack courage? You'll lead until a problem arises. You'll lead until the situation that is difficult arises and you'll back from it. You'll cower from it.

See, you've got to have all four. That's why it's a portrait of a leader. Just like the primary colors that make up a portrait, these are the primary qualities that make up a leader. And if you have all four, you are what you could be and what you should be as leader. If you lack one of the four, I promise you, the picture isn't going to turn out, right. You've got to have all four.

If a person possesses only character, you have a good citizen. And we need those. If a person adds perspective to this, you have a wise person. If the person adds courage to all of these qualities, then you've got an entrepreneur. But if you add all four, you get the flavor of all four, that's when you have a healthy, effective leader.

Mark Cole:       Jason, man, I love this lesson. Short and sweet. But I love what John did here. And again, I can't challenge those of you listening enough to go download the Bonus Resource because that lays it out in an incredible format that's understandable and applicable. I think about, Jason, as we start out today, I think about the quote from John Wooden that says, "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are." And that's exactly what John's saying here. It is about what you really are if you're going to be healthy and effective in your leadership.

Jason Brooks:   So many leaders today, they focus more on the reputation piece than the character piece. We've emphasized that as a culture. We've emphasized that in leadership in business, I'll say, because it's a lot easier to build a reputation than it is to build good character. You know, you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time, but you can't fool yourself. And so there's just a lot of leadership that's floating on very thin ice right now.

But what I love about this is, and John lays it out. It's a challenging formula, but it is a simple formula. It requires intentionality and commitment. But by the same token, he's not asking you to bend over backwards and do things that are impossible to do. And I wanted to ask you, because he does call this a formula. He's got character, plus perspective, plus courage, plus favor, equals highly effective leadership.

That's the formula. Those four components, are they specifically laid out in a model that you need to acquire them in that order? Or do you think that you can just kind of grab-bag it and get one and then go grab the other? Or is this really truly a formula that you begin with character, move to perspective, develop courage, and find favor to become a healthy, effective leader?

Mark Cole:       I do think that it is a formula. If then, then what? If this is present, then what? It's kind of formula-driven in my opinion. You know, going back and I want to dig into each of these, Jason, with you today, but going back to your comment about kind of a simple approach here, but it not being easy, it reminds me of Jeff Henderson, one of our co-leaders. You and I get to connect with Jeff often. He's been on one of these podcasts. But he says this quote that I love, "It's simple. It's just not easy." It's simple. It's not easy. It goes back to the Michael Jordan quote that says, "Earn your leadership every day." The focus in that quote is not earn. It's not even your leadership. Hopefully you're a great leader. It's the everyday. And the simplicity of character, plus perspective, plus courage, plus favor, equals healthy, effective leadership, it really is about consistency. Doing it every day.

You know, I love running. If I'm working out like I want to, I want to run. But I'll be honest with you. I say, I love running, but that's not really my love. My love is having ran. Because I love what having ran does to me. And getting out is really putting one foot in front of the other in a jog or in an all-out run for some of you beasts out there. It really is simple. Put one foot in front of the other. It's just not easy. And so that's what we're talking about here today.

And Jason, I love how you even started the question. Do they build on each other? I think if you do not have character, if you don't have a leader that is bigger on the inside of you than the outside of you, every other thing that you try to build on poor character is going to at best have momentary success. And most of the time, you don't even get the momentary success.

Jason Brooks:   I appreciate you saying that, because I love the way that John sort of gives the alternative definition, right? That character is infrastructure. It's your backbone. It's the foundation that you're building off of and onto. And I really appreciate the way you just phrased it, because it is a building-on, almost like an armor, right? Almost like, which I hate to use a battle metaphor, but it's like a uniform, or football pads, or hockey pads, or whatever you want to call it. They're necessary components that you need to go out and lead well, day-in and day-out.

Why do you think character is that backbone? You mentioned being bigger on the inside makes you better on the outside, but what else does character do for us, in both the near and the long-term that helps us stay healthy and effective in our leadership?

Mark Cole:       You know, I go back to a leader is going to show up in difficult times. And I don't know how many of you listening today to the podcast have led during a difficult time. If you, if you have not led during a difficult time, welcome to leadership, you just started last week. Because all of us have now led through COVID. But you know what? My dad didn't lead through COVID. He passed away three years ago. He was a leader's leader. He was very effective as a leader. And I thought about this just the other day. He never led through an epidemic, a pandemic. He never did. 88 years. He led a long time, started leading at 18, 19 years. He led a long time.

But make no mistake. My dad had to lead through very difficult challenging times. Because here's the point that I'm making. Lead long enough and you're going to lead through an unprecedented experience, a difficult experience, an experience that is bigger than you. And the question is will that reveal you, or will that expose you for the leader that you've been trying to be? Will it reveal that you're fake? Will it show that you are truly a leader that is worth the grit and the determination that should be in every leader?

And so when we say, and I would absolutely stand by this, the reason it is most effective for sustainable leadership to start with a character assessment, a character improvement, is because I have seen way too many leaders lead in the fun times that became ineffective in the difficult times. And what you and I, and every leader listening to this podcast should understand, is leadership should start on the inside before it starts anywhere else.

It should be more focused. If you looked at a hundred percent of your leadership development pie, how much time you spend developing the components of your leadership. Self-leadership. Peer leadership. Leading up to superiors, or leading down, if you will, to direct reports. 50% of your time should be spent on leading yourself. In other words, everything else should get the other focus. You should focus on leading yourself first. John teaches that in The 360 Degree Leader, and that is an effective tool in understanding how you've got to lead yourself first.

Jason Brooks:   And I appreciate you saying that because self-leadership is probably the hardest part of character, right? It's easy when you've got other people that are there to call you out or hold you accountable. It's less easy when it's time to go running and there's nobody there to make you lace up your shoes. I'm doing physical therapy right now just to try and build back some stamina and some strength, and the exercises that she gives me are, they're pitiful. My 12-year-old could do them and have no problem with it. And yet I still struggle some days to do something as simple as knee lifts, or to do some pushups against the counter, and really making myself be to do the things necessary to get stronger physically. But it's the same thing internally as well.

We've got to do those small things that make us stronger. And that leads us to the second piece of the formula, which is perspective. And I wanted to ask you this because perspective deals with the leader's mind. How the leader thinks. How the leader sees the world. It's their vision and their faith. Or another word for that could be values. What's the connection between leadership and good values and why are values so important in being an effective leader?

Mark Cole:       You know, you asked that question, what's the relation? I think it's everything, Jason. I think if you don't have, especially in today's leadership economy. John says this. We just said it on the podcast multiple times. John's leadership sad. What John is saying is there is a deficit of values-based leadership right now. I had lunch recently with just a leader that I highly respect. I mean, he is connected with some of the world's greatest, most influential leaders. They call on him to coach them, to be a sounding board for them.

And I was asking him, I said, "Hey, what's the deal what's going on right now in the leadership landscape?" He's 68. He's lived a lot of life. He's experienced a lot of leadership. And he said it is because everything is worth division right now. Whether you wear a mask. Whether you're vaccinated. Whether you're out. Whether you're in. There is a sense in the world that everything is worth a fight. Everything's worth a disagreement.

I believe that when you value people, and when you stand on values, you can create a different narrative than what the world is having right now. Because if I value you, I won't try to make you change to my perspective. I will appreciate you and what you have in your perspective. And we've lost that, Jason. We have lost that perspective, that insight, that leadership is less about us than it is about others. John's teaching right now on the art of valuing people. And he says, "When a leader sees somebody as needy, they try to help them. When the leadership sees somebody as wrong, they tried to fix them." In both situations, helping somebody or fixing them, there is a superior and there's an inferior.

But there is a third option that's better. And that is when you see people as valuable, you try to serve them. You try to just edify them and lift them. And I think leaders with the perspective of valuing others or serving others, are the leaders that's going to win the day in today's leadership economy. Because we don't have enough models or examples of leaders that are interested in other people's agenda. All of our leaders that we have to look to today in faith, in politics, in education, in every sphere of influence, it is leaders, for the most part, that are modeling what it looks like to drive their agenda, not the people they're serving.

Jason Brooks:   I know we've talked about this a lot, both on the podcast and just as an organization. It's the backbone of what we're doing around the world right now, is trying to bring values- based leadership back to the fore of leadership models in business, in government, in education, in healthcare, in media, sports, whatever. One of the things that John talks about, perspective, allows us to do, and I love connecting this to values, is it enables you to see ahead, right? Which is really the ability to find hope. Right?

Talk to me a little bit about how it is. You know, we talk about leaders need to be dealers in hope. Leaders need to be people who offer hope to everyone that they come in contact with. Why is hope so important, and yet so elusive in today's leadership economy?

Mark Cole:       Jason, I'm watching too many leaders more passionate about being right than getting it right. They want to be right. They want to win the argument. They want to win the day rather than own the week. They want a temporary check mark, or a point on the scoreboard of being right. Rather than wanting to win the game, they want to win the point.

And that focus is not allowing us to see ahead. We're too focused right here on something that's bothering us right now to not see that a fight with you today loses my ability to influence you tomorrow. And I wish leaders would quit trying to get caught up in the politics of every single decision, every single thing that we're facing in the world and get a higher narrative. Get above the noise. And I think that's the way that you're going to be able to see ahead.

Jason Brooks:   That's truly powerful to me, because I think there are far too many leaders that in trying to win the argument, they lose the person, because they never valued the person to begin with. They valued winning the argument. And you know, we can't be long-term effective leaders if we're constantly willing to churn through people in order to win an argument.

Really, it turns us into cowards. We stay small. We stay in the area where we can win the arguments that are in front of us. They don't require any courage. It doesn't require any growth. It doesn't require any development. It doesn't require any faith. And yet John says the next component of the formula is courage. It means doing something that's risky. It means stepping out and doing something bigger than maybe you feel like you're capable of doing, the God-sized vision, or the divine-sized vision, whatever it would be.

How have you found courage in this current leadership season that you're in, where you're now owner of an enterprise. You're leading at a level that's different than you've ever led before. You're being asked to provide vision, not solve problems. How are you leaning into courage maybe in a different way? Or are you leaning into courage in a different way, given where you're at right now?

Mark Cole:       Yeah. You know, Jake is giving me the hand sign, Jason. But I'm going to tell you we're on my sucker stick right now, because I am focusing on courage. In fact, my 2021 word for the year is not one word, it's two words. It's strong and courageous. So this idea that a leader's will, that's what John teaches. And again, I'm going to remind you podcast listeners, you want to go download the Bonus Resource today because the way it's laid out is so effective.

A leader's will. It's more important to me, courage, right now, Jason, than ever in my life. And here's why. It's because for years I have served another's vision. I've served another owner. And now I find myself with the-buck-stops-here mentality, and that courage that's needed, I can't borrow John or my parents or somebody else's courage. I've got to have it from inside.

In other words, what John is saying here, you've got to have a will. You've got to will it into being. You've got to determine that you're going to do. And as John said in the last point, it enables you to step out. I am having to step out in my current role and responsibility more than I ever have.

To you podcast listeners is your task, is your challenge more daunting than it's ever been? And if that's the case, courage is where would really focus on to be a healthy, effective leader. Are you focused on that courage? For me, focusing this year, still in COVID, ownership responsibilities, some transitions that have been less than easy. All of this has relied on a very specific and intentional focus on courage to get where I'm going. And I think every one of us as leaders need to realize the higher the stakes, the greater the risk, the bigger the bet, the more courage is going to be a huge component of your healthy, effective leadership.

Jason Brooks:   All right. I know we're up against our time, but I do want to make this connection. So I'll just ask it this way. Do you find that the more courage you exhibit, the more favor you uncover?

Mark Cole:       I absolutely do. I'm glad you framed it exactly like that, Jason, because I can remember with no position, no responsibility in John's organization, starting to get favor. And in fact, I laugh a lot and say that I am promoted, not because John knew me or noticed me. It's because Linda Eggers, John's executive partner, she noticed me. As she was assisting John and working on John, she noticed. Now I've asked her often, "What did you notice?" She said, "The courage to be different than other leaders that John had working in the organization."

So I think the way that you frame that, I would absolutely say one's courage is a direct accelerator to people giving them favor to follow. Because make no mistake, leaders. If somebody is following you, they are giving you favor. You don't deserve it. Your position doesn't demand it. Yes, people have to follow your title and all of that stuff. But they don't have to follow you and give themselves to you. In John's five levels of leadership, that relationship level, the second one is where you have to earn it.

That idea of people following you should be seen as favor. It should be seen as people have determined that you're worth following. I believe the reason people determine that you're worth following is because of your courage. I'll close with this, Jason, and I'll wrap up. But let me say this. You are a courageous leader, Jason. You are. What I've seen in you and what I'm experiencing in you and how you have led over the last couple of years. Not just COVID, but in the challenges of your personal health, there is a healthy, effective leadership that is exhibited because of courage and it's given you great favor. I've listened to John Maxwell make comments about you. I'm personally making comments about you.

Podcast listener, healthy, effective leadership comes not with just one of these components. You can have a great character, a great person, and nobody's following. You can have wonderful perspective, but a horrible character. Nobody's following. You have great courage. You can do some really courageous things and nobody wants to do it with you. And ultimately you can have a lot of favor, a lot of opportunity come your way. But it's when you put all of this together that you find yourself the healthy, effective leader.

Jason, as always, we've run out of time before I'm done talking. But podcast listeners, I do want you to know that we are here to add value to you. And just like we shared at the top of this call about Tom and how he was impacted with how to have tough conversations, we hope you'll go to We hope that you'll go to, and that you will begin to not only download the show notes. You'll not only catch all the other links in the show notes. We want you to give us feedback.

Give us a comment. Let us know how we're doing. And until next week I hope you'll listen. I hope you'll love. I hope you'll learn. But ultimately I hope that you'll lead, and that you'll lead as a healthy, effective leader. Thanks for joining us today. We'll see you next episode.

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