You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top” associated with leadership. But is isolated leadership really effective? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is only taking a walk.” If you’re all alone as a leader, are you really leading?
Losing touch with your people is a huge leadership landmine. It will damage your credibility and destroy your influence. How do you avoid losing touch?

  1. Recognize the landmine. Unfortunately, losing touch is an easy thing to do. A leader can be tempted to withdraw by both success (“I don’t need to see my people”) and failure (“I don’t want to see my people”). Understanding that it can happen is the first step to avoiding it.
  2. Value people. All leadership is influence. And what is influence if it doesn’t involve other people? No matter what your organization produces or does, it needs people to function. YOU need people to lead. Leadership becomes effective when you acknowledge that people are your most appreciable asset, and treat them accordingly.
  3. Avoid positional thinking. Your position or title shouldn’t define your leadership. That’s positional thinking, and it will cause you to disconnect as a leader. Again, leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. I make it my goal to see the people I lead as teammates, not employees. We work together toward a common goal.
  4. Love the people you lead. Do you see your people as cogs in the machinery of your organization, and yourself as the operator? They can tell if you don’t care about them. And I’ve said for a long time that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Loving your people makes the difference in their willingness to follow you into anything, no matter how hard the battle.
  5. Understand the Law of Significance. This is from my book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In it, I explain that one is too small a number to achieve greatness. Many years ago, I realized that I needed the help of other people to achieve what I felt called to do. I now believe that any dream worth dreaming will be bigger than the dreamer. If you can achieve your dream by yourself, your dream is too small!

The most effective leaders stay connected to their people. This gives them the greatest amount of influence, and allows the leader and the team to achieve their big-picture goals together.

What about you? If you’re in a position of leadership, are your followers close at hand? Or have you allowed yourself to lose touch?


  1. » Leadership is… Dusty's Blog on February 13, 2020 at 7:05 am

    […] “Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk?” (I have included a link to John’s Blog here as it has such beautifully rich content and […]

  2. Bryan Hudson on March 22, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    That’s a good article. John Maxwell brings great clarity to my failings. I’ve been taking walks for years, loving people and helping wherever I can. No greatness in sight, just serving.

    • Sione Veituna on April 11, 2020 at 7:00 am

      Great article

  3. Site Title on August 11, 2020 at 5:44 am

    […] Maxwell expresses it best with his question “Are you really leading or are you just taking a walk?”If you think you’re leading, but nobody is following, then you’re just taking a […]

  4. Ernest Grogg on November 19, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    My question for this article is: What does this mean? Just taking a walk? Don’t understand that? Walking with people and walking alongside is what we need to bring others along with us. Running will only exhaust ourselves and others. And before we know it, we will be by ourselves. Even walking we can find out we are by ourselves. So what does this saying even mean? Leading is bringing other along with us. Influencing them to go for the ride. So please help me out here.

    • Jason Brooks on November 20, 2020 at 10:56 am

      Ernest–thank you for your comment, and for sharing your thoughts with other readers. I think you are much closer to John’s point than you realize–being with people is essential for a leader, even if you’re only “walking” alongside them.

      The saying itself is a reminder that leaders must keep their people close; if you get ahead of them, or lose touch with them, then you’re literally not leading anyone–you’re simply following your own path (i.e., “taking a walk”). Leaders should never want to go it alone; they should always desire to have someone with them, learning at their side, growing through the experience.

      Does that help clear things up? My role with the Maxwell Enterprise is content and publishing, so discussing these type of questions is one of the best parts of my job!

      • Ernest Grogg on November 20, 2020 at 11:56 am

        Thanks Jason!
        Rereading my comment, it seems kind of forward. My thoughts have been bouncing back and forth and I am trying to improve myself in this area and reading his book and researching to perform the Law of Process, is not easy. Trying to grow and understand can be tough for me. But I am happily looking to grow as he states that anyone can become a better leader, no matter where they are.
        Well, let me dive in here to get any guidance. There are times in my walk I feel all alone. And there are times I feel “well connected” to the team. I don’t know what I am doing here some days and other days I feel like I have it all together. I get what you say now about taking a walk and going at it alone–making your own path. I am trying to tie together my Biblical directives and my workplace that is in the secular world into one. I can’t do it some days. The secular battle is strong and fighting to keep integrity and character with my witness of Christ (shining a light in a dark place) among so many, I feel that my own path is the right path there. 1Cor 16:13-14 says to be watchful, stand firm…be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. I don’t get much credit for “leading” them. Even though I am guiding the team in the “right” direction by good navigation. I prepare, I teach, but in the end everyone above me seems to take that credit. It seems like where I am sitting, leading is more or less just being that “servant” and not able to rise up like Paul did on that ship on his way to Rome (he followed the Lord and all were saved in that shipwreck). Of course Paul was still in chains and was a prisoner, but the leaders recognized his leadership. It seems that I am “walking at it alone” and taking my own path. but I want others along with me–there’s that desire you spoke about. this is indeed the hardest thing I have done yet. Growing in leadership where indeed I feel all alone.

  5. […] An interesting question or quote some may have heard that it is lonely at the top. If that is the case then have they climbed the mountain alone? If that is the case then were they just walking and not leading? As I was looking for the quote “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”, I found this interesting article by John C. Maxwell titled “Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk?“ […]

  6. […] following, is only taking a walk. If you’re all alone as a leader, are you really leading?” (source) Aren’t the insights of Maxwell, and those who make similar claims about leadership, pushing us […]

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