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The Law of Thirds

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

I read this idea recently in a Patrick Lencioni blog—it's revolutionary. I think it's the most significant leadership revelation I've had so far this year. It's called the Law of Thirds.

I want you to think about your team. We're going to mentally divide people into three categories.

1. The Naysayers

Who are the people in your team, ministry or organisation who aren't for you? You clench your teeth because there's just a gut feeling that they don't have your back. The people who either passively or aggressively don't want the best for you. Come on, unfortunately, these are the easiest people to think of! Got them in mind?

2. The Undecideds

Who are the people in your team, ministry or organisation who are neither against you or for you? They're still on the fence. You know with enough passion they could go either way. If there was enough resistance to what you're doing, they might jump on board with that. But, if there was enough vision and movement in the right direction, they could equally be moved in that direction. Who are the undecideds? Can you picture them?

3. The Supporters

Now the fun part. Who are your supporters? You know those people in your team, ministry or organisation who are FOR you? They're the people who encourage you when times are tough. The people who have your back when it's 50/50. Think of the people who would be 'x' in this sentence, "If everyone was like 'x', leadership would be so much easier." Have you got them in mind?

Okay, they're the thirds. Now, the interesting part. How big is the group of naysayers compared to the whole group? Think about it. Sure, there are some, right? But, it's usually a small minority. Then, there's normally a large group in the undecided category and another small to large group in the supporters category depending on how long you've been leading this group. If you just took over, it might be tiny! If you've been leading for years and have been through transition and moved ahead, then maybe it's a bigger group.

Here's the thing. When we run team meetings and communicate to our teams, we often have the naysayers in mind. As you get up in front of the group to talk about vision, you see that naysayer's face and you run everything you're going to say through the filter of trying not to upset them too much. I want you to change this. Using the law of thirds, from now on I want you to see that naysayer's face in the team meeting or when you're sending an email, and then think instead of your biggest supporter.

That's right, who's your biggest supporter out of the supporters third? Think of them. Put your vision statement, meeting opening or email together with them in mind. Don't speak to the naysayer, speak to the supporter. How confidently would you talk about the next steps if you were sitting over a coffee with them? Talk like that with the whole group!

The Law of Thirds is so powerful because when we communicate to the naysayers, we actually pull the undecideds in that direction. But, when we communicate to the supporters, we help to minimise the unnecessary noise from the naysayers and to pull the undecideds towards the supporters.

I feel the need to explain something more here about naysayers. But, you know what? I'm not going to. Why not? Because it's what I think my naysayers would 'need' to hear. If I was describing the Law of Thirds to my supporters, I'd know I don't even need to mention it. So, I'll take my own advice and leave it out.

The End!

Go on, give the Law of Thirds a go and let me know how you travel :)

Want to know how to deal with those naysayers so they step up or step out within four weeks?

Learn more in my book Step Up or Step Out: How to deal with difficult people, even if you hate conflict.

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