Leadership determines a team’s level of effectiveness. The more you seek to achieve the greater the  leadership required. This is the reason for the huge demand for leaders during  times of rapid change.

A lack of leadership limits success more than any other resource.

The good news is that leaders are made, not born. We can all improve and develop our leadership ability. Let’s explore how this is done.

The 70:20:10 Model

The 70:20:10 model is a simple approach to guide the development of leaders based on research by various researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). This model suggest that a single focus on formal training is insufficient for the development of leadership ability. Formal training represents only a small fraction of how people learn and develop. The model shows that successful leadership development combines formal training, developmental relationships and learning experiences.

70:20:10 Model

The 70:20:10 model recognises that a blend of learning elements – working together – results in effective leadership development. The framework suggests that effective leadership development programs are structured as follows:

  • 70% from challenging assignments – real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving.
  • 20% from developmental relationships – feedback and working with and observing role models.
  • 10% from courses and training – formal development and reading

It turns out that leadership development is largely an experiential process. The leadership skills we develop are primarily learnt through experience, not formal classroom training. This is supported by how many of the worlds greatest leaders have developed – from Martin Luther King, Jr. through to Nelson Mandela. Many of these leaders were formed, shaped and recognised during times of crisis or adversity. In business – as in life – we learn most by doing.

It’s important to recognise that this is a reference model and not a formula or recipe. The numbers are not a ridged formula. The insight here is not in the absolute percentages, but rather the emphasis placed on feedback, mentoring, social and experiential learning as part of developing leadership. This is not to say that formal learning is of no use, it certainly has it’s place, but it’s not the complete answer.

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” - Ralph Nader

1. Leaders Learn From Challenging Assignments

Leaders learn from challenging assignments. Leaders learn by doing. Leaders learn through purposeful practice. One of the most powerful ways of learning is through stretch assignments, these are assignments that demand we step outside our comfort zone. Challenging assignments can include the following:

  • The expansion of roles and responsibilities
  • An increase in decision making authority
  • Dealing with change and diversity
  • Working on new and innovative projects and initiatives
  • Building new teams and capabilities
  • Turning around a troubled project or business unit
  • Leading cross-functional teams
  • Working in a different industry or country

All of the above assignments challenge and stretch us, they challenge our thinking and demand that we develop new skills and behaviours for success.

Leaders learn by taking time to reflect on their life experiences. Our experiences shape us and if we learn from our life experience we grow. Learning from life experience requires us to develop a regular practice of reflection.

Reflection is simply a quiet time, purposefully set aside, to cast our minds back and think about the events of the day or past week, with the intention of learning. By asking questions such as “what happened?”, “how we reacted?” and “what should we do differently next time”, we learn valuable lessons.

2. Leaders Learn From Developmental Relationships

As people we learn with and through others – learning is social. This means that we learn through personal interaction and conversation. Leaders encourage learning by creating an environment where people work in teams and take advantage of the social aspects of learning. Encouraging teams to talk, share experiences and best practice accelerates learning. So make sure people are wiring and talking together rather than working alone.

Leaders learn from others. We learn from discussions and feedback we receive from relationships and conversations with other leaders. The feedback and insights we gain from these relationships is another source of learning and development. Effective leaders cultivate relationships with other leaders and use these relationships to discuss challenges they face and receive feedback on their behaviour.

Developing relationships with coaches and mentors is another source of learning. We all need mentors and coaches in our lives – preferably more than one. Leaders develop wisdom by seeking advices and counsel from those who are more experienced. Specifically those who have experienced the journey of life and have a good understanding of human nature.

Here are some ways that we can encourage developmental relationships:

  • Create opportunities to work together in small teams for new initiatives where teams members can learn from each other.
  • Encourage collaboration and working across traditional enterprise functions and boundaries.
  • Identify opportunities for experts to work with and share work assignments with others.
  • Encourage coaching as an approach for the development of future leaders.
  • Create meetings for people to gather and share their best practices and experiences.
  • Establish and nurture communities of practice to capture and share learning.
  • Create space to debrief and reflect on what’s working, what could be improved and what should be stopped.

3. Leaders Learn from Formal Training

Formal learning occurs through courses, training, seminars, and workshops. The goal of formal training is to change thinking and behaviours. Sadly formal training does not always result in changed behaviour. This is because effective learning requires a combination of formal training, developmental relationships and challenging assignments for maximum effect.

Leaders can gain a lot of leadership insight and knowledge from reading and digesting great books. It’s important however to remember – when reading for personal development – to focus on digesting and applying what we read.

Next Steps

Thoughtfully combining these three types of learning helps to accelerate the growth and development of leadership ability. Continuous learning and development is key to lifting the lid of leadership in our lives – increasing effectiveness – growing our teams and organisations.

Developing Ourselves

Leaders need to learn and grow continuously. The 70:20:10 model can be applied to our own personal development as leaders. Effective leaders use these three elements to enhance their leadership skills.

  • In what areas do you need formal learning to enhanced your leadership?
  • Who can assist you in learning and acquiring these new skills?
  • How can you apply your learning? What experiences will help?

Developing Others

It’s when we combine all the three different ways of learning and implement them together that we develop leaders effectively. Leaders the 70:20:10 model to develop others in the following ways:

  • Leaders look for opportunities to shape the experience of those on their teams.
  • Leaders use questions to help their teams reflect, learn and grow.
  • Leaders use every project and initiative as a learning opportunity for their team.
  • Leaders combine formal learning, developmental relationships and challenging assignments  to maximise learning.
  • Leaders act as coach and mentor for their teams.