The 20 Percent Spike: Any Significant Leader is Not Well-Rounded



“To seek greatness is the only righteous vengeance.” ? Criss Jami

The 20 percent spike is a distinctive strength.  It’s unusually powerful.

Using your 20 percent spike generates exponential results.

It’s a way to amplify your impact and maximize results.

My 20 Percent Spike Example

My 20 percent spike is  information artistry.  I use this skill to create, organize, and share complex information in a simple way.

And I can do it better, faster, and easier than most people that I work with.  It comes easy to me, and plays to my strengths.

At work, it helps me write more effective books.  At home, it helps me learn faster and turn insights into action.  And from a service and contribution standpoint, it helps me unleash the best in others.

In the book, The 80/20 Individual: How to Build on the 20% of What You do Best, Richard Koch writes about the 20 percent spike.

The 20 Percent Spike Explained

Your 20 percent spike is your distinctive strength.

Koch writes:

“What make a CEO, leader, or manager great is what psychologists call the “spike,” and I call the ’20 percent spike.’

The spike is a distinctive strength in a person that is unusually powerful, so it’s in your best interest to train and develop your spike to Olympian standards.”

A Few Fantastic Strengths

A few fantastic strengths are better than well-rounded.

Koch writes:

“Do corporate psychologists, who determine whether you or another-short-listed candidate will get the top job, look for well-rounded team players or for oddballs?  Intriguingly, the latter. 

The psychologist wants unusual characters who have a few fantastic strengths.  If you have these, the corporation couldn’t care less about a long laundry list of things you can’t do well or even do at all.”

Any Significant Leader is Not Well-Rounded

Superstars have lopsided traits.

Koch writes:

“Gurnek Bains, head of YSC, a leading firm of business psychologists, explains: “Any significant leader is not well-rounded.  They’re all quite different, slightly idiosyncratic characters.  The best directors have huge spikes and equally large downsides. 

Psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby agrees. 

He highlights today’s “superstar” leaders and draws attention to their lopsided traits: ‘Today’s CEO’s – superstars such as Bill Gates, Andy Groves, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Jack Welch – hire their own publicists, write books, grant spontaneous interviews, and actively promote their personal philosophies … [they] closely resemble the personality type that Sigmund Freud dubbed narcissistic.’”

Productive Narcissists

Creative individuals compensate for weaknesses by leveraging other people who are skilled in those areas.

Koch writes:

“Macoby says that such “productive narcissists” have tremendous vision and self-belief yet are anything but team players.  Most would not score well on emotional intelligence or the ability to listen to other people. 

Not all 80/20 individuals are “productive narcissists,” but many of the new superstars are effective precisely because they are unbalanced. 

To compensate for their weaknesses, these creative individuals have entrusted their business to other people who are skilled in those areas.”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • The 20 percent spike is unusually powerful.  It’s a distinct and powerful strength.  You can leverage your 20 percent spike for extreme advantage.
  • The great ones aren’t well rounded.  Any significant leader is not well rounded.  Superstars have lopsided traits.   They have a vital few powerful strengths and they leverage other people for their weaknesses.
  • Balance your strengths with other people.  Be great at what you’re great at.  Spend more time in your strengths and honing your 20 percent spike.  Team up to round out the rest of what you need.

You’re probably not doing enough of what you’re already great at.

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  1. Oddballs, eh? Guess I’m in on that. And Productive Narcissist probably seals the deal!

    And what was the percentage for success Woody Allen suggested, in terms of just showing up? 20% also seems to stick out but I’d have to Google that. And what did we ever do before Google searches?

  2. I love the concept of 80/20 and this book sounds really interesting. I love reading about your take aways. You always do such a great job of making the key points so clear and easy-to-understand.

  3. As I read this, it occurs to me that you read an awful lot of books. Where do you find the time? I’m off now to think about what my 20 percent spike is. I’m sure it has something to do with writing.

  4. @ Jannie

    I like the connection. He said 80% of success is showing up, so the other 20% must be the key.

    Before Google, I had to use a lot of bookmarks 😉

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. I want to make sharing information as simple as possible.

    @ Melissa

    I’m opportunistic. The more I get results from books, the more I make time for them. I use sticky notes to pick up where I leave off, so that helps me work through a wide range of books

    Yes, I think you’re super power is definitely with writing.

  5. I liked the book a lot – thanks for recommending it to me.
    P.S. wrt “The great ones aren’t well rounded.” – do you think it works the other way around? – LOL ;).

  6. @ Alik

    It’s one of my favorite books.

    It seems like a key to greatness if focus, so I guess the lesson is be careful how you spread it.

  7. Hi J.D.

    I have always feel that you have a way of writing complex information in a simple way that everyone can understand. Now I know that is you way to “unleash the best in others.”

    You ROCK!
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

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