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Unlocking Potential with the 70-20-10 Approach in Technology Leadership

Written by Thought Collective
Published on February 01, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • The 70-20-10 model emphasizes that successful professional development, especially in tech leadership, relies largely on on-the-job experiences, supplemented by learning from others and formal education.

  • On-the-job experiences, constituting 70% of learning in this model, are essential for acquiring and refining skills through real-world challenges and responsibilities.

  • Learning from interactions with peers, mentors, and coaches forms 20% of the model, offering opportunities for social learning and knowledge exchange that are crucial for growth.

  • Formal education, while only accounting for 10%, provides foundational knowledge and introduces new concepts that are imperative for emerging leaders in the tech sector.

  • By actively seeking challenging projects, building a diverse professional network, investing in formal learning opportunities, fostering a feedback culture, and regularly reflecting on experiences, emerging tech leaders can effectively apply the 70-20-10 model to enhance their career development.


The 70-20-10 model for professional development represents a paradigm shift in understanding how professionals, particularly in leadership and technology roles, evolve and grow in their careers. Rooted in the principle that learning transcends traditional classroom boundaries, this model underscores the dynamic nature of professional development, emphasizing the integration of direct experiences, social learning, and formal education.

The 70-20-10 Model for Professional Development

Originating from the insightful work of Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger at the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1980s, the 70-20-10 model emerged from research into the most effective methods by which successful leaders developed their skills. Contrary to the conventional heavy reliance on formal education and training, their findings illuminated a more nuanced pathway to learning. The model posits that 70% of learning and development comes from on-the-job experiences, including challenging assignments and practice. Another 20% is derived from social interactions, including peer groups, mentor, and coach feedback and observations. The remaining 10% stems from formal educational settings, such as training courses, workshops, and seminars.

This framework challenged prevailing norms around professional learning and provided a more holistic and flexible approach to development, one that appreciates the complexity and variability of individual learning journeys. The most impactful learning occurs not in isolation but through a blend of experiences, interactions, and structured education, each component reinforcing and building upon the others.

At the heart of the 70-20-10 model is the recognition of the workplace as a fertile ground for learning, where real-world challenges and responsibilities propel individuals to acquire and refine skills in a manner that theoretical knowledge cannot replicate. Similarly, the interactions component of the model leverages the relationships and networks professionals engage with, offering diverse perspectives and insights that significantly enhance learning. While smaller in proportion, the formal education element is no less critical, providing foundational knowledge and skills and exposure to new concepts and frameworks.

This article will explore the three dimensions of the 70-20-10 model and how emerging technology leaders can apply it in their careers.

On-the-Job Experiences (70%)

On-the-job experiences constitute the cornerstone of the 70-20-10 model for professional development, representing a substantial 70% of an individual's learning journey. This aspect of the model emphasizes the invaluable learning that occurs through the day-to-day tasks, challenges, and responsibilities inherent in one's work. It is predicated on the understanding that the complexities, unpredictabilities, and pressures of the workplace serve as a potent catalyst for growth, pushing individuals to adapt, innovate, and solve problems in real time. Unlike the structured environment of formal education, on-the-job experiences immerse professionals in contexts where the stakes are real, decisions have tangible consequences, and the learning outcomes are directly applicable to their roles.

The value of on-the-job experiences is multifaceted. Firstly, it accelerates skill acquisition and refinement as individuals are compelled to apply their knowledge and adapt their strategies to meet the demands of their roles. This form of experiential learning deepens understanding and retention of skills, fostering a level of competence and confidence that theoretical learning alone cannot achieve. Moreover, on-the-job experiences expose individuals to a broader spectrum of situations, including unforeseen challenges and innovative opportunities, enhancing their problem-solving capabilities, creativity, and resilience. Such experiences are instrumental in developing technical skills and soft skills like leadership, communication, and teamwork, which are crucial for career progression.

Interactions with Others (20%)

Interactions with others form a critical component of the learning framework, offering rich opportunities for growth through social engagement and knowledge exchange. Thought Collective members can leverage its peer advisory network to facilitate these interactions, encouraging members to engage in structured discussions around specific challenges or themes. This can be complemented by executive coaching sessions, where members can receive personalized guidance and feedback from seasoned leaders.

Mentorship programs can also be a pivotal part of pairing members with more experienced professionals within the network. These relationships can provide a safe space for discussing challenges, exploring solutions, and receiving constructive feedback. Hosting leadership events and workshops can further provide platforms for members to share their experiences, learn from industry experts, and engage in meaningful conversations that enrich their professional journey.

Formal Educational Events (10%)

Formal education, though a minor component of the model, is vital for introducing new concepts and theories that members can apply in their professional lives. Thought Collective creates and curates learning resources, workshops, seminars, and online courses that align with the emerging trends and challenges in the technology sector. Members can stay ahead of industry developments by offering access to cutting-edge research and thought leadership pieces and incorporating new knowledge into their practice.

Applying the 70-20-10 Model

Emerging leaders navigating the complex landscape of technology and leadership can significantly benefit from the principles of the 70-20-10 model. Here are five practical recommendations for emerging leaders rooted in the ethos of this model:

Incorporating these recommendations into their development plans, emerging leaders can navigate their growth trajectory effectively, leveraging the 70-20-10 model to build a well-rounded and robust leadership profile. These practices aid in personal development and contribute significantly to the collective advancement of the technology leadership community.


In conclusion, the 70-20-10 rule offers a comprehensive approach to professional development. This model aligns with Thought Collective's mission of advancing technology leadership through collaboration and shared knowledge.

Thought Collective members can achieve exceptional growth and leadership in the technology sector by emphasizing experiential learning, social interactions, and formal education.

As an emerging leader, how will you further tailor this model to address the specific needs and challenges of your day-to-day?

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