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Have you ever heard the phrase: “When a real leader speaks, people listen”? It summarises John Maxwell’s fifth leadership law, the “Law of E.F. Hutton”.

Edward F. Hutton was a very successful stockbroker and cofounder of the brokerage firm E. F. Hutton & Co. The firm was known for its TV commercials in the 1970s and 1980s based on the phrase, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen”. E.F. Hutton quickly became a household name and under his leadership, the E. F. Hutton & Co became one of the most respected financial firms in the United States.

E.F. Hutton’s earned the right to be heard.

The opening sentence of this chapter reads, “Young, inexperienced leaders often walk confidently into a room full of people only to discover that they have totally misjudged the leadership dynamics of the situation.” Maxwell writes about how, at his first job leading a church in rural Indiana, he walked into his first meeting there and saw that he was, by far, the youngest person there. As a matter of fact, many of the people there had attended that church longer than he had been alive.

 He writes that he attended his first church board meeting as pastor with no agenda, no preconceptions, and no clue.  He figured that since he was the titular leader that everyone would follow him.  At this meeting he asked if anyone had anything they’d like to discuss.

After a brief pause a fellow named Claude spoke up with the need for tuning the church’s piano. After another brief pause, Claude mentioned a pane of glass that needed replacing at the back of the church. Another pause and then Claude jumped in with a few more items of need. The rest of the board wholeheartedly supported Claude’s agenda items and voted to pass them.

In the story, Maxwell had the title, but Claude had the position of leadership in the group.  Claude was “E. F. Hutton” in that situation. When he spoke, the group listened.

Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.”

Maxwell was faced with a few possible solutions to his situation. He could have gone around and told people that HE was the leader and they should follow him. Or, he could have gotten rid of his rivals, such as Claude or, he could find a way to avail himself of Claude’s authority and the respect he held.  Maxwell opted for this final option. Maxwell wasn’t threatened and insecure because of Claude but viewed Claude as an asset!)

Prior to his next board meeting at the church, Maxwell contacted Claude with a list of items he thought needed attention. Claude was more than happy to help, and even gathered support for Maxwell’s ideas.

Try this the next time you go to a meeting of any sort. Who is it that the group listens to? Who is it that the group supports? Who has the credibility within the group? Maxwell tells us to look for one of these two types of leaders:


  • Speak first
  • Need the influence of the real leader to get things done
  • Influence only the other positional leaders


  • Speak later
  • Need only their influence to get things done
  • Influence everyone in the room

There is a notable difference in the person who is leading the meeting versus the person who is leading the people. And, truth be told, most of us conductors come into a new organization with the title of leader before we earn the respect of being a true leader. For most groups, there is almost always an adjustment period. Sometimes this lasts for only a few days or weeks, and other times it can take a few years.

Over the course of time, seven key areas reveal themselves in leader’s lives that cause them to step forwards as leaders:

  1.  Character – Who they are (The inner person counts; your depth of character)
  2. Relationships – Who they know (Leaders must have followers. You must have relationships with people to lead them. The deeper the leader, the stronger the potential for leadership)
  3. Knowledge – What they know (Knowledge is vital to a leader. Knowledge alone doesn’t make one a leader, but without it, you cannot become one either.)
  4. Intuition – What they feel ( Leadership demands an ability to deal with numerous tangibles)
  5. Experience – Where they’ve been (The greater the challenges you’ve faced in the past, the more likely followers are to give you a chance. Experience doesn’t guarantee credibility, but it encourages people to give you a chance to prove that you are capable
  6. Past Success – What they’ve done ( Nothing speaks to followers like a good track record)
  7. Ability – What they can do (You must be able to deliver)

Once you have a handle on the law of E.F Hutton, you understand that “People listen not necessarily because of the truth being communicated in the message, but because of their respect for the speaker.” 

So how do you people react when you communicate? When you speak, do people listen—Really Listen? Or do they wait to hear what someone else has to say before they act? You can find out a lof about your level of leadership if you have the courage to ask and answer that question. That’s the power of the Law of E.F Hutton.


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