The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is commonly described as a situation where 20% of the people do 80% of the work in a given situation. The notion that the majority is done by the minority is often thought to be a statement of reality, rather than of pessimism.  However, it also reflects the fact that only a minority of people typically have the drive and determination required by the extent and level of work that this situation describes.  In other words, many people may work hard in their own eyes, but they don’t function at the level typically expected or achieved by those ‘bigger engine’ types who are wired that way. This is not a universal explanation but is often true.

It need not be a cop-out, either.  It is just a recognition that leaders who typically think in terms of outcomes and productivity can tend to drive people to unrealistic levels of achievement.  The solution is not to give up, but to respond differently.  Coming down from the mountain top and walking shoulder to shoulder with people on the climb back up the hill is about sharing the vision and not imposing it.  People need ‘drivers’ to inspire them to reach further, to break down goals into small and manageable steps, and to value their unique contributions rather than expect them to become clones of others.

For those who typically like to be in that 80%, there is value in considering why they recoil or relapse into relative inactivity on some fronts. The key to the 20% mobilising them, though, is to help draw that majority into a shared ownership of the vision with team accountability for delivering on their contribution in ways that seem impressive and not oppressive.

In this way, the ‘realism’ gives way to optimism by which good leadership paints the picture of a new reality that others can aspire to.


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