Accelerating Leadership Development: How to Maximize Learning

laptopstudentexamBPL115Don’t pay lip service to the 70:20:10 principle! It is commonly recognized that about 70% of what adults learn comes from experience (learning by doing), 20% comes from others (working with a good leader or coach and receiving feedback), and 10% comes from formal education (taking a classroom or e-Learning course, for example). Development plans created for leaders are too often weak on the 70% and contain vague recommendations.

The “prescription”—the development plan—must be specific about the types of situations to which the leader must be exposed. Learning while working on real business issues or assignments is very powerful, as confirmed in the Deloitte study referenced above and in the white paper “Demystifying 70:20:10” published by Deakin University in 2012.

In her review of research, Cindy McCauley from the Center for Creative Leadership pinpoints five major categories of development situations or areas that support concepts included in the 70:20:10 principle:

  • Challenging assignments (learning by doing)
  • Other people (learning from others)
  • Hardships (learning from difficult situations or mistakes)
  • Coursework (formal learning)
  • Personal life experiences (learning outside work)

Actually, the specific percentage doesn’t really matter! What is critical to retain from the model is that leaders, and any employees in fact, learn multiple ways. Providing courses is an excellent way to accelerate learning, but doing only that is not sufficient. A development plan needs to outline the various ways of learning. The learning that comes from rich experiences, such as working on a cross-functional team to implement a company-wide system, getting an international assignment, or taking the lead of a division in recovery mode, is absolutely critical and not to be forgotten. Identifying established leaders who can support the growth of a leader and creating a connection between the two individuals is also a great way to support leadership development.

There are plenty of new and emerging tools available that support learning. TELUS International’s Dan Pontefract, author of Flat Army, utilizes the term “connected learning” to describe today’s increasingly digital learning ecosystem. Although the mode of delivery may change as technologies evolve, the basics of connected learning never change. The swirling mix that makes up connected learning today (and tomorrow) features formal, informal, and social learning, which may utilize several modalities, such as blogs, websites, video conferences, and virtual instruction. Pontefract defines the three modes of learning or development as:

  • Formal. A self-contained and scheduled learning event, typically but not always tracked, providing a comprehensive and at times logical or sequential approach to a topic. “Let’s be clear, formal leadership training is not going away, nor should it,” Pontefract says. “You can’t have an organization think that there is no room for classroom or formal e-Learning.”
  • Informal. An opportunity without conventional structure, atypical in relation to formal learning, providing guidance, expertise or acumen typically in a nonformal environment. It may occur as a town hall meeting, coffee chat or coaching session.
  • Social. An exchange of ideas, knowledge or information typically characterized by friendly interaction through online services that provides supplemental understanding often via personal and professional networks.

I love the analogy Jay Cross, author and informal learning guru, gives for formal and informal learning: “Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route.”

The critical point here is that leaders will maximize their growth and chances to progress in their career if they leverage multiples ways of learning and learn constantly, no matter how it is being categorized!

Jocelyn Bérard is the author of “Accelerating Leadership Development.” He can be reached at

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  1. yasir Reply

    good to see