The golden rule for developing Middle Leaders

Michael Iannini outlines the success of a mentoring program for developing leaders that far exceeded his original expectations.

A leader’s most important responsibility is to develop leaders

70-20-10, this is the golden rule for successfully developing leaders. We know from research that senior leaders are the most proven and powerful tool for empowering aspiring leaders to be accountable for 70% of their own development. Aspiring leaders realize 70% of their leadership development by accepting responsibility for challenging tasks, such as:

  • Starting something from nothing
  • Fixing something broken
  • Being responsible for influencing others without authority

However, to ensure aspiring leaders develop from these challenges, which may include failure, senior leaders need to accept 20% of the responsibility for an aspiring leader’s development. This requires senior leaders to regularly interact with aspiring leaders, in the capacity of a mentor, to clarify roles and expectations, keep them focused on the bigger picture and help them to reflect and learn from their experiences. The role of the mentor is a distinctly different relationship than what might be assumed under a typical appraiser or manager interaction, even if the people involved are the same.

10% of any leader’s development is related to structured learning activities, such as workshops, book studies, professional reading, and conferences. Structured learning activities, over a long period of time, have the least amount of influence on a leader’s development, but when introduced at critical junctures in the development journey, can be amazingly powerful for broadening perspective, providing inspiration, and introducing new ideas. Often, aspiring leaders need input from senior leaders to identify appropriate learning activities to stimulate their development journey.


Aspiring leaders, when empowered, will be the most effective tool in ensuring transformative and sustained change. It is the influence of senior leaders, as well as role modelling, that serves as the catalyst to ensure aspiring leaders use the knowledge, tools, and strategies to build and sustain a collaborative team culture. Such cultural impacts go beyond the direct participants of mentoring and speak volumes to the broader workforce.

The need at YCEF

Over the course of the last school year, from August to June, I have been facilitating a mentoring program with teachers from the five campuses of the Yew Chung Yew Wah Network (YCYW). This program is in its second year and has grown considerably, despite the obstacles schools have faced with the pandemic.

Claire Peet, YCYW’ss Senior Manager L&PD and Quality Assurance, has been instrumental in working with me to develop and document the results of this program. Originally, Claire was seeking to improve the number and type of candidates that were applying for leadership roles and various whole school projects. Most candidates had very little experience of leading any significant transformative changes within their team or beyond. Claire was concerned that if YCYW didn’t invest more time in developing promising aspiring leaders, then those leaders would go elsewhere to seek development.

What we are learning

Since the program’s inception, what we are learning and achieving is far exceeding our original aspirations. In February 2022, at the midway point of the program, all participants completed a survey to share their experience in the program. These were the areas of the participant experience that the survey focused on and where we believe the transformation in both the leader’s and the school’s development is rooted:

  • Leadership Development Projects: What were participants working on and how had it evolved over the course of the program? What was their relative level of confidence to complete their project?
  • Relationships: How has the program influenced their relationship with each other and to the school?
  • Retention: To what extent had the program influenced their desire to stay at their school and their belief that they could effect change in the organization?

Data outcomes: confidence

Data collected for Leadership Development Projects indicated that a majority of projects had changed over the course of the school year, most of them only moderately, but 9 of 22 projects had changed significantly. On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 indicating Not Confident and 4 indicating Very Confident, 5 of 22 mentees were not confident they would successfully complete their projects at the start of the year and no one was very confident they would successfully complete their projects. By February, everyone felt they would complete their projects, with 9 of 22 participants feeling very confident they would successfully complete their projects. There is an intriguing correlation between the growth of mentee confidence and project evolution. When exploring this with school principals in each of the 5 schools, they noted increased resilience as an unanticipated outcome from the program.


Data collected relating to relationships was very positive. 14 of 18 mentors participating indicated that this program had positively influenced their relationship with aspiring senior leaders. Even more encouraging, considering the strain educational leaders experienced during the pandemic, was that there was a high level of trust between all mentoring pairs. 30 of 40 participants rated their relationships very trusting, a 4 on a 1 to 4 scale, and 10 rated the relationships as a 3.


Lastly, regarding data collected for Retention, all participants indicated that this program had positively influenced their perception of being able to effect change in YCYW. On a 1-4 scale, 22 of 40 participants selected 3 and 9 participants selected 4. More promising was that on a 1-4 scale indicating how likely participants would stay at their school as a result of this program, 32 (both aspiring leaders and senior leaders) indicated that the program had a positive influence on their decision to stay at their school with 9 participants selecting 4, indicating it had a significant influence. This was further verified by participating school principals, one of whom noted that all mentees and mentors involved in this year’s programme had committed to remaining in the organisation for next academic year, despite the challenging circumstances in Shanghai.

If you would like to learn more about this mentoring program and how your school can implement one, please email Michael Iannini and Claire Peet or visit this link, where Michael Iannini outlines the program in more detail, which also includes a downloadable PDF.

Claire Peet is an experienced Senior Leader, Coach and Learning Professional. In her current role she supports colleagues with their growth and development, as well as oversees projects that promote consistency in pedagogical standards, curriculum and, most importantly, YCYW’s mission, principles and practices.



Michael Iannini, founder and Managing Partner of PD Academia, is recognized by the Council of International Schools as an expert in Governance, Strategic Planning, Human Resource Management and Leadership Development. He is also author of Hidden in Plain Sight: Realizing the Full Potential of Middle Leaders.



Feature and support images: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay