Why Leadership Development Programs Aren’t Developing Leaders

Published in
4 min readApr 5, 2018



Leadership Development can be generally defined as any activity that enhances the quality of leadership within an organization. It seems like a simple concept, but all too often leadership development fails because of it’s inherently loose meaning and lack of measurable outcomes.

For example, leadership development could refer to individuals trying to better themselves, or leaders attempting to develop their employees for reasons such as succession planning. This has created a booming industry. Last year alone, American organizations spent “ approximately $164.2 billion on [development]. Of this total direct learning expenditure, 61 percent ($100.2 billion) was spent internally.

The remainder was spent on external services, which accounted for 28 percent ($46 billion); and tuition reimbursement accounted for 11 percent ($18 billion),” according to an ASTD study. Interest in the area of leadership development has exploded in the past 20 years, and yet programs meant to develop leadership continue to fall short of what they are intended to accomplish. Why is that?

Not only is the term defined broadly, but individuals seeking leadership development often confuse it for management training and overlook context.
On top of that, they do not decouple learning and reflection from actual, hands-on work experience, nor do they continually measure results or assess the proper mindset. All of these add up to a gigantic op when it comes to effective leadership development.

$164.2 billion amount American organizations spent on development last year

$100.2 billion spent on internal services

$46 billion spent on external services

$18 billion spent on tuition reimbursement


Perhaps the hardest part about developing a leader (yourself or others) is understanding one must change their behavior before they can change their leadership abilities. It seems obvious enough, but in order to change behavior, mindset has to be altered as well. Moreover, developing yourself should feel uncomfortable.

A better analogy may be that of an athlete. An athlete in training will feel muscle discomfort. They should. As an athlete struggles to get stronger, faster, etc., they will feel the pains of development. So should a leader in regard to their performance.

It’s not always easy. As one McKinsey report stated,

“Identifying some of the deepest, ‘below the surface’thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change — one too often shirked in development programs.”

Promoting the virtues of delegation and empowerment, for example, is fine in theory, but successful adoption is unlikely if the program participants have a clear “controlling” mind-set. It’s true that some personality traits (such as extrover- sion or introversion) are difficult to shift, but people can change the way they see the world and their values.

According to “Leadership Charisma,” an extremely helpful book for those seeking leadership development, good leadership “is simply a question of behavior.”

“Becoming a charismatic leader begins with this critical first step — the decision to commit to the development of behaviors that will drive your leadership charisma higher, and bring you the results achieved only by those charismatic leaders who inspire their people to greater levels of engagement and productivity.”

The book further points out that the most important choice is to commit. It may not be easy, and may feel uncomfortable, but truly committing to leadership development is the only e ective way to see results, and those results will pay off in time.

Measuring Results

Coming back to the athlete, what good is practice if the results aren’t measured? How would they know if they’re jumping higher, running faster, or lifting a heavier weight if they are not comparing it against previous records and individuals? The same principle applies to leadership development.

Too often, individuals and organizations talk a big game about developing leadership — investing nothing more than lip service — but never follow through or quantify the results. Another issue arises when the evaluation of leadership development begins and ends with participant feedback. When this occurs, the program is often revised to suit the participants and provide a more pleasant delivery. Again, development should be uncomfortable, but using the right tools can make it easier.

One of the best ways to quantifiably measure leadership development is to implement a 360-degree leadership assessment tool to help managers identify and prioritize their own development opportunities and leadership skills.

Effective leaders are essential for maintaining a successful company. You need to ensure that your leaders grow and constantly improve. Leadership assessment solutions can help you understand where leaders need support and training — and can suggest the best ways to motivate and encourage these employees.

A 360° leadership assessment tool allows you to assess leadership skills within your company and see aggregated data to help create effective tailored development initiatives. The data generated in the assessment report provides measurable recommendations of tactics that can improve leadership skills and enhance professional development.

Facilitate effective, data-driven leadership development with the SurveySaurus 360° Assessment.




Podcast highlighting leaders and innovators facilitating the future of work 📈 | Hosted by Annette White-Klososky