Applying Pareto's Principle to maximise your leadership development budget

Did you know that “Pareto’s principle”, also known as the “80/20 rule” came about as a result of engineer and mathematician Vilfredo Pareto growing peas in his garden. He observed that 80% of his crop was being produced by 20% of his plants. This is one of the examples he used to demonstrate his world renowned principle. As someone who develops new leaders you need to work out where to find the best return on investment for your development budget. Where did your money go last financial year and did it represent the right balance to give you the maximum improvement?

This is where my Practical Leadership Development model can help. It is a simple, 4 step model that outlines the key phases of a successful strategy, following the same principles that gardeners have been using for centuries.


Plan Before a gardener puts anything in the ground they make a plan so they can best use their limited resources. Before you start developing your frontline leaders you need to assess your current situation to determine where you are and where you want to go. 

Prepare  Next the gardener prepares the soil and the plants so that when they are combined the chances of a successful outcome are increased. For your organisation that means ensuring that everyone involved in the process is prepared to play their part. You need to work with your existing leaders to help them prepare for the next crop of leaders as well as prepare new leaders to take on their first position. These steps are essential before running any type of development program.

Nurture It is now time to create the garden. This involves not only putting plants in the ground but also ensuring they receive attention early on as they settle in. This is where you begin the initial development process. You need a practical, supported process that gives your frontline leaders the foundation skills they need to perform their roles effectively.

Maintain Once the garden has been planted there is still work to do. Maintenance is an important and ongoing task. Developing leaders is not a one off event. Your initial program must be followed by a range of other regular learning opportunities if you want to continue to grow their skills.


The ratio I recommend for maximum return on investment is 80% of your time spent in planning, preparing and nurturing with 20% on maintaining. I believe that if you have the right plan and provide adequate preparation it is easier to see results from the nurture phase which increases the impact of the maintain phase.

Sadly I rarely encounter this when working with clients. Here is what I see instead and some of the reasons why it doesn’t work. 

Prepare 0% The most common scenario is spending no time on the preparation phase, wrongly assuming that a good plan and a robust program will be enough.

Plan, Prepare, Nurture 20% and Maintain 80% These organisations believe their abundance of adhoc activities can make up for their lack of action in the other three areas.

Plan, Prepare, Maintain 20% and Nurture 80% The detailed, often accredited, foundation skills program only works if it is properly aligned to a plan, everyone is prepared and there are follow up activities.


If you want to increase your return on investment for leadership development this financial year then I encourage you to step back and assess what you are doing. That’s where my leadership development Stocktake can help.

Using a 40 point checklist I go into detail to appraise your policies, procedures and systems to identify what’s working and what isn’t. That way you can invest your time, money and energy into the most useful activities to grow your leaders.

At the end of the 90 minute process you’ll receive a short, practical report outlining specific steps to take. The results will allow you to make more informed decisions, confident in the knowledge that you will get the outcomes you need for your leaders to succeed.

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