The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

Live Them and Reach Your Potential


By John C. Maxwell

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In this inspiring guide to successful leadership, New York Times bestselling author John C. Maxwell shares his tried and true principles for maximum personal growth.

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 for the first time, 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 third book in John Maxwell's Laws series (following the 2-million seller The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork) will help you become a lifelong learner whose potential keeps increasing and never gets "used up."


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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. I believe in your potential just as much as I believe in mine. Do you have potential? Absolutely.

What about unfulfilled potential? That phrase is as negative as the word potential is positive. My friend Florence Littauer, a speaker and author, wrote a story in her book Silver Boxes about her father, who always wanted to be a singer but never was. She says he died with the music still inside of him. That's an apt description of unfulfilled potential. Not reaching your potential is like dying with the music still inside of you.

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

I have no doubt that the answer is growth. To reach your potential you must grow. And to grow, you must be highly intentional about it. 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.

You may be aware that this is the third Laws book I've written. The first was developed to help leaders understand how leadership works so they could become better leaders. The second was to help people understand teamwork and develop stronger teams. This book is dedicated to helping you understand how personal growth works and to help you become a more effective and fulfilled individual. While it's true that I may include a few leadership insights along the way, you don't need to be a leader for this book to help you. You don't need to be part of a team to grow (though it certainly helps). You just need to be a person who wants to grow and become better than you are today.

What 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 laws that will teach you how to approach the worthy goal of growing. It is a key that unlocks the door. 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 that are 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. By learning the laws and then living them, you will be on your way to reaching your potential. 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.


The Law of Intentionality

Growth Doesn't Just Happen

Life is now in session. Are you present?

Do you have a plan for your personal growth?" Curt Kampmeier, the man who asked me the question, waited patiently for my response. It was a question that would change my life.

I fumbled for answers. I listed my accomplishments from the previous three years. I talked about how hard I worked. I outlined my goals. I explained the things I was doing to reach more people. All of my answers were based on activity, not on improving. Finally I had to admit it. I had no plan to become better.

It was something I had never considered before, and it exposed a major flaw in my approach to work and success. When I started my career, I was intentional about working, reaching my goals, and being successful. I had a strategy: hard work. I hoped that would get me where I wanted to go. But working hard doesn't guarantee success. And hope isn't a strategy.

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?

That conversation happened over lunch at a Holiday Inn restaurant in 1972. At the time, I had just been given the opportunity to move up in my career. I had been offered the best church in my denomination. Think about being offered the top leadership job in the premier location in your company. That's what it was for me. The problem was that I was twenty-four years old, I was in way over my head, and I knew that if I didn't rise to the occasion, I would fail spectacularly.

Curt was a salesman who was selling a growth kit—a year-long plan with materials designed to help a person grow. He slid the brochure across the table to me. It cost $799, which was nearly a month's salary for me at the time.

My mind was racing as I drove home. I had believed that success would come to anyone who poured himself into his career. Curt helped me to realize that the key was personal growth. It occurred to me that 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.

As I drove, a quote from James Allen's As a Man Thinketh came to mind. I had first read that book in seventh grade and had subsequently read it nearly a dozen times. Allen wrote, "People are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound." I couldn't afford what Curt was offering. Yet in my heart I knew that he had uncovered the key to the ability to meet my next leadership challenge and go to the higher levels in my career. I could see the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be—where I needed to be! It was a growth gap, and I needed to figure out how to bridge it.

Growth Gap Traps

If you have dreams, goals, or aspirations, you need to grow to achieve them. But if you're like I was—and if you're like most people—you have one or more mistaken beliefs that create a gap that keeps 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.

Musician Bruce Springsteen commented, "A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be." 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. As Michel de Montaigne observed, "No wind favors him who has no destined port." If you want your life to improve, you must improve yourself. You must make that a tangible target.

"A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be."

Bruce Springsteen

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

After my meeting with Curt Kampmeier, I talked to everybody I knew and asked the same question Curt had asked me: "Do you have a growth plan?" I was hoping that somebody had figured this out and I could simply learn from him. Not one person said yes. Nobody in my world had a plan for growing and improving. I didn't know how to grow, and neither did they.

Designer, artist, and consultant Loretta Staples says, "If you are clear with what you want, the world responds with clarity." I knew what I wanted. I wanted to grow into the new job I was taking. I wanted to become someone capable of accomplishing the big goals I had set for myself. I just needed a way to do that.

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.

After I met with Curt and came to realize that I didn't know anyone else who could help me, my wife, Margaret, and I talked about ways we could scrimp, save, and go without to put aside $799. (You have to remember that this was before credit cards!) I skipped lunches. We canceled the vacation we had planned to take. We made do. It took us six months, but finally we did it. You can't imagine my excitement as I opened up the growth kit and started to flip through the five areas it covered: attitude, goals, discipline, measurement, and consistency.

I look back now and I can see how basic those things were that the kit taught me. But that's what I needed. Learning those lessons opened the door of personal growth a crack for me. And through that crack I began to see growth opportunities everywhere. My world began to open up. I accomplished more. I learned more. I was able to lead and help others more. Other opportunities began to present themselves. My world expanded. Outside of my faith, the decision to grow has impacted my life more than any other.

Outside of my faith, the decision to grow has impacted my life more than any other.

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

When I was a kid, one of my father's favorite riddles to us went like this: Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

The first time he asked me, I answered, "One."

"No," he responded. "Five. Why? Because there's a difference between deciding and doing!"

That was a point that Dad often drove home with us. American politician Frank Clark said, "What great accomplishments we'd have in the world if everybody had done what they intended to do." Most people don't act as quickly as they should on things. They find themselves subject to the Law of Diminishing Intent, which says, "The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it."

Back when I was deciding whether to try to buy that first personal-growth plan, in a way I was lucky because I knew I was headed to a job where I would be in way over my head. I would be challenged beyond anything I'd ever done before. I would be under a microscope, with high expectations (some for me to succeed, some for me to fail) from everyone who knew me. And I knew that if I didn't get better as a leader, I would fail. That prompted me to act as quickly as I could.

The Law of Diminishing Intent says, "The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it."

You may be under similar personal or professional pressure right now. If you are, you're probably anxious to start growing and developing. But what if you're not? Whether you feel prompted to or not, now is the time to start growing. Author and professor Leo Buscaglia asserted, "Life lived for tomorrow will always be a day away from being realized." 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.

Years ago I read a quote by Robert H. Schuller, who said, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn't fail?" Those words encouraged me to try things that I believed were beyond my capabilities. They also inspired me to write the book Failing Forward. When I received the first copy of that book from the publisher, I immediately wrote a thank-you in it to Dr. Schuller and signed it to him. And I made a trip to Garden Grove so I could present it to him and thank him for the positive influence he had on my life. A photograph that was taken of us on that day sits on the desk in my office as a reminder of his investment in me.

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.

"A mistake is simply another way of doing things."

Warren Bennis

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. When Curt presented me with the idea of a growth plan, I went looking for the best way. 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"

Many years ago, I was stuck in a doctor's waiting room for a really long time—so long, in fact, that I had completed all the work I'd brought with me for the wait and was looking for something productive to do. I flipped through a medical journal and found the following text, which has become one of my favorite examples of the inertia of motivation (and by the way, this was before Nike coined the phrase):

Just Do It

We hear it almost every day; sigh, sigh, sigh.

I just can't get myself motivated to… (lose weight, test my blood sugar, etc.) And we hear an equal number of sighs from diabetes educators who can't get their patients motivated to do the right things for their diabetes and health.

We have news for you. Motivation is not going to strike you like lightning. And motivation is not something that someone else—nurse, doctor, family member—can bestow or force on you. The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it.

Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation and then guess what. After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.

Motivation is like love and happiness. It's a by-product. When you're actively engaged in doing something, it sneaks up and zaps you when you least expect it.

As Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner says, "You're more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action." So act! Whatever it is you know you should do, do it.

When Curt suggested I needed to be intentional about growing, I had thousands of reasons not to do it. I didn't have the time, the money, the experience, and so on. I had only one reason to do it. I believed I should do it because I hoped it would make a difference. That certainly didn't feel inspirational. But I started. To my astonishment, after a year of dedicated growth, I started to pass some of my heroes. My reason for putting in the work changed from getting started to staying with it, because it did make a difference. After that, I didn't want to miss a single day!

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"

Fairly early in my career, I attended an idea exchange with three other leaders in Orlando, Florida. I went because at the time I realized that I needed to be exposed to bigger and better leaders outside of my own small circle. At first when I arrived, I was intimidated. As we talked and shared ideas, it became clear very quickly 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.

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 had to learn to become comfortable with being out of my comfort zone. It was a difficult transition, but it was well worth it.

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.

"You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight."

Jim Rohn

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 intentional about it. Here's how to make the change:

1. Ask the Big Question Now

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. 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. As my dad used to say to me repeatedly when I was a kid, "To whomever much is given—much shall be required." Give growing your best so you can become your best.

2. Do It Now

In 1974 I attended a seminar at the University of Dayton, where W. Clement Stone spoke on the subject of having a sense of urgency. Stone was a business tycoon who had made his fortune in insurance. His session was titled "Do It Now," and one of the things he told us was this: "Before you get out of bed every morning, say 'do it now' fifty times. At the end of the day before you go to sleep, the last thing you should do is say 'do it now' fifty times."

I'm guessing there were about eight thousand people in the audience that day, but it felt like he was talking to me personally. I went home, and for the next six months I actually followed his advice. The first thing every morning and the last thing before I went to sleep, I repeated the words "do it now." It gave me a tremendous sense of urgency.

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! Recently I read an article by Jennifer Reed in SUCCESS. She wrote,

Can there be a more insidious word? Later, as in "I'll do it later." Or, "Later, I'll have time to write that book that's been on my mind for the past five years." Or, "I know I need to straighten out my finances… I'll do it later."

"Later" is one of those dream-killers, one of the countless obstacles we put up to derail our chances of success. The diet that starts "tomorrow," the job hunt that happens "eventually," the pursuit of the life dream that begins "someday" combine with other self-imposed roadblocks and lock us on autopilot.

Why do we do this to ourselves, anyway? Why don't we take action now? Let's face it: The familiar is easy; the uncharted path is lined with uncertainties.1

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

I recently read an article on the fears that keep people from being successful. The following five factors came into play:

Fear of Failure

Fear of Trading Security for the Unknown

Fear of Being Overextended Financially

Fear of What Others Will Say or Think

Fear that Success Will Alienate Peers

Which of those fears most impacts you? For me it was the last one: alienating my peers. By nature I'm a people pleaser, and I wanted everyone to like me. But it really doesn't matter which fear affects you the most. 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 Accidental 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!

How do you know if you've slipped into a rut? Take a look at the differences between accidental growth and intentional growth:




Plans to Start Tomorrow

Insists on Starting Today

Waits for Growth to Come

Takes Complete Responsibility to Grow

Learns Only from Mistakes

Often Learns Before Mistakes

Depends on Good Luck

Relies on Hard Work

Quits Early and Often

Perseveres Long and Hard

Falls into Bad Habits

Fights for Good Habits

Talks Big

Follows Through

Plays It Safe

Takes Risks

Thinks Like a Victim

Thinks Like a Learner

Relies on Talent

Relies on Character

Stops Learning after Graduation

Never Stops Growing

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."

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!

"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves."


  • 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
Oct 2, 2012
Page Count
288 pages
Center Street

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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