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When Real Leaders Speak, People Listen

February 6, 2024

What book should I read next?

This is a constant question for me. I love biographies, books about business, and books about leadership. I look forward to new books and concepts. 

However, there are a few classics that I go back to over and over again. One of my favorites is the first leadership book I read in college: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.

All 21 laws are excellent, but the one that has stuck most firmly in my mind for the last 20 years is Law #5: The Law of EF Hutton.

Some of you reading are thinking, “Who the heck is EF Hutton?” (And those of you not wondering are probably over the age of 50). 

Let me set the stage: EF Hutton, a financial company, ran an advertising campaign in 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the commercials, two people would be talking in a crowded area (like an airport or a park on a nice day) about what their broker says about a certain kind of investment. Inevitably, one of the people will respond with, “Well, my broker is EF Hutton, and EF Hutton says . . .” At this moment, all of the hustle and bustle around them stops, everyone grows silent and leans in to hear what this person is going to say. The narrator concludes the commercial saying, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” 

John Maxwell calls Law #5 the Law of EF Hutton to illustrate this principle: When real leaders speak, people listen.

A “real leader” is a leader with personal power, not just positional power. This is a person whose voice carries weight. Think about your last team meeting and the most influential voice in that room. When this person shares something, it has an effect on the other people present (positively or negatively) because they naturally influence the people around them.

I remember vividly who this real leader was in an organization I was involved with in college. If she liked an idea and expressed approval, everyone was on board. If she didn’t, it wasn’t going to happen. I quickly learned that if I was going to accomplish my agenda as the positional leader, I needed her in my corner. Before I presented a new idea or strategy to the group, I began to solicit her feedback first. This made all the difference in my ability to influence my team. It wasn’t enough to have positional power. To win the hearts and minds of the others, I needed to leverage personal power. 

When you learn to identify those individuals with true influence, your effectiveness will increase exponentially.


But I’d challenge you to take it a step further: Work to become that kind of leader. 

If your goal is to build personal influence, regardless of your position, I’d encourage you to focus on three areas:

1. Character
If people trust your character, they will be more eager to listen to what you have to say. To put it simply, do you do what you say you’re going to do? Often leaders over-promise and under-deliver. Be a person who keeps your word, and others will believe what you say is true.

2. Consistency
This is related to character, but it’s proven over a period of time. When you are consistent, the people you lead know what to expect from you and are more likely to listen to what you have to say.

3. Candor 
People like honesty. They appreciate it when you don’t mince words, but tell the truth unapologetically. Peggy Noonan says, “Candor is a compliment; it implies equality.” When you’re up front with people, you are able to develop trust more effectively. 

If you’re not the real leader in the room, don’t be discouraged. You have a voice, and you can be heard.

First, be strategic by gaining the support of the real leader in the room. If they support you, you will naturally gain influence.

Second, and more importantly, become the real leader in the room by cultivating character, consistency, and candor in the way you lead and communicate with your team. 

Don’t forget: When the real leader speaks, people listen.


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