Why Nearly Half of Leadership Development Programs Produce Lackluster Results

business professionals discussing the HRO Today Flash Report and leadership development programs

We’re unpacking our joint Flash Report with HRO Today, “Leadership Development Capability Often Lacking Despite Acknowledged Need.” 

HRO Today surveyed their subscribers to take the pulse of their leadership development programs in the Flash Report, “Leadership Development Capability Often Lacking Despite Acknowledged Need.” While most talent leaders agree that leadership development is a critical need within their organization, only 52% of respondents rated their programs as good or excellent. This reveals that a near majority of leadership development programs are underperforming. Let’s take a look at why and how companies can see a better return on their L&D investments.

(Download the full Flash Report here.)

Quick Highlights

  •  87% of respondents agree that leadership development is very important/important.
  • Only 50% of respondents rated their success with these programs as good, with only 2% considering them excellent.
  • 70% of respondents indicated that they use leadership development training to address capability gaps.
  • On-the-job training is the most common way to develop leadership capabilities, as indicated by over three-quarters (77%) of respondents.
  • Only 22% of respondents indicated that their programs were balanced in vertical and horizontal development.

The Need for Leadership Development

Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) rank leadership development as important or very important. The rate of change within the workplace has increased alongside a volatile, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous global market.

The most common use for leadership development, as indicated by respondents, was to build out leadership capabilities, including communication, time management, and interpersonal skills. Following capabilities, succession planning, change management, and retention were the top use cases for leadership development.

However, only half of respondents rated their own leadership development programs as good, and only 2% as excellent. Indicating that nearly half of leadership development programs deliver their promised value. 

Vertical and Horizontal Development: Finding the Right Mix

Traditional training methods can be typically classified as horizontal development. Vertical development can include coaching, mentoring, and other approaches that contextualize learning to the leader and the organization or industry.

Both horizontal and vertical development are critical to the development of leaders, however, most programs ignore the need for a balanced approach, as indicated by respondents of the survey. 

42% feel their programs lean more towards the definition of horizontal, while just over one-third (36%) feel their programs lean more towards vertical. Less than a quarter of respondents (22%) felt their programs were firmly in the middle.

The most common method of leadership development among participants was on-the-job training (77%), suggesting that the actual ratio of horizontal development programs may be higher. Less than two-thirds (60%) reported using mentoring and coaching programs. We hypothesize the reason why so many programs underperform may be connected to this imbalance between vertical and horizontal development.

Measuring the Impact of Leadership Development Programs

The majority of survey participants (81%) measure the impact of their leadership development programs, but how they do so varies. Most rely on participant feedback and evaluations. While these measurement tools are helpful, they do not always provide clarity on whether or not programs have direct business impact. Only 21% rely on metrics from before and after the program and even fewer (19%) use ROI calculations to determine value. 

To ensure that leadership development programs align with overall organizational goals and objectives, clearer metrics need to be measured. Adding software that can provide this data from a single source can bring transparency while boosting stakeholder buy-in.

Next Steps: Taking a Big Leap into the Leadership Revolution

The Flash Report makes clear that organizations and learning leaders recognize the need for leadership development, but to extract the greatest value from these programs, we need to revolutionize how we implement, measure, and track them. 

Sounding Board, the leader transformation company, delivers tech-led, high-impact coaching and mentoring solutions. From one platform, organizations can build, scale, track, and measure leadership development. Request a demo today.

See Us in Action

See how Sounding Board is revolutionizing leadership development through its coaching platform.

Related Articles

January 22, 2024
In 2023, I took a Big Leap. I took a career break to reconnect with my inspiration and intentionally pursue what I really, really wanted in life and in my career.
March 2, 2023
Traditional women in leadership development programs are great in theory, but not in practice. They’re built on faulty assumptions and mindsets.
May 23, 2024
Read our guide to learn what leadership development programs are available and how they can benefit your organization.
May 2, 2024
Dr. Laura Dannels, Chief Talent Officer, shares insights from Wellstar Health System’s leadership coaching program in partnership with Sounding Board.
April 18, 2024
AI transformations still require a human touch when it comes to leadership. Leadership coaching can transform leaders to drive innovation.

Transform Your Leadership Bench

Explore your end-to-end solution for leader transformation.