To Reach Your Next Big Goal, Follow the 10-80-10 Rule

UPDATED: June 16, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 24, 2023
boss implementing the 10-80-10 rule with employees

So you have a new project in mind—a major undertaking, a shift in direction, the kind of thing that will put your company on the map or reaffirm its dominance in the market.

And you are feeling a little… overwhelmed.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Even after all these years, a new venture gives me a rush of excitement and a flutter of nerves. There’s a lot at stake, after all: money, time and reputation, among others.

The 10-80-10 rule

That’s why today we’re going to rethink the project cycle, simplify it and focus our energy on the time periods when strong leadership is most critical: the beginning and the end.

I call it my 10-80-10 rule. You give 100% of your attention to the start and end of the endeavor, and let your team drive it—with an occasional tug on the reins—during the long middle. I’ve adapted this from the “Pareto Principle,” the idea that “around 80% of effects are brought about by 20% of causes,” according to Intuit.

10-80-10 leadership principles

So let’s start at the beginning, where leadership will either set your team on the road to success or leave it stranded with no GPS and only a vague notion of where to go. To find that success, they need four things from you: vision, direction, creativity and empowerment.


What do you see? Why is this undertaking important? What could it accomplish? How could it benefit the organization or its greater goals? Where does each team member fit into the equation?

I emphasize the last one because many emerging leaders miscommunicate their vision as they lay out their ideas. If team members don’t know their roles, how can they feel invested? If they don’t see themselves in the big picture, why should they buy into it? Trust me, your project will go further if your team is fully engaged. 


When you cast the vision, you need to follow it with concrete directions. Your team members can be inspired by an idea, but they become secure through guidance. This is also where many leaders come up short. They have the vision but they don’t know or don’t articulate what it takes to get there.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it,” Thomas Edison once said. Don’t let your ideas linger indefinitely with no means of making them real.


When I say to offer direction, I’m not talking about step-by-step instructions. Chances are, after all, that you’ve wandered into uncharted territory. Your team needs to know their destination, who is driving them at each stage, what deadlines they’re expected to meet, what resources they have and what limitations (if any) you’ve set.

How they arrive at the endpoint is a different conversation. A project’s first stage is its most creative one. Now is the time for unconventional thinking, for exploring every possible means of achieving your vision. Once you get into the heart of the project—the 80%—creativity might impede progress. But at the inception, let imaginations run wild. The best ideas don’t just appear; they evolve. Give them wings.


Leaders who insist on micromanaging will quickly find their overreach is harming their employees.

Give your team the tools they need: materials, training, research, time and money. General George S. Patton famously declared, “At the present time our chief difficulty is not the Germans, but gasoline. If they would give me enough gas, I could go all the way to Berlin!” Fuel your staff, then get out of the way.

I have to admit, this is tough. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to oversee all aspects of a new project is simply too daunting, complicated and frustrating. During a project’s middle phase, I transition from project manager to chief cheerleader. This stage is messy, filled with flops, setbacks and unanticipated detours. I’m there to breathe life into my team’s spirits and encourage them to persevere.

The final phase of the 10-80-10 rule

That brings us to the project’s end phase—the time for you, the leader, to jump back in, full throttle.

Add your voice.

There’s a reason you are the leader. You’ve lived the hard knocks, tallied the successes, learned from the rise and fall of others. Give the project your unique stamp. Your experiences have given you the wisdom and insight to further elevate the creation.

Acknowledge the contributions.

Find opportunities to openly praise and celebrate the work of your colleagues. Your acknowledgment will validate their work, improve their work quality and inspire them to think more innovatively in the future.

Seek additional opportunities.

You’ve birthed a creation for a predetermined purpose, but what else can you do with it? I amassed a library of audio recordings during the years I worked on creating my Maximum Impact Club lessons. One day an associate suggested we bundle and sell my top 100 lectures. I confess, I scoffed at her idea. Who would want to hear me for that long? But she convinced me otherwise, and she was right. That collection generated about $1 million. You’ve opened one door by simply breathing life into your creation. How many other knobs will you turn? Remember: No business opportunity is ever truly lost. But if you fail to see it, your competitor will surely find it.

Etch the 10-80-10 equation into your mind and let it guide—and simplify—your next endeavor. By channeling your energy into a project’s beginning and end, you’ll focus your skills where they count and pull them back when it’s your team’s time to shine.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.