Leadership Requires Forethought and Preparation. The Law of Navigation!

Leading by Navigation. Taken by Daniel David. www.thestrongwork.com

The Law of Navigation is about how leaders must have forethought and preparation while leading a team. The great leadership guru, John Maxwell, wrote about this law of leadership in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.

Leading as a Navigator

Have you ever sailed a boat? Been on a sailboat? Or watched a movie with a ship? (I’m sure you’ve seen Pirates of Caribbean!) If so, then you know that the captain of the ship is required to have forethought as he prepares the ship and crew for the voyage. They have to look ahead for obstacles, waves, storms, and other ships. They must chart their course and steer the ship – or they are headed for a shipwreck!

The main picture for this post was taken on a sailboat in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the way from St. Thomas to St. John. This was the only time I have ever taken the “helm” and steered a sailboat (of that size). I didn’t steer it long, but they had to coach me on how to turn the ship so we could tack against the wind. I had to look ahead to plot my navigation. 

(The image to the right was not the same ship, but was taken on St. John on the same trip.)

St. John Sailboat. Taken by Daniel David. www.thestrongwork.com

Forethought and Preparation

This law of leadership is mostly about forethought and preparation. To lead a team (or a family, class or small group) well, you must develop a plan for reaching the destination – before you begin the journey. Followers need leaders able to effectively navigate for them. You need to visualize the path and put the necessary people and resources in place to have the best chance at successfully accomplishing the goal. 

Skills of a Navigator

  • Navigators draw on past experience :: recognize and reflect on weaknesses and failures. Put systems or the right people in place to “plug” your weaknesses – and alter your course to avoid past mistakes and failures.
  • Navigators examine the conditions before making commitments :: know the climate and road ahead.
  • Navigators listen to what others have to say :: get ideas from many sources.
  • Navigators make sure that their conclusions represent both faith and fact :: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end and you must also confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

Navigators PLAN AHEAD

John Maxwell shares a strategy that he developed while pastoring a church and confronted with the challenge of building a new sanctuary. In the end, he was able to get 98% of the church on board with a big budget building due to his forethought, planning and navigation. Below is an acrostic for “Plan Ahead.” 

(I loved this artistic display of junk on a pier on St. John. Somebody clearly “planned ahead” with how to arrange their stuff!)

St. John Pier Junk. Taken by Daniel David. www.thestrongwork.com


  • Predetermine a course of action
  • Lay out your goals
  • Adjust your priorities
  • Notify key personnel
  • Allow time for acceptance
  • Head into action
  • Expect problems
  • Always point to the successes
  • Daily review your plan

Navigator Application Questions:

  1. Do you make it a regular practice to reflect on your positive and negative experiences?
  2. Navigating leaders do their homework. What is a task or project that would benefit from some forethought and planning before you get started?
  3. Take action on navigating before… (insert your next opportunity to lead).

More on Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

John Maxwel Resources

  • His Website: https://www.johnmaxwell.com/
  • The book: https://www.amazon.com/21-Irrefutable-Laws-Leadership-Anniversary/dp/0785288376/
  • A Maxwell coach I know: Home of the Leaders Factor

Encourage the Heart by Setting Clear Standards


Leaders who strive for the success of their team would do best if they encourage the heart of their people through setting clear standards. Being specific and clear about the expectations of your team members provides a foundation for encouragement and the possibility for excellence.

What the experts say!

In their book Encouraging the Heart, Kouzes and Posner claim that “the first prerequisite for encouraging the heart is to set clear standards.” They explain that by “standards” they mean both the goals and values for the organization. Clear communication from the leadership of a company is essential to establishing the culture and foundation for encouragement.

My experience with clear standards

In my career with small businesses and non-profit organizations, one of the hardest things I have had to work through has been understanding the standards and expectations for my work. What is my responsibility!! Some leaders just march forward with a mess in their wake and have unspoken expectations for their team. They assume you will read their minds and figure out the right work to do – because they simply think it is the best or most obvious work.

This is especially tough for me as an Enneagram 1 and a C in the DISC profile. For those who don’t understand what that means – I am analytical and have an inner drive to be right, precise, and accurate. You might respond differently than I do, but most of us like to at least have confidence that we doing the right work for the right reasons.

Helpful research on clear standards:

Our research shows that values make a difference in how people behave inside organizations and how they feel about themselves, their colleagues, and their leaders. We know that people expect their leaders to stand for something; that they expect them to have the courage of their convictions; and that credibility is the foundation of leadership. The first step toward credibility as a leader is clarifying personal values.

Kouzes & Posner in Encouraging the Heart (49-50) Tweet

They demonstrate from their research that people clearly respond better when their personal values match with the communicated and followed values and standards of the organization. Leaders must explain (often!) what they expect of their entire team (values) and of the individuals (standards). 

Encouragement, it can be said, is a form of feedback. It’s positive information that tells us that we’re making progress, we’re on the right track, we’re living up to the standards.

Kouzes & Posner in Encouraging the Heart (58) Tweet

Set the tone for excellence!

When leadership sets the tone for excellence, and lives up to it, the team will know what excellence looks like and clarity on how to achieve it. We can be encouraged by our progress toward a goal and thrive within an atmosphere with values they believe in.


Kouzes, James and Barry Posner. Encouraging the Heart – A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. The Leadership Challenge, 2003. 

Link to Purchase

Photo Credit:

More on Encouragement

Encouraging the Heart – How to Build Up and Speak Life!

Encouragement - Become who you are

Our hearts broken, burdened, or bored. Our hearts need encouragement. This post explores what it means to encourage the heart and begins a conversation about how to live that out as leaders, colleagues, and friends.  

Build Up and Speak Life

I believe that every person on God’s green Earth has innate value and was created with purpose and has vibrant potential to be successful in that purpose. However, we have the tendency to allow relationships and circumstances to derail our life journey and burden us away from the excellence we can achieve. We need people in our lives who can speak life into us and encourage our hearts to persevere and enjoy life.  

A couple leadership gurus named James Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote a great book called “Encourage the Heart” which provides great insights into how we can build up and speak life into those around us – especially those under our leadership.  

The word encouragement has its root in the Latin word cor, which literally means “heart.” To encourage – to provide with or give courage – literally means to give others heart.

Kouzes & Posner - Encouraging the Heart (pg. xv) Tweet

The Impact of Encouragement

Every person in your life has a heart that needs encouragement. As a leader, you have the opportunity to serve others by giving or your heart “so that others may fully develop and experience their own” (Intro – xvi). People need to be affirmed for who they are the potential that is within them. They need to hear that their unique contribution is noticed, appreciated, and valued. Providing that does not require much of you, but can be life changing for the individual receiving the encouragement.   

Studies featured in the book provide evidence of the results of genuine, regular recognition and encouragement. People perform better and live happier lives when they regularly affirmed for their life and work.  

Use Names and Say Thank You

I have developed a habit that every time I go to a store or event where people wear name tags – I address them by their first name. When we go out to a restaurant, we ask the waiter or waitress for their name and aim to use it when they take our orders and refill our drinks. Often people are surprised when I use their names but I can usually recognize that they appreciate it. Try it out yourself and demonstrate to people that you recognize them as individuals and that they matter.  

I also try to say “thank you” whenever others serve me. It may be the waitress’s job to refill my water, but I can still demonstrate appreciation for her service. It isn’t difficult to thank your co-worker for the tasks they completed, or thank your spouse for grocery shopping or doing the laundry, or thank your boss for the opportunity to work for them. It isn’t difficult – but it is very impactful.  

The secret is this: we all really do want to be loved.

Kouzes & Posner - Encouraging the Heart (pg. 11) Tweet

Featured Photo

Image has a Creative Commons license. It was posted on Flickr by user “craftivist collective” and can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/42839495@N07/6237667320


Kouzes, James and Barry Posner. Encouraging the Heart – A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. The Leadership Challenge, 2003. 

Link to Purchase

Further Encouragement!

Read this post for more encouragement – Strength through Encouragement

Strong Leaders Thrive with Intuition as they Read People and Situations

Law of Intuition www.thestrongwork.com

Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias.

John Maxwell - 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tweet

Some people have a gift, a natural ability, to read people and situations and make insightful decisions based on a gut feeling. They can be convinced of the right action, and often be right, before they have the facts to back up their conviction. This is what John Maxwell calls “The Law of Intuition.”

Dictionary.com defines Intuition as: “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.” It is this special “perception” that drives natural leaders to make quick decisions while others lag-behind and perceive the leader as being brash & irresponsible, or as a brilliant risk-taker, or perhaps as a possessed fortune teller!

The Discernment of a Counselor

My wife is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has been seeing clients for almost ten years now. She has a special gift in her ability to discern the challenges or emotions people are experiencing. People naturally open up to her, even on their first conversation and even if they don’t know that she is a counselor. This intuition gives her the ability to ask the right questions that help the other person talk through their challenges to reach a conclusion or a new insight.

Just recently, she met a lady at the gym and within 30 minutes they had a very intentional conversation which ended with new insights, emboldened resolve, and even a moment of prayer. This lady later told my wife that their conversation gave her the courage to make a major life decision and that she was full of hope for the future. My wife’s natural intuition to read people provided an opportunity to touch a life in a significant way.

Seeing Through a Leadership Lens

Maxwell says that “good leaders see everything with a leadership bias, and as a result, they instinctively, almost automatically, know what to do when it comes to leading.” They don’t need all the facts and charts and speeches. They read people and situations and know “in their gut” what needs to happen to accomplish the goal or overcome the challenge.

Leaders, by intuition, see the end – the finish line, the end-zone – so they are able to encourage their “troops” and strive for excellence as they march toward that goal. Through intuition, leaders can also bring the best out of people and drive them to accomplish more than they thought possible. Strong, cohesive teams develop around strong leaders as each person is challenged to be their best to accomplish the common goal – which is revealed through the vision and intuition of the leader.

Leaders are Readers…

  • Of their situation – they evaluate on the fly, ask probing questions, and “smell” things quickly
  • Of trends – they take a broad view, perhaps years ahead, and sense trouble or opportunity
  • Of their resources – when faced with challenges they think, “Who is the best person to take this on? What resources do we possess that will help us? How can I encourage my team to success?
  • Of people – they sense what’s happening among people and know their hopes, fears, and concerns.
  • Of Themselves – they know their strengths and limitations and their current state of mind.

What if Intuition Doesn’t Come Naturally?

Maxwell explains that intuition does come naturally to some, but that the majority of people have the potential to develop it over time. With diligence and patience, the leadership ability of intuition can be nurtured so that we understand leadership and it becomes automatic. Personally, I fall into this category. I am on a journey to develop my leadership abilities. I am finding that it requires me to be teachable and disciplined to continue striving forward. Join me on that journey and let’s strive forward together!

Above all, you must care about the people you are leading and have a desire to accomplish the goal. You have to treat people as humans and listen to them in order to read and lead them.

Application Questions:

  1. Are you able to read a situation with a “gut feeling” of intuition?
  2. Do you trust that intuition? Does your initial instinct often come out to be true?
  3. What are you doing to develop your leadership ability so that this law will develop?


Maxwell, John C., The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, (HarperCollins Leadership; Revised & Updated edition, 2007).

To purchase the book – Click Here.

Suggested Reading:

About the Picture

I took this picture of my wife while we were on vacation in New York City in 2009. This captured her with an upward, forward thinking vision.

The Process of Leadership Development (Law 3)

Marathon training like the Leadership Process

Leadership develops daily, not in a day.

Law 3 of John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is The Law of Process. Learn with me as I describe the law and reflect on its application with developing leaders.

Introducing The Law of Process

This law reinforces the primary purpose of the Leaders Journey and is a process I’ve been (mostly) involved in since college – but has really picked up over the last couple years as I have seen value in personal growth. The general lesson is that we need to focus on the long-term process of developing ourselves through reading and being trained so that we will develop into leaders. Whether it is “general leadership” or technical/specific leadership – it takes intentional, disciplined effort through a process to gain a level of ability to provide leadership. 

Marathon Training as a Process

I grew up playing soccer – so I ran a good bit – but didn’t begin seriously running until I was challenged to run a 10K (6.2 miles) about seven years ago. Then I ran my first half-marathon and have run four more and several 15Ks and shorter runs.


I have learned that you cannot prepare to run a long distance in one day. It takes deliberate training and a strict diet over the course of a couple months to seriously prepare for a half-marathon – and much longer for a full marathon. Your body cannot handle the strain without intentionally building up toward the final distance of the race.

Daniel David Running a 15K

I realized this in my latest 15K this past March (right before COVID hit). My training was interrupted by a one week cold (I think) that weakened me and put me off my schedule and reduced my pace. I felt pretty good on race day so I decided to run with a group above my pace so I would be challenged. I hung with them until mile 6… then I got slower and slower and ended up with a slower time than the prior year. 


In much the same way, we have to engage in the long process of leadership development to gain the ability to be a strong leader. Start now with big goals so they can be realized in the future.

What Distinguishes a Leader?

John Maxwell shares the results of a leadership study – “It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers.”

Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day’s progress ... If I want to improve, then I’ll engage in a process and stick with it.

John Maxwell - 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tweet

Phases of Leadership Growth

  1. I don’t know what I don’t know.  Many people fall into this category, thinking (or not thinking) that learning and developing as a leader is not important or that it is only for those people at the top. They never develop because they don’t know or don’t try and remain ignorant.
  2. I know that I need to know. Then, many people recognize that they need to know something to improve or grow as a leader. They at least recognize that there is a missing piece. 
  3. I know what I don’t know. Recognize what you need to know and develop a plan to get there – even if it takes years and financial investment.
  4. I know and grow, and it starts to show. Put your personal growth & leadership development plan into action over the long haul and leadership will come naturally and your influence will grow.
  5. I simply go because of what I know. This is when you reach the phase you worked toward in phase 4. “That’s when the payoff is incredible. But the only way to get there is to obey the Law of Process and pay the price.”

He closes the chapter with a story about President Theodore Roosevelt. He was a thin, sickly kid but through the challenge and example of his father and others he became strong, knowledgeable, and a great leader due to a determined effort as a life-long learner to improve and develop his leadership ability.


  1. What is your personal plan for growth? What areas are you intentionally developing?
  2. Where do you see yourself in the five phases of leadership growth?

Book Reference:

Maxwell, John C., The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, (HarperCollins Leadership; Revised & Updated edition, 2007).

Photo Credit: Link to the original photo and the license.

Recommended Reading: