Leadership: Mediocrity and The 75 Per Cent Rule


Mediocrity is the enemy of excellence. And it’s expensive, too!

Have you ever wondered how much mediocrity is costing you?  Consider the 75% Rule. It works something like this:

You can pass just about any subject in any US school with a score of 75% — that’s usually a good, solid “C” (average) grade.  But think how this same rule applies to your work performance if you are correct only three times out of four.  You are working at an “average” level.  You are content with just getting by.

Have you asked yourself how much that mediocrity is really costing you?

Average is the middle of the pack.  Aim for that 75% and you aim for mediocrity – or worse.

Listen to The Music

Piano KeysHere’s a musical example:  play a C Major scale on the piano — the notes are C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C.  Sound good?  Sure.  Now play the scale again with any two of those notes wrong.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  But two wrong notes out of eight is a 75% performance.

Not only does it sound bad, it is just not acceptable.  Correct notes are only the beginning of great performances, but they begin with 99.9% and better.

If the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed at the 75% level, they would sound worse than the Guckenheimer Sauerkraut Band — and they sure wouldn’t sell any tickets!


Why settle for mediocrity?

  • Would you hire a carpenter who built one bad cabinet for every three good ones?Carpenter
  • Would you want a surgeon who dropped every fourth stitch when sewing you up?
  • Would you feel safe with an airline pilot who landed in the wrong city once in four trips?
  • Of course not!  You expect them to perform at 99.9% and better.

How does the 75% Rule apply to you?

It’s really simple:  you as leader, your colleagues or employees, your business ALL must perform well above that 75% mark, or you just won’t make it in today’s marketplace.

  • Just getting by won’t cut it
  • Three out of four is not average; it’s simply not acceptable
  • Mediocrity is easy; it has lots of company
  • Mediocrity is happy with the status quo.
  • Mediocrity is comfortable.
  • It doesn’t require much from us.

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”  (Andrew Carnegie).

Breaking away from mediocrity begins with you – your vision, your expectations, your commitment to excellence.  Yes, you must commit to developing and maintaining excellence.

As Aristotle wrote:  “We are what we do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Habits aren’t created overnight.  It takes time, commitment, and practice.  How motivated are you to create a habit of excellence?

Some questions for you to ponder:  Where in your life is the “75% Rule” showing up?  What is one small step you are willing to take now to begin developing a habit of excellence?  When will you take that one step?

Dr. Charles Boyer has a private practice as a Leader’s Coach, Mentor and Consultant
Charlie helps newer leaders gain Clarity, Confidence, and Creativity
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2 responses to “Leadership: Mediocrity and The 75 Per Cent Rule

  1. Hi, Charle – excellent post.

    You have neatly and articulately highlighted a dirty little truth I see repeatedly demonstrated: Many people will settle for 75% or sometimes even less, because to do more requires work and change.

    Small example: I teach in a system which requires many written assignments. The assignments include word-count ranges, which I would happily “ditch” if I could. When a specific assignment calls for a minimum of 700 words, I can expect many submissions with word counts that hover right around that mark.

    Convincing the students to not focus on the word count is difficult. Could this be a result of our fixation with measurable outcomes, which requires us to be able to objectively quantify student output?

    I’m not against measurement, but reaching a certain number is not the same as demonstrating a certain amount of learning or ability. For example, how do you quantify “critical thinking”, which is a valuable and rare skills in today’s world?

    My larger point is that, as we are taught, so shall we work.


    • John,

      Thanks for your response. Your “teaching” example is spot on – brought back lots of memories of asking students to write a paper. The typical answer was – how long does it have to be? Nobody ever asked – how good does it have to be?

      I’ve used the 75% rule with a concert band. Having every student play every fourth note wrong sounds terrible – and brings home the point of excellence right away!

      Best Wishes!



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