How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Leadership Development Programs

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

two women in an office evaluating their progress and goals

For a journal article I am working on, I have been combing through the academic research on leadership development.

You might be interested to know that given the amount of time and money organizations spend on leadership development, there is relatively little research in academia on leadership development. It is definitely seen as a concern by leadership scholars.

Despite that, my literature review has illuminated a perspective that I have found intriguing related to potential ways to evaluate the effectiveness of leadership development programs.

How do organizations typically evaluate the effectiveness of their leadership development programs?

My experience being a part of leadership development programs is that most organizations do not do a great job of evaluating the effectiveness of their programs.

But, if they do evaluate the effectiveness of the programs, it is usually by doing one of the following:

  • The degree to which the program addressed the topics or skills that the program was designed to address
  • Pre-post assessment on participants knowledge, skills, and attitudes
  • Participant feedback on how much they enjoyed the program

What you should consider focusing on to evaluate the effectiveness of your leadership development program

In my literature review, scholars did not necessarily address how to evaluate the effectiveness of a leadership development program, but they did comment about the impact a leadership development program should have.

And a theme arose.

Scholars routinely identified three primary changes that should occur in leaders as a result of their leadership development program. All of which are things that could be assessed as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of a leadership development program.

Before I identify and share these three primary changes, let me note that I do not believe this is an exhaustive list of (1) the changes that a leadership program should have, and (2) what should be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of a leadership development program. But, I do believe that recognizing these three changes might elevate our strategy and focus for our leadership development programs.

Specifically, I found that scholars routinely expressed that an effective leadership development program should result in the leaders:

  • Changing and improving their identity (seeing themselves more as a leader)
  • Greater self-efficacy for leadership
  • Greater self-awareness

two women in an office evaluating their progress and goals

Scholars acknowledge that if a leader is going to move from being a new leader to an effective leader, they are going to have to alter their identity, enhance their self-efficacy, and deepen their self-awareness. And, to the degree to which they do these things properly, the more likely they will be to transform into a truly effective leader.

Immediately upon reading this, it led me to wonder:

  • Do my programs and trainings do each of these three things?
  • What do I need to change or alter about my efforts to ensure that leaders leave having improved in all three of these areas?

I hope this gets you to ask similar questions.

How can we improve our leadership development programs to help leaders better realize these changes?

When organizations employ leadership development efforts, they can structure two different types of development:

  • Horizontal development: Enhancing one’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. This involves helping leaders to DO more.
  • Vertical development: Enhancing the quality and effectiveness of their internal operating system. This involves helping leaders to BE more.

Of these two, horizontal development is, by far, the most commonly employed form of development.

But, it is also the form of development that is least likely to impact a leaders identity, self-efficacy, and self-awareness.

In fact, the very nature of vertical development is to get leaders to:

  • Inspect, alter, and elevate their identity
  • Elevate their ability to navigate leadership and the change, pressure, stress, uncertainty, and complexity that comes with it (which should lead to them having greater self-efficacy for meeting their challenges)
  • Deepen their self-awareness (for a leader can only vertically develop to the extent they drill inward and awaken to the quality and programming of their internal operating system).

If you want to learn more about vertical development, check out:

If you want to inject more vertical development into your leadership development efforts, and feel you need help, advice, or support, let’s connect. I would love to see if I could be of help.

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