Insights
February 21, 2023

Law of the Lid in Leadership


Featured image for “Law of the Lid in Leadership”

Have you ever wanted to do more, be more, and achieve more, yet feel that you’ve hit a wall? Or you are building high-performance teams but you just can’t seem to push through this looming hurdle. You could be facing the “lid” described by leadership guru John C. Maxwell. His bestselling book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, teaches the Law of the Lid to emphasise the value and importance of leadership, which touches every aspect of life.

Law of the Lid teaches that your effectiveness is hampered. You may achieve small, personal successes, but nothing beyond.

“Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness.”

We are all able to achieve some measure of success. If you practice and improve your technique, you will be able to surf bigger waves. If you study enough, you may finally get the hang of a complicated concept that had previously eluded you. But what if you’re aiming for loftier goals and grander ambitions?

If you have low leadership ability, the Law of the Lid teaches that your effectiveness is hampered. You may achieve small, personal successes, but nothing beyond. Your leadership lid prevents you from going big. That’s because big goals require big thinking and strategising, dynamism, proactiveness, perseverance, and, notably, teamwork. And where there’s a team, there has to be someone to lead the team. This would be especially imperative in an organisational setting.

The higher the lid, the higher the potential

Consider the examples of Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers to illustrate the Law of the Lid. Dick and Maurice McDonald founded their restaurant in the 1940s and, by most measures, it was a success. The restaurant was extremely profitable and made the brothers very rich. However, the person who turned McDonald’s into the global, almost ubiquitous brand we know today, with a revenue of US$23 billion in 2022, was not the McDonald brothers. It was Ray Kroc.

The first McDonald’s Store Museum in Illinois, USA

Here’s another example: the case of Apple and the two Steves. The brains behind the first Apple computer were actually (the less well-known) Steve Wozniak. He was smart, successful, and became a multimillionaire. However, it was the uber-ambitious and visionary Steve Jobs who turned Apple into a high-demand household brand that sells out new products within days of the launch and where top tech talents clamour to work. 

Related Reading  The 5 behaviour secrets of a mindful leader

What did Ray Kroc and Steve Jobs have that the others did not?

While there are many factors at play, these examples demonstrate that there was a cap on the potential of the McDonald brothers and Steve Wozniak. That was their lid. They had reached their limit. It took others with higher leadership skills to take their organisations to the next level.

A low lid holds back the potential of others

If we measure leadership skills on a scale of one to 10, it would be extremely difficult for someone with a leadership skill of seven to lead others who are at eight, nine, or 10. People with higher leadership potential will soon find themselves at odds with a boss (or lid) who has lower competency.  

Negative consequences can manifest as a result. For example, a Nine may suggest out-of-the-box ideas that Boss Seven rejects. Seven may feel insecure or threatened because Nine is outperforming him. Seven may start to micromanage or withhold information from team members. There is frustration on both ends and usually, the people with high competency will leave for a place where they can reach their full potential. 

This is why, even with the most talented teams, some projects or organisations cannot take off. Talent is not the issue; leadership is. Tales abound of how high-performing teams can be demolished in a matter of months when a new manager or leader who is less capable enters the scene.

A low lid also holds back organisational effectiveness

If an individual has a leadership ability (or lid) of say, six, this person’s effectiveness will not exceed a five. This applies in an organisation too. If the top person, usually the CEO, is a six, the organisation will not grow past a five. Moreover, the lower you go in the organisational structure, the level of leadership gets correspondingly lower as well. This is because the Law of the Lid is in effect at each level. 

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If an individual has a leadership ability (or lid) of say, six, this person's effectiveness will not exceed a five.
Law of the Lid

You may notice that when things are not going well when challenges seem overwhelming, an organisation or even a country gets rid of its leadership and finds a new one.

Typically, the buck stops with the top person. Take for instance if a company takes over the management of hotels that are not doing well financially. One of the first things the company does after it takes over is to fire the leader – every single time. Why? To quote: “If he’d been a good leader, the organisation wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in.” 

Leadership abilities can be coached

The good news is that leadership ability, like many skills, can be learned and improved upon. Few people are born as Perfect 10 leaders. The first step is by realising that personal growth is a never-ending journey.

Take an honest assessment of your leadership and abilities. Ask the people around you (boss, peers, subordinates) to rate your leadership skills. Know your weaknesses and bring in people who can close the gaps. Learn from mistakes and analyze what went wrong. Be accountable. Realise that just because you are in a position of power does not mean that you can lead effectively, at all times. So keep learning, training, and reading.

If you are the top leader in your organisation, when you raise your lid, you will raise the potential of your organisation. And it is entirely possible to grow your leadership ability.

Raise your leadership lid by having a business coach
Executive Coaching can translate to measurable growth and ROI

One way is through executive coaching. It’s been shown that executive coaching does more than raise leadership ability and personal skills. Studies have found that leadership development in high-level employees translates to measurable growth and ROI for the organisation. More capable leaders foster better company culture, help motivate employees, build a more resilient organisation and create better communication throughout the company.

If you would like to raise your lid, achieve more significant goals or lead your organisation towards a higher level of effectiveness, we can help you get there. Get in touch and let’s talk.

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