62: John Maxwell

62: John Maxwell

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 62 •
JOHN MAXWELL

Author, speaker, leadership expert; founder of EQUIP Leadership, The John Maxwell Company and The John Maxwell Team

A couple of years ago Billy Graham invited me to his home in North Carolina to spend an afternoon with him. I had known Billy for twenty-five years but I hadn’t seen him for a while. He sounded very excited about it.

Because I love leadership and love to talk about leaders, I thought I would ask him questions about leaders that he had met around the world and who he considered to be the great leaders. I hoped he’d give me a very full, mature perspective on what good leadership is all about.

So I developed a list of maybe fifteen to twenty questions I wanted to ask him during our time together. We began a wonderful conversation, catching up on news because we hadn’t been together for a couple of years. After about ten or fifteen minutes I thought, Okay, let’s dive into this, John. Let’s find out who he thinks the great world leaders are and hear some of his stories about them.

So I asked him the first leadership question. He replied, “John, really, I brought you up here today to talk about your ministry, what you’re doing.” And I said, “Well, I’m just trying to train leaders internationally like I have been.” I kind of sloughed it off and dove back into my idea of talking with him about his experiences and the leaders he had met.

And so I dove back in with my list of questions. He said, “Well, tell me about Equip. What’s happening in Equip right now?” Equip is my nonprofit organization that has trained five million leaders in 175 countries.

“Okay, I’ll give you a quick update,” I replied. I was planning just to go through it as quickly as I could — just a basic, off-thetop, Reader’s Digest version so I could get back to where I wanted to go with our discussion.

So I told him the basics and thought he would be satisfied with that and that we could then talk a little bit about his experiences with leadership. Then he said, “Well, tell me, what is your most pressing challenge right now?”

The whole afternoon I tried to get him to talk about himself, his ministry, the leaders he knew, but he just wouldn’t go there. He was about ninety years old at the time, but he still wanted to learn. He still wanted to find out what was happening. He still wanted to grow and know how to pray for me. “What are your challenges, and what can I do for you?” he said.

And he talked a lot about the fact that his ministry was evangelistic, trying to help people find God, and in our nonprofit ministry we develop that relationship with God. We try to train people to be leaders. “We’re on the front end, and you’re on the back end,” he said. “And this is a great combination.”

He went over to his desk and picked up my book, 21 Laws of Leadership. He wanted to talk about some of the laws. The whole day, he just absolutely refused to talk about himself.

I knew this about Billy Graham before I got there, but I was reminded of it in our meeting. This is a man who is really humble, and the definition of humility is that humble people don’t think less of themselves. They think less about themselves. That’s Billy Graham. That’s the way he’s always been.

I learned so many lessons that day. I learned again that he wanted to keep learning and growing. It was again very clear to me his ministry was so successful because it was always about others, not about himself.

Billy Graham could have told stories all day. That’s what I wanted him to do. That’s what I was hoping for, but I know well why it didn’t happen. A friend of mine once defined charisma as not about personality; the reason people are drawn to charismatic people is because they’re other-people-minded. This fits Billy Graham exactly.

When we finished our conversation that afternoon, Billy looked at me and said, “Now, I want to pray with you.” And so I went over to where he was sitting, and again it was all about my ministry and where I was going and what I was trying to accomplish. When he had finished, I kissed him on the cheek and left the room. I thought to myself, Well, I didn’t get any answers to the questions I had, but I just spent an afternoon in the presence of a great man.

Greatness is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. And everybody else knows it, too. And one of the things about being around great people like Billy is that, you don’t look at them and think, “Oh, they’re great, and wow, I’m so small” because they so much believe in you and focus on you that you walk out and feel a greater spirit yourself.

I’ve always said that pseudo-great people, after you have met them, leave you thinking about how great they are and how small you are. There’s a huge gap, and you also have this feeling that you never can close that gap. There’s always going to be a distance between their greatness and your smallness.

But with Billy you’re in the midst of unbelievable greatness, and yet somehow you’re empowered and encouraged and uplifted by it, and when you walk away you feel like that spirit — the mantle that he has — has been placed on you, at least for a short while.

When I’ve been with Billy, I have found he’s always uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments or what he’s done. He wants to get off the subject quickly. The only time I have ever found him to be comfortable talking about his ministry is when he talks about what God has done. It’s as if he is saying, “I’m really comfortable with what God has done for me and my ministry, but I’m not at all comfortable about what I myself have done for my ministry.” I think that is the secret of his power. He understands that he isn’t the source. He may be a vehicle, but he’s not the source. I’ve never seen him get the two confused.

He is a perfect example of how God can bless a person and choose him because He knows He can trust him. Billy wasn’t going to steal any of God’s thunder, that’s for sure. His life is a beautiful example of how God will use a person if that person will let Him have the credit. I’ve never, ever seen Billy try to steal any of the applause. In fact, if anything, he runs and hides from it. That’s another quality of greatness. He has been and is a great messenger of God. A great person.

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