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Four Traits of the Navigating Leader



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John Maxwell has been quoted as saying, “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.” What John is talking about here is the Law of Navigation, which he addresses in detail in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

So, why navigation? As leaders, each of us is aware of the importance of follower-ship; however, we should be as much concerned with charting the course for those we lead. At the end of the day, John recommends that the key to doing this well is preparation. When leaders prepare well, they “convey confidence and trust to people. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere.”(2)

Regardless of the organization you work for, each of you is on a journey together. Moreover, if you are going to fulfill your organizational purpose, this journey is something that must be done together! It’s not optional. So, with that in mind, where are you currently taking your people? Also, how is where you’re taking them contributing to helping your organization fulfill its purpose? These are two fundamental questions to ask ourselves. And it’s impossible to answer them well without being intentional.

The bottom line in leadership isn’t about how far we are able to advance ourselves. It’s about how far we progress others – how far we push the organization. Navigating for others is actually one of the things that John has struggled with in his leadership career. He mentions in the book that for a while, he was able to hire others that did the navigating for him; however, eventually, he had to take responsibility and own it for himself. One of the things he did to take responsibility and to prepare better, was create an acrostic that helped him keep the fundamental concepts of preparation and planning top of mind.

Here’s what he came up with:(1)

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

So, consider the acrostic above, as well as four traits of leaders who navigate effectively, which I am giving below. Are there areas where you need to improve? Are you stronger in some areas than others? And if so, what behaviors can you and your team engage in together to close that gap? No one ever said you had to do it alone!

Here are the four traits of effective navigators:(1)

Navigators draw on past experience – Every past success you’ve had, and every previous failure you’ve experienced, are valuable sources of information – that is, if you allow the experience to be the best teacher. If not, it is unlikely that you will repeat past success, and all the more likely that you may make the same mistakes again.

Navigators examine the conditions before making commitments – This requires that we look inward and consider whether or not we are willing to count the cost before making a commitment. As John says in the book, “No good leader plans a course of action without paying close attention to current conditions.”(1)

Navigators listen to what others have to say – No matter how good you are, you will never have all of the answers. Don’t be afraid to gather information from multiple sources.

Navigators make sure their conclusions represent both faith and fact – Leading others requires us to have a positive attitude. If you aren’t able to take the trip in your mind, you’re not going to manifest it in real life.

“The rules of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house.” – Thomas Reid


(1)“The Law of Navigation.” The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, by John C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson.
(2)Vitasek, Kate. “Maxwell’s Law of Navigation: Be Prepared, Share the Vision.” Vested, 13 Aug. 2014,

Nathan R Mitchell is America’s Leading Empowerment CoachTM  and the Editor of Leadership Addict. In 2010 he founded the business and leadership development company, Clutch Consulting. Nathan is also a Certified Speaker, Trainer, and Coach with The John Maxwell Team. Originally from Springfield Missouri, Nathan earned his B.S. Degree in Management and an MBA from Missouri State University. Currently, he lives near Tulsa Oklahoma with his wife and children. His purpose in life is to empower others to lead to their full leadership potential.


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