A year or so ago when I was working at a company they hired someone above me and told me he’s going to be my direct manager. I wasn’t happy about it because I was told I’ll be doing leadership stuff at some point, but alas. I have to add that this person is, or rather was at the time, a certified coach.

Decided to try to make the best of it, and in the next one on one I point blank asked him what I need to do to get where he is, so at some point I’ll get to lead people.

He said “let’s start with reading a book, here are three, choose one, and then we’ll take it from there.”

I no longer remember what the other two books were, but I chose the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell.

After I’ve started reading it, things just didn’t seem to add up in the book, so I kept notes all throughout the book. I shared this with him shortly before the company and I parted ways.

At some point I’ve started including quotes from the book. The beginning of the review doesn’t have them because I didn’t think that this review would be so extensive.

Context

After having proof-read this, I need to set up the context. This was a book that was fresh for me, and both myself and coach person have read it. We were supposed to have a conversation about it and talk about my findings, and why I had this reaction to the book. At least that’s what I thought we would do.

This writing is not introducing the concepts fully that I respond to beyond the quotes I included.

The point of this is to have a conversation about the book with people who also have read this.

Either that, or piss you off enough to pick up a copy from your socially distanced library, read it, and then return to this review of mine.

With that said, here’s a slightly formatted version of my review of the book.

General findings

Generally not a great book. I found WAY too many parts where I did not agree with the author. Below is a running list of observations with the relevant parts of the book quoted.

Written in 2012, not gender neutral language, exclusion.

Centers around faith. I'm non religious, it didn't speak to me.

Chapters

Chapters 1-6

Talks about passion. Passion is afforded to those with enough privilege, and a lot of people do not have the luxury of enough privilege to deal with passion. They should also be afforded growth though.

Working at a job that one has no passion for is still legit. Sometimes it is just about getting that coin. Sometimes they’re not in a space where passion is even possible. Other times they just haven’t figured out they have passion for the job they don’t like. Sometimes people do have passion for the job, but despise doing it because of managers, peers, customers, regulatory frameworks, or other external reasons they can’t change.

Even when someone does something they’re passionate about, there will be aspects of it that are required, and the person will hate doing that. It’s not about passion, it’s about discipline.

Cutting back on sleep and food is a horrible advice.

“Why would anyone want to quit doing what he loves?”

Because doing your work as a hobby is horrible for work life separation and will lead to burnout very very fast?

“Want to know when I’ll retire? When I die!”

Good for him. Horrible advice to follow. Definitely not required for growth. Or if it is, I don’t want his flavour of growth.

“So whatever you plan to do, whether you plan to travel the world next year, go to graduate school, join the workforce, or take some time off to think, don’t just listen to your head. Listen to your heart. It’s the best career counselor there is.”

Hard no. People who need career counseling usually lack critical information. They don’t know what’s possible. The goal of a career counselor is to tell them what’s possible and equip them with knowledge on how to find out what’s possible. People don’t know what they don’t know. They won’t find it by just listening to their hearts.

“All I could think was You’re going to be unhappy for a very long time. He didn’t have the skills to do that job. Even if he did, the job wasn’t available! I told him he needed to find something more realistic that aligned with his gifting and opportunities.”

Aside: this is the end of a story where he talks about the importance of a manager helping the people who work for them. One of his people at the church was a guy called Bobby who played the organ (I think), who wanted to be an announcer for the Chicago Cubs (baseball team). They had a one on one where the author fired Bobby after Bobby told him he wanted to be an announcer.

I thought the book is about figuring out how to get to where people want to be. Why didn’t he help Bobby figure out what he needed to become an announcer for the Cubs instead of putting him down and telling him “be more realistic”? Bobby’s dream was specific and clear enough. Related: Shane Koyczan: To this day. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa1iS1MqUy4, which I translated into Hungarian)

“There’s a big difference between having a dream that propels you to achieve and pulling an idea out of thin air that has no connection with who you are and what you can do.”

Why was the writer in a position to decide this for Bobby? Was he an announcer? Was he one of the people who hired announcers? Related: Zen pencils comic about ballet. https://zenpencils.com/comic/kenrobinson/

“You must have some kind of criteria for knowing if the desire you have matches the abilities you possess.”

The entire point of the book is to close gaps in belief and skills. What’s this for?

“Was I ready to start a monthly leadership subscription series? No. Did I start it anyway? Yes. When I needed to raise money to relocate my church, did I know how to do it? No. Did I start to do it anyway? Yes. When I founded EQUIP to teach leadership to people in countries around the world, did I have a proven strategy to get it done? No. Did we get started anyway? Yes. Nobody ever got ready by waiting. You only get ready by starting.”

Unless you’re Bobby. Then screw your dream, find something else.

The whole section about King’s speech is a fallacy. King was in the right place at the right time having the right ideas, and that’s why he resonated with people and became public enemy no 1 and also important in history, and not because he didn’t care when he went on to speak... It doesn’t follow that “if you don’t care when you want to speak and only want to get the message out, you’ll be successful”.

“I often ask myself what keeps people from being successful. I believe all people have the seeds of success within them. All they need to do is cultivate those seeds, water them, feed them, and they will begin to grow.”

And also have a boatload of privilege and luck, but that doesn’t make the book a proper self help book...

“So why do many people fail to grow and reach their potential? I’ve concluded that one of the main reasons is low self-esteem.”

Or an accident with shit or no health insurance in the United States. Or being black. But sure, let’s gaslight people into feeling like it’s their own fault.

“Many people don’t believe in themselves. They don’t see the possibilities that God put in them. They possess a hundred acres of possibilities, yet never cultivate them because they are convinced that they won’t be able to learn and grow and blossom into something wonderful.”

Or they have a manager who said they should give up their dream because the manager thinks they don’t have it in them. I guess we’ll never know how awesome of an announcer Bobby would have made for the Cubs.

Story about Johnetta... The problem was low self esteem for legitimate reasons? Instead of the abuse she got? If only she could overcome the abuse and think highly of herself despite her situation she would have succeeded? Is that what’s being insinuated here?

“As industrialist Charles Schwab said, “When a man has put a limit on what he will do, he has put a limit on what he can do.” That was true for Johnnetta McSwain. As soon as she changed her self-limiting thinking, she was able to change her life.”

And luck and opportunity are again conveniently left out. Just because a person starts having better thoughts about themselves, it doesn’t follow that their situation IS going to improve. It might. Most probably it won’t because life is a bit more complicated than a convenient example of a person who beat the odds.

“I wish I could sit down with you, hear your story, and encourage you specifically in your journey.”

Unless you’re Bobby. Then screw your journey.

Six people in a board room listening to one of them presenting.
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash
“I can’t help wondering what the outcome might have been if the leaders of the company had taken the time to pause, understand what their experience was trying to teach them, and make changes in the course they were on.”

Portably nothing. A company that did X but had become obsolete was going to be obsolete anyways. They can’t just pivot into an entirely different industry / way of work merely by reflecting on their experiences. Cashiers don’t become experts in maintaining self checkout tills by figuring out their job is going to be gone. Professional truck drivers don’t become autonomous truck maintainers by reflecting on the coming change. This is a strawman.

“As author and speaker Anthony Robbins says, “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.””

For the record, Tony Robbins has been disgraced of late. Investigations revealed he continually puts attendees down until he finds the one sucker who will look good on the tapes. I also translated around 10 episodes of Tony Robbins conference recordings.

“Pity is one of the noblest emotions available to human beings; self-pity is possibly the most ignoble. Pity is the capacity to enter into the pain of another in order to do something about it;”

The emotion he’s looking for is empathy. Pity is not a positive emotion. Unless we talk about its biblical meaning I suppose.

“1. Do You Know What You Need to Improve?”

No, which is why I asked <coach person> and <former boss> to help me figure out what my gaps are. Can’t figure it out by listening to my heart.

“2. Do You Know How You Are Supposed to Improve?”

Step 1: ask what’s needed...

The rest will come from that I suppose.

“Question 1: Do you constantly procrastinate on important tasks?
Question 2: Do you require coaxing to do small chores?
Question 3: Do you perform duties just to get by?
Question 4: Do you constantly talk negatively about your work?
Question 5: Do efforts of friends to encourage you irritate you instead?
Question 6: Do you start small projects and abandon them?
Question 7: Do you avoid self-improvement opportunities?”

No to all.

“1. Align your methods of motivation with your personality type. Use whatever personality profile you prefer to study your personality type. (If you haven’t used one before, then find one. Examples include Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, and Personality Plus.) Once you have a good handle on what makes your personality type tick, then develop a daily growth system that is simple and plays to your strengths.”

What the hell is this. Myers-Briggs is pseudoscience, with low confidence threshold and low reproducibility. It’s new agey feel good stuff.

““Whether you are a success or failure in life has little to do with your circumstances; it has much more to do with your choices.” —Nido Qubein”

Unless you were born non white in the past 400 years. Or in an economically depressed area.

“Though my parents never had a lot of money when we were growing up, they created the kind of home environment where all of our friends wanted to come and spend time. My dad made a basketball court by pouring a concrete pad and putting up a basketball hoop. They fitted out our basement as a kid’s paradise, complete with a pool table, Ping-Pong table, and chemistry set. We had few reasons to hang out anywhere but home, and our friends had every reason to come over. And my mother was always around, getting to know all the kids.”

If someone can do this, afford this, they are wealthy. Maybe not millionaire wealthy, but definitely better off than the vast majority of people. Telling us this doesn’t need much money is a lie.

“Mother Teresa observed, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” If you need to make changes in yourself and your environment, don’t dwell on your past. You can’t change it. Don’t worry about your future. You can’t control it. Focus on the current moment and what you can do now.”

The entire book is about changing your future, controlling it.

“They must also consider what people could do if the environment allowed them to flourish. Likewise, it’s a good idea to help people understand what will be missing for them when they leave a growth environment. I always tried to do that during exit interviews with people as they moved on from any of my organizations. I’d tell them, “You are leaving an environment where growth is a priority and people are encouraged and expected to develop. If you don’t go to a similar environment, you can’t expect to get the same results. And you’ll have to work extra hard to keep growing.””

This is about as toxic as a person telling the other when they’re breaking up that they’re the best and they won’t find anyone remotely as good as they were. Even though the choice for change was there for whatever reason. Literally a page before this he was talking about needing to move on because he no longer felt the place was appropriate. What sort of hypocrisy is this?

Chapter 7

“I look carefully at my speaking engagements and consider what I should do more of, what I should do less of, and what I should eliminate altogether. I look at the growth opportunities I pursued and judge which gave a high return and which didn’t. I look at all the meetings and appointments I had and determine which ones I should do more of and which I should eliminate. I consider how much time I spent doing things that I should have delegated to someone else. (I also look at what I delegated and reconsider whether I should pick anything back up or delegate it to someone different.)”

I just realized he structured his whole work and life to benefit him, to make him grow, and not to serve the community he’s leading / responsible for. That attitude coming from a pastor is very weird.

“Remember that a squash vine or tomato plant grows in a matter of weeks, produces for several days or weeks, and then dies when the first frost comes. In comparison, a tree grows slowly—over years, decades, or even centuries; it produces fruit for decades; and if healthy, it stands up to frost, storms, and drought.”

These aren’t even comparable. The tomato and squash fill a wildly different environmental niche. They aren’t doing it wrong compared to the tree, they’re doing it correctly for what they want and need and judging the tomato and squash through the lens of trees is misleading at best.

“Two isn’t a magic number—it just seems to work for me. I’ve found that multiplying everything by two infuses realism into my optimism. [...] As you develop strategies for growth, give yourself the time and resources you need. Whatever amounts seem reasonable to you, multiply them by two.”

Or, you know, find what works for you. Sometimes it might be 3, other times 1. This sounds rigid to me. He admits 2 just works for him but then prescribes others to use the same instead of encouraging them to figure it out.

“For example, I touch base with my assistant, Linda Eggers, at least once a day, every day—365 days a year. It doesn’t matter if I’m home in Florida or on the road in China.”

Yeah, fuck Linda and her weekends, birthdays, Christmas / other holidays, sick days, or vacation time, amirite...

Painting of a man in pain, screaming, his hands on his face.
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Chapter 8: The Law of Pain

“For hours, while Cheryl’s house filled with friends, neighbors, other pilots, and people from her church, she was unable to get any answers to her questions. But when a car pulled up to her house carrying the chief pilot of the airline, she learned what happened. American Airlines Flight 11, for which Tom had been the copilot, was the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Tom and all the others on the plane were dead.”

While sad, I find this hard to believe since every news station ever has been playing everything in loop and pretty much as live as possible on that day. By the time that car pulled up to her house, she would have already known from TV.

“It becomes a great war story.”

Observation: perhaps we shouldn't glorify war.

“When you have a bad experience, instead of letting it discourage you or make you angry, try to find a way to let it prompt your creativity.”

Okay, so this is what Bobby should have done. Got it.

“In other words, where there is no struggle, there is no progress. Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning from them is optional.”

This insinuates that if we face struggle, we must therefore be moving which is just not true.

There can't be progress without struggle (though debatable), but there can be struggle without progress. See earlier chapter.

“The next time you find yourself in the midst of a bad experience, remind yourself that you are on the cusp of an opportunity to change and grow.”

Or you’re just super unlucky to not have been born a cis white dude and bad experiences just happen to you because other people are shit and there’s literally nothing you can change about yourself to mitigate that.

““What happened to me was pretty bad, but other people are worse off, and I won’t give up.””

Fallacy of relative privation. Why should any individual feel better because others have it worse? Why is this positive? Why is it okay to have schadenfreude at others’ misery to make ourselves feel better? Why are we anchoring our feelings to other people’s (real or imaginary) situation? I thought circumstances don’t define us, literally half a paragraph above this.

Additionally the “why me’ question is useful. Sometimes it’s because we’re dumb and make bad choices. Knowing that answer helps.

“Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. If you want to arrive at a new destination, you need to take a new path."

Sounds nice, but life is not deterministic. Hell, writing software that’s deterministic is hard...

“Spend some time recalling the last five bad experiences you’ve had in your life. Write down each experience, along with what—if anything—you learned from it. Then evaluate whether you decided to make changes based on what you learned and rate yourself on how well you did at implementing those changes in your life.”

Okay, so the problem I have with this is that out has the assumption that the reason I was having a bad experience was that I was in the wrong, and I was the person who had to learn something, and everything and everyone else outside of me were good and ideal. I don’t subscribe to that. Sometimes I have a bad experience because other people are rude or haven’t learned something. Taking the responsibility on for their shit is not something I should be doing. Sure, observe and examine the bad experience, but the outcome of “the other person was wrong” is equally a valid outcome, and so is “there’s nothing I could have done better to avoid / improve on the situation.”

“This time he became part of a network marketing venture.”

And I tuned out… For the record, I’ve tried 9 MLM companies. Nine.

“It’s wise to remember that our situation in life is mainly due to the choices we make and the actions we do—or fail to—take.”

That is an incredibly privileged position to take and does not apply to the vast majority of people.

“No one has ever made a significant impact after they won the Nobel Prize.”

Except all the scientists who won multiple noble prizes I guess. This is a good sounding sound byte but totally derails a person’s own self worth.

Chapter 11: The Law of Tradeoffs

“Perhaps the most telling story of a bad trade-off can be found in the account of Jacob and Esau in the Bible.”

I find it peculiar that he thinks this was a bad tradeoff. From the looks of it Esau didn’t actually care for the birthright, and not being hungry was more important to him. Earlier the author writes

“I’m not willing to trade my relationship with my children or grandchildren for fame or fortune.”

Why would Esau be different? Why would what he did be wrong then?

“I also avoid being alone with any women other than family members.”

Lol okay, very Mike Pence of him. This tells me he doesn’t trust himself to behave properly around women, ergo he’s toxic and he knows it.

“Why was I always willing to take a pay cut when changing jobs? Because I value opportunity over security. And I knew I would work hard and be able to earn the ability to make more money in the long run. As my friend Kevin Turner, the COO of Microsoft, says, “The only job security we have is our individual commitment to personal development.” That is a trade-off that always brings a payoff.”

Again a very privileged stance that most people can’t take. There are people who work at Facebook and Twitter who know precisely just how evil both companies are and they want to quit but can’t because they literally can not take the financial hit. It’s a golden birdcage situation, modern slavery.

Chapter 12: The Law of Curiosity

“Einstein made his discoveries because he was a curious person.”

Again this is a strawman. Insinuates that if you’re curious, you can be like Einstein. It also conveniently leaves out literally all the other factors of Einstein’s life that lead to his discoveries including his education, and his circumstances.

On why being the favourite word.

Problem with it is it makes people defensive and can close them up. A why makes them feel like they’re at school again being scolded for a wrong answer.

“If you believe there is only a single right solution, you either get frustrated because you can’t find it, or if you think you have found it, you stop searching and perhaps miss better ideas. In addition, when you land on what you consider to be the right answer, you become complacent. No idea is perfect. No matter how good it is, it can always be improved.”

Which can lead to choice paralysis. At some point a choice does need to be made, otherwise people would avoid choosing for fear that they’ve chosen wrong. See Chidi from The Good Place.

“When people say things like, “We’ve never done it that way before” or “That’s not my job,” I just want to shake them up. I want to offer to do their funeral, because they’ve already died and are obviously just waiting for somebody to make it official.”

This is straight up bullying. No, the “what he means is...” isn't making it better either.

Person drawing a bear on paper with a pencil from a photograph.
Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

13. The Law of Modelling

“To help me figure out how to lead better in this new territory, I began to seek out successful church leaders in larger churches around the country. I’ve told the story many times of how I offered $100 to them for thirty minutes of their time. Many graciously agreed to meet with me. I’d go to the meeting armed with a legal pad full of questions and pick their brains. I can hardly explain how much I learned in those sessions.”

Incredible privilege to be able to offer $100 in 1970. Also I’d be vary of people who only met with me because I gave them cash. That means they don’t really want to help me and could have just bullshit through the entire mentorship meeting.

“The first question most followers ask of a mentor is, “Do you care for me?” The reason for this question is obvious. Who wants to be guided by a person who isn’t interested in them? Selfish people will assist you only insofar as it advances their own agenda. Good mentors provide friendship and support, unselfishly working to help you reach your potential.”

Oh, hey, he even wrote about this. Fascinating.

“Elmer Towns and Zig Ziglar were two of the people I first learned from outside of the small circle I grew up in. Elmer was the first to teach me about growing my church. Zig was the first personal-growth speaker I followed. Both became good friends.”

Oh my god, this entire book is basically namedropping all these incredibly well known self help folks and always saying “by the way I’m friends with them”. Good for him, so what? It’s super abrasive. It doesn’t make me feel like his words are validated through association, it just makes him seen as the biggest douchebag of all time.

14. The Law of Expansion

“I’ve heard that most experts believe people typically use only 10 percent of their true potential. That statement is staggering! If that is true, then the average person has huge capacity for improvement.”

This has been debunked many times very thoroughly. We use our entire brain all the time for different things.

“However, I realized the error in my thinking when I started traveling to undeveloped countries where many people worked very hard but saw very little return for all their efforts. I learned that hard work isn’t always the answer.”

Yeah, sometimes it’s systemic oppression and the exploitation of the population. Other times it’s slavery.

Also, what is return measured in? Money earned? The same person doing the same job for US clients would get many many times more money than if they did that for Vietnamese clients in Vietnam simply because of the staggering difference in economy between the two places.

“When you ask yourself “How can I?” you give yourself a fighting chance to achieve something. The most common reason people don’t overcome the odds is that they don’t challenge them enough. They don’t test their limits. They don’t push their capacity. How can I? assumes there is a way. You just need to find it.”

Yeah no. The order of questions you need to ask is:

  1. Should I? Is this ethical? Moral? Necessary? A good idea?
  2. Can I? Is it legal?
  3. And only then How should I?
“As a young leader, I was challenged by the words of Robert Schuller, who said, “What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?” To me the answer was obvious. A lot more than I was currently attempting!”

So profound! Seriously, this is the kind of non answer that’s been filling this book. They worked for him at that time because of his circumstances, upbringing, and societal privilege. These same things would not work for a Black gay woman in 2019.

“Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest, said of her experience, “I discovered it wasn’t a matter of physical strength, but a matter of psychological strength.”

Given the recent traffic jams on mount Everest and the many deaths up there, it’s somewhat safe to say that you need considerable physical strength. Oh, and on top of that you also need psychological one, but do not be foolish to insinuate that you can just go without the physical training because it’s all in your mind. That is not true.

“We live in a culture that awards trophies to people for simply showing up, regardless of their contribution.”

Oh this has been shut down beautifully. Basically it’s not is millennials that wanted this but boomers felt the need to be validated through their children.

“Because of that, many people think they are doing well if they just do what is expected of them. I don’t believe that helps people reach their potential or expand their capacity. To do that, a person has to do more.”

Nice, that’s the ideology to get people to put in extra free work that leads to their exploitation. Do you want more? Pay more, earn more, teach more. Simples.

The “thanks I noticed” letter has a lot of examples of how not to lead. I don’t think people should give up their hard earned holidays and days off - no employer is that important. Thinking otherwise is a very bro culture thing and again contributes to employee exploitation and morale drop. No amount of thanks I noticed card gives that back. If an organisation needs its current people to give up holidays to keep it functioning, management of said organisation is shit and should be replaced.

People unloading boxes of food from a truck in the street.
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

15. The Law of Contribution

“Adding value to others is a high priority in my life. This desire was stirred in me as a teenager when I read about Benjamin Franklin, who once wrote, “I would rather have it said ‘he lived usefully’ than ‘he died rich.’” More than just words, it was the way Franklin lived his life. For example, when he developed what came to be known as the Franklin stove, he could have patented it and made a good income from it. Instead, he decided to share the invention with the world.”

Shall we also talk about the fact Franklin owned other human beings as slaves? Or is that suddenly okay because he chose not to patent the Franklin stove?

“According to Dr. John C. Van Horne of the Library Company of Philadelphia, “Franklin’s philanthropy was what I call of a collective nature. His sense of benevolence was aiding his fellow human beings and doing good to society. In fact, in one sense, Franklin’s philanthropy, his sense of benevolence, was his religion. Doing good to mankind was, in his understanding, divine.””

Did I mention the slaves?

“Franklin didn’t see the world in terms of how much he could make from it. He saw it in terms of how many people he could help. He helped develop the concepts of the lending library and local fire departments. Even his work as a printer reflects his desire to share ideas, not hoard them.”

Slaves. Gotta love reading people recite whitewashed history though.

“One of the things that struck me as a teen was reading that every day Franklin asked himself in the morning, “What good shall I do today?” and in the evening, “What good have I done today?”"

He had slaves though.

“I’ll never forget his words: “John, how can you leave after all that I have done for you?” It was in that moment that I realized Jack was starting to slowly own me. He was keeping score, and I had no idea! It was a wake-up call. That was the day I made a choice. I would always try to give more than I received in relationships. And I would never keep score.”

First of all, setting boundaries would have been nice. They didn’t, which led to that family owning them in the first place.

Second of all, you can’t try to always give more than you receive if you don’t keep score! How would you even know?

“A friend of Rohn’s invited him to attend a seminar presented by J. Earl Shoaff, a motivational speaker and salesman. The main message: Work harder on yourself than you do on your job; your income is directly related to your philosophy, not the economy; and for things to change, you must change.”

So how does working harder on yourself than on your job, and become excellent at your job and go above and beyond at your job fit together? Or you need to give 141% at your job to be noticed and 200% to work on yourself?

Also, the economy does actually very much influence your income unless you’re rich to begin with. Then you can ignore it.

“If you are primarily the taker, then you need to make adjustments so the other person doesn’t have power over you.”

Interestingly any time I was the taker I felt shit because I was using the other person, but any time I gave disproportionately, I felt used. When I give give give and the other takes takes takes, then I feel I’m owned. Not the other way around.

In the end

The book was trash. I have no idea why he thought this would serve as something that I would learn from. I picked it apart, and not only do I not agree with MOST of the content of the book, I straight up thing those are wrong and ethically / morally wrong.

Cover photo (with the books) by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash