You’ve probably all heard of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your profits come from 20% of your efforts. 20% of your clients give you 80% of your profits. It’s become a good rule of thumb for most situations. (e.g. 20% of foods give 80% of daily calorie intake).

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, first developed this concept and it became known as the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule). It was based on his many observations such as 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.


There are probably multiple examples but below are two that I have found to be particularly useful.

1.  The Compassionate 20%

I recall a profound conversation I had in my mid 20s. A friend asked me, "Do you have a ‘stuff-up allowance?" I hadn’t given it any thought and replied, “No, I strive to give 100% every time”.

(Aside: as I reflected on this later, I realised I had semi-consciously translated this as ‘anything less than perfection is categorically insufficient... failure’. And given perfection is unachievable, this revealed why I had a companioning low-level anxiety - called shortfall).

My friend then shared to me that life was not perfect (and neither was I!) so it made sense to have a stuff-up allowance. I agreed. So how much? It was suggested that 20% was a workable (but still challenging) figure. I agreed …and still do.

One way I apply this today is, after a presentation / meeting / delivery, I self-assess: “Was that at least an 8/10?” If not, then I have cause for serious self-improvement / self-correction. If it was, then I am not harsh on myself and zealously demanding of 9-10/10.

I have come to recognize that a 20% stuff-up allowance is a compassionately workable tenet to live by (and a healthy allowance to give others  too).

Disclaimer: I am relating this to evaluations / judgements of self and others, not to work quality. I fully appreciate that quality of work may demand (close to) 100% accuracy... so I am not suggesting that 80% is 'good enough'.

2.  The Challenging 80%

In an earlier blog I put forward that Energy is what lies at the heart of leadership.

My reasoning is this: As our energy rises, so too does our thinking capacity (our ability to access resources in the moment). As we get tired, our thinking capacity diminishes. It’s like a ‘V’ – with lower energy, we have reduced thinking capacity.

Leadership is about vision, resilience, problem-solving, going into the not-yet-known and so we need high energy levels to think creatively but also change all those things need to be changed, to make the vision a reality.

What Energy Rating is Needed for Leadership?

So, what energy rating (out of 10) is needed for leadership? I suggest 8/10.

Here are the state of mind descriptors I put with an 8/10 energy level:

  • Motivated. Thinking outside the square. Looking for opportunity. Positive. In balance. Energised. Inclusive. Appreciative. Engaged. Resilient. Open. Optimistic. Effective decision making. Enthused. Patient.

The descriptors that go with 9 and 10/10 are more to do with ease, flow, being in the moment; it is the domain of mindfulness, centred-ness and authenticity.

How to Apply this 8/10?


One place is in ‘visioning’ – creating a vision statement. To be truly effective, a vision statement needs to be a potent energizer. It’s not just something that every stakeholder can say ‘yes’ to, it ‘pops’.

The short (4-5 word) phrase needs to be felt viscerally. It must be so simple, so clear, so accurate that it has immediate cut-through and up lift. It must be ‘an 8’. When you get to that phrase, you feel a surge of energy.

Here are a number of recent examples:

  • Thriving and Growing – a before / after school care organisation
  • Our Firm. The Firm – law firm
  • Focused on your success – accounting firm
  • Enthusiasm2Go! – law firm (internal vision)
  • Right Team. Right Now! – Ministry of Education team


Another way this can be applied is in coaching, finding a resonant answer to the question, “What do you want?”. This question is, arguably, the hardest question to answer and so it will probably take several attempts to get to an answer you can honestly say is absolutely an 8/10 (captures the true essence of what you really want).

To conclude, and by way of reflection… I wonder what 20% of this article gave you the 80% value?