Leading by the 101% Principle

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, advocates the 101% principle. He suggests that you find the 1% that you can affirm in people and give it 100% of your attention. He obviously exaggerates intentionally in order to make a point that can too easily be lost; you catch more bees with honey than vinegar. What does this look like in practice for better leadership impact?

1. Encouragement that Opens Hearts

In Acts 4:36 Joseph was renamed Barnabas, meaning ‘son of encouragement.’ The new name reflected his attitude but perhaps he simply lived up to it, being encouraged to then become an encourager. Encouragement is infectious.

Barnabas affirmed Paul after his conversion when everyone around him feared their former persecutor (Acts 9:27). He then brought Paul to Antioch to encourage his ministry there (Acts 11:25-26) and also advocated for John Mark when Paul himself had rejected him (Acts 15:36-39).

Perhaps Paul later reflected on the impact of Barnabas when he spoke words of grace, peace and the enrichment of God in 1 Corinthians 1 before confronting this church’s problems. Tact and influence are important learned skills.

Who are you leading today that might be in need of some deliberate positivity? Could this build a bridge to greater impact that might never otherwise be possible?

2. Example that Opens Minds

Encouragement prompts a heart response, whereas example adds a head response. The example of a leader with character will show the way and inspire a conscious desire to follow. Good leaders engage the will, but it is who we are and what we do that will speak more loudly than anything we might have to say.

Paul encouraged his Corinthian audience to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). This was not a call to follow him because he followed Jesus, but to follow him just as he did (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). This is the essence of the disciple-making mandate of the Great Commission that teaches (and doesn’t just ‘tell’) obedience. Example, then, is more than character since it must demonstrate competence.

Preachers typically inspire through an emotional connection, but people can remain unchanged. The priority placed on small groups in churches or on coaches in one-to-one relationships is in the ability of the leader involved to demonstrate what someone might will to do but does not see how to do. Of course, good preachers will use stories, illustrations and examples to achieve the same effect.

When a leader, as coach, focuses on best affirming the 1%, they will effectively buy the licence to speak instructionally to much of the other 99% with the same 100% effort initially brought to the table. Traction with the 1% kindles greater buy-in to the rest that the leader can speak to.

Initial encouragement attracts others to our example so that we are invited to teach from the wealth within our own lives which already faithfully invested into making a difference.

Who needs to be impacted by you inspiring the right connection in them? Who is it in your life that might be better engaged by seeing a shining example of giftedness in action that role-models the how-to of excellent service?

3. Empowerment that Opens Doors

When our example shines to those we encourage, we gain greater access to their lives to leverage their potential, that is, to empower them.

In our under-affirmed generation, people long for encouragement, but they also need someone who can believe in them enough to ignite their capacity to make a difference using some genuine know-how. Once a relationship connects the capacity to teach with the will to learn, a coach can truly help someone release their unique abilities and strengths to be fruitful in their own right. Doors begin to open for those whose hearts and minds are opened first.

This is, however, dependent upon the leader being able to coach; not just willing, but able. In sport, the best players do not necessarily make the best coaches. The best leaders are measured by who is actually following them to success. Coaches must demonstrate capacity and this requires at least some knowledge of the world which is in focus. This knowledge will never be imparted, though, without first leading by example and without also building the relational connection.

To empower others in a way that opens doors within their own world is to use influence to catalyse influence. Real leadership transference is rarely optimised without consciously promoting someone’s measurable growth in key areas needing change; it seldom happens by accident. This is enables a leader’s influence to multiply, since those they touch will be a better version of themselves and better able to lead others according to their unique wiring,

Therefore, the 1% (which may, in reality, be a higher number) can represent the unique strengths that offer a distinct edge in releasing one’s true potential. Leaders can sometimes work too much on ‘the 99%’ that could improve somewhat and then forget that the 1% of raw talent might be what sets people apart to be better than they might have imagined (as long as any clear weaknesses are not allowed to conspire against this success).

In 1 Corinthians 16:15-18, Paul shows these three keys to leveraging the 1% for better influence. He observes that that household of Stephanus devoted themselves to serving others, reminding the Corinthians that these people had refreshed their spirit (offering encouragement). Paul urges that they be recognised (celebrating their example) and that the church’s members subject themselves to this leadership (receiving empowerment).

So, how could you ultimately expand your own influence by serving the needs of others in your world with something as simple as an identification of the 1% to which you can give your all? Imagine the impact that might come as people are increasingly released to live up to the potential of God within them.

Enormous dividends can result from you investing the right focus into the right people in the right way.


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