How Successful People Grow

15 Ways to Get Ahead in Life


By John C. Maxwell

Read by Chris Sorensen

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Are there tried and true principles that are always certain to help a person grow? John Maxwell says the answer is yes. He has been passionate about personal development for over fifty years, and here, he teaches everything he has gleaned about what it takes to reach our potential. In the way that only he can communicate, John teaches . . .

  • The Law of the Mirror: You Must See Value in Yourself to Add Value to Yourself
  • The Law of Awareness: You Must Know Yourself to Grow Yourself
  • The Law of Modeling: It’s Hard to Improve When You Have No One But Yourself to Follow
  • The Law of the Rubber Band: Growth Stops When You Lose the Tension Between Where You are and Where You Could Be
  • The Law of Contribution: Developing Yourself Enables You to Develop Others

This compact read will help readers become lifelong learners whose potential keeps increasing and never gets “used up.”


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Table of Contents


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Introduction: Growth Is the Pathway to Your Potential

Potential is one of the most wonderful words in any language. It looks forward with optimism. It is filled with hope. It promises success. It implies fulfillment. It hints at greatness. Potential is a word based on possibilities. Think about your potential as a human being and you get excited—at least, I hope you do. What a positive thought. Do you have personal potential? Absolutely. Your personal potential is what you could be—the person you can become.

Since you are reading these words, I believe you also have the desire to reach your potential. So now the question becomes, how do you do it?

The answer is growth. And to grow, you must be highly intentional. This book is my effort to help you learn how to grow and develop yourself so you have the best chance of becoming the person you were created to be. My desire is to help you develop the right attitude, learn more about your strengths, tap into your passion, become more in touch with your purpose, and develop your skills so you can be all you can be.

What exactly do I mean when I write about growth? That will be as unique as you are. To discover your purpose, you need to grow in self-awareness. To become a better human being, you need to grow in character. To advance in your career, you need to grow in your skills. To be a better spouse or parent, you need to grow in relationships. To reach your financial goals, you need to grow in your knowledge about how money works. To enrich your soul, you need to grow spiritually. The specifics of growth change from person to person, but the principles are the same for every person. This book offers fifteen ways for you to grow so that you can reach your potential. Each is a key that unlocks a door to a better future. You will have to put in the work to actually grow.

My recommendation is that you tackle a chapter of this book every week. Discuss it with some friends. Do the application exercises at the end of each chapter. Keep a growth journal. And incorporate what you're learning into your everyday life. You cannot change your life until you change something you do every day. If you keep learning and growing every day over the course of many years, you will be astounded by how far it will take you.


Become an Intentional Learner

Growth Doesn't Just Happen

How do you get better at what you do? How do you improve your relationships? How do you gain more depth and wisdom as a person? How do you gain insight? How do you overcome obstacles? Work harder? Work longer? Wait for things to get better?

If you focus on goals, you may hit goals—but that doesn't guarantee growth. If you focus on growth, you will grow and always hit goals.

Growth Gap Traps

If you have dreams, goals, or aspirations, you need to grow to achieve them. But if you're like most people, you have one or more mistaken beliefs creating gaps that keep you from growing and reaching your potential. Take a look at the following eight misconceptions about growth that may be holding you back from being as intentional as you need to be.

1. The Assumption Gap—"I Assume That I Will Automatically Grow"

When we are children, our bodies grow automatically. A year goes by, and we become taller, stronger, more capable of doing new things and facing new challenges. I think many people carry into adulthood a subconscious belief that mental, spiritual, and emotional growth follows a similar pattern. Time goes by, and we simply get better. We're like Charlie Brown in Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip, who once said, "I think I've discovered the secret of life—you just hang around until you get used to it." The problem is that we don't improve by simply living. We have to be intentional about it.

No one improves by accident. Personal growth doesn't just happen on its own. And once you're done with your formal education, you must take complete ownership of the growth process, because nobody else will do it for you. If you want your life to improve, you must improve yourself. You must make that a conscious goal.

2. The Knowledge Gap—"I Don't Know How to Grow"

Many people learn only from the school of hard knocks. Difficult experiences teach them lessons "the hard way," and they change—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The lessons are random and difficult. It's much better to plan your growth intentionally. You decide where you need or want to grow, you choose what you will learn, and you follow through with discipline going at the pace you set.

Think about what it is that you want to do. Whom do you want to be? Make a list of things that will help you reach that goal and be that person. Is there something on that list you can do now? Today? Do it.

When you start working actively toward your goal, you'll find that the door of personal growth opens a crack. Through that crack you'll begin to see more growth opportunities everywhere. Your world begins to open up. You accomplish more. You learn more. Other opportunities begin to present themselves.

3. The Timing Gap—"It's Not the Right Time to Begin"

Whether you feel prompted to or not, now is the time to start growing. The reality is that you will never get much done unless you go ahead and do it before you are ready. If you're not already intentionally growing, you need to get started today. If you don't, you may reach some goals, which you can celebrate, but you will eventually plateau. Once you start growing intentionally, you can keep growing and keep asking "What's next?"

4. The Mistake Gap—"I'm Afraid of Making Mistakes"

Growing can be a messy business. It means admitting you don't have the answers. It requires making mistakes. It can make you look foolish. Most people don't enjoy that. But that is the price of admission if you want to improve. If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you may have of making mistakes. As author and professor Warren Bennis asserts, "A mistake is simply another way of doing things." To become intentional about growing, expect to make mistakes every day, and welcome them as a sign that you are moving in the right direction.

5. The Perfection Gap—"I Have to Find the Best Way Before I Start"

Similar to the Mistake Gap is the Perfection Gap, the desire to find the "best" way to get started in a growth plan. That's what I thought when I started working on my personal growth. But what I discovered is that I had it backward. I had to get started if I wanted to find the best way. It's similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you'd like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving.

6. The Inspiration Gap—"I Don't Feel Like Doing It"

You may not feel inspired to aggressively pursue a growth plan if you haven't started yet. If that's the case, please trust me when I say that the reasons to keep growing far outweigh the reasons to start growing. And you discover the reasons to stay with growth only if you stick with it long enough to start reaping the benefits. So make a commitment to yourself to start and stick with it for at least twelve months. If you do, you will fall in love with the process, and you will be able to look back at the end of that year and see how far you've come.

7. The Comparison Gap—"Others Are Better Than I Am"

The first ten years that I was intentionally pursuing personal growth, I was always behind trying to catch up. I had to get over the comparison gap. I recognized I needed to be exposed to bigger and better leaders outside of my own small circle, but when I stepped out of my comfort zone I was intimidated. It was clear that I was not in their league. Their organizations were six times the size of mine, and they had many more and much better ideas than I did. I felt like I was in over my head and trying to swim. Despite that, I was encouraged. Why? Because I discovered that great men were willing to share their ideas. And I was learning so much. You can learn only if others are ahead of you. It was a difficult transition, but it was well worth it. So if you are aware that others are better than you, don't be discouraged. Be glad others are there to help show you the way.

8. The Expectation Gap—"I Thought It Would Be Easier Than This"

I don't know any successful person who thinks growth comes quickly and climbing to the top is easy. It just doesn't happen. People create their own luck. How? Here's the formula:

Preparation (growth) + Attitude + Opportunity + Action (doing something about it) = Luck

It all starts with preparation. Unfortunately, that takes time. But here's the best news. As Jim Rohn said, "You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight." If you want to reach your goals and fulfill your potential, become intentional about personal growth. It will change your life.

Making the Transition to Intentional Growth

The sooner you make the transition to becoming intentional about your personal growth, the better it will be for you, because growth compounds and accelerates if you remain active in pursuing it. Here's how to make the change:

1. Ask the Big Question First

The first year that I engaged in intentional personal growth, I discovered that it was going to be a lifetime process. During that year, the question in my mind changed from "How long will this take?" to "How far can I go?" That is the question you should be asking yourself right now—not that you will be able to answer it. I started this growth journey forty years ago, and I still haven't answered it. But it will help you set the direction, if not the distance.

Where do you want to go in life?

What direction do you want to go?

What's the farthest you can imagine going?

Answering those questions will get you started on the personal-growth journey toward your potential. The best you can hope to do in life is to make the most out of whatever you've been given. You do that by investing in yourself, making yourself the best you can be. The more you've got to work with, the greater your potential—and the farther you should try to go.

2. Do It Now

The greatest danger you face in this moment is the idea that you will make intentional growth a priority later. Don't fall into that trap! By starting to read this book, you've already begun the process. Don't stop there! Keep taking more steps. Pick a resource that will help you grow and begin learning from it today.

3. Face the Fear Factor

We all have fears. But here's the good news. We also all have faith. The question you have to ask yourself is, "Which emotion will I allow to be stronger?" Your answer is important, because the stronger emotion wins. I want to encourage you to feed your faith and starve your fear.

4. Change from Incidental to Intentional Growth

People tend to get into ruts in life. They get in an easy groove, and they don't try to break out if it—even when it's taking them in the wrong direction. After a while, they just get by. If they learn something, it's because of a happy accident. Don't let that happen to you! If that is the attitude you've developed, then you would do well to remember that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length!

If you want to reach your potential and become the person you were created to be, you must do much more than just experience life and hope that you learn what you need along the way. You must go out of your way to seize growth opportunities as if your future depended on it. Why? Because it does. Growth doesn't just happen—not for me, not for you, not for anybody. You have to go after it!


1. Which of the Growth Gaps discussed in this chapter have caused you to neglect growing the way you perhaps could have? What strategies can you create and implement to help you bridge the gaps? Write a specific plan for each gap that applies to you and take the first step of that plan today.

2. Take a look at your calendar for the next twelve months. How much time have you specifically scheduled for personal growth? If you're like most people, your answer will be none. Rework your calendar so you have an appointment with yourself for personal growth every day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. If you want to succeed, you need to do whatever it takes.

3. Start now. No matter what time of day you're reading these words, make a commitment to start growing today. Give that first hour before you go to sleep tonight. Put in the time today and for the next five days. You probably won't feel like doing it. Do it anyway.


Develop Self-Awareness

You Must Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

If you want to grow to your potential, you must know yourself: your strengths and weaknesses, your interests and opportunities. You must be able to gauge not only where you've been, but also where you are now. Otherwise you cannot set a course for where you want to go. And of course, every time you want to learn something, you must be able to take the new thing you've learned today and build on what you learned yesterday to keep growing. That's the only way to gain traction and keep improving yourself. Knowing yourself is like reading "You Are Here" on a map when you want to find your way to a destination.

I've observed that there are really only three kinds of people when it comes to having direction in life:

1. People Who Don't Know What They Would Like to Do

These people are often confused. They lack a strong sense of purpose. They don't possess a sense of direction for their lives. If they are growing, they are unfocused about it. They dabble. They drift. They can't reach their potential because they have no idea what to shoot for. Most people seem to fall into this category. I believe the main reason is that they don't know themselves as well as they should, and thus remain unfocused in their growth.

2. People Who Know What They Would Like to Do but Don't Do It


  • Millions of individuals--myself included--have been inspired by the words and works of John Maxwell. Now, in The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John again shares his remarkable insights and wisdom into how each of us can reach our full potential and make a positive difference in the lives of others.—Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Cabinet Secretary, Senator and President of the American Red Cross, on The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth
  • I salute John Maxwell for being a pioneer for leadership throughout the world. In his most recent book, he has successfully distilled the 15 most invaluable laws for personal growth. To read this book is to receive the essence of John's expertise, which will help you take your personal success to the next level.—Stedman Graham, speaker, author and entrepreneur, on The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth
  • As a coach and leader, I am always looking for way to teach my players how to grow. Thanks to my good friend John Maxwell, you hold in your hands the instruction manual for taking next steps of growth. Embracing these laws will cause you to grow individually and in your contribution to those around you. This book is a must-read for anyone responsible for helping others to grow.—John Calipari, Head Basketball Coach at the University of Kentucky, on The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth
  • John has been a mentor and teacher for me for many years and what I love most about him is that he has pushed and helped me personally go through The 5 Levels of Leadership!—Kevin Turner, COO, Microsoft, on The 5 Levels of Leadership
  • John Maxwell's books have been required reading for my leadership team for years. I can't think of anyone better at distilling decades of leadership experience into practical, approachable principles that anyone can apply at any level of leadership.—Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show and best-selling author of The Total Money Makeover, on The 5 Levels of Leadership

On Sale
Apr 22, 2014
Hachette Audio

John C. Maxwell

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in fifty languages. Often called America’s #1 leadership authority, Maxwell was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014, and he has been voted the top leadership professional six years in a row on He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 180 countries. Each year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders.

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