Many years ago, a very good friend and mentor of mine passed away unexpectedly. His name was Glen, and he was a football coach. Many of us have an unfair tendency to see those of such occupations as intellectual lightweights, but Glen was an exception to that dismissive evaluation.

Glen once commented upon the makeup of a given team, although I believe that his theory could be applied to any group of individuals. He observed,

“ A team of, let’s say, 40 boys will follow the “10-80-10” principle. 10% of the team will be comprised of good kids who follow the rules, are hard working and are positive leaders. The 10% at the opposite end of the spectrum are the reverse. They tend to be complainers, are a little untrustworthy, and their attitude and tone breeds negativity. Sadly, that last 10% can be leaders as well, but they will guide the team in the wrong direction. If a team has a few more positive leaders than negative ones, they will have the ability to inhibit or quell the naysayers. If the reverse is true, if there are more toxic personalities in the group than encouraging ones, that team is in for problems. And the team’s coach will struggle to turn the group in the proper direction.”

This principle is often expressed in various management training settings. It is sound, basic psychology about group structure and dynamics. But the often overlooked part of the “10-80-10” principle is the largest group, the 80%. Who are they? I like to think of them as the “watchers.” They are observing the actions of the top and bottom 10%ers. They are waiting to see the direction of the team (or group). They are also ”followers. “ Sadly, they will tend to bend to the will of one of the 10% groups or the other. They will evolve into being either worker bees or slackers. They will move toward encouragement or lapse into whining and gossip.

As the equation suggests, the majority of us must fall into the “watcher/follower” category. As my readers process this concept, I invite all of you to, once again, gaze into the metaphorical mirror that I am holding up. The positive leaders are likely nodding in agreement. Negative team members have probably signed off already. And what are the 80% doing as they read today’s message? Squirming in their seats, I suspect.

It has been said in previous newsletters (and in my book) that all dysfunction flows from fear. If this is true, what are the 80%ers afraid of? Could it be the reaction of the negative (but often very powerful) minority? Perhaps. Or, is it the retribution of the negative 10% if they assert themselves? No matter. The real message of today’s essay is aimed at the 80%ers.

Just as the universal antidote to depression is activity, the remedy for indecision is also action. My old friend, Glen, sought to cultivate courage and leadership from among the 80%. He asked them to join their few positive leaders in order to move his team forward.

If you are already a positive leader in your circle, keep it up.
If you are a negative one, tamp it down and change direction.

And if you are in the 80% that falls in between the other 10%ers, it’s time to speak up courageously. Remember that courage is best defined as “Action in the face of fear”