The Law of Addition

Leaders add value by serving others.  — John C. Maxwell
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Reflections on John C. Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”

I am a coffee fanatic! I have a Starbucks Verismo Machine at home, a Nespresso machine at work, a Moka pot for Italian espresso and Cuban cafecitos, a french press for special occasions, and a traditional drip for large gatherings.

Depending on one’s taste, coffee can be bitter and gross, or it can be a luxurious experience. That all depends on what you are adding to the coffee. High-quality coffee does not need any sweetener to enhance its flavor. It packs a punch and gets the job done, but that does not mean that everyone is going to enjoy it. You may have to add milk, creamer, sugar, or syrup to give it a boost of flavor for another person’s preferences.

Is this about coffee or leadership?


Leaders add value to their teams. You could be a strong leader, as the robust flavor of 100% premium arabica beans, but it does not mean that all people will follow you. Some people need to be led differently, just as some people prefer four pumps of pumpkin syrup in their coffee. For them, that syrup is an added value.

How do leaders add value?

Adding value is not as difficult as one might assume. Leaders who communicate effectively, are present and available for their teams, and who take a genuine interest in others will add value.

As a leader, you should be asking people about their goals, passions, and ambitions. Then you should do whatever you can to add value to one of those.
I worked with two amazing individuals at a luxury fitness center in the past. One employee was the supervisor, let’s call him Blake, and the other was the juice bar attendant, we’ll call him Shake. Shake started as an enthusiastic, energetic, juice bar attendant. I loved coming in to try his new concoctions and listen to his stories. The members did, as well.

After a few months, Shake lost energy. Blake had to have several discussions with him to find out what was going on. Being in HR, I asked Shake to stop by my office to chat one day. I told him I noticed dramatic changes in his mood and energy. I wanted to see if there was something I could do to help him. He told me that he was turning 40 and that he was just a juice bar attendant. I understood and asked if he would be willing to try something. He was open.

I asked him to write down a list of 100 dreams he had for his life and to bring that list back next week for discussion. He looked surprised but accepted the challenge. The following week Shake’s energy was palpable. He was excited to be there and go through his list. He wrote down more than a hundred. As he rattled them off one by one, Shake began to cry. As he listened to his dreams out loud, he started to be affected by them. These were things he truly wanted to accomplish, but somewhere along the line lost his way.

I noticed that many of his dreams dealt with working with kids. He told me that he used to work for the Tobacco Free campaign and enjoyed helping kids understand the dangers of tobacco.

Our time was up, but I encouraged him to talk with his supervisor Blake about this, who was one of the greatest leaders I knew. Blake helped Shake transition out of his current role into another, at a different company. Yes, we lost Shake, but he was not happy. Blake added value by helping Shake achieve something off of his dream list.

The Storytether

Leaders add value to their employees. Get to know the people that work for you. Become familiar with their professional goals and add value to them by offering assistance. In some cases, you, as their leader, are the only authority figure they have in their life. Take that seriously. Even if you are an all-star double shot of espresso, some people may want to add steamed milk and sugar to sweeten the taste. Let them. (No sexual reference intended here, that would be inappropriate!)

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