Improving Your Leadership with ‘The Rule of Thirds’

Improving Your Leadership with ‘The Rule of Thirds’

“Why are you always focused on the negative people in your sphere of influence?  You’re wasting time and energy on them.  Moving forward,  focus on the people who will listen to what you have to say.” 

These words of advice were shared by a mentor many years ago after a challenging leadership event.  That guidance was insightful, especially since most of that session had been spent trying to win over the participants who weren’t really interested in being there or partaking in that day’s leadership event.   Actually, that advice led to years of research on a critical leadership principle that LEADon® refers to as  The Rule of Thirds.  In essence, this “rule” describes three main groups of people all of us encounter each day in our leadership journey. This means, whether in your personal or professional life, you will have individuals who fall into these three categories:   




If you’re already worried about the term “Foes”, please hold those concerns for a few paragraphs.  For now, let’s begin with some great news about your personal and professional leadership:  approximately one-third of the people you interact with represent your Fans.  This group is comprised of individuals who believe in you and actively promote your endeavors.  In other words, they appreciate the way you lead, buy into your initiatives, and support the vision and mission you have set for them to execute.  While they may challenge you at times by offering different opinions or make recommendations for alternative plans, once you’ve made a decision, your Fans are all in! 

There’s more good news:  about one-third of the individuals in your various spheres of influence will also follow your plans and policies with little opposition.  These people may not be enthusiastic supporters, but they won’t be fighting against you. So, when you make a leadership decision, Followers will tend to “go along to get along.” And even though they may not want to be on the front line with you, you can rest assured they won’t be attacking you from the rear. 

The last cohort is the most daunting for leaders.  In fact, sometimes the thought of having about one-third of individuals grouped as Foes is difficult for those in leadership.  But the team at LEADon® has discovered that the higher up the leadership ladder you travel, the more difficulties you will face—and this certainly includes difficult people.  Foes may simply be individuals who strongly disagree with your decisions, and they let you and everyone else know how they feel.   Certain Foes might go as far as subverting directives or sabotaging initiatives.  And there may even be some who hope for or actively work on your leadership demise. Two main points are essential for you to understand when it comes to Foes: 

  1. Don’t ignore Foes.  They could have real reasons for being obstinate, and as an exceptional leader, you need to discover what those reasons are. 
  1. Don’t tolerate Foes who are insubordinateFree agency is always an option for anyone in your Corporate Family® who doesn’t like the culture, vision, mission, or leadership style.  

A final point pertains to our initial story.  Don’t overly focus on members of this latter group either.  Instead, seek understanding.  Don’t be timid about moving problem people on if need be.  The bottom line is that most of your time and energy should be given to the majority of people who are desperate for your leadership and, most especially, are ready to meet the goals you have set for them to achieve. 

Lastly, it’s important to be aware that individuals in each of these groups can and do change.  Some people who were Fans could sour on your leadership over time, or a Follower who never caused you a bit of concern might become a troublemaker and join forces with the Foes. Change is simply part of human nature and every Corporate Family®, so expect your Fans, Followers, and Foes to be in flux too. 

Spend a few minutes considering which cohort people in your personal and professional life may belong to when it comes to The Rule of Thirds.  Once you identify the individuals in each specific category, evaluate how you are spending your time and energy. Are your Fans and Followers the focus of most of your attention? Do you get sidetracked by those who fall into the Foes cohort?  Remember, by understanding and addressing the source of the Foes’ displeasure, you might win them over as Followers, or perhaps some may even switch to Fans status!  

In an upcoming blog, we will take a deeper dive into The Rule of Thirds and offer  specific strategies for working with the Fans, Followers, and Foes in your personal and professional life.   In the meantime, we recommend you discuss this leadership principle with a few colleagues and/or your mentor.  Think about how this concept may apply to all your spheres of influence, even friendships and other groups of people with whom you interact regularly.   

If the team at LEADon® can assist you in processing these thoughts or address any other leadership concern, please contact us directly at 858.592.0700 or