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.