Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash

I recently spent an afternoon with Carly Fiorina discussing how leadership values and tools can make a difference in communities around the world. Carly and I are two sides of the leadership coin—I’m an encouraging leader who helps people discover (or rediscover) values of leadership, while Carly is an empowering leader who provides practical tools and problem-solving skills that help people get things done.

Both of us have been around the block a few times, and we’ve each seen a lot over the course of our leadership careers. What I love about Carly is that she has solved problems and changed the order of things for the better at every stop along the way.

Some people have challenged her leadership, but the results speak for themselves. She’s been a CEO, presidential candidate, and spokesperson for global change, and it’s all because she’s built the one thing all leaders need.


I believe credibility—respect—is earned on difficult ground, and Carly can attest to that. It’s our ability to get things done that earns us more opportunities for leadership as we climb the ladder of success.

Climbing the ladder is one of the four stages I identify in my chapter on Production in Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. The shift we make from climbing the ladder to helping others build their own ladder is one of the most rewarding a leader can make, but it’s impossible without first making the climb.

That’s because success fuels significance. The more you produce as a leader, the more opportunities you create for greater impact through your leadership.

So how do you climb the ladder?

How do you set yourself apart in a world where everyone is chasing success?

Here are three questions you need to ask yourself if you want to separate yourself from the crowd:

1. What Are My Strengths?

Success comes from building on your strengths and maximizing them. While others will attempt to shore up their weaknesses, you need to focus on developing your strengths.

I’ve long said that in areas of skill, target strengths, and in areas of character, target weaknesses—because skills growth happens more naturally in areas where we’re not fighting it.

2. What Are My Opportunities?

Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by opportunities to get ahead. They may not be large opportunities, but that’s okay—seize the small ones and bigger ones will come along. Align them with your strengths, and you’ll see things take off quickly.

I’ll never forget telling my nephew Troy the secret to advancement. He was starting his first job, and I reminded him there were four small opportunities that not many people would take: show up earlier than others, stay later than others, take shorter lunches, and introduce yourself to the CEO as someone who could be called upon to do anything at any time.

Now, Troy was young, unmarried, just starting out, but within three months he’d achieved levels of advancement that no one in his company had ever seen. All because he took advantage of the small opportunities presented him—the same kind of opportunities you have as well.

3. Am I Taking Steps Every Day?

Seeing and seizing opportunities are of little benefit if you’re not doing the personal work to get better daily. Daily improvements in your strengths, relationships, character, knowledge, and experience are the key to reaching the top 10% of your market.

That top 10% is where you are set apart from all the rest in areas of money, influence, opportunities, and relationships. It’s the tipping point of success, and the transition toward significance. It’s how you begin to make the shift from ladder climber to the next stage.

To make that top 10%, however, you must make sure that you’re climbing effectively. Shortcutting your way to the top never works—doing everything you can to assure an easy, painless climb just assures you’ll have an easy, painless fall…but the crash at the end will really hurt you.

So build yourself a firm foundation of character and integrity. Make sure you’re aligned with your purpose. Don’t step on others or skip any rungs on your way up. Take time to pause, reflect, and gain perspective. Make sure you keep improving as you climb. Above all else, make sure you acknowledge and add value to the people holding the ladder for you.

If you do that, one day, you’ll hold the ladder for someone else.


  1. Alicia Gargaro-Magana on January 29, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you, John this is so on point and helpful today!

  2. Paul Y on January 29, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Great points, John (and Carly). I am coming out of a valley in life right now. I am mid 50s, what would you suggest to someone who has seen success but being in the season it is. It seems like the suggestions you made to Troy would still be applicable to me too. I would appreciate and value your thoughts.

    #heartopen #eyesopen

    • Ikedife chizoba gloria on February 24, 2019 at 11:10 am

      Thought provoking write up John. This is inspirational and value added human capital development in relation leadership training. I will also wish to get information on ethical leadership which will add to the filling the gap for my research work on the employability of University graduates in my country. Thanks a great deal John Maxwell!!!!! YOU have been my great mentor. I will rather be very good in leadership highlights like you.

  3. Gary W. Spicer on January 29, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Very good and looking forward to your new book!

  4. John Rogers on January 29, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    Love this lesson.
    Thank you John

  5. Veronica on January 29, 2019 at 6:45 pm


  6. Okey Ezema on January 29, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    God bless you My Mentor…

    So, enriching…

  7. John C Grodzinski on January 29, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    We st Resurrection Lutheran Church in Avon Park Florida believe in you! We attended one of your seminars in Orlando about 20 years ago with 5 of our leaders. The materials we brought back with us proved to be of tremendous value! Thank you so much for everything! Yours in Christ, Pastor John Grodzinski
    Resurrection Lutheran Church in Avon Park, Florida

  8. Jombo Paul on January 29, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks for the insight sir

  9. Valentine Idaewor on January 29, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Wonderful post and very timely and powerful to motivate a soul to life wow. God bless you sir

  10. Joe Sasso, JMT on January 29, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks John, alwsus refreshing to hear reinforcing words centered on respect. Remindswrs SWOT focus Stregths represent 35% Opportunities 50% Weaknesses 10% Character building will introduce you to John’s mentor, John Wooden’s Success Pyramid. Threats represent 5% usually relates yourself and the lack of applying yourself. Thanks again John. Leader shift is on order.

  11. Subramaniam on January 29, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Good morning John,
    I have just read this article while I I am have been traveling in a bus to the office. It is incredible and lifetime worthy material I have ever read in my life. I going to practice every day from now.

    I recommend readers to read this article to become successful leader.

    Have a great day.



  12. Alice odchas Caasi on January 29, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    Power want to learn more… Im. A sinlge parent with 5 kids… How will become successfull please help me… Im in my dxn journey now

  13. Ranjit singh on January 29, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Great encouragement to achieve creadìbility in leadership .Thank you John !

  14. Paul Ul-Sung Yi on January 29, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    It’s a very practical and simple advice to follow. I’d like to pass on this advice to my sons: one of them is the CEO of a startup and the other is a ladder climber in a medium size company.

  15. David Lawhorn on January 29, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Powerful and impactful!

  16. Brandy Coffey on January 29, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    Inspiring blog! I especially love the last paragraph about character and integrity.

    • Johnnie Jackson on February 2, 2019 at 10:36 pm

      Thank you Mr. Maxwell! What a powerful, inspiring and relevant message that really hit home! How important is knowing who you are, no matter what others do to shake or perhaps drop the ladder you are climbing?

  17. Dr B J Tellis on January 29, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Such a pleasure to read this good advice

  18. Karen O'Donnell on January 29, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Wow very powerful! That’s what I’m trying to do now is to help employees be successful by starting with the small opportunities. Credibility and desire to be successful matters a lot. You have to want something bad enough to put the effort into. Just because you have been in a position a long time does not guarantee promotion. You have to show accomplishments and never ever feel that you are entitled.

  19. John M Carpenter on January 29, 2019 at 10:02 pm

    Make the best of where you are and you will become the best.

  20. Terri Crittenden on January 29, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Thank you … credibility
    I have experienced that everyone’s version of credibility is different- I do think there are universal truths around credibility.. honesty, authenticity, vulnerable learning.. with humble confidence in your contribution and evidence of performance..

    I am a CEO of a large, transforming design company. I am skilled at left brain problem solving, turning the company around in 2 years.

    I am also a high level creative, challenged by routines and too much structure..
    I can un nerve some when I am free thinking..and I bring the cutting-edge innovations along with it.

    I am expected to behave more ‘normally ’…
    My leadership team pushes up against my ‘style’..
    It’s different but I have driven success and I own my challenges.. to don’t want to make excuses

    At some point, this is me.. not instead of listening and noticing but why do I need to e more like them
    Do I?

  21. Joe Lightle on January 29, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Cannot argue with those principles.

  22. Janey Thompson on January 29, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    This is one valuable teaching especially the one to troy. And not to forget who is holding the leader while you climb. Thanks Janey

  23. Daniel Shieldsd on January 29, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Awesome advise. I hope to pass this on to many in my church. Some of this parallels Bruce Wilkerson’s book Secrets of the Vine.

  24. Erica on January 29, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    This is amazing! Thank you!

  25. Charm Prabhu on January 29, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks,very nice….

  26. Angelo bosa on January 29, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Thank you very much. Your are my mentor through your books I read.

  27. Ragoh harris John on January 30, 2019 at 12:03 am

    I made some mistakes growing up as a young employee, I didn’t build my credibility well, got to the top ten of my industry, suddenly I had a fall.
    What should I do to rise again?

  28. Monica Edward's on January 30, 2019 at 12:30 am

    This was a great reading.

  29. Milly Sakira on January 30, 2019 at 12:35 am

    This so wonderful please sent more, personally I will do the daily improvements on my character through prayer

  30. Martha Koome on January 30, 2019 at 1:14 am

    Many thanks this message was awesome it helped me clarify my priority areas in my profession.
    I have to be competent and efficient which means I have to read and prepare thoroughly for everything I do as a Judge. My judgments and Rulings must be well written, well researched and sound in law that is what will give me credibility . I also need to build relationoships.
    God bless you

    • Jack Bastable on January 30, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      John. – a great reminder of our long term objective- more cred more ability to help others!
      Ps you continue to be a great resource for inspiration and learning- thank you!

  31. Kevin Turner on January 30, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Thank you for this powerful article! Transitioning from a career in Mental Health/Corrections I will be more intentional on the steps above to began creating credibility beyond the fence.

    Establishing strong relationships through connecting with people in harmony with my purpose will allow me to impact lives I may never meet physically.

    Again, thank you for paving the way for others to leave valued legacies!
    Yours In Significance,
    #JMT-Reflect Your Heart

  32. Paul Botha on January 30, 2019 at 2:15 am

    Excellent tips to re focus

    Thank you

  33. Aribisala Tosin on January 30, 2019 at 2:24 am

    John C.maxwell, you are a blessing to my life….. This is powerful!

  34. Cedric on January 30, 2019 at 2:48 am

    Thank you so much for this blog. It’s too much credibility for me to take off my improvement on every step of my life.

  35. Rosalinda on January 30, 2019 at 2:59 am

    Thank you very much. I want things to achieve in one go and don’t know exactly what is the first move on how to achieve it. After reading this credibility and integrity it helps realised that take a small steps and build a strength and confidence in me to do extra mile. Thank you John and your team for sharing . Godspeed!

  36. Ogwu Emmanuel on January 30, 2019 at 3:17 am

    Thanks very much and really appreciate you teaching on leadership and other aspect you have been mentoring me for two years now, the advice we’ll taken

  37. Marlon Oliver on January 30, 2019 at 3:45 am

    I’m learning so much from you John!

    This is my note to say thank you!

  38. Ayo Faith on January 30, 2019 at 3:54 am

    Great message. Just a question about the four small opportunities – show up earlier than others, stay later than others, take shorter lunches, and introduce yourself to the CEO as someone who could be called upon to do anything at any time.

    I do these but find out that the CEO takes it for granted. What do I do?

  39. Daniel Mwaura on January 30, 2019 at 4:36 am

    John is a person who gives credible great advice. His seasoned writings only leave the reader desiring for more. Dear Max, you may have no idea how much your resources (books, articles, audio and video tapes) have personally brought out the giant that was sleeping inside of me. I have taken after you and have already began a series of writings. My first book -Grow to Go is complete awaiting publishing. You have helped me also to unlock my purpose something i have struggled with for the past 37 years. Thanks a Million

  40. Olufemi Davids on January 30, 2019 at 5:15 am

    This, is spot on for me. A lot of thanks.

  41. Kirk Thomas on January 30, 2019 at 5:39 am

    I’m new to being supervisor and have no experience but would like to be a good leader were would I start?

    • Jason Brooks on February 1, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Kirk–congratulations on becoming a supervisor! That’s awesome! The best framework for developing yourself as a good leader is the 5 Levels of Leadership.

      Level 1–This is where you are. You’ve earned a position of leadership. Do everything you can to invest in yourself and learn in your new role. But as you do that, remember to work on…
      Level 2–This developing relationships with the people on your team. Get to know each person–their values, their responsibilities, their skills and their dreams. The more you know your people, the more intelligently you can lead them.
      Level 3–This is producing. You’re responsible for generating results, so you look for ways to get your team a quick win and build momentum. Don’t be afraid to make changes that will increase your productivity because leaders are measured by results.
      Level 4–This is reproducing. As you’re building relationships with your team, keep your eyes open for people who have potential. They’ll be people who share your values, work hard with and for the team, produce great results, and are eager to learn.
      Level 5–This is moral authority. You earn respect from people because you consistently build relationships, produce results, and develop leaders who multiply your influence and improve the overall performance of the organization.

      You can learn more about the 5 Levels here or by reading John’s book, “Developing the Leader Within You 2.0”. Thanks for your comment, and all the best to you as you step into greater influence as a leader!

  42. Wallace Sousa on January 30, 2019 at 6:26 am

    Great lesson, dear John Maxwell. I am learning a lot with your writings and advices. Tks from Brazil.

  43. Azam Aziz on January 30, 2019 at 6:46 am

    This post had truly impacted me with gentle reminders toward significance. It also provides a resourceful shield to practice when starting up your own business. Thanks Mr. Maxwell. Jesus Bless you for your posts. As a young man I cherish these nuggets. Blessings!

  44. Nwandu Ike on January 30, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this. It helps me check what I am doing currently in line with building credibility. Am I really climbing the ladder or I’m scattering my efforts.

  45. Rotimi Oyebisi on January 30, 2019 at 7:16 am

    Thank you for the message. Very educative! It is an eye-opener to growth and success.

  46. Okaeng on January 30, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Great message, reminded me of the important lessons on personal development. Many Thanks

  47. Bernardo Garcia on January 30, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Great Ioved it

  48. Mitchell Chapman on January 30, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Judge by and with THE Eternal Rule Book and all will be well
    Numbers 6:24-26

  49. Lawrence Leahy on January 30, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    I remember going on a walk with my son, over 16 years ago, and giving him the same advice you gave your nephew. Soon after I drove him to college, helped him move into the athletic dorm and left him with plenty of time to get to his first team meeting. Well he and his roommates showed up right before the meeting started. As they walked in the rest of the team were all there and one of the coaches said I’ll see you gentlemen on the track tomorrow morning at 6.

  50. Hope Uwera on January 30, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Great insights, thank you so much for this wonderful message. I will endeavor to seize these opportunities and also work on building my relationships because am not doing so well in this area. Thank you once again for living an impactful life.

    God bless you and your family abundantly!

  51. Cathy Biedermann on January 30, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    I very much appreciated this today. I tend to magnify my weaknesses instead of working in my strengths. This served as a wonderful reminder of where I should be working. Personal development has been so crucial to my development as a leader. I’m not yet where I want to be but I’m on my way. I could not be a leader without credibility. People will only work with people they trust. I bend over backwards to protect this. So appreciate your helpful insights.

  52. Sharon Denford on January 31, 2019 at 6:47 am

    I really felt I got something out of this and look forward to more!
    Thank you

  53. Dave Kwan on January 31, 2019 at 9:04 am

    John, thanks for the message. You are always insightful and systematic in helping others to navigate the complexity of leadership. I enjoy reading your messages.

    God bless!

  54. Beata Swiatek on January 31, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you John!
    This is RECIPI for THRU SUCCESS! I believe applying this, acting on make anyone touch there dreams, visions and didaiers. Doing all that you will see All you want from the top of your ladder and helping others around you to be on ther TOO TO!
    Thank you John! You’re Blessed and you’re the blessing for All around the glob?

  55. Susan on January 31, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    This is great advice! Thank you!

  56. Perry Skoll on February 1, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Very well said. Really appreciated your perspective on leadership.

  57. Robert Negron on February 2, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Throughout my career I’ve always had a problem with being totally sold out to an organization or a job because I’ve seen how it can often consume someone’s life and doesn’t leave them time to spend with God, their family, rest, or even take care of themselves when their sick. I’d be interested in hearing from others who have experienced the same thing and how they are handling it. I’m more interested in significance than I am success. God bless, Robert

  58. Kayitesi Sheilla Witty on February 5, 2019 at 4:21 am

    Wow! I really needed this. Thanks so much for the insights. God bless you

  59. Patrick Latu'ila on February 6, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Powerful perspective.

  60. Darl S on February 6, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks John for all this great info. I only wish I’d know years ago what I’ve been learning the past year or so from your teachings.

  61. Nathaniel Tavershima Karshima on February 7, 2019 at 12:46 am

    Your messages have done so much in my life, thanks so much for this piece of advice! God bless you and your team.

  62. Chingreiso Zingkhai on February 7, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    Thank you Sir for the work you have done for all around the world. I have read it and it is new idea that you have given to me thank you Very much sir.

  63. Nnamdi Chiadikobi on February 7, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Apt, lots of lessons learned. Thanks for sharing

  64. Pauline M. Ceegar on February 8, 2019 at 4:39 am

    Very Educative

  65. BLANCHE on February 11, 2019 at 6:22 am

    This is so so enriching. I’m grateful for your mentorship. More Grace to you.

  66. Jessie van Rooyen on February 18, 2019 at 3:40 am

    Dr Maxwell

    Thank you for hosting this blog.

    I once attended a presentation of yours in South Africa, and was inspired instantly (that was somewhere before 2004). I also did your Million Leaders Mandate training in 2006-2007.

    My husband (since 2004) bought me your Leadership Bible in 2006 with the birth of our firstborn.

    I’m a trained teacher, believing that God purposed me to be exactly that – influencing children to discover their life purpose and to become the best version God created them to be.

    I please want to share in the wisdom you share on your blog.

    Jessie van Rooyen, Namibia

  67. […] On the contrary, growth-minded leaders like John Maxwell focus on developing their strengths. […]

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