The 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) is based on the premise of the imbalance of effects. The intention when using the 80/20 Rule is to maximize the small and powerful twenty percent and lessen the inefficient eighty percent. In short, focus should be to minimize activities that don’t have a high payoff; meaning stop spending time on activities that don’t get results.
So how does this rule apply to the coach approach to leadership? Well, there is much evidence to show that asking questions and listening are more effective communication strategies than ‘telling’ others what to do. When a leader-coach listens, it creates space for others to share their thoughts and ideas, and when a leader-coach asks questions, it shows others that their opinion is valued, which fosters confidence and solution based thinking. But the reality of our current leadership environment is that ‘telling’ is more common than ‘listening’ or ‘inquiring.’ Quite simply, if you are a leader and you want to foster solution based thinking and accountability in others, you need to stop investing so much time ‘telling’ others what you think, as you are not getting the biggest return on investment for your leadership time.
If we know that listening and inquiry are powerful communication tools, why do most leaders monopolise precious conversation time by telling others what they think and what to do? I suspect that culture, ego, and learned behaviours are at the root of this problem. This is why a leader should apply the 80/20 rule to maximize their 20% contribution to conversations and provide an opportunity to support the thinking and action of others.
As a rule of thumb, when a leader would like to foster solution based thinking and accountability in others (the coach approach), they should be speaking 20% of the time or less, allowing space for others to speak 80% or more. If you keep this rule of thumb in mind, you’ll be more likely to choose your questions and wording carefully and less likely to hijack your coachees’ time and agenda. Find opportunities to listen and ask questions. Allow others to do the talking and thinking, save your energy for contextual listening, and save your words for asking powerful questions to unleash thinking and confidence in others.
Sandra McDowell, MA, PCC
Author Sandra McDowell is a Certified Executive Coach with a Masters in Leadership and a Certificate in NeuroLeadership, and Vice-President Communications & Culture for First Credit Union & Insurance.