Law of the Lid

Recently, I was meeting with a client and his four-person leadership team. The client, Jim, has owned this business for 30 years, has seen up times and downtimes, been through recessions and booms. Now, he is ready to move on and some of the leaders want to buy the business. Spoiler alert – Jim didn’t know about the Law of the Lid.

Jim invited me to work with him and his team to help ensure alignment and healthy communication among the group. While meeting with them, I realized one of the future owners, Mike, was being protective of those on his team. He stated he was careful to not give them too much work that would be a challenge to them. The reason Mike wanted to protect their workload was to avoid having to go in and “clean up the mess” they would have inevitably left.

That is when I introduced Mike and the rest of the group to the Law of the Lid. This law has been established by John Maxwell in a book which is probably his best-known book on leadership – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

What is the Law of The Lid?

Maxwell states our leadership ability is the lid (or limit) that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential.

This law goes on to state the people under a leader can never progress beyond the leader’s lid. For the team to grow, the leader must also grow by raising his or her lid.

Mike began to understand his role in this and saw this new perspective as helpful. 

But, what happened next was something I hadn’t anticipated! Jim, the owner of the business, then said, “You know, I think I have been the one to hold these guys (his leadership team) back from being the leaders they can actually be for this business.” It was an incredible moment of honesty and transparency from Jim.

On the drive back to my office I began thinking about this situation. How many leaders are just unaware of the lid or limits they may be unintentionally placing on those on their team? 

Are you placing limits?

I’ve known Jim for 5 years now and I know he has times where he worries about his business. This is not unique to Jim! Just about every entrepreneur and business owner I know worries about their business. Yet worry isn’t going to solve anything, as we all know. Instead, you need to come to terms with your responsibility for your team’s current situation. 

You see, everything rises and falls on leadership – if an organization has great results, it is because of great leadership. If the organization has poor results, it is because of poor leadership. It is as simple as this. If the results are poor or below expectations, we must look at the leader to see what they did or didn’t do to create the outcome.

Expecting high performance when the leader is unaware of the limits or lids they have is a recipe for disaster every time. It is impossible to achieve great outcomes when the leader has an average level of ability. There is good news thought! Every leader can grow their ability and thereby enable their team to perform at consistently high levels.

If you have been disappointed in your team’s results, maybe it’s not the team’s fault – especially if they are performing under your direction. 

What is your current level of leadership ability? Are you placing a lid or limit on the growth of the team and therefore on their performance? If you can humbly admit this is the case, make a commitment to do what is necessary to raise your own lid. You’ll sleep better and you’ll also begin to attract higher performing talent to your team.