Pareto – The 80/20 rule

You’ve probably heard of this. 

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who noticed in 1896 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by just 20% of the population. He followed this with studies which showed that the same was true in other countries. 

In 1941 management consultant Joseph M. Juran started applying Pareto’s thinking to quality improvement, suggesting that 80% of a problem comes from 20% of the causes.  

In leadership terms this 80-20 principle suggests that 80% of your impact comes from just 20% of your work. 

This is why getting your priorities straight is so important. 

What is the 20% of your work that makes most of your impact? 

If you can answer this question, you can shift more of your time into activity that really matters. 

What is the 20% of stuff that causes 80% of the problems?

If you can answer this… You know what to avoid. Or get rid of. 

This is a good recipe for making progress. 

Identify the most productive 20% and amplify. Identify the most annoying 20% and cut it back. Repeat. 


In my free e-Book on the 6 Keys to Leadership the first characteristic I mention is: Vision. 

If you can identify the way forward and
set it out for people, you’re on the road
to leading them there. 

As I’ve quoted before John Maxwell says a leader is “someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. Knowing the way, or setting a vision, is the very first step. 

The word “Vision” is often used in a grandiose sense. Think of the “visionary leader” who brings forward entirely new ideas about how things should be done, and casts them in vibrant words that carry people into a brighter future for all humanity. This is wonderful. But very rare. 

Most people trying to lead don’t have to change the whole world to make a difference. But you do need a clear sense of where you’re trying to get to, and a way to describe it that shows people how they fit in to the plan. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the very top of the tree, responsible for a large branch, or just minding the business in one small cluster of leaves. Cut through the complexity, imagine a way in which your organisation would be better and tell a story about it that your colleagues can see themselves in. 

As an exercise, try thinking about the following questions. 

What is the barrier you and your team run up against the most? What would not having this barrier look and feel like? 

What are you not delivering that your customers really want? What would providing it look and feel like?

What could you change in your corner of the business that would contribute powerfully to the new overarching strategy your boss has brought in? What would that mean for your team in their day to day work?

Where is the latest technology being adopted by organisations like yours? Should you be picking that technology up? Or deliberately retaining a human to human approach? How would that impact your team?

What are your team’s passions? Is your team working in its power zone? Or has it drifted into the market-expertise overlap? How could moving towards “passion” enhance what your team delivers for your organisation?

My point is… None of these questions are particularly esoteric or world-changing. But they will start you on the road to shaping a Vision for you and your team. 

Leave a comment with answers to any of the questions above. 

Changing things to make things better…

…is a pretty good definition of the leadership task. 

In this post I provided the following picture of how leadership and management work together. 

Leadership is about identifying “opportunities to add value” and taking action to move things forward. Which inevitably means… Changing things. To make things better. 

So how do you find the opportunities to add value?

Ask some questions. Ask yourself. Ask your colleagues. Ask your customers*.

(*Customers might be people who actually buy things from you. And they might be the groups of people you serve elsewhere in your organisation.)

Where are your frustrations? What is the stuff that keeps getting in the way? Or the process that just doesn’t quite work right?

Where are your best customers? What are they valuing? What’s the most important thing you do for them and how well are you doing it right now?

Where are your competitors? What’s all the rage right now? Are you in on it? Should you get in on it? Or do something different to set yourself apart?

Somewhere in-amongst the answer to these questions are several things that would add value. 

Pick one. Move it forward. Repeat. 

Where are you?

You might be in your first or second leadership role. 

You might be thinking about applying for a position with more responsibility than you’ve had before.

You might have been doing leadership for ages but just started thinking about it as a topic in itself. 

The word “leadership” is in your job description but no-one has really explained what it means or offered you any training or guidance on it.

You want to make an impact. 

You want to get things done that make a difference. 

You want to bring people with you. Not leave them confused on the sidelines or broken in your wake. 

You’d like some ideas about leadership to think about and work on. 

What it is. What it looks and feels like.  

How to make positive changes while looking after your people. 

If some or all of that is true… 

Welcome. Lead From Where You Are is for you. 

It doesn’t matter if you have a handful of people reporting to you, or a hundred, or none at all. You can lead from where you are. I’d like to help. 

As well as posting here and at  I’m building some resources and hoping to start running some in-person workshops this autumn. 

So tell me… Why are you here? What are your frustrations and challenges? What has worked for you?

Leave me a comment. Let me know how I can help. 



Building resilience 6: Comments round up

Having finished what I wanted to say about Resilience, I thought it worth picking up on some of the great comments on the posts. 

The second post in the series was about setting your mindset away from “why is this happening?” and towards “what are we going to do?”. 

Steve commented along the lines that in high pressured environments, places in which safety and security, or millions of pounds, are genuinely on the line, the need to set your mindset this way is obvious. And so not that helpful really. 

Which is fair enough. But in some ways, it is where the lesson comes from. Emergency services in the middle of a multiple location incident don’t waste time wishing that the second fire hadn’t started. They prioritise, work out what they’re going to do and then get on and do it as best they can. 

Now. If this keeps happening over and over, something has to give. Emergency services, air traffic control, other critical systems units, set themselves up with shift patterns and rules that limit individual exposure to relentless pressures. 

Some of us have to do that ourselves though. 

Lyndsey commented that she often sees people who think they’re being resilient but are really just in “endurance” mode. Ploughing on, despite signs that a break is what is needed above all else. 

She’s so right when she says: Resilience is NOT endurance. 

Sometimes the answer to: What am I going to DO about it? is just… Stop. Breathe. Go home. Rest. Come back to it tomorrow. 

And as I said in Part 4 of the series on working your priorities, the stuff that makes you you, the stuff that recharges your batteries and resets your mindset is always important. And very rarely urgent. 

Whether it’s time with your kids, knitting, exercise, your special show you share with a friend or spouse… Make being you-you (not just work-you) a priority. 

The last comment I’ll reference was from Ellie on the important-urgent matrix mentioned in the post on priorities. She noted that sometimes everything is sitting in the “important and urgent” corner and mapping this out makes things feel more overwhelming. 

This is worth a post in itself. There are several things to do here. But for now I’ll offer one thought. 

You can only ever do one complicated thing at a time. So faced with a long list of “important and urgent” things, go through again and try to pick out the three MOST important and urgent things. Then go through THAT list and pick ONE to work on. Set yourself a short achievable goal, and work it. Then do the same with number two. Then again with number three. 

You’ll have identified a set of priorities and made progress. 

If you have trouble determining the most important, because they’re all important, just pick. You have to work on something. So choose and move it forward. 

You may not be able to change the tide of events that buffet you as you try to lead. But…

Set your mindset towards positive next-steps. 

Proactively manage your mental wellbeing. 

Make sure you’re working your priorities. 

And help your team do these things too. 

Work in this way and you’ll be building a firm foundation of resilience that will help you take things in stride and keep moving forwards. 

Thanks for reading this series and for the brilliant comments that have really made me think. 

Building resilience 5: Look after your team

In this series of posts on resilience I’ve put forward a three part prescription for your own resilience. 

First: Turn away from a victim mindset where your response to challenge is to throw up your hands, throw in the towel and ask “Why is this happening to me?” Instead get into the habit of meeting difficult moments with a pause to catch your breath and ask yourself “OK. Here we are. What am I going to do next?”

Second: Start thinking about your mental wellbeing on a sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. Practice recognising where you are on that spectrum and adjusting your self-expectations accordingly. And take steps to proactively move yourself towards the fitness end of the spectrum. 

Third: Stay on top of your priorities. Make sure you’re making time for work that is important but less urgent, and for the things that keep you grounded and sane. 

The final piece of the puzzle for this series of posts, is that as a leader, wherever you are in the hierarchy, keep an eye on your team in terms of all of the above. This is a key part of fulfilling John Adair’s idea that as a leader you have to pay attention to task, individuals and team

All the time, and especially when things are particularly busy, check in with the individuals you work with. Are they on top of things? How are they doing with the three-part prescription of mindset, mental wellbeing and priorities? If their balance is off, how can you help?

If you think someone needs some help, don’t try to be too clever. Just talk with them. Ask how they are. Ask how things are going. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. You might be surprised. All it might take to really help is to give permission to go home an hour early. Or pick out a key priority from in-amongst a mass of deadlines and pressures. 

But as well as looking out for the individuals you work with, think about the resilience of the team. Is the team coming together to face challenge (not as a victimised minority, but) as a proactive  group? Does the team have time in its schedule to build its cohesiveness and communication? Does the team know what’s most important right now?

Care for the team’s wellbeing as much as you do for the individuals in the group, and you’ll be embedding resilience on every level. 

Click here for the last in this series on resilience in which I’ll pick up on some of great comments I’ve received.