Today, I spoke to John C. Maxwell, who is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author, selling over 16 million books. His latest book is entitled Put Your Dream to the Test.  In this interview, John discusses his definition of success, what separates the successful from the unsuccessful, some important questions you should ask yourself, how leadership has changed in the past few decades and how he become a bestselling author.

How do you differentiate a successful person relative to someone who is unsuccessful? What is your definition of success?

A successful person is not someone who’s arrived at some destination marked “success” on a roadmap. Instead, successful people are actively pursuing a journey. One which includes three components:

  • Knowing their purpose in life,
  • Growing to reach their maximum potential, and
  • Sowing seeds to benefit others.

That definition can be used to measure anyone’s ongoing journey of success. I’ve also used a shorter definition for many years. This one focuses specifically on my integrity.

Success is having the people closest to me love and respect me the most.

I think the danger of achieving something that gets outside attention is “believing your own press.” It’s too easy to begin to think too highly of yourself, or focus only on impressing the crowd around you. The second definition really keeps that tendency in check. I know that if I make you, your readers, or anyone else think highly of me, but I betray or neglect my wife Margaret or people who know me well, I have failed.

Why do people need to ask themselves ten questions (the ones you provide in the book)? What are the most important questions and why?

Well, I think the danger when we talk about dreams is making them mysterious and ethereal. These hazy descriptions may be beautiful, but they’re almost impossible to grab hold of. How do you know if you’re on track to reach your dream?

I wanted to talk about dreams in a different way, moving from the abstract to the concrete. That’s how we came up with a question-and-answer format. Readers can ask themselves just ten questions and objectively rate and measure their dreams.

As for which question is most important… that is hard to say. It really does depend on your approach. For example, the question of ownership. It’s difficult or nearly impossible to achieve a dream that you don’t own. But you also need to address the reality question: Am I depending on factors within my control to achieve my dream?

I will answer this way: Question #10, The Significance Question (Does My Dream Benefit Others?), while not necessarily the best predictor of success in achieving the dream, is what I consider the most important. From my perspective, there’s little point in pursuing a dream that benefits no one but yourself.

How has leadership changed in the past decade and what skills do people need now?

In my life, I’ve seen an emphasis on leadership come and go. It really came to people’s attention in the 1970s, during the Carter presidency. The public seemed to notice for the first time that just because a leader had integrity, it didn’t necessarily mean he was an effective leader who could get results.

Leadership became a buzzword in the 1980s. In the last decade, I’ve seen a shift toward team leadership. So the good news is that people are understanding the importance of bringing together a team. The bad news is that in seeking a committee approach, some have abdicated leadership, and this doesn’t really work. Team is good, but somebody needs to take responsibility, to develop and empower the team.

Ultimately, leadership requires all of the skills that have always been needed, like integrity, vision, people development, problem-solving, and decision-making. In my generation, many people still approached leadership positionally. Now no leader can get away with that. Good leadership has always been relational, but in the 21st century, no one will follow unless you are relational.

Is it possible for everyone to achieve their dream?


“Some people have a dream that has no connection to reality. Others aren’t willing to do the work.”

I would say that everyone has potential to achieve a dream. That’s the reason I wrote the book. Everyone has something in them that makes a dream possible. But they have to try to line up all the different pieces as best they can.

You’ve sold over 16 million books, which is very remarkable. How did you go about marketing your first bestseller?

I guess my first book that you could legitimately call a bestseller is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. When it came out in 1998, it made the New York Times’ Business list, Business Week, and the Christian Booksellers’ Association bestsellers list.

The success began with the concepts in the book. 21 specific laws of leadership were concrete, something readers could grab hold of. The entire book was consistent with who I am. So the content was appealing, and people liked it enough to recommend to others.

Here’s what really got the buzz started: An ambitious book-launch tour.

Over the course of five days right after the book was released, I spoke in fifteen different cities. That’s three cities a day, starting in Orlando, FL, and finishing in San Diego, CA. The publisher provided transportation. The company I owned at the time organized speaking engagements to audiences of 300 to 800 people in each city. They also invited local bookstores to sell books at the events.

Besides the book tour, I participated in a sort of drive-time radio tour. Radio stations in every time zone interviewed me live during their drive time. I did all the interviews from my home office.

Today, with my new book coming out, I’m just dipping a toe into the ocean of online publicity opportunities. It’s all very new to me, and I have a lot to learn from people like you. But I hope that with my new blog and Twitter presence, I can start to reach even more people in a shorter time.

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold over 16 million books. His organizations have trained more than 2 million leaders worldwide. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and INJOY Stewardship Services. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and audiences as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and ambassadors at the United Nations. A New York Times , Wall Street Journal , and Business Week best-selling author, Maxwell was named the World’s Top Leadership Guru by He was also one of only 25 authors and artists named to’s 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. Three of his books, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader have each sold over a million copies.