Leadership

The Pareto Principle

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I ordered my green smoothie, minus the chia seeds.

“Just so you know,” he said, “after Friday we’ll no longer be serving smoothies. They generate the smallest amount of our revenue and cause all of our headaches.”

“Have you heard of the Pareto Principle?”

“Yes, I love the Pareto Principle!”

We proceeded to geek out on the Pareto Principle for the next 10 or so minutes, after which I walked out with one of the last remaining green smoothies on the menu.

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, states that for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It is credited to Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, who was born in Italy in 1848. In his case, he noticed that 80% of his pea plants generated 80% of the healthy pea pods, and then went on to discover that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

In the case of the restaurant I visited, 80% of their stress, irritation, and time investment tied back to 20% of their menu items (in this case, smoothies and smoothie bowls). And this 80% stress, irritation, and time investment produced under 20% of their revenue.

We can apply this same principle to nearly any type of business, to how we structure our work day, to the way we prioritize our work, and even how we approach our health and fitness.

Like Essentialism, this is one of those things that (for me) feels like common sense, yet takes constant attention and intentionality to apply in everyday life.

Here are a few ways that I like to practice the Pareto Principle.

  • Looking across all the projects I’m currently involved with, which fall in the 20% that create 80% of the positive impact and also feel the most joyful?

  • On the flip side, which projects fall in the 20% that create 80% of the stress and headaches?

  • Looking at the flow of my workday, where can I invest 20% of my time and effort for 80% of the returns? (For me, when doing independent work, the answer always falls in the early hours of the morning.)

  • Looking across my life at the things that aren’t working as well as they could be, where are the 20% of small irritations that are causing 80% of the lack of daily ease? (often, for me, this ties back to some sort of misalignment with my calendar.)

  • Which 20% of clothing items do I wear 80% of the time? (I’ve been working on continuously donating that other 80%, as for me there is a very clear 20%. I tend to wear the exact same few outfits on rotation.)

  • In which 20% of our house do we spend 80% of our time, and how can we maximize that 20% for the way we live?

  • Looking at my list of monthly, weekly, and daily to-dos, which 20% will yield 80% of the results?

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, can help us to focus our time and energy on the things that yield the highest results.

Do you use the Pareto Principle? If so, in what ways has it been helpful for you?

Escaping the Endless Cycle of Yes

Escaping the Endless Cycle of Yes

Saying yes too much. Difficulty saying no. Overcommitting. Prioritizing other people’s priorities over your own. Becoming stretched too thin. Taking on the project because other people dropped the ball. Over-serving the committee because none of the other volunteers follow through. Expressing interest in something and then suddenly finding yourself in charge of it. Saying yes to an opportunity because it’s amazing, but then wondering when the heck you’re going to fit it in.

Anyone else struggle with one or more of these things?

If you do, I hear you. I see you. I get you. My natural tendency is to do these things too. I quickly see possibility and potential in any given situation, which means that in my mind I quickly jump from where we are right now to where we could be in the future. It also means that sometimes, in the moment when the opportunity presents itself, I overlook the steps in between - for example, how long it might take to get there or what else I have on my plate. As you can imagine, this has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion.

It is a constant, daily (sometimes hourly) practice for me to work with my natural tendency (seeing possibility, potential, what’s possible, allowing myself to be excited and enthusiastic about all of this) while also incorporating everyday realities such as time, capacity, and scheduling.

This is not a post about saying no more, or saying yes less. Rather, it is a post about moving from, as Greg McKeown says, the trivial many to the essential few. It is a post about saying yes in a way that aligns with your values and your priorities. And it is a post about remembering that we are the creators of our own life, versus allowing others - or our inboxes or our friends or other on the committee - to control it for us.

Here are some strategies I use in this ongoing pursuit to align my time with my values; my priorities with my calendar; and my decisions with my core purpose in this world.

Wait at least 24 hours before responding to any new opportunities.

First, this provides time to check this opportunity against my values and reflect on the following questions:

  • Is it in line with my values?

  • Would this opportunity be moving me toward my vision?

  • Is it in line with my priorities for the year?

It also allows me time to think about my capacity and bandwidth, and also the tradeoff costs.

  • Do I have time to take this on?

  • If I say yes to this, what will I need to say no to?

  • When will I have time to do this? And is it in line with the timing of the opportunity or event?

  • Do I actually have time, or would I be trying to squeeze it in?


Ask Myself: If this opportunity wouldn’t have come to me from elsewhere, would I have actively pursued it on my own?

This, of course, can be a particularly challenging question as a business owner, and especially for new business owners who are working to build their businesses.

“No but…..it’s a good opportunity….” But is it a great opportunity? Is it aligned with the work you most want to do in the world and the people you most want to serve?

In the beginning, as new business owners and entrepreneurs, as long as the opportunities are aligned, I tend to recommend being more generous with what you say yes to. This provides an opportunity to try out various things, work with several different types of clients, and learn more about what you like (and what you don’t). And then, as your business grows, you can use these early experiences to shape future decisions and areas of focus.

That said, if the only reason you are saying yes is “to get more business” or “to generate referrals” or something gross like that, I suggest revisiting. It should also be fun, or interesting, or an opportunity to work with fabulous people.

If you are approached about joining a board or a committee, ask the same question. While flattering to receive the invite, is this the cause you care deeply about? Is this the way you want to invest your time and energy? Are the people on the board ‘stunning colleagues’ who you will be excited to gather with each month or each quarter?

Is the opportunity a Hell Yeah?

Is the opportunity a Hell Yeah on its own? If not, what would make it a Hell Yeah? And if you can’t think of anything that would make it a Hell Yeah, is it really worth saying yes to?

As Derek Sivers famously said, “if it’s not a Hell Yeah," it’s a no.”

The way I like to look at this is a Big Yes or a Little Yes. The Big Yes is aligned with our values, our vision, our priorities. The little yes comes from a place of ‘should’ or obligation.

As new opportunities come your way, ask yourself if it’s a Hell Yeah. If you can’t think of any conditions under which it would be a Hell Yeah, if it isn’t already, then you likely have your answer.

What are the conditions/terms under which I would love to say yes?

Related to the above, if it isn’t a Hell Yeah, is there anything that would make it worth it?

For example, for new entrepreneurs or business owners, the truth is that every single project might not be a Hell Yeah. And, at the same time, one must eat.

So, for my clients who are navigating this situation (“It isn’t a Hell Yeah, but I need to eat…”) we often come up with a set of criteria that will make the opportunity worth it. This could involve the structure, the timing, the price, or perhaps a combination of the above. It might mean, for example, proposing a fall versus spring timeline to allow more time to prep. Or, it might involve asking for travel reimbursement to cover the cost of driving to another state.

Will my future self (in 1 month, 6 Months, a year) be happy that I said yes to this? What would my future self want me to say?

This can be one of the most game changing questions for me to ask myself. While my current self will enthusiastically say yes, what about my 6-Month-Future self? Will she still be thrilled about the opportunity?

There's a quote that goes something like, “an elephant looks small in the distance.”

This is also the case with things we say yes to. It might not seem like a lot of time at the moment. But will that still be the case in a month, in 6 months, in a year? Carefully consider the thoughts, the energy, the capacity, and the bandwidth of your future self before your present self says yes to anything.

What would my (actual, or metaphorical) board of directors tell me to do?

Do you have a board of directors? If not, I invite you to create one!

This might be an actual, living board of directors. I have a few different informal boards in my life - some girlfriends and soul sisters, some coaches, some strategic advisors and mentors.

Or, it might be a metaphorical board of directors. The idea is to identify a few people who you respect, put them on your metaphorical board of directors, and then ‘consult’ them when thinking about decisions or opportunities.

Sometimes, during a monthly meet-up with my real-life board of directors, I’ll review opportunities and get feedback. For example, a few months back, I was struggling with a decision not to submit a proposal to speak at a certain conference. They helped me see that while it was a great conference, it was not in line with my vision for the future, and my time and energy would be much better spent elsewhere.

I also have a metaphorical board of directors. These are people who I follow, and whose approach to business I deeply respect. For example, Seth Godin is one of the members of my metaphorical board of directors. He just doesn’t know it! Seth is ruthlessly committed to focusing on his most important work in the world. In his case, that means writing and publishing a blog post every single day. He doesn’t take meetings, he’s very mindful about the amount of travel he takes on, and he is committed to delivering value to his community every single day. If ever I am struggling with what to focus on or whether to take on a new project, I’ll consider what advice he might give me if I were to ask him his opinion. This whole process might sound a little weird but is incredibly helpful for me when I use it.

In the End

At the end of the day, this practice isn’t about saying no more, or saying yes less. Ultimately, it’s about making sure we say yes to the things that are aligned with our values and priorities, and no to the things that aren’t.

Sometimes, of course, we need to do things that aren’t aligned as part of our work, or our job responsibilities, or even basic duties we take on at home. But often, we have more opportunity than we think to shift, tweak, or restructure things to create the alignment that we desire.

Resources and Recommended Reading

  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown - the book I read again and again for inspiration on this subject.

  • The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan - I especially like their focusing question: “what is the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”

  • Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin - it was in this book that I first learned about the Four Tendencies. As an obliger, the above practices are essential for me, because my natural tendency is to say yes to external requests and no to requests that I make of myself. Obligers make up the largest percentage of the population; if you find yourself struggling with this topic, you may enjoy checking out her work, or at least her free quiz which only takes a couple minutes.

  • The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin - more information on the four tendencies and how to work with each of them. I’ve found that this framework can be transformative not only for how we operate as individuals, but also how we operate in relationships. Fun fact: Gretchen found that obligers and rebels are often in romantic relationships together, and I’ve found her theory to be correct. Many of my rebel clients are married to obligers; many of my obliger clients are either dating or married to rebels.

How to Be a Better Leader, Teacher, Meet-Up Organizer, or Spin Instructor

Ever walked into a gathering, a spin class, a team meeting, a yoga class, a conference, or a workshop, only to find everyone standing around in silence, looking at each other awkwardly? 

Whether we are leading a running meet-up of 5, or a conference of 5005, there are a few simple yet powerful things we can do as organizers, teachers, leaders, and facilitators to be more effective leaders and to increase the enjoyment and the outcomes of the experience for everyone involved. 

1. Say Hello.

This sounds painfully obvious. And, I find that way too frequently, it simply doesn't happen. As an organizer of a group or the leader of a course, part of our role - whether we like it or not -  is to hold space for the participants who are in attendance. A simple "hello" or "welcome" can help to break the ice, create conversation, and make people feel safe and welcomed into the experience you're leading.

2. Introduce Yourself. 

I know, I know. This sounds almost as painfully obvious as #1. But it's often absent. If you are teaching people something, leading an experience, or even just bringing people together in service of a cause that all of you care about, introducing yourself is important. This initial level of connection matters. And it sets the foundation for everything that follows. Before we attempt to learn anything, we must first get into relationship with each other.

3. Remember that It's Not Actually About You. 

While the teacher, leader, instructor, or organizer has a large impact on the experience, the experience isn't actually about the teacher, leader, instructor or organizer. The experience is about the participants. And as leaders - of whatever we are leading - we must remember this. 

I stopped going to spin classes for a long period of time due to my annoyance with the number of spin instructors who seemed to follow the same process of: walking into the studio, hopping on the bike, blaring the music, pedaling as hard as possible while simultaneously spewing commands, and never once stopping to acknowledge (or seemingly recognize) that there was actually a room full of participants filling all of the stationary bikes in the studio.

As leaders, it's not about us. It's about the people we are with. We must remember this first. 

4. Remember (or at least try to remember) People's Names. 

I will never forget a small tragedy that occurred many years ago, when I took a team member onsite to meet one of my most beloved client teams for the first time. This was a client I had worked with for many years, a client that felt like family to me (and still does), and a client that had been a great partner to our organization in many ways. 

Despite extensive coaching and discussions with this team member before we arrived onsite, when I began introducing him to my beloved client team, he tuned out, and when I finished the introductions, he immediately replied, "I'm never going to remember your names anyway." In that moment, I knew that I would never bring him onsite to visit my client again. It wasn't that he couldn't remember people's names; rather, it was his blatant disregard for trying. 

On the flip side, I was visiting with a client a couple weeks ago, leading a presentation during their annual retreat. Over lunch, I was talking to one of their regional leaders about what it's like to work for this particular organization. He shared his experience of joining the organization, after coming from a large global bank. "There", he said, "everyone was anonymous. Here, Our CEO says hello to every single person in the hallway by name. That is why I love working here."

Much has been written over the years about the power of remembering people's names. If you struggle with memory, here are some tips on how you might improve.  And I believe that at the end of the day, it's not as much about your memory as it is about your willingness to connect in a meaningful way.

5. Connect To Your Passion.

Hopefully, if you're leading something - whether a running meet-up or a two-day leadership conference - it's because you care about it deeply. Typically, when we lead from a place of passion, we are wildly effective leaders. When we get lost in the land of logistics, performing, or over-analyzing how the experience is going, it's easy to become disconnected to that passion. 

Before leading anything, take a couple minutes to connect to your "why." Why are you doing it? What do you most love about it? And how do you want to hold and honor that "why" as you're leading the group?

As I always say, leadership happens in the moments: the moments where we say hello, the moments where we pause to introduce ourselves, the moments where we connect with the others in the room, and the moments where we allow ourselves to show up authentically in service of the stuff we care about deeply. 

 

 

Leaders: If You're Focusing Only on Loyalty, You Might Be Focusing on the Wrong Thing

 

I was recently at a conference, sharing “session nuggets” with the women at my lunch table. One of the women was telling me about the session she attended - which was about focusing on loyalty versus strictly on metrics.

Not focusing only on metrics - of course. No matter which leadership philosophies we follow, focusing only on numbers without any focus on people is a thing of the (almost distant) past.

But replacing it with a strict focus on loyalty? This also misses the mark.

The definition of loyalty is “faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.”

The problem with this as a leadership philosophy is that it’s about you - the leader. It’s not about your team or your vision or the people you’re trying to serve. It’s not about making sure that your ship is pointed in the right direction. It’s about making sure people like the captain...regardless of where he or she is headed.

For these reasons, if your leadership philosophy is strictly about creating loyalty to you, the leader, it’s short sighted.

And eventually it will fail.

Looking back throughout history, some of of our most devastating moments have been the result of loyalty: loyalty to leaders with wildly misaligned visions. In our current political environment, we see plenty of candidates gaining loyalty. But we must ask, “are they truly demonstrating leadership?”

In the workplace, people want to feel connected to the mission and purpose behind what they’re doing. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to grow and develop and feel as though they are using their strengths each day in their jobs.

By creating companies and cultures that focus on these things, we create loyalty.

Tweet: Loyalty might be the outcome, but it should not be the primary focus.

Loyalty might be the outcome, but it should not be the primary focus.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about us, the leaders - it’s about the work we do, it’s about why we do it, and it’s about the people we serve.

Avoiding The Black Chairs (And Doing What You Love Instead of What Everyone Else Is Doing)

 

I recently had an opportunity to catch up with a friend who co-owns a restaurant. She was telling me about the new chairs she recently purchased for her restaurant. As she put it, "It's easy to pick the same old black chairs that are in all the catalogs. But I wanted to put some more thought into it." And she did. The chairs are awesome - fun and unique and completely aligned with the vibe of the restaurant.

The same is true for entrepreneurship. For leadership. For speaking and coaching and doing the thing we do. It's easy to do what everyone else is doing. It's easy to look around the catalog and pick the black chairs. Because more or less, the black chairs are successful. They aren't offensive. They're easy to find. While people may not *love* the black chairs, at least they don't have strong feelings against them.

And before we know it, we're seeing those same damn black chairs everywhere we look. Each of them exactly the same.

The question I found myself pondering during and after this conversation was, what becomes possible when we set aside the catalog?

What happens when we stop looking at all of the other restaurants' standard black chairs? 

What happens when, instead, we tap into our deepest passions and the things that make our *own* heart sing?

For my friend, the result was beautifully designed, unique, and fun. For the event I led that day, the result included some Madonna and some Katy Perry.

What is your version of the chair that makes your heart sing....the version of the chair that has nothing to do with everyone else's standard black chairs....the version of the chair that is completely, uniquely you?