How to Develop Potential Leaders Leadership

How to Train Potential Leaders When You Have No Money

You know you must train your potential leaders but you have no money to make it happen. What do you do? My advice: practice the 70-20-10 strategy to train your potential leaders. 

How to Train Potential Leaders When You Have No Money

Photo Credit: Robert Sullivan

The 70-20-10 strategy was created by the Center for Creative Leadership based on thirty years of Lessons of Experience research.[ref]Ron Rabin, Blended Learning for Leadership: The CCL Approach (Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership, 2014). The 70-20-10 principle is also described by Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 82-101; Kramer, “Solving the Time and Money Puzzle”; and Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 168-177.[/ref]

The 70-20-10 rule for leader development follows this breakdown:

  • 70 percent challenging assignments,
  • 20 percent developmental relationships, and
  • 10 percent coursework and training.[ref]Rabin, Blended Learning for Leadership, 2.[/ref]

In nonprofit organizations, these three components reinforce each other and add up to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.[ref]Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 83.[/ref] Before examining the 70-20-10 strategy closer, it is important to describe what it is not.

Robin Hoyle mentions he has seen the 70-20-10 approach misrepresented in these statements: 90 percent of learning is done on the job, it is how people naturally learn, the numbers do not matter, the 20 percent is done most effectively through Twitter and LinkedIn, and since most learning is done on the job there is no need for training courses.[ref]Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 169.[/ref] However, let’s look at the correct understanding of the 70-20-10 principle.


70 Percent Challenging Assignments

The on-the-job element of the 70-20-10 strategy is not simply doing one’s usual work but instead is “stretching” tasks and projects that provide the learner with new challenges and situations. But, why does this on-the-job element need to be the majority of potential leaders’ training? This is because “human beings retain information most effectively when they gain it in a practical context.”[ref]Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 83.[/ref] Or, as Andy Stanley has stated, “People learn on a need-to-know basis.”[ref]Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 69-85.[/ref]

Malphurs and Mancini inadvertently agree with the 70 percent principle advocating that “you can’t learn leadership by simply being in a classroom or a seminar. It’s best learned while you are involved ‘up to your elbows’ in ministry in which you can apply and evaluate classroom or seminary instruction.”[ref]Malphurs and Mancini, Building Leaders, 156.[/ref]

One testimony from a lead pastor supports the 70 percent idea, “I made some huge mistakes as a young leader, but at the same time, it’s how I learned – through trying, failing and trying again.”[ref]Ron Edmondson, “7 Ways to Raise up Young Leaders,” Ron Edmondson: The Blog of a Leader, Pastor, and Church Planter, July 14, 2015, at Accessed July 14, 2015.[/ref]

20 Percent Developmental Relationships

The 20 percent element of the 70-20-10 approach consists of conversations with coaches, peers, managers, role models, or experts. Kramer and Nayak believe, “Learning is even more powerful when the lessons of experience are reinforced through informal discussion with people who have performed similar work.”[ref]Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 168.[/ref]

One benefit of 20 percent conversations is that the conversations do not always have to be with a superior. Hoyle states that the 20 percent time can best be spent with coaches “who are specially trained to assist individuals to look at their own goals, assess the landscape and the challenges and opportunities they face and then plan action.”[ref]Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 168.[/ref]

The most important part of the 20 percent is that the learners are discussing their learning needs and are planning how to adapt what they are learning to their work. This also includes honest conversations with the potential leaders about themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses.

10 Percent Coursework and Training

The 10 percent element of the 70-20-10 model is formal training. These are workshops, eLearning modules, and even training simulations. While only 10 percent is formal learning in the Center for Creative Leadership’s model, it does not devalue formal classroom learning.

Instead, it sees formal learning as most valuable when it “supplies technical skills, theories, and explanations that apply directly to what is learned through experience—and when it is both valued and quickly integrated within the work environment.”[ref]Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 83.[/ref]

The key here is that what is learned in the coursework and training is quickly integrated into potential leaders’ daily work. There must be a close connection between what is being learned and how it helps potential leaders do their work better and faster.

20 and 10 Work Together

The 20 percent and 10 percent categories can take place in a variety of areas and often complement each other.[ref]Rabin, Blended Learning for Leadership, 6.[/ref]

For example, the Center for Creative Leadership has been exploring four distinct areas where these two can occur.

  1. Feedback. This is honest feedback that a potential leader receives that helps improve performance.
  2. Social Media. This is a way that potential leaders can get connected with other leaders to gain expertise, build community, and function as a virtual water cooler.
  3. Apps and Mobile Learning. These are performance support tools, job aids, learning “nuggets,” and effective examples. The key here is that an app can quickly pull up learning material when needed (instead of being buried in a workbook on a shelf).
  4. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In this format thousands of people can explore ideas and solutions together.[ref]For more on MOOCs see Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 137-157.[/ref]

While two of these methods are digital, Ron Rabin at the Center for Creative Leadership admits, “Blended learning for leadership isn’t just about technology or mixing classroom with online experiences. It’s not about social media or the latest trends that promise to transform learning forever. It’s about building, in a thoughtful, systematic way, a structure to enable and support how leaders learn best.”[ref]Rabin, Blended Learning for Leadership, 7.[/ref]


According to Kramer and Nayak, there are four steps to implement the 70-20-10 approach effectively in nonprofit organizations.

Cultivate Talent Champions

These are the managers who recognize the importance of developing up-and-coming leaders. Talent champions take responsibility for preparing potential leaders for leadership positions.

Identify the Organization’s Needs and Craft Development Opportunities

The next step is to identify ongoing activities that potential leaders can engage in to develop new and needed competencies. These opportunities should involve four areas.

  • Discomfort. Assignments should take potential leaders outside of their comfort zone and use skills they have not yet perfected.
  • Accountability. Potential leaders should take responsibility for their assignments and take ownership of the results regardless of the positive or negative outcome.
  • Clarity. There should be a lesson that can be learned, and that lesson should be clear to the potential leader.
  • Relevance. Projects should teach potential leaders’ skills they need in their current roles.

Co-Create Individualized Development Plans

Managers must provide support and guidance for development plans, but potential leaders must take the initiative to create and execute the plan. Kramer and Nayak suggest that the potential leader and manager meet twice a year to follow up on development plans.

Follow Through on Development Plans

What gets managed gets done. Therefore, senior-level managers must ensure that managers are checking in and encouraging potential leaders to fulfill their development plans.[ref]Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 85-101.[/ref]


This is a simple and short blog post on the 70-20-10 strategy. Many books and articles have been written about the strategy and can be explored for further assistance.[ref]Ron Rabin, Blended Learning for Leadership: The CCL Approach (Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership, 2014). The 70-20-10 principle is also described by Kramer and Nayak, Nonprofit Leadership Development, 82-101; Kramer, “Solving the Time and Money Puzzle”; and Hoyle, Informal Learning in Organizations, 168-177.[/ref] There are many ways to implement the 70-20-10 strategy so try some ideas out and see how it works best for your organization.


By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at