What John Maxwell Taught me About the Definition of Success

A few years ago, I had an extraordinary opportunity to share the stage with John Maxwell.

Now, if you don’t know who John Maxwell is, he is a New York Times bestselling author of many books.

He’s written well over 70 books and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership was the very first personal development book that I ever read when I was in college.

John Maxwell is one of the most sought-after speakers and one of the very top leadership thinkers in the world.

And we got to share the stage together.

It was for a charity fundraising event and there were a few thousand people there and it was just me and John Maxwell as the speakers for this event.

There were about 3000 people there to see John Maxwell and they had to put up with me first. I was just the opening act that they had to sit through, but I got this incredible chance to sit down with John Maxwell one-on-one backstage.

He watched my Take the Stairs presentation, which was fun. But the best part of that trip for me personally was getting to sit backstage and just talk to John.

Success Definition

We talked about several different things and what I want to share with you is the number one thing that he told me about what success means to him.

Which is kind of interesting because if you think about somebody like that who has written dozens of books about leadership and success and you wonder if he had to sum it up in one sentence on what is success, or what does success looks like? Or what does success mean to John Maxwell?

The question that I asked him was very simple. I just said, “You know, John, at this point in your career, you’ve impacted millions, probably a hundred million lives. I mean, millions of books sold and audiences that you spoke in front of. And, you know, certainly, you’ve got influence. You’ve made money. You’ve made an impact. What, after all this time looking back, what do you think success is now? How would you define success?”

I certainly haven’t read all of John Maxwell’s books. I mean, there’s a lot of them. I’m not kidding. I think he’s written more than 70, maybe more than 80 books, but it’s a ton of books either way.

But I have read several of them, maybe like six or seven and I love them, but I had never heard him say this.

It was so powerful and so profound to me personally because it was so simple.

I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this publicly.

This really important personal lesson from this very intimate moment with one of my great mentors, one of the people who I think is one of the best leadership thinkers on the planet.

I asked him, “John, what does success mean to you?”

You might want to get a pen. You want to write this down.

It’s simple, but it’s powerful.

He said, “Rory, at this stage in my life, success is simple. It is having the people who know you the best respect you the most.”

It’s having the people who know you the best respect you the most.  

That was wild to me because you think about someone on his scale and the impact he’s made and all of these people that he has reached around the globe through the written word and the spoken word and all the various things that he does and, you know, charitable things that he’s involved with.

And yet it wasn’t the mass number of impact, right?

A lot of us who are mission-driven messengers are heart-led leaders and that’s the audiences that we serve. A lot of us think about how we want to impact a lot of people, but here you have John Maxwell saying that actually success to him is having the people who know you the best respect you.

The people who are closest to you, it’s the handful of people that you’re around every day. Maybe around the dinner table, or around the office meeting room table, or walking through the hallways or just the people that you see at your church.

It’s the people who know you the best. They know your secrets; they know your mistakes. They know your failures.

Not the strangers out there who you’re never going to meet in person. It’s not like what do those people think about you.

Even though there’s nothing wrong with having a big reach, but in terms of the significance and the impact of your life and who you really are.

Not who are you on your social media feed or what does your bio say about you or what does your website tell people who you are but who you are in real life.

The people that see you every day. They see you early in the morning and late at night. They see you when you’re sick. They see when you are tired; they see when you’re mad and frustrated.

What do those people think about you?

What did those people say about you?

Would they tell people that you are the real deal?

Would they tell people you really should aspire to be like John, or you really should aspire to be like Rory, etc. because I’ve seen the real them? 

And in real life, they are worth following. They really do have integrity. They really do care.

They really are selfless.

They really do help people.

They really do work hard.

They really are intentional and deliberate.

They really do watch their words and they really do shape their own thinking and they really do try to help the people around them.

Success Quote

Success is having the people who know you the best, respect you the most.

And I just wanted to share that with you because it was a big moment for me in my life and it’s always stuck with me.

Maybe there are certain days that you are like me, where you go, “Gosh, sometimes I feel like I’m not making a big enough impact. I don’t feel like I’m reaching enough people. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough in the world.” 

And yet it’s such a good reminder for all of us to know that it’s the people closest to you.

Those are the lives that you really have a lot of influence over–the people that you see every single day.

So, whether you have a million followers, or you have no followers, all of us see certain people every day. 

And, at least according to John Maxwell, the real truth about success is a simple idea that the people who know you the best respect you the most.

What about you? Have you thought about what your definition of success is? Please share with me in the comments on this post!

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