The Heart of Courageous Leadership: Doing the Right Things, Not Just Doing Things Right

Leadership is less about heroics and grand gestures and more about making crucial choices. Choices that boil down to prioritization.

The Illusion of the Super Leader

You know the image—the leader who is all things to all people, juggling a million tasks while keeping everyone happy. It’s an appealing fantasy but let’s bust that myth right now. This all-encompassing leader doesn’t exist. 

We can’t be all things to all people. And we shouldn’t try to be. When we attempt to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one. We spread ourselves too thin, unable to make an impact anywhere.

I’ve learned we don’t need to be perfect as leaders. We just need to be brave. Brave enough to set boundaries, brave enough to prioritize, and brave enough to sometimes disappoint people by saying “no.” Our worth isn’t defined by achievements or applause. It’s defined by our courage to stay true to our values, even when it’s uncomfortable.

It’s Not About Doing Things Right; It’s About Doing the Right Things

Our energy is finite. So are the hours in our day. This means we must choose where to direct our focus—we simply can’t do it all. And that’s okay.

Often, leadership isn’t about flawlessly doing everything right. It’s about courageously doing the right things that align with our core goals and values.

Sure, you could be a productivity machine, executing tasks left and right. But if those tasks aren’t moving you closer to the mission that sets your soul on fire, what’s the point? You may look busy on the surface but lack meaningful impact underneath.

The 80/20 Principle in Leadership

This is where the 80/20 rule comes into play. The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) states that 80% of outcomes are often generated by 20% of causes.

For leaders, this means that approximately 20% of our people drive around 80% of our results. These are our rainmakers, go-getters, boundary-pushers. They are our bold innovators and our tenacious drivers of progress. They amplify our vision and transform it into reality.

Nurturing the 20%

Recognizing the top 20% isn’t enough; you have to invest in them. This doesn’t mean neglecting the other 80%. It just means being judicious with our limited time and energy. Mentorship and coaching for our top players create a ripple effect that lifts everyone.

Helping to grow, challenge and nurture your top 20% can do wonders. When we see our stars rising, it fosters a culture that motivates people to reach for their own greatness. Their success becomes contagious.

Examples of actionable strategies to cultivate your top performers:

1. One-on-One Coaching Sessions

Personalized coaching is irreplaceable. A tailored coaching plan for each individual can help you address specific areas for improvement and recognize their unique strengths.

2. Specialized Training Programs

These programs should aim to expand on existing skills and impart new ones that are aligned with future organizational goals.

3. Skill-Sharing Workshops

Encourage your top 20% to share their expertise with the rest of the team. This not only fosters a culture of continuous learning but also positions them as role models.

4. Leadership Challenges

Offer them opportunities to take on more responsibilities, manage projects, or even mentor junior staff. This gives them a platform to stretch their capabilities.

5. Employee Recognition

Publicly recognize and reward their contributions. This will not only motivate the top 20% but also inspire the rest of the team to up their game.

6. Honest and Constructive Feedback

No one grows in a comfort zone. As a leader, your role isn’t just to applaud achievements but also to provide candid, constructive feedback. Unlike generic, sugar-coated feedback, honest reviews encourage self-awareness and drive professional growth. This may mean having uncomfortable and though conversations or reviews that they don’t always like to hear, but which need to hear.

The Perils of Overlooking Your Top 20%

It’s tempting to believe that lavishing attention on our loudest, most disruptive people will smooth out the bumps. But this is often a trap. 

Too often, it’s the bottom 20%—those contributing the least value—that soak up the most time, diverting focus away from high-impact priorities. Their “urgent” issues shout loudly, stealing time better spent fueling our top contributors—those poised to elevate the entire organization. 

Beware, as this is a red herring that can divert your attention away from where it’s needed the most. Time spent putting out fires in the bottom 20% is time not spent on fueling the engines of your top performers, who are poised to take you to the stratosphere. Distraction masquerades as priority. Busyness replaces progress.

The Ripple Effect on Morale

People want to be part of an environment where talent is nurtured, where there’s room for growth, and where excellence is the norm, not the exception. Your top 20% become not just contributors but also ambassadors of your organizational values.

Don’t Mistake Activity for Impact

Business does not equal productivity. Just because our calendar is jammed with meetings and our inbox overflowing doesn’t mean we’re driving meaningful outcomes.

We can sprint all day on the hamster wheel of tasks and still end up in the same place we started, exhausted and unfulfilled. Activity must align with impact. Motion with progress.

Watch Out for These Traps:

  • The Never-Ending Email Vortex. If you spend most of your day reacting to emails, it’s time for a reset.
  • The Meeting Marathon. Do these meetings directly serve your team’s most important goals?
  • Task Obsession. Is your overflowing to-do list stacked with high-impact activities?

Treating business like a badge of honor leads to burnout, not breakthroughs. Our actions must tie directly to our objectives if we want to lead our teams—and ourselves—to soaring heights.

Activity vs. Impact: Know the Difference

Activity: You’re doing stuff. Attending meetings, responding to emails, checking off tasks.

Impact: You’re achieving meaningful outcomes that align with your mission and values.

Reflection Questions to Gauge Your Impact:

  • Have I set clear, measurable goals for my team? Vague goals lead to fuzzy results.
  • Am I regularly assessing progress toward those goals? Lack of measurement means lack of accountability.
  • Which tasks on my plate directly drive high-value outcomes? Impactful tasks should take priority.
  • What can I delegate or eliminate? Learn to let go of the trivial many for the vital few.

The Highest-Impact Activity for a Leader: Building a Team that Moves Mountains

Want high impact as a leader? Invest in building a values-aligned, high-impact team, starting with your top 20%. Ignite their potential, and they’ll light the way for others. 

This influential group sets the pace through their performance and embodiment of your culture. An aligned team is the most powerful vehicle for achieving audacious goals.

So take courage and remember: Leading with heart is never about being perfect. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it’s difficult.

Lead with courage, focus on the right priorities, and you won’t just lead a team—you’ll lead a transformation.


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