I often begin Leadership Development discussions by asking the question, “What occurred in your past that makes a difference in how you lead today?”. I’ve probably asked this 100 times and the results are always the same. Leaders report that they learned meaningful skills by navigating a variety of challenging experiences. Coupled with these developmental experiences were other people that provided developmental support, feedback, or mentoring, along with just-in-time study, training, or research.
The pattern of experience, people, and study matches the research conducted initially at the Center for Creative Leadership and in subsequent global studies. The research identified that effective development has three key components that follow a 70-20-10 ratio: navigating challenging roles or assignments (70 percent), developmental support, coaching, mentoring, or role-modelling from others (20 percent) and self-study or training (10 percent).
It turns out that the 70-20-10 pattern has a neurological foundation.
Without significant challenge (the 70), our brains remain on autopilot and employ habitual behaviors that have been stored in long-term memory. Only when patterns are perceived as significantly different do our brains snap out of standard operating procedure and kick into learning mode. How challenging a particular experience is determines how much learning will occur as a result of the experience.
There is also neurological basis for the social bias in learning (the 20). Research has confirmed that, as David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute has stated, “The human brain is a social organ. Its physiological and neurological reactions are directly and profoundly shaped by social interaction . . . the brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system”.
For development to be effective, it must first be built into a leader’s day-to-day work and not be something extra that has to be added to an already busy schedule. Second, developing new leadership skills best occurs not as a solitary pursuit but as a team effort, an effort my colleagues and I typically organize as learning cohorts. Better yet, combine the two. Build a cohort of learners around an important, challenging business assignment, an approach that’s core to Intentional Leadership Development.