Over the past few weeks, I’ve blogged about material from my new book, Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. We’re nearing the end of that process, so I want to talk about one of the more challenging shifts some leaders face.

It’s the Cost Shift—moving from the perks of leadership to the price of leadership.

Because I’ve invested my life into teaching about leadership, people frequently come up to me and talk about their desire to lead. I usually ask them why that’s the case, and sometimes, what I hear is about the perks of leadership. People want others to do what they say, or they want more money, or they want the satisfaction of being in complete control.

Over my career, I’ve received just about every perk imaginable. I’ve been awarded honorary degrees, titles, authority, nice offices, money, preferential treatment—you name it, I’ve had it! And while those perks are nice, here’s the truth:

I don’t lead because of the perks. I lead because of what I can do for other people.

And it’s that focus on other people that keeps me paying the price of leadership. You see, leadership costs something—it exacts a price from any woman or man who would stand up and say, “Follow me.”

Leadership is being willing to go first.

“Go First” leaders understand that leadership means…

  • You Believe Everything Worthwhile is Uphill—nothing worth doing comes without a price. Leaders understand and embrace that truth before anyone else.
  • You Climb the Hill First—setting the example for the people we lead is critical. We can’t stand at the beginning of a worthwhile initiative and tell people to go ahead of us—we have to go first and invite people to follow.
  • You Never Stop Climbing—when you summit one hill, you automatically look for the next one to climb. Progress is never made on a plateau.

So how do you “go first” as a leader?

Here are three practices that every leader must embrace if they want to be a leader that truly shows the way:

Believe in Yourself First

I’ve met a lot of successful people that other people didn’t believe in, but I’ve never met a successful person that didn’t believe in themselves. If we want other people to believe in us, we must go first and believe in ourselves.

Self-belief has a lot of components—positive self-talk, self-investment, self-reflection, and most importantly producing results. Competence as a leader is a huge factor in developing the confidence necessary to lead people.

We may borrow belief to get started, but a leader must be able to create belief internally if they want to create it externally. We must get bigger on the inside if we want to get bigger on the outside.

Set Expectations for Yourself First

If you wait for your people to establish expectations, you’re not leading. Leaders must establish upfront where the team is going, what the team is chasing, and what it means to be part of the team. This means establishing expectations for your own work—and living up to the expectations you set.

You can’t set low expectations for yourself and high expectations for your people. It simply won’t work because The Law of the Picture says that “people do what people see.” If your team sees you living under the bar you’ve set for them, it won’t take long for them to slip under that bar themselves.

When that happens, you have no credibility for calling them out because—well, they’re only meeting you where you’re at!

Leaders must set the standards high for themselves before anyone else does.

Keep Your Commitments First

To be successful, leaders must continually make commitments. Commitment is key. But the first and most important commitments that any leader makes is to him- or herself.

A commitment to integrity. A commitment to responsibility. A commitment to selflessness.

There are other commitments leaders must make—a commitment to team, to family, to doing the job well—but those commitments hinge on the ones a leader first makes within. If you as a leader cannot be true to your word with yourself, you will struggle to keep your word with other people.

If you’re a leader, or desire to become one, you must always be willing, ready, and committed to “go first”. You will never lead at a level higher than the level at which you lead yourself. If you won’t push yourself to go and grow as a leader, you’ll lack the influence to move others.

You must be willing to pay the price of example if you want others to follow your lead.


  1. Catherine Thomas on February 12, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    That is so TRUE. You have to be willing to sacrifice your self. Thanks so much.

  2. Snehalatha Mannar on February 12, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    I love the sentence “you can never lead at a higher level than at the level you lead yourself “

  3. Kelly Adamik on February 12, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    I heard you speak on the Rachael Hollis podcast. I was so taken with your candid and kind remarks. I joined this email list to learn from your guidance and wise words. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

  4. Inrahim on February 12, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Great message and elegant direction to start the journey ahead of your team …. to be the first initiator, first planner, first writer, first facilitator, first thinker, first worker, first risk assessor, first inspiring member of your team

  5. Robert Ritter on February 13, 2019 at 3:35 am

    It is refreshing to hear good old fashioned common sense. You know, like doing the right thing. There was a fire a few years back in San Diego, and I will never forget hearing on a radio show that there was a pilot flying a helicopter in proximity to the fire. This helicopter was equipped to take water in and spray the water over large areas. The story was that over some sort of jurisdictional rule or regulation, this pilot was instructed to return to his base. The pilot knew there was a fire, he had the means to put out that fire, and he chose to obey the directive given to him by someone who clearly did not have all of the information that pilot did. To do the right thing would have been, in my not so humble opinion, to communicate that he was not able to hear the words of his radio. “I’m sorry sir, you’re breaking up” and then proceed to put out the fire. Would he have been fired? Probably. Would he have done the right thing? Absolutely. Was there a chance that he might NOT have lost his job? Yes. Was there the reality that by putting out that fire he would have saved literally millions of dollars in property loss and loss of life? Yes. You see, doing the right thing sometimes means making hard decisions. Sometimes under extreme conditions. And sometimes there are consequences for making the decision to do the right thing. But, as Jim Rohn once said: “In life we will make many decisions. And for every decision we make we will pay a price. We will either pay the price of discipline, which is pennies, or we will pay the price of regret, which is a fortune.” Let’s try NOT to pay the price of regret in our lives, and commit ourselves to doing the right thing so that we can all have one big collective breath of fresh air once again.

    • HAE on March 20, 2019 at 3:15 am

      Thank you. I need to be reminded , ” to do the right thing.”

    • Meira Nel-Bllaauw on November 11, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      I just love this leadership skills that you are teaching Pastor Maxwell. Especially the one where you have to change the perks for the price of Leadership. To change your believes and believe and invest in yourself and to commit yourself and sacrifice. I like the term of setting high standards and go first so thar others can follow. I also like the idea not stopping. After every hill proceed to the next. That’s a summary in my own words but the fact if the matter is I’m so touch and pumped up. I believe you do not have to be in a leadership position to lead. That’s how you motivated me Pastor Maxwell. Thank you for what you do for the Kingdom of God. God bless you abundantly.

  6. Randolph Waterman on February 13, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    I want sign for one minute with john maxwell

  7. DANIEL MWAURA on February 14, 2019 at 3:57 am

    Max, i sincerely admire your every article. I have been influenced by you and would like to meet you one day though i do not know how. After reading two of your books, I have been challenged immensely. I have become an ardent reader of books but more importantly, a follower of the advice. I have personally undertaken to follow after you. I have to pay the price to have what I need. Keep up the good work and God Bless you
    Daniel from Kenya

  8. KweenSisan on February 19, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Thanks Sir for the tips.

  9. HAE on March 20, 2019 at 3:17 am

    Thank you. I need to be reminded , ” to do the right thing.”

  10. Abegail Famisan on October 11, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for the reminder that as a leader, we should “Go First”.
    FIRST in anything else. How can you influence others to move if yourself didn’t move any single step. Love the line BELIEVE IN YOURSELF FIRST, let us be reminded that how we see ourselves determines how we see others.

  11. Tim Kindermann on September 4, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    I believe I will share this article with every mentee who aspires to be in leadership someday. So much good advice to reflect on and work with here: the price of leadership.

  12. Mark Goldsmith on September 18, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Enjoyable and convicting article that succinctly describes, for me, servant leadership. To lead, you have to be willing to serve.

  13. IBRAHIM NGUGI GATIMU on October 2, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Thanks for the excellent thoughts, a timely revelation. For the first time “me first” makes sense in taking action. This is quite a wake up call. Leadership is a journey. The first step on this journey must be made by the leader. True leadership is by example.

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