“The 360-Degree Leader” by John Maxwell: Book Summary

1 Line Summary

John Maxwell elaborates 360 Degree leader; the myths on leading from the middle of an organization as well as challenges and principles followed by a 360 Degree Leader, in this book.

What Will You Learn

After reading “The 360 Degree Leader”, you’ll learn:

  • What is a 360 Degree Leader,
  • What is Leading Up, Leading Across and Leading Down,
  • The Myths on Leading from the Middle,
  • Challenges faced by a 360 Degree Leader and
  • The Principles to Lead Up, Lead Across and Lead Down.

Best Quotations from the Book

  • If you wouldn’t follow yourself, why should anyone else?
  • Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.
  • The leader’s Attitude is like a thermostat for the place she works. If her attitude is good, the atmosphere is pleasant, and the environment is easy to work in. But if her attitude is bad, the temperature is insufferable.
  • Nothing will make a better impression on your leader than your ability to manage yourself. If your leader must continually expend energy managing you, then you will be perceived as someone who drains time and energy. If you manage yourself well, however, your boss will see you as someone who maximizes opportunities and leverages personal strengths. That will make you someone your leader turns to when the heat is on.
  • A Chinese proverb says, “Those who drink the water must remember those who dug the well.” Gratitude is one of the most attractive of all personal attributes.
  • Managers work with processes—leaders work with people.
  • To become a 360-Degree Leader, you will have to pay a price. You will have to give up other opportunities in order to lead. You will have to sacrifice some personal goals for the sake of others. You will have to get out of your comfort zone and do things you’ve never done before. You will have to keep learning and growing when you don’t feel like it.
  • Leadership is a moving target, and it always will be. If you desire to become a better leader, get comfortable with change. And if you want to lead up, learn to think like a leader.

Book Summary

A 360 degree leader is someone who can lead and influence people at every level of the organization, not just above or below them. John C. Maxwell calls it leading up, leading across, and leading down.

Some managers think they cannot lead because they are not the boss. But they can still lead their boss, peers and subordinates, if they learn the three skills i.e. leading up, across and down. If they practice the three skills well, they will be able to lead in all directions and become a 360-Degree Leader.

Let’s define the three terms:

  • Lead-Up: This means helping your boss by doing hard things and knowing when to speak up or stay quiet.
  • Lead-Across: This means working well with other leaders, sharing good ideas, respecting each other, being trustworthy and influential.
  • Lead-Down: This means helping your followers grow, setting a good example, making them part of a bigger goal, being present, sharing the vision and rewarding the results.


Myth # 1:

  • Some people think they need a certain title to be a leader but this is not true. Anyone can be a leader by influencing others. They must build good relations with others and make them feel valued. This way, they can lead beyond their role.
  • A good manager makes people follow them by doing good things for the team. They also help others learn new skills and become better leaders. This is called leadership reproduction.
  • Leaders do not have to be at the top to lead well. They can lead from anywhere by connecting with others and inspiring them to work together. Leaders can influence in all directions.

Myth # 2:

  • Some people think they can only lead when they reach the top. This is called the destination myth. They think they will learn how to lead well later, instead of learning now. But leadership is a process of learning.
  • At the start, people may need to change their thinking, skills and habits. As John Wooden says “when opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare”.

Myth # 3:

  • Some people think they need to be the boss to lead well. This is called the influence myth. They think they have power just because they have a title. But this is not true.
  • People who are new to leadership often think too highly of the title. They don’t realize that influence is not given, but is earned. People have to work hard to gain influence, no matter what their role is.

Myth # 4:

  • Some people think that being the boss means having all the power. They wish they could be the boss and change things for the better. But being the boss is not that simple.
  • There are many things that affect how an organization works, and the boss cannot control everything. Sometimes, the boss has less power than they think. Being the boss is not always fun.

Myth # 5:

  • Some people think that being the boss means having no rules. But this is not true. Being the boss is hard. They cannot just do whatever they like. There are limits to what they can do.
  • As they get higher in the organization, they have more work, more stress and more people watching them. They can change a lot of things, but they also lose some of their freedom.

Myth # 6:

  • Some people think that they can only be successful if they are the boss. But this is not true. Most people never become the boss of an organization.
  • People must work hard and do their best, but they don’t have to aim to be the boss. Sometimes, the most important work is done by the people in the middle.

Myth # 7:

  • Some people think that they have to be the boss to be a good leader. But this is not true. Most people will never be the boss, but they can still lead well.
  • The boss is not the only one who matters. Being a leader in the middle is hard, but a smart leader can work with people on all sides and make a difference.


Challenge # 1:

  • The first challenge is about feeling unsure of your place as a leader. You have some power and resources, but you also have some limits and rules. You need to be careful not to go too far or upset anyone.
  • You need to look for chances to do good things but you also need to let others do their own things and respect them. When you do more things, you may have more problems with and feel more pressure.
  • You also need to understand that every organization is different and has its own culture and style. You need to check your organization and see how much pressure there is and whether it is worth it. You can reduce the pressure by feeling okay in the middle, knowing what to keep and what to let go, getting answers quickly, never breaking trust, and relaxing.
  • One of the best ways to be a good leader in the middle is to get answers fast, which may need the help of others, more time, and a good team. You also need to be honest and fair. If you are not, people will not trust you and it will be hard to lead. You can also relax by talking to others or doing something fun.

Challenge # 2 :

  • Second challenge is when you feel angry because you have to work with a bad leader. This can happen because of different reasons; some leaders are not confident and they worry about losing their power, they don’t like new things, and they make the team confused.
  • Some leaders don’t have a clear goal achieve. They don’t inspire the team to do better in a difficult situation. This situation can cause a lot of problems.
  • Some leaders are greedy and they take all the benefits for themselves. They make the team feel angry and bitter.
  • There are some ways to deal with the anger and be a good leader yourself. You can try to get along with the leaders, notice what they are good at, help them with their good points and cover their weak points. This can help you feel less angry.

Challenge # 3:

  • Third Challenge is doing many different things as a leader. People at the bottom of a group usually do one thing well. They are good at one thing or don’t want to be leaders. Leaders at the top of a group can pick what they do, but they also worry about the whole group’s success or failure.
  • Leaders need to be good at many things, but top leaders need to be great at few things. People in the middle of a group face requests from top leaders, customers, followers, and sellers every day. These leaders have to be friendly with everyone and deal with the challenges of leadership.
  • Leaders who can do many things well must also know which thing to do in each situation. They need to act the same way, care about their work and be flexible.

Challenge # 4:

  • Fourth Challenge is feeling good about yourself as a leader. Leaders in the middle sometimes don’t get the thanks they should, which can hurt their feelings.
  • Good leaders care more about doing the work than showing off, so they should do their best and not worry about getting attention. They must know that their work matters and be happy with it. When they do a good job, they make a difference and inspire others to do more.
  • They must also know how to promote themselves and others. The first one is selfish, the second one is generous.

Challenge # 5:

  • Next Challenge is when leaders prefer top over the middle. Leaders want to go higher, do more, and be the boss.
  • Being the boss has good things, like getting attention and thanks. But attention can be bad when things fail. Bosses can’t ignore what they see from the top.
  • Leaders should not go too fast or they will lose their people. They must know that the middle is where things happen.
  • The right way of thinking and wanting to win with the team make you happy anywhere in the group.

Challenge # 6:

  • Sixth Challenge is having a clear goal as a leader. Leaders who believe in the goal and work hard to achieve it will feel happier.
  • Leaders who share the goal with everyone will do better in the middle. But leaders in the middle sometimes have to follow a goal that is not theirs or they did not make. Sometimes leaders don’t like a goal because they didn’t make it, or they don’t get it, don’t agree with it, or think it’s too hard.
  • The 360-Degree Leader helps everyone understand the goal from the top to the bottom of the group. By following the goal, leaders in any place can make things better, earn more money, and feel happier. And when people are happy, they are successful.
  • The best way for leaders to make a goal happen is by caring about the group first, reminding people of the goal and knowing what they have to do.

Challenge #7:

  • The influence challenge is for everyone; it means to guide others without relying on your rank. To lead, you need to influence and convince others to join you.
  • A leader must be someone others want to follow. These leaders show that they care, are honest, skilled, and loyal to the goal.

By doing these things, they can influence others, which is what a good 360-Degree Leader needs.


People should know how to guide their boss, co-workers and subordinates.

Self Management

  • Self-management means leading yourself with focus, discipline, and purpose. Leaders like people who can do this, use their chances, and show their skills.
  • Self-management also means handling your emotions well and knowing when to show them.
  • Leaders need to manage their time too. Time is important but managers need to value their own time first.
  • Besides that, good leaders in the middle manage their energy, their thinking, their work, and their life.
  • When they lead up, leaders need to know that if they don’t lead themselves, others won’t follow, respect or work with them.

Helping the Leader Win

  • Helping your leader makes them and the organization do well. When you help your leader, you show you care about the team.
  • Leaders who help others get noticed; this makes leaders more valuable and influential, and everyone works better.
  • You can help your leader in many ways. You can do your job well, you can solve problems when you see them, you can tell the truth and share bad news, you can support your leader when needed. This will make you and your leader talk openly, positively, and closely.

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

  • 360-Degree Leaders can do hard things that others avoid by leaving their comfort zones. These leaders work quietly and don’t brag. They can also help others by getting along with difficult people, who are everywhere.
  • When they take the tough jobs first, 360-Degree Leaders sometimes risk themselves, but not the organization, say sorry, do extra and do things that are not their duty.

Dealing Matters and People

  • Managers and leaders are different. Managers deal with processes while leaders deal with people. Both are important for doing well. Leaders guide people who handle the process.
  • They think ahead while managers often think now. Thinking ahead needs leaders to see how things will affect others.
  • Making organizations better needs leaders to challenge limits, improve things, and inspire change and new ideas. Leaders also need to trust their gut when working with things like mood, drive, feelings, and views.

Develop Good Working Relationships

  • Working well with the hard things needs good relationships with everyone, no matter where they are in the organization.
  • Leaders need to connect with everyone. One way to make strong connections is to listen to people and learn what matters to them. With this information, people and leaders can know their goals, dreams, likes, and traits.
  • When they understand these things, leaders can help their dreams, show their excitement, get their trust, and lead up.

Value Time

  • Leaders care about time; this means people should be ready before meeting a leader. Plan for ten minutes for each minute with a leader. This shows respect and builds trust.
  • Some ways to be ready are: know what to say; use the boss’s words; be clear and brief, and make the leader happy. This is how people help each other as 360-Degree Leaders.

Consider Timing

  • Leaders need good timing. A good idea can seem bad if it’s too early or late. So leaders should know when to hurry, wait or go on. Checking if their work is in critical phase and helping the boss succeed can make things clear.

Team Play

  • Team members who do things well, show skill, duty and trust, are the ones people ask for help.
  • Leaders always want people who will face the next problem when it counts.
  • These players work hard when things are slow, hard, or leaderless. And, they finish things fast when they have little. In short, these team players do great in any situation.

Continuous Learning and Growth

  • People don’t know that they need to grow and improve each day. Leaders must learn always to be better.
  • When people stop learning and growing, they hurt their leadership. Growing and learning are worth any price, doing nothing costs more.


Leaders in middle are leaders of the leaders. Leadership loop means doing these seven things: 

  • care about others, 
  • learn new things,
  • appreciate what you have, 
  • contribute to the team, 
  • say what you think, 
  • lead by example and 
  • succeed in your goals.

Team Work

  • Good leaders don’t try to beat other leaders, but work with them to finish tasks. When you work as a team and compete with others, you can do great things, as long as you don’t fight.
  • If you use competition in a good way, you and your team can succeed together, respect each other, be trusted and have power.

Unselfish Approach

  • Leaders should not do bad things to get more power. When leaders do bad things, they make their friends angry. Bad things may include changing sides often or using others for their own benefit; being honest, reliable, and hard-working is always good.
  • The 360-Degree Leader will do well when they can do what’s right and make people trust them even when it’s hard. Being nice to friends makes them a better and more powerful leader.

Avoid Stagnancy

  • Leaders may feel comfortable staying where they are, but they should often meet new people. This way, they can learn new things.
  • Leaders who make more friends go beyond their usual group, skills, abilities, opinions, and habits.


  • Leaders who can lead in all directions should know when to stop pushing their own ideas and accept the best ideas. This means hearing, being ready for new ideas and supporting people who are creative.
  • They must not always feel bad when someone says no to them.

Accepting Mistakes

  • Some leaders work very hard to make others believe they are perfect. This is not a good way to be a 360-Degree Leader.
  • It is better to say sorry, care less about what others say, stop being arrogant, and be ready to learn from others.
  • Don’t try to make others like you, let them make you like them.


When you lead people below you, you help them grow, set a good example, and inspire them to join a bigger cause.


  • The most important thing for a 360-Degree leaders is to be around, talk to people, and be easy to reach.
  • Leaders who are hard to find lose their power over their team. Leaders show that they care, and listen to others while keeping a good mix of work and life.

Clear Communication

  • Leaders at lower levels need to explain their goals and share them in a way that will make people want to follow them.
  • The goals must be easy to see and remember; and link to what happened before, what is happening now, and what will happen later, not just to what will happen later.
  • Another way to help people do the right thing is to make sure they know why they are doing it, give them hard but interesting tasks and cheer them on. By doing this, leaders who can work with everyone can pass on their goals.

Honest Praise

  • Leaders should know that people will do what they get praised for. They need to say thank you in front of others and alone, and give something real.
  • It’s also fine that different people get different rewards as some people may work harder than others. So, smart leaders help their people grow and give them more when they can.

People Development

  • Development takes a long time, and leaders need to keep learning themselves if they want to keep helping their team. Helping everyone in their own way while following the company’s plans will make people grow and be their best selves.
  • 360-Degree Leaders make people do more by looking at their potential and being nice to them. These leaders’ trust in their people, makes the team trust themselves and grow better.
  • These leaders cannot praise poor work but still need to be kind and respectful, which usually makes people try to meet their leader’s hopes.

Leading by Example

  • Leaders show others how to act by doing the same thing every time; they make the place they work feel good or bad by how they act and feel.
  • Leaders choose things what they believe in; they are honest and people trust them, work hard and make others work hard too. So, people who follow leaders will act like them, and this is why leaders need to set examples.

If you want to learn how to lead from any position in your organization, you need to read The 360 Degree Leader by John C. Maxwell today!

You may also Enlighten Yourself With The Five Levels of Leadership”, “Exactly What to Say, Code of the Extraordinary Mind”, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, “Extreme Ownership, Dare to Lead, The Leadership Challenge, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team andAre You a Leader.

2 thoughts on ““The 360-Degree Leader” by John Maxwell: Book Summary”

  1. People must work hard and do their best, but they don’t have to aim to be the bosses. Sometimes, the most important work is done by the people in the middle. John Maxwell writes very well on leadership traits.

  2. Pingback: “How to Lead Smart People” : Book Summary »

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