***This article is inspired by chapter 7 of “Leadershift” by John C. Maxwell – “Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building” ***

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The reality is that there are no “self-made” people. Behind every successful person are many others who have gone before them and helped them achieve their success. Parents, teachers, mentors, bosses, friends, and many others play a part in our development. We even learn from bad examples so we don’t repeat their mistakes. As we grow as leaders, the ceiling of those who have gone before us becomes our floor to build upon.

The most effective leaders are builders of people. They achieve personal success and then help others do the same. But this shift doesn’t happen overnight or automatically. It happens with intentionality and it often takes time to realize the value of shifting from striving for personal gain to focusing on helping others become great leaders.

Consider the four shifts that John Maxwell teaches about building ladders for others rather than simply climbing your own ladder:


1 – Ladder Climbing – “How High Can I Go?”

In this phase of leadership, you are focused on your own development and success. This is a required stage because without it you’ll have little to share with others and you’ll have limited credibility. No one wants to follow a leader who hasn’t succeeded. This step is about leading yourself to become the best leader possible. If you are beginning in your leadership journey, this is vital for future success and lays the foundation for what you can do to help others. Consider your strengths and opportunities. Commit to growing daily. Develop your character and operate with high integrity. Be a good follower and learn from others ahead of you.

2 – Ladder Holding – “How High Will Others Go With A Little Help?”

In this phase, you begin to shift to think about how you can help others succeed. Pastor Kevin Myers stated, “Leaders should want far more for their people than from their people.” Yes, you need to inspire and motivate your followers to produce and excel. However, if you are committed to helping them develop, you will benefit everyone around them and the effectiveness of your team and organization will multiply. Serve them. Be available to coach and train them. Help them see their potential and show them how to take steps to reach it.

3 – Ladder Extending – “How High Will Others Go With A Lot Of Help?”

This phase requires intentional, strategic mentoring. This is when you are able to share your expertise because you are successful in your specialized area and are mature enough to pass along what you’ve learned from your experiences. You are investing much time and energy into people in this stage. You choose your mentees wisely, but once you do you begin to see their growth as your success. You go deep by investing in a few rather than wide with many who only get a limited amount of your time.

4 – Ladder Building – “Can I Help Them Build Their Own Ladder?”

This final stage is about equipping them to build their own customized ladder. In the previous stages, they are often imitating what you do. In this stage, they begin to create and innovate. They have confidence and competence to lead others well. They begin to see how their success in new ways and then help others do the same. This is about reproducing what they have received from you. They begin to see opportunities to leave a legacy by investing in others as you have invested in them. Your role in this stage is to cast a vision for reproducing other leaders. You show them what you’ve done for them and then challenge them to go do it for others. Their success becomes the floor for the next generation of leaders that will follow them.


Most people strive for personal success, but many overlook the impact they can make on future generations. They overlook opportunities to pass along to others what they have learned over the years. Most of the time this happens because no one has pointed out to them that they have been invested in and should then invest in others.

Look around your organization, community, family, and friends. Who has invested in you? Be sure to thank them. Take notes of what you’ve learned from others over the years. Then take another look at those whom you can invest in so they can achieve greater levels of success.

You don’t have to be the wise old “sage” to give back. You simply need to be a few steps ahead of those you lead. In fact, many times we learn best from those who are five steps ahead because we can identify rather than those who are hundreds of steps ahead and seem out of reach.

You can do this.

People need you to invest in them.

You’ll be glad you did when you see the growth of your followers. They will become more successful and you will become more fulfilled.

Until next time…make today GREAT!

P.S. If you’d like some help with navigating personal or professional challenges and opportunities, click HERE to learn about my coaching services.

Leave a Reply

Get Your Free "Magnetic Leadership" Checklist!

Discover the 18 essential actions to attract quality team members and keep them engaged!

Thanks for requesting the checklist! Check your email to receive it.