Another leadership axiom…?

Hmm, I have come up with another axiom in the last week or so.  It sounds like I walk around looking for them, doesn’t it?  But I promise that I don’t!  This one just seems to keep coming up.

The results are all in the last 20% of effort!

My other leadership axioms were about as catchy as this one(!) so if you are reading this, please feel free to recast this one or any of the others into something with more of a ring to it!

What I am trying to capture, though, is the idea that you can do 80% of the work and not see much in terms of results – certainly not 80% of the results.  A somewhat topical example for me over the last few years would be writing an essay.  I could have done 80% of the work…the reading, the note-taking, the critiquing, the thinking.  But if I don’t do that final 20% of committing it to paper, I would get a big fat zero from my assessor.

That final 20% of effort seems like too much trouble sometimes after you’ve done the 80%; indeed so often we stop after 80% of effort.  And we see next to no results.  We can’t even pretend that we are seeing results at the 80% level.  80% of the effort may yield about 20% results.  Yet just a little more hard graft (the last 20% of the effort) can be what tips the balance, and we finally see 100% of the fruit!

Image: renjith krishnan /

The more I think about this, the more I recognise that most of us probably have a tendency to run lots of projects at 80% of the effort and yet have little fruit to show for it.  But what if I did a little less and spent the extra time giving the final 20% to some of those projects?

I’ve asked this 20% question in relation to my church role.  A lot of the 80% projects are not directly mine but I oversee them.  And I have realised this week that some of them need that last 20% to make them fly.  So I have talked through with the project leader how they might implement that 20%.  In a couple of cases, I have offered my time to make that 20% happen.  Because I am convinced that 100% of the effort is our best hope for seeing fruit.  The cost, of course, is that since I am not in the business of creating more time and personal capacity 😦 , I do have to run fewer projects.  But the benefit is fruitfulness, rather than lots of 80% projects which are bearing little or no fruit.

Now hear me, please: I have totally made up the percentages.  They are more to help illustrate the point than for using in some mathematical calculation for optimising your life (sadly)!  But what if we each looked at the things which consume us right now – lifestyle tasks, employment demands, relational concerns, church projects or anything else – and asked the 20% question?

Where would we put in the final 20% of effort…

…and what would we stop doing in order to facilitate this?


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