Does Leadership Development Really Work?

We all know that good leadership leads to better results than poor leadership. But does leadership development lead to better leadership?

Not an idle question. Organizations of all types—yours included, most likely—collectively spend literally billions of dollars every year on management development. (With an infinitesimal fraction of that gravitating to your faithful correspondent.)

Are those dollars well spent? Are executives getting their money’s worth?

For her Ph.D. dissertation, Doris Bowers Collins, asked those very questions (in 2002). Bowers, associate vice chancellor for student life and academic services at Louisiana State University, and former president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, analyzed the results of 83 studies of “managerial leadership development interventions.”

She determined that: Leadership Development certainly does help managers learn more about leadership and management.

Okay. But what about: affecting bottom-line results?

Good question. With a frustrating answer.

Dr. Collins basically concludes: We just don’t know.

There isn’t, you see, very much data to analyze on that subject.

In her words:

[E]ffectiveness of managerial leadership development programs across studies measuring financial outcomes could not be estimated, and conclusions cannot be drawn regarding financial outcomes until adequate empirical studies are performed.

Few studies are available perhaps because financial performance (or overall profitability) would be less responsive to individual behavior change in the short time period typically needed to train individuals, evaluate the training program, and report the results in the literature. Evaluations of programs with a financial outcome would require longer periods of time than many companies are willing to devote. In addition, organizations are typically resistant to publishing financial outcomes as a result of training programs, especially when the results are negative. Therefore, organizations are more likely to measure knowledge or behavior outcomes that are thought to be responsive to leaders’ behaviors within the time frame of the study.

So, as has been the case for a very long time, Leadership Development remains an idea that seems eminently reasonable. But, truthfully, remains essentially an act of faith in so far as quantifying actual return on investment.

Still, if you believe, like tens of thousands of your colleagues in the civilized world, that Leadership Development pays for itself many times over, you should definitely check out Richard Jadick’s content. He’s one of the best keynote speakers in town.