Accelerated Leadership Development for Fast-Growing Organisations

accelerated leadership development

Accelerated growth requires accelerated leadership development and that means accelerated behaviour change.  Business results, business change and business success all stem from the behaviour of individuals. If your leaders are going to develop their leadership skills, they need to experiment with small changes in behaviours.

Even after very basic training sessions, adults typically retain just 10% of what they hear in classroom lectures. That compares to nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing. Furthermore, even talented leaders often struggle to transfer off-site experiences into changed behaviour.

So it is critical to stop seeing leadership development as something that is separate to the business. Instead, it’s about putting the leader and the challenges they’re facing at the heart of the development activity. That way they develop their leadership ability at the same time as they address the challenges and grow the business. It is during the challenging times that a leader learns most.

Think back on your formative experiences. Did you develop more in the training room or from your experience in the workplace?

Every interaction, every conversation, and every piece of work is an opportunity for leaders to develop their skills. As they manage and grow the business and deliver value for clients and stakeholders, they will develop the leadership skills to help them reach higher performance.

In essence, that means turning the workplace into the classroom, intentionally designing roles and assignments to create development opportunities. It also means providing the support and resources to help leaders extract the learning from their experience. And it means providing access to formal learning, as and when leaders need it, in ways that they can integrate into their working lives. All in all, it makes the workplace more innovative.

That’s what I call Accelerated Leadership Development.

But of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Some leaders tackle challenges every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they become better leaders.

Accelerated Leadership Development: Three Steps to Effective Development

You need three elements to be in place for Accelerated Leadership Development to be effective.

Focus on developing one or two key leadership skills at a time

Accelerated Leadership Development relies on the leader being highly focused. They concentrate on the specific leadership skills they wish to develop and the actions they’re taking to develop them.

This means the starting point of the Accelerated Leadership Development Model is to focus. The leader identifies one or two key leadership skills that will really make a difference to their performance. Then they identify the work tasks and experiences which will give them the opportunities to develop those skills.

His biggest leadership challenge was to develop the capability of his direct reports. He needed them to take actions without him having to manage everything. The current situation was limiting the performance of his team and its ability to serve a growing business.

In a discussion, we agreed that the most appropriate experience to develop his leadership skill was for Tarek to limit his hours. He was only contracted to work four days a week, but he had found himself regularly working on his day off and at weekends.

Facilitate reflection and feedback

Ensure that leaders make the most of these experiences. They need opportunities to understand what they’ve learned and how they came to learn it. Quality conversations with peers, coaches and mentors are critical to this process. They support reflection, provide feedback and add just-in-time information.

For Tarek, a key part of his development programme was coaching by me. We spent a fair bit of time discussing what would be different if he was successful in developing the capability of his direct reports. We explored what the benefits of that would be to him, his team and the organisation. We also explored what skills and experience he already had that he could build on.

By discussing examples of how his team managed when Tarek went on holiday, we were able to identify many small actions and behaviours he could try in the normal course of work. He recognised that he had a tendency to ‘rescue’ his staff when there were problems, driven by a desire to be helpful as well as his high commitment to the role. But he realised it would be better in the long term if he helped them solve the problems for themselves.

Provide access to supporting knowledge, information and formal learning

When the leader knows what experience will develop a leadership skill, they can identify what they need to learn. This will determine what workshops, eLearning, books, etc. will comprise the training element of any leadership development plan.

In agreeing that Tarek needed to help his team solve problems for themselves, we identified that this meant he had to develop his own coaching skills. As a highly experienced HR person, Tarek had good interpersonal skills, but he lacked knowledge of coaching models and frameworks. I shared with him a solutions-focused coaching framework that I use to train people and directed him to various resources.


This approach is derived from a concept known as 70:20:10 based on research by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina

The 70:20:10 concept says that, for any area of development, we learn according to the following ratio: 70% from practical experiences and doing things, 20% from conversations and relationships (coaching, mentoring, supervision, etc.), and 10% through formal training inputs (workshops, eLearning, etc.).

So that’s Accelerated Leadership Development in practice. No long, drawn-out training programmes. No guesswork over the full set of skills Tarek would need in the long-term future. Just simple identification of the leadership skills that would have the biggest impact on his performance right now. And just-in-time coaching to help him develop those skills.

Over the next few sessions that we worked together, I continued to help Tarek reflect on the progress he made. We discussed what actions he had taken that had helped and what lessons he had learned about leadership and developing his team. He reported that he spent less time on problems and didn’t feel he had to work on his days off and at weekends. Instead, he was able to use his new-found coaching skills to get others to think for themselves. And he helped them recognise the skills and knowledge they had to move things forward.

Things were still a challenge and everyone was working hard, but he had noticed a positive impact on ability and action in his team.

Take Action

This post is an extract from my book Grow Your Geeks – A Handbook for Developing Leaders in Fast-Growing, High-Tech Companies.  If you would like to learn more about developing leaders for fast-growing, high-tech companies you can download a free chapter by clicking the button below

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2 thoughts on “Accelerated Leadership Development for Fast-Growing Organisations”

  1. Mandy Rutherford

    Love this article, thank you! And I agree, but thinking about the way in which we work now, hybrid or online with some leaders never actually working from an office how do adapt the 70% experience?

    1. Thank you Mandy. Thats a great question. The 70% experience refers to experience in the workplace so in the new hybrid, online workplace the experience of the individual will naturally change to a more hybrid experience. I think what will need greater focus is the 20% reflection and feedback. In a physical workplace there would be more informal opportunities for learning discussions to take place with managers and colleagues. In the hybrid workplace, there will need to be a more deliberate effort to create those opportunities. That means that it is more important than ever for leaders and managers to develop coaching and mentoring skills. And the value of employees having mentors outside the reporting line will be greater than ever. What do you think?

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